Microbial relatings: a discussion of ethnographic possibilities

Nov '16

“Discover an invisible world!” reads the homepage of Micropia, the Netherlands’ museum dedicated to microbes. This invitation underscores two aspirations: discovery of the unknown, and making visible the unseen. These aspirations have been important in anthropology too—but might an anthropology of microbial relations be after something else?

The gathering brings together anthropologists studying the situated lives of microbes to examine microbial action in and on anthropology. That microbes are everywhere has become common sense. But if they are everywhere, this is not naturally so. Instead, they are mobilized in different ways through specific practices: from laboratory experimentation, to wave science, to aging cheese or fermenting wine. And if it is said that we are of them and they are of us, this too is not a natural truth. It is not only the science of microbes that must be situated, but so, too, our analysis of the science.

During the day we will discuss empirically-thick stories of microbes, collectively visit the Micropia museum, and eat fermented foods. The in-between spaces of the workshop will offer an opportunity for contrast and questioning across the papers: How do we know microbes? How do we mobilize them in our work (eg. as fact, for friction, because they are evocative)? What can we learn from microbes about the objects of discovery and visibility in ethnographic practice today? Microbes — being marginal, invisible, and yet shaping the world — may be the anthropologist’s obvious ally. They may also compel us to rework the relation.

Format: Works-in-progress or problem statements will be pre-circulated for audience discussion.

Location: University of Amsterdam, Anthropology Common Room (B.05)

Contact: For any questions and to receive the papers, please email Emily Yates-Doerr e.j.f.yates-doerr@uva.nl

Chair: Annemarie Mol

9:30-9:45 Coffee/Tea
9:45-10:00 Introductions
10:00-10:40 Paper 1 (Daniel Münster)
10:50-11:30 Paper 2 (Stefan Helmreich)
11:40-12:25 Paper 3 (Ursula Münster)
12:25-13:00 Lunch
13:15-14:45 Micropia
15:00-15:40 Paper 4 (Tom Abercrombie)
15:50-16:35 Paper 5 (Heather Paxson)
16:45-17:30 General Discussion
18:00 Discussion continues over dinner at Mediamatic

Daniel Münster
Gut and Soil: Multispecies Belonging and Specter of Nativism in Zero Budget Natural Farming (South India)
With commentary from Emily Yates-Doerr

Stefan Helmreich
Homo microbis
With commentary from Cristóbal Bonelli

Ursula Münster
Microbial Care: Postmortem Encounters with elephants and herpes in South India
With commentary from Justine Laurent

Tom Abercrombie
Time, Community, and Microbes in a Bottle: Anxieties of Wine’s Microbiomatic Moment
With commentary from Rebeca Ibáñez Martín

Heather Paxson
Food Safety meets Biosecurity: Perishability and the Microbiopolitics of Trade
With commentary from Filippo Bertoni