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This panel focuses on microbial worlds in naturecultural, Anthropocenic natural environments beyond human bodies, imagination, and control in order to explore microbial processes and interactions, to follow their entanglements, transformative potential, and points of tension.
Humans and microbes have co-evolved for as long as we know. To date, the social study of microbes has focused on how microbes relate to human bodies and activities in close surroundings, for example, with the growing interest in the gut microbiome. However, studies have identified that, in human bodies, microbial DNA surpasses the human - which means that humans, to an extent, are microbes. Microbes shape us, as they shape all the ecologies in which they exist. Moreover, such intimate, ‘holobiontic’ relations are not confined by bodily limits; microbes exist in the broader environment (in ‘Nature’), which, in the Anthropocene, is marked by human activity. Traditional dichotomic categories of ‘human’ and ‘nature’ have collapsed, leaving just ‘naturecultures’ (Haraway 2003). Following this, to fully understand human-microbe relations, we must account for the transformative entanglements, processes and agencies that are established outside of our bodies, but that still shape our lives.
This panel aims to shift focus towards microbial worlds in relatively distant proximity to humans -- that is, those that exist in ‘Nature’, traditionally separated from the human world -- in order to explore further the role of naturecultures for microbial social science. We invite transformative engagement with microbes of ‘natural’ and/or ‘remote’ areas that are, like human-bound microbes, embedded within naturecultures. Human engagement is certainly accepted, and inevitable. However we are interested in how microbial processes and interactions beyond human imagination and control become entangled with human activities, in how these entanglements are/not made visible, and in the transformative potential, tensions, and spaces of alignment and divergence that arise from them. We welcome papers that span, but are not limited to: Soils, marine environments, ‘pristine’ environments, polluted environments, microbes as collaborators, unruly actors, etc. We also welcome papers that are cross disciplinary, and engage with different temporalities and methodologies.