Microbiome science is popularizing a symbiotic understanding of health and ecology. What microbiome science now knows is that microbes entangle the health of people and environments; what we don’t known is how, in this process, new cultural concepts and practices of health may emerge. The ERC funded project HealthXCross asks: how does health come to be reconfigured in a world entangled through microbial data?
Between 50 and 90% of the cells in a human body are microbial. The composition and activity of the microbiome are central to human processes such as metabolism, weight regulation, immune system structure and function, allergic reactions, and even personality and mood. Human activities such as diet, birth, antibiotic use, and interactions with other humans and animals shape and change the microbiome, just as these microbial communities shape and change their human hosts. Health, therefore, can be seen as a property emerging from an ecosystem, so dislocating the anthropocentric view.
The microbiome ecosystem provides information on how environments, humans and microbes are inextricably entangled in ongoing processes of life. For less than a decade, cutting-edge computational methods (metagenomics) have been available for studying in vivo microbial communities, opening a window into ‘who is there’ and ‘what they might be doing’.
The study of the microbiome offers an entry point to the understanding of different ecosystems and issues such as human nutrition and chronic diseases, plants’ nutrient acquisition and stress tolerance, soil and aquatic environments’ stability, regional ecological disruptions, reductions in agricultural productivity, the degradation of waste matter, poor soil health, global climate processes, or the conversion of natural materials into renewable sources of biofuels or energy.
Given that microbes connect different ecosystems and species, a number of transnational and interdisciplinary projects are emerging to integrate conventional strands of microbiome research (human, animal, plant, water, soil). How all this diversity – ontological, epistemological and socio-political - is articulated and made operative in reframing health and biological diversity is the analytical focus of HealthXCross. Ethnographic examination of selected case studies will generate new knowledge about this experimental process of knowledge-making across space, time, species and disciplines.
Main Research Question
Microbiome science is popularizing a symbiotic understanding of health and ecology.
What microbiome science now knows is that microbes entangle the health of people and environments; what we don’t know is how, in this process, new cultural concepts and practices of health may emerge.
how does health come to be reconfigured in a world entangled through microbial data?
Ethnographic sub-projects and objectives
HealthXCross is a multi-sited, comparative ethnographic study of how scientists produce and coordinate knowledge within interdisciplinary platforms that collect, compare and integrate microbial data across time, space and species in order to produce simulations for intervening in both environmental and human health.
HealthXCross is an ethnographic inquiry into the implications of the environment as a body - and vice versa - through analysis of the tensions between the emancipatory and the dystopian effects of dissolving boundaries between human bodies and environments.
We will examine how these research platforms:
- remake notions of biological diversity through technology by crossing conventional categorizations (space, time, species) and epistemic cultures;
- create and emerge from the diverse spacetimes of innovations across the global North and the global South;
- shape new trends in healthcare and health governance.
Participatory nature of the project
HealthXCross will create a participatory design with scientists, who are among stakeholders in the public discourse about what it means to be human and how to live in an entangled planet. Taking inspiration from the microbial world, HealthXCross is committed to create symbiotic processes of research collaboration with technoscience and other disciplines.
The project aspires to offer timely insights into the interplay between knowledge making and changing health practices in times of profound ecological, socio-technical and economic transition. HealthXCross’aim is to advance anthropological understandings of the contradictory but constitutive aspects of living together and being in relation.
18 November 2021 - AAA annual meeting "Truth and Responsibility"
AAA annual meeting "Truth and Responsibility", Baltimore (online), Panel ‘Entangling data and entangling disciplines: the future of anthropological collaborations with data scientists’, organized by Roberta Raffaetà and Giovanna Santanera
30 September 2021 - PaSTIS
Roberta Raffaetà has been invited by PaSTIS (Padova Science, Technology and Innovation Studies, Padova University) to introduce the ERC project by discussing how it derives from her previous research.
1 September 2021 - RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2021
Roberta Raffaetà discusses Jamie Lorimer's book "Probiotic Planet: Using life to manage life" in a dedicated panel at the Royal Geographical Society-IBG Annual International Conference 2021
The project will start in September 2021: we are now hiring. In total, 6 postdoc calls will be published. If you are interested in this project and looking for a postdoc keep an eye in this webpage for forthcoming calls.
Outputs and resources
- Raffaetà, R. (2021) Il microbioma tra l’umano e il post-umano: piste di ricerca antropologica, AM. Rivista della Società Italiana di Antropologia Medica, 22(51), 307-328.
- Raffaetà, R. (2021) Microbial Antagonism in the Trentino Alps. Negotiating Spacetimes and Ownership through the Production of Raw Milk Cheese in Alpine High Mountain Summer Pastures, Current Anthropology, ahead of print
- Santanera, G., & Raffaetà, R. (2021). Designing unpredictable futures. An anthropological perspective on the algorithmical prediction of human behavior. In L. Di Lucchio, L. Imbesi, A. Giambattista, & V. Malakuczi (Eds.), Design Culture(s). Cumulus Conference Proceedings Roma 2021 (Vol. 2). ISBN: 978-952-64-9004-5
- Raffaetà, R. 2021, Etica e progettazione europea. Uno studio di caso, Archivio antropologico mediterraneo, XXIV, 23(1)
- Raffaetà, R. 2020, Antropologia dei microbi. Come la metagenomica sta riconfigurando l’umano e la salute, CISU, Roma (english translation forthcoming 2022, Routledge)
- De Chadarevian, S., Raffaetà, R. 2020, COVID-19: Rethinking the nature of viruses