HealthXCross

Project

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?

HXC is a multi-sited, comparative ethnographic study of how technoscience is reconfiguring biomedicine and biology  - and, in turn, social sciences and the same concept of ‘human’ - by aggregating microbial data across time, space and species.

The Microbiome

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 a bit more 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.

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.

Aim

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.

Events

The project events comprise:

  • Organized - ERC dissemination and communication events organised in Venice at Ca' Foscari premises with the presence of international experts as speakers
  • Invited - participation of the ERC members as keynote or guest speakers in events organized by others but intersecting with the ERC project
  • Conferences - organisation of panels or participation of the ERC members in conferences' panels and workshop with selection procedure to disseminate the ERC research results

Organized

ECLT and NICHE in Dialogue. Uri Hershberg, University of Haifa and Visiting scholar at ECLT.

PhD in engineering, expert in open data and a professional communicator, Bressan will illustrate emergent forms of science communication. She will discuss them in the context of the current political moment in which EU is transitioning to open data and enhanced society's engagement into science.

After the completion of the Human Genome Project in the early 2000s, postgenomics has emerged as an increasingly discussed umbrella term to cover all research on the complex molecular architecture that connects genomic sequences to the phenotype, expanding to a new set of approaches dubbed the “-omics” (e.g. epigenomics, microbiomics, transcriptomics: Richardson & Stevens, 2015). Maurizio Meloni, Deakin University (Australia) will discuss the multiple semantics of the concept and its different operationalizations in medicine, philosophy, history, and sociology of biology and then he will focus on one specific aspect of this polysemic term, that is the emerging logic of imprint by which the experiential and physical milieu “originating outside the body” is seen as impacting directly the biological body producing “shifts in conformation deep inside cells” (Lappé & Landecker, 2015: 153).

How does science develop and why do certain questions become dominant at particular moments in time? Soraya de Chadarevian (University of California Los Angeles) will argue that historical narratives play an important role in shaping research questions and setting research agendas. Revisiting these narratives can open new vistas for historical and scientific research. She will discuss examples from the history of molecular biology and evolutionary biology to reflect on these points.

Margaret Mc-Fall Ngai will discuss with ERC HealthXCross team members the interface between the social and biological dimensions of contemporary microbiome research. This discussion will lay ground for future interdisciplinary collaborations.

Roberta Raffaetà will engage in a conversation with Maria Puig de la Bellacasa (University of Warwick) and Dimitris Papadopoulos (University of Nottingham) on the significance of the ‘elemental thought’ across fields. The book is edited by Dimitris Papadopoulos, María Puig de la Bellacasa, and Natasha Myers, and published by Duke University Press (February, 2022).

Keynote Speakers Hannah Landecker (University of California Los Angeles - Institute for Society and Genetics) and Jamie Lorimer (University of Oxford).
The event will be both in presence and online by Zoom.
Details and poster

Link to watch the recording of the meeting

Invited

Roberta Raffaeta presented a talk at the University of Helsinki in the framework of the “Friday Anthropology Seminars” of the Department of Social Research.

Abstract: Microbes and the microbiome have, in recent years, attracted lots of interest both in the public and in the social sciences and humanities. Microbes, indeed, are connectors that radically change our ideas of what is a body, because microbes entangle bodies and environments. The argument of my presentation will be that before taking the microbiome as an inspiration for social theory, it is important to understand which kind of object is the microbiome. The ERC HealthXCross project is a multi-sited, comparative ethnographic study of how technoscience is reconfiguring practices and ideas of health by aggregating microbial data across time, space and species. Given that the same concept of the microbiome is first of all a technological revolution, in my presentation I’ll discuss how the microbiome is part of a data-driven science that is creating new knowledge at the intersection of landscapes, labscapes and technoscapes, reconfiguring the same idea of ‘scientific object’.

Seminar presentation by Roberta Raffaetà as part of the Master course "Laboratorio di Etnografia" organized by A. Gribaldo and S. Marabello at the University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, 17th November, 3.45 - 7 pm (CEST), titled "Etnografia di laboratorio: studiare antropologicamente scienziati, microbi e dati"

Seminar presentation by Roberta Raffaetà as part of the seminar series Ecobiosocial complexities: encounters, critiques, integrations organized by  L. Chiapperino, C. Fasel et F. Panese at the University of Lausanne, 9th November, 10-1:30 pm (CEST). Link to the event: https://unil.zoom.us/j/99584244816

Roberta Raffaetà and Lucilla Barchetta will take part in the "Thinking health par le milieu. A politics of inquiry" ADD HYPERTEXT LINK FROM FB, a workshop co-organized by the University of Liège, the BoS in collaboration with HealthXCross, and the FNRS on the 13th and 14th of October 2022.

Seminar presentation by Roberta Raffaetà at the Medical Anthropology Seminar Series chaired by A. David Napier, Department of Anthropology, University College London, 6th October 2022, 4:30-6 pm (BST).

Guest lecture by Roberta Raffaetà, Medical Anthropology Europe Online Seminar Series “Building New Relations”, 24th February 2022

Invited presentation by Roberta Raffaetà with Lucia Cavalca (DEFENS, Università degli Studi di Milano) and Marta Scaglioni (Università degli Studi di Milano), AnthroDayMilano, Università degli Studi di Milano, 18 February 2022, Milano

Invited presentation by Raffaetà Roberta and Nicola Segata (CIBIO, Trento University), AnthroDayMilano,  Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca, 17 February 2022, Milano

Guest lecture by Roberta Raffaetà, Università di Milano-Bicocca, 11 February 2022, Milano

Invited presentation by Roberta Raffaetà, Workshop Series “Salute, Ricerca e Cultura”, 4 February 2022, Bellinzona

Roberta Raffaetà, keynote lecturer at the conference "Science and Society in a Changing World: Ethical and Cultural Challenges", Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Be'er Sheva, 13 December 2021. Title of the presentation: “Microbes, environments and humans. Encounters between anthropology and microbiome research in times of biosocial challenges”.

