Dysbiotic life: Minding microbes and becoming microbial minds

Authors: Ariel Rawson*, The Ohio State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Anthropocene, Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: mind-body-environment relation, depression, posthuman turn, microbial life
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Embassy Room, Omni, East
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the context of increasing traffic between the environmental turn in the life sciences and the posthuman turn in social sciences and humanities, this paper examines how researchers are re-narrating depression in terms of the microbiome and gut-brain axis, often expressed as a state of dysbiosis. While depression is most certainly taken up in terms of clinically diagnosed populations, these new narratives also position depression as a proxy for generalized socioenvironmental measures of not only disease but also new ideals of health and well-being. In this story, depression becomes not just abnormal or pathological exception but a crisis of the dysfunctional norm commensurate with the scale of life itself. The way dysbiosis connects “health at all levels - person, place, and planet” in the name of the “anthropocene syndrome” is through mobilizing “general losses in microbial diversity along the scale of westernization and industrialization.” Through drawing on the agency of nonhuman microbial others, these stories of dysbiosis figures depression of both self and world in biogeochemical and social terms at once. In turn, microbe-depression connections become a key site not only for cross-scalar and cross-disciplinary imaginaries of concern that figures vulnerability as both presence of pathology and absence of resilience but also for imaginaries of celebration that hold new promise for resilient futures.

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