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P111


Knowledge politics in/through/with microbes. 
Convenors:
Wakana Suzuki (Osaka University)
Shiho Satsuka (University of Toronto)
Maya Hey (Centre for the Social Study of Microbes, University of Helsinki)
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Format :
Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

This panel engages with the knowledge politics inherent to microbial phenomena, asking questions such as who has the authority to make claims about microbes and how do different microbial knowledges get negotiated? This panel aims to disentangle knowledge politics in/through/with microbes.

Long Abstract:

This panel engages with the knowledge politics inherent to microbial phenomena, asking questions such as: How are different microbial knowledges negotiated? Who knows microbes? And what happens in the face of not knowing?

Acknowledging the inextricable link between the material living world and the politics of constructing knowledge about it, the panel explores the politics of encountering and knowing microorganisms. Microbes offer a particular inroad to knowledge politics in that the very definition of micro-organisms implies the use of scientific apparatuses (e.g., microscopes) that mediate microbial encounters. Meanwhile, humans have a long history of engaging with microbes before modern science ‘discovered’ them. Combined with the fact that microbes are ubiquitous, the process of knowing microbes poses the political question of who has the authority to make knowledge claims and how.

This panel grapples with the ontology of microbial knowledges, and how they go beyond current understandings employed in science, regulations, and infrastructure. Recent scholarship in microbial STS points to how the life cycles of microbes help reconceptualize time, space, and politics, while also offering a conduit for exploring “science” other than the one in the conventional state-market-technoscience complexes. For instance, micro-algae and cyanobacteria challenge the boundary between individual and populations, as well as between life and death in phenomena like algal blooms. Or consider how various field sites — such as breweries, plantations, or home kitchens — offer partial connections between scientific knowledge and knowing otherwise that refuse clear-cut answers about what is or isn't happening. This panel aims to disentangle knowledge politics in/through/with microbes.

As convenors who cast a critical gaze on euro-centrism, we are inspired to explore the possibility of conceptualizing science differently from those that have supported the twentieth-century projects of industrialization and colonization, as well as from the ongoing academic project of silencing non-mainstream, non-normative voices.