Call for Proposals, AAA 2015 Microsociality: Thinking With Germs.

Organizer: Martha Lincoln, PhD. UC Berkeley School of Public Health.

Microlife is, after Lévi-Strauss, good to think with. As objects of scientific knowing, moral signifiers, shapers of history, commodities, and agentive beings unto themselves, sub-visible creatures are both deeply familiar and profoundly strange. Not only are bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and other microorganisms among the oldest companion species of humans, they are also our physical co-constituents, making up ninety percent of our DNA.

From globalized outbreaks to narratives of “good” bacteria, microlife’s actor networks (Latour 2005), assemblages (Deleuze and Guattari 1987), and animacies (Chen 2013) are saturated with cultural, political, and social significance. Recent scientific findings have claimed the microbiome’s role in securing immunity, shaping metabolism and weight, and influencing predisposition to mental health diagnoses such as anxiety and depression. These worldings of sub-visible life betoken new regimes of biopower and care of the self as much as they imply new opportunities for commodification and profit.

However, despite optimistic assessments of the power of “good” bacteria to boost resilience, anxiety and stigma regarding contagious disease emergence remain. Pathogenic microlife, in association with political economy and culture, is implicated in recent public health disasters – the cholera epidemic in Haiti, the Ebola epidemic centered in West Africa, and the measles and mumps outbreaks engendered by vaccine refusal in the United States. The inability of even highly equipped health workers to contain contagion was in evidence in last year’s security lapses at the US Centers for Disease Control, with the display of mock petri dishes at Congressional hearings highlighting the use of pathogenic microbes as political signifiers.

This panel will include theoretical, ethnographic, medical anthropological, and interdisciplinary presentations regarding microlife and microsociality. Possible topics include:

Antibiotics and antibiotic resistance
Biopower at the micro-scale
Commodification of pathogens and/or the microbiome (“the microbiome diet,” biobanking, microbiome analysis)
Disease outbreaks
Immunity and autoimmunity
Property, privacy, and intellectual property
“Post-Pasteurian” cultural practices (fermentation, cheese production, viniculture)
Medical practices addressing the microbiome (fecal microbiota transplant, microbiome therapy)
Microbiota, the microbiome, probiotics, prebiotics, and “good” bacteria
Vaccination and vaccine refusal
Zoonotic and vector-borne disease
Please submit abstracts by 3/15/15 to