Microbial Resilience in More than Human Worlds

Thursday, Nov. 15, 10:15 AM - 12:00 PM
Hilton, Market I
Cosponsored with the General Anthropology Division

The idea of microbial resilience looms large among general publics across the world, as twenty-first century global pandemics have moved across species (Porter 2013) and as the threat of infection by antibiotic-resistant strands of staph, syphilis, and gonorrhea influences a variety of social and cultural behaviors (Landecker 2016, Pittet et al. 2015). While these examples may have negative or unpleasant connotations, recent archaeological research into ancient gut bacteria emphasizes that microbes have long lived with and inside humans and other multicellular life forms (Warinner and Lewis 2015). Cheese artisans studied by Heather Paxson (2008) know this, even though it is difficult to precisely know how bacterial fermentation works, as cheese-makers try to induce bacteria to work (Bear et al. 2015). The impact of microbes is not just a story of technoscience: new ethnographic research argues that that the things identified as “microbes,” following the advent of nineteenth century microbiology in Europe, may have long been recognized by Amerindian shamans (Herrera 2018). All of these examples show that microbes are key agents in the human worlds and world-making projects that interest anthropologists across the traditional four-fields and multiple subfields of anthropology. In short, microbes are vital for making “us” who “we” are.

Crossing anthropological specializations of four-fields anthropology, medical anthropology, religious studies, multispecies ethnography, animal studies, feminist anthropology, environmental studies, and science and technology studies, these papers consider ongoing social and cultural relations with microbes. The phrase “more than human” recognizes how vital nonhuman actors are in human lives, materially and otherwise (Puig de la Bellacasa 2017). The papers in this session think through the concept of microbial resilience, instead of (or rather adjacent to) antibiotic resistance, as a way to move beyond martial or counterrevolutionary metaphors, in the hope that we can sincerely engage research across anthropological subfields and interdisciplinary interstices.

Presenters: Noah Tamarkin, Ohio State University; Natalie Porter, University of Notre Dame; Rebecca Howes-Mischel, James Madison University; Megan Tracy, James Madison University; Juno Parrenas, Ohio State University; Cesar Giraldo Herrera,
Somerville College, University of Oxford