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?

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.

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.

HealthXCross asks:

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.

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.

Fieldwork

HXC team members Roberta Raffaetà and Lucilla Barchetta virtually travelled to Aarhus Universitet on the 6th of January 2022 to attend the "Workshop on digital anthropology. How can we study digital infrastructures ethnographically?", a workshop organised by Maja Hojer Bruun (Aarhus University) and with Hannah Knox (University College London) as a guest presenter.

Our postdoctoral fellow Lucilla revisited her ethnographic journey in digital research consortia for One Health and shared her ethnographic doodles. She conceives them as tools constituent to reflexive discourse and writing, created and discovered in the give and take of ethnographic research, in all its unpredictability and immediacy.

Sketchbooks taking shape during fieldwork, illustrations presenting anthropological materials and drawings used in collaborative research approaches have often been sidelined by other visual practices and still constitute a questionable category in academic discourse, notwithstanding the growth of the field in recent years.

Events

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.

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 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.

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”.

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 

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

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.

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. 

Outputs and resources