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Accepted Paper:

Commodifying the Human Gut Microbiome: Users of Microbiome-based Personalized Apps and the Quest for Symbiotic Singularity  
Rafi Grosglik (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev) Dan M. Kotliar (University of Haifa)

Paper short abstract:

Examining a successful microbiome startup and the social meanings of gut-microbiome commodification, our ethnography explores user perceptions of their 'microbial self.' Initially embracing a 'symbiotic singularity' promoted by AI products, users ultimately revert to a modernistic individuality.

Paper long abstract:

Research on the human microbiome – the vast microbial communities in and around the human body – has recently highlighted human-microbe interdependence, thus providing a fundamental epistemic shift from a modernistic individuality towards a multi-organismic, symbiotic self. This shift is largely afforded by complex machine-learning algorithms and the vast datafication of microbes, which has similarly led to the popularization and commodification of this episteme. Particularly, numerous start-up companies have begun to offer microbiome-based AI products and offer the users the homo-microbial episteme in an app. While anthropologists have begun to explore the various social meanings of microbiome science, the commodification of the microbial self has been largely overlooked. Based on the case study of a successful start-up that offers to algorithmically leverage consumers’ homo-microbial identities to create tailor-made, personalized nutrition, we ask: How do users of microbiome-based personalized services perceive their “microbial self”? How does this affect their understanding of their identity, body, subjectivity, and agency? We show that while microbiome-based startups offer their consumers a “symbiotic singularity” – an idiosyncratic multi-organismic identity – and while consumers initially embrace this new identity, they eventually scale back to a more modernistic and generic view of humans – to an individuality that is neither multi-organismic nor singular. We conclude by discussing the social meanings of the commodification of the microbiome, and of the disillusionment from the homo-microbial, singular hope.

Panel P233
Oh my gut: anthropological pathways to the cultural, affective, medical and multispecies entanglements of the gut
  Session 1