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.

Link to the event

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

Participation

Presentation by Roberta Raffaetà, Panel 'Nuovi immaginari apocalittici. Salute e orizzonti culturali della crisi', organized by Fabio Dei (University of Pisa) and Luigigiovanni Quarta (University of Bergamo), 27 January 2023, Naples.

Presentation by Lucilla Barchetta, Panel ‘Entangled Commons. Shifting Infrastructures of Sociality toward Visionary Pragmatic Lifeworlds’, organized by Aylin Yildirim Tschoepe and Carolin Genz (Humboldt-University of Berlin), 29 July 2022 Belfast

Presentation by Roberta Raffaetà, Panel ‘Future Commons of the Anthropocene’, organized by Marianne Elisabeth Lien, Elisabeth Schober and Penny Harvey, 28 July 2022, Belfast

Contenuto: Presentation by Lucilla Barchetta, Panel ‘Data, algorithms, absence and alterity’, organized by Francis Lee & Michela Cozza, 8 July 2022

Presentation by Lucilla Barchetta, Panel ‘Bringing STS up to speed? The digital as practice’ organized by Roos Hopman & Ingmar Lippert, 6 July 2022 Madrid

Our Postdoctoral researcher Lucilla Barchetta, together with Adrienne Mannov (Aarhus University), will convene the panel titled “Co-production of knowledge, open science and anthropologies of the future” at RAI Anthropology, AI and the Future of Human Society Virtual Conference, 6-10 June 2022. Cfp is now open and the deadline for applications is the 25th of February 2022.

Roberta Raffaetà and Lucilla Barchetta will participate in the “Workshop on Digital Anthropology. How can we study digital infrastructures ethnographically?”, a workshop with Hannah Knox and Maja Hojer Bruun, at Aarhus University, the 6th of January 2022.

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 

Team

The project started in September 2021: we are going to hire in total 6 postdocs. If you are interested in this project and looking for a postdoc keep an eye on the Research grants webpage for forthcoming calls.

Roberta Raffaetà

Principal Investigator

Roberta Raffaetà is associate professor of socio-cultural anthropology.  Her research stays at the intersection of medical anthropology, environmental anthropology and science & technology studies. She studies how to live well and caring for each other in an entangled and more-than-human planet. She received a PhD in Social Sciences at the University of Lausanne in 2008, then she has been granted a Marie Curie (Trento University and Monash, 2010-2013) and a Fulbright (UCLA, 2018) fellowship.

Victor Secco

Research grant holder

Victor Secco is a Research Fellow at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice and a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. His doctoral research has focused on the interface of microbiological research on bacteriophage viruses and the uses of water for ritual purposes in the context of the Ganges River in North India. Working ethnographically in between laboratories and landscapes, he is interested in the coming together of health and environment across contexts and scales, themes that he will explore further in his current research as part of HealthXCross.

Valeria Burgio

Post-doc research grant holder

Valeria Burgio's research focuses on scientific images and data visualization. Her approach crosses and overlaps visual semiotics, critical design studies and science and technology studies. She studied Communication Science at the University of Bologna and received a PhD in Art Theories at the Iuav University of Venice. She received postdoc grants at the EHESS in Paris and at the Iuav University of Venice and she was a researcher (RTD-A) for six years at the University of Bolzano. Her research for the HealthXCross project focuses on the visualization of the microbiome in relationship with the technology used to observe it and the role of the technical images in the laboratory discourse.

Lucilla Barchetta

Post-doc research grant holder

Lucilla is a cultural anthropologist with a PhD in Urban Studies. Her work focuses on the intersections between ecology, urban socio-ecological change and globalization and is sustained by an in-depth ethnographic approach to the study of multibeings life and health. She is interested in the grounded work of navigating the dimensions of everyday, environmental justice and its links with more-than-human cohabitation. Her first monograph is titled “La rivolta del verde. Nature e rovine a Torino”, published by AgenziaX (Terrae series) in 2021. 

Marta Scaglioni

Post-doc research grant holder

Marta is a Post Doc Fellow and holds a PhD in Anthropology at the University of Bayreuth in Co-Tutelle with the University of Milano-Bicocca. She studied at BIGSAS (Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies) and her PhD research was carried out in Southern Tunisia on the heritage of slavery and on racial issues. Her book, "Becoming the Abid. Lives and Social Origins in Southern Tunisia", was published by Ledizioni in 2020. She is interested in post-colonial discourses and in science and knowledge diffusion within the African continent, and she contributes to the ERC project HealthXCross (GA n.949742) mainly within the research strand "Spaces of Innovation".

Silvia Bellacicco

Project Manager

Silvia Bellacicco is an expert in European funding and Euro-planning, as well as in project management and implementation. She holds a degree in Marine Environmental Sciences (2000) from the “Ca’ Foscari” Università di Venezia, and since 2001 she has worked on European funding for public bodies such as municipalities, research institutes/universities, as well as civil regions and private companies. She has extensive experience in project/partnership coordination and management, and in providing technical and financial assistance for the project leaders and partners.

Outputs and resources