Microbes on the Mind co-organizes a panel at the international conference on Chronic Living: Quality, vitality and health in the 21st century*. The panel organizers are Adam Bencard and Louise Whiteley from Medical Museion and CMBR, University of Copenhagen and Andrea Butcher, Jose Cañada and Salla Sariola from University of Helsinki. The title of the panel is Living with Microbes: From gut intimacies to collective health ecologies.

Chronic Living is the final conference of the research project The Vitality of Disease – Quality of Life in the Making. It addresses issues around chronicity of disease: That many people worldwide live with chronic diseases, despite advances in medical treatments and technologies, and that our daily lives have become sites for knowledge production and intervention concurrently with disease chronicity infiltrating our lives. The issues reflect a pursuit of ‘the good life’, and in doing so, they touch on a new politics of living well.

Our panel Living with Microbes investigates the politics of chronic disease through our microbial lives. The panel has the following abstract and presenters.


Panel abstract Living with Microbes: From gut intimacies to collective health ecologies

The connections between mind and gut have been recognized for millennia and are reflected in everyday vernacular; from “gut feelings” to “butterflies in the stomach”. Whilst the number of chronic diseases continues to rise, people try to make sense of the factors that play a role in their quality of life. Recent trends in the study of the microbiome show that a thriving, diverse gut microbiome supports metabolic and immune function. Dysbiosis—an unbalanced and depleted microbiome—, on the other hand, is often implicated in the development of chronic diseases including autoimmune diseases such as diabetes, asthma, and Crohn’s; degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons, as well as conditions such as obesity and depression. In this milieu, people are turning to probiotic practices such as fermentation and fecal transplantations to prevent or treat chronic diseases.

Furthermore, there is interest in examining how the neoliberal order is implicated in producing sites of dysbiosis. These are often characterised by exposure to unsanitary or toxic conditions, diets of heavily processed but affordable foods, and unregulated microbial flows between humans, animals and their environments. Are microbial interventions co-opted by neoliberal imperatives to self-improvement, or can they orient attention to our ecological dependence? And, is the return to a more traditional way of life the answer to ‘lifestyle disease epidemics’ or an oppressive and privileged nostalgia?

This panel explores the politics of living with chronic conditions through living with microbes across diverse relations between human and non-human bodies. We invite papers that explore, among others, political economies and policy frameworks that shape microbiota; healthcare systems and microbial support; living with and caring for animals; circulation of microbes between humans, animals and environments; or how exclusion and inequality frame microbiota and vice versa. We also invite authors to reflect on the emergence of vitalities and methodologies that describe and characterise the relations between individuals, communities and microbes, how they perform, suffer, and thrive through relationships of conviviality.


Paper names and presenters:

Salla Sariola: When microbes strike back: fermentation in Finland and antimicrobial resistance

Matthäus Rest: Assembling the past: biomolecular archeology and the deep history of human – microbe relations

Jose Cañada: Microbes on paper: more-than-human understandings of human-microbe relations in global health policy

Jamie Lorimer: The probiotic turn in the treatment of chronic disease: hookworm, immunity and symbiopolitics

Adam Bencard: Fecal matters: microbiome transplants and/as ordinary affects

Andrea Wiszmeg: Microbiomic dietary orientations. An interface between gut microcosms and the precariously situated human eater?

Tine Friis: Exploring first-person perspectives on connections between psychological and gut health through collective memory-work

Louise Whiteley: The fragile potential of a multi-species approach to chronic living: Images from popular media


*Due to the outbreak of Corona virus in 2020, the Chronic Living conference has been postponed and will take place  on March 4th to March 6th, 2021.

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