By Cecilie Glerup and Nikoline Nygaard
One of the outcomes of the Microbes on the Mