With Microbes


Without microbes, no other forms of life would be possible. But what does it mean to be with microbes? With Microbes sets microbes and the multiple ways they exist around, in and on humans at center stage. In this book, 24 social scientists and artists attune to microbes and describe their complicated relationships with humans and other beings. The book shows the multiplicity of these relationships and their dynamism, through detailed ethnographies of the relationships between humans, animals, plants, and microbes. Ethnographic explorations with fermented foods, waste, faecal matter, immunity, antimicrobial resistance, phages, as well as indigenous and scientific understandings of microbes challenge ideas of them being simple entities: not just pathogenic foes, old friends or good fermentation minions, but so much more. By describing these complex, dynamic, and ever-changing entanglements between humans and microbes, the chapters raise crucial points about how microbes are ‘known’ and how social scientists can study microbes with ethnographic methods, more often than not in the absence of microscopes, models, and computations. Following these various entanglements, the book tells how these relations transform both humans and microbes in the process.

About the editors

Charlotte Brives is an anthropologist of science and biomedicine at the CNRS in France. She has been working on human-microbe relationships since her thesis, which focused on biologists-Saccharomyces cerevisiae relations in a laboratory. She then worked on clinical trials on HIV therapies in sub-Saharan Africa before her transformative encounter with bacteriophage viruses. For the past four years, she has been developing interdisciplinary projects with biologists, microbial ecologists and physicians to work on the potentialities and creative powers of these companion species.

Matthäus Rest works on the relations between the economy, the environment, science and time, mostly with peasant communities in the Alps and the Himalayas. He is interested in unbuilt infrastructures, the temporalities of fermentation and the future of agriculture. Currently based at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, he is working with a group of biomolecular archaeologists who trace the deep history of dairying through the DNA of modern and ancient microbes.

Salla Sariola is a sociologist of science and medicine at the University of Helsinki. Her current research concerns the social study of microbes that includes fermentation, composting and making enquiries into the changing scientific practices concerning environmental microbiota and antimicrobial resistance. Her fieldwork has taken her to Sri Lanka, India, Benin, Kenya, and Finland at the intersections of science and technology studies, feminist and queer theory, medical anthropology, bioethics and global health.


Introducing With Microbes: From witnessing to withnessing
The Kilpisjärvi Collective


1 · The Deplantationocene: Listening to yeasts and rejecting the plantation worldview
Denis Chartier

2 · Knowing, living, and being with bokashi
Veera Kinnunen

3 · Oimroas: Notes on a summer alpine journey
Matthäus Rest

4 · Building ‘natural’ immunities: Cultivation of human-microbe relations in vaccine-refusing families
Johanna Nurmi


5 · When cultures meet: Microbes, permeable bodies and the environment
Katriina Huttunen, Elina Oinas, Salla Sariola

6 · Bathing in black water? The microbiopolitics of the River Seine’s ecological reclamation
Marine Legrand, Germain Meulemans

7 · Scalability and partial connections in tackling antimicrobial resistance in West Africa
Jose A. Cañada

8 · Ontologies of resistance: Bacteria surveillance and the co-production of antimicrobial resistance
Nicolas Fortané


9 · Scenes from the many lives of Escherichia coli: A play in three acts
Mark Erickson, Catherine Will

10 · Micro-geographies of kombucha as methodology: A cross-cultural conversation
A.C. Davidson, Emma Ransom-Jones

11 · Pluribiosis and the never-ending microgeohistories
Charlotte Brives

12 · Old anthropology’s acquaintance with human-microbial encounters: Interpretations and methods
Andrea Butcher

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