This panel invites papers that bring microbial creativities into anthropological conversation, and explore the methodological and ontological implications of working with microorganisms in making or unmaking food, artefacts, or materials.
In recent years, scholars across the humanities have turned their attention towards microbial communities and the multiple ways in which the lives of bacteria, fungi, yeasts or protozoa shape and are shaped by cultural, political, or economic forces, and intertwine with human livelihoods (Helmreich, 2009). This panel welcomes papers that explore 'microbiosocialities' (Paxson, 2008) from the angle of engagements with microorganisms in making or unmaking food, artefacts or materials.
Engagement with the work of microbial communities has long been central to the practices of making cheese, compost, bread, wine, beer, or other kinds of materials, food and beverages, but also of 'unmaking' and disintegrating things considered as waste. Anthropologists and practitioners sometimes understand these practices as plays on relations of collaboration, symbiosis or co-dependency, which in turn take place within loops of relations to wider environments such as landscapes or terroirs. The panel will question how taking seriously the life of microbial communities leads us to rethink common understandings of craft and practices of making. It will explore how processes of transformation of matter, such as fermentation, decomposition or aggregation, conjure up new possibilities for understanding food and other materials. Contributors may address how practices are being reconfigured as new technologies allow makers to sense microorganisms in other ways. They may also question changes in narratives of controlling microorganisms as politics of food sanitation take a 'probiotic turn' (Lorimer, 2017), and detail the ways in which people and organisms' agency, mutability and ambivalence resist control and cooperation.