Society for Medical Anthropology
Invited - Oral Presentation Session
Microbiota make up a significant part of the cells, genes, and metabolic function of humans--they are us and their compliance or non-compliance in “healthy behavior” is our biomedical fate. Since humans have existed, our biochemical kinships with microbes have been evolving. The microbiome is an intersection of fleshy materiality (genes, birthing, diet), and social intimacy (bathing, breastfeeding, affection); it circulates and convolutes the inside of bodies, the outside world, and back again. This calls up what Shostak and Landecker have described the “environmental genetic body” or “epigenetic metabolic body,” respectively, one susceptible to social and biological exposures, simultaneously the site of the past (genetic histories) and future (epigenetic risks). But microbes complexify what is understood about the molecularized body and the molecularized environment, becoming a potential constant between the two, a socio-exposo-microbiome. Microbial populations are constituted by worldly environments--early environmental exposures define gut microbial communities and microbes come to constitute the corporeal environment within the human body. Microbes are in and out, human and nonhuman, simultaneously environment and body.
Scientists working on the gut microbiome are attempting to develop translational pipelines between microbiota and malnutrition in places like urban Dhaka; in communities where generations of families have been health and social science research subjects for half a century, and study participation has become a condition of everyday life. Transgenerational, relational ontologies emerge, who is kin and what is exposure get tangled up between bacteria, babies, scientists, feces, plastic tubes, shotgun sequencing, global health research, water and sewage infrastructures.