Socio-exposo-microbiome

Authors: Amber Benezra*, NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Topics: Biogeography, Cultural Geography, Coupled Human and Natural Systems
Keywords: Microbiome, biosocial collaboration, anthropology, ethnography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 10:00 AM / 11:40 AM
Room: Grand Chenier, Sheraton, 5th Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Microbiota make up a significant part of a human’s cells, genes, and metabolic function—they are us and their compliance or non-compliance in healthy behavior is our biomedical fate. Microbes in human bodies are an intersection of fleshy materiality (genes, birthing, bacteria), and social intimacy (bathing, breastfeeding, affection); they circulate and confound the inside of bodies, the outside world, and back again. This calls up what Shostak and Landecker have described the “environmental genetic body” or “epigenetic metabolic body,” respectively, one susceptible to social and biological exposures, simultaneously the site of the past (genetic histories) and future (epigenetic risks). But microbes interestingly complexify what is understood about the molecularized body and the molecularized environment, becoming a potential constant between the two. Instead of looking at how environments are turned into the biology of the body, human microbial ecology looks more widely and across individual development at how microbial populations are constituted by worldly environments--early environmental exposures define gut microbial communities.Then, microbes come to constitute the corporeal environment within the human body; food, medicine, pathogens, all affect our joint human–microbe biology through our microbial partners. Microbes are in and out, human and nonhuman, simultaneously environment and body. In my ethnographic fieldwork in Dhaka, Bangladesh, a "microbiome" comes into being through a material-semiotic relationship between humans and microbes, a Barad-style intra-action where individuals and agency are enacted through relational ontologies performed by microbes, babies, scientists, feces, plastic tubes, shotgun sequencing, water and sewage infrastructures.

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