Thinking with Microbes – a seminar series on infection, disease and finitude

November 4, 2020
Online event

Thinking with Microbes – a seminar series on infection, disease and finitude
Centre for Invention and Social Process, Goldsmiths, University of London
Speakers: Salla Sariola and Jamie Lorimer
Chaired by Bryan Lim & Marsha Rosengarten

Prevailing ideas around the autonomous self are being revised in the field of biology. No longer framed as the study of self-contained entities, biology increasingly appreciates ‘individual’ animals as organised multispecies consortias living in symbiotic commune.

This ecological shift in the biological sciences is also paralleled by a similar turn to the ‘non-human’ in the social sciences and humanities, and can be seen more specifically in the work of scholars affiliated with philosophical Posthumanism and other related and cognate fields such as human-animal studies, political ecology, new materialisms and multispecies ethnography. Focusing on human entanglements and dependencies with insects (Beisel, Kelly, & Tousignant, 2013; Raffles, 2010), dogs (Haraway, 2008; Kohn, 2007), meerkats (Candea, 2010), forests (Kohn, 2013), plants (Hustak & Myers, 2012) and matsutake mushrooms (Tsing, 2015), scholars have interrogated anthropocentrism by illustrating the myriad of ways in which the world we inhabit and what we are, only comes-into-being through multispecies engagements. Anthropologist and multispecies scholar, Stefan Helmreich (2014), proposes for example, that the human, Homo sapien be reconceptualised as Homo microbis, a fleshy assemblage co-produced with and through messy entanglements with our more-than-human microbial companions whom we share the world with.

As a means of thinking through the pragmatics of being kin with more-than-human others, such research has thus far tended to focus on commensal or at the very least, non-lethal others as a means of illustrating symbiotic relations that challenges the idea of human exceptionalism and atomistic self-sufficiency. From helminths to gut bacteria to palm trees and sheep, living with these more-than-human others may be problematic and inconvenient at times, but very rarely do they pose a direct threat to human life. Yet, the recent emergence of COVID-19 raises a different set of questions related to finitude – both for the virus, and for us humans. What might it mean to embrace an ‘unloved’ and ‘unloving’ other, if doing so also simultaneously threatens to obliterate one’s very own existence? Faced with a lethal and omnipresent microbe, how do we reckon with the kinds of biopolitical and microbiopolitical calculations needed to reassemble modern life? Is the eradication and/or elimination of such unfavourable microbes the only way forward? Untethered from the drive towards eradication, what then might microbes and infectious diseases have to teach us about different ways of wading through viral clouds, uncertain episto-ontological projects and proliferating utopian and apocalyptic futures?

Click here for Zoom Link or see below:

Meeting ID: 932 3942 9720

Passcode: 665561
This is the first in a series of three seminars on thinking with microbes. More details about the other two seminars will be released shortly, so stay tuned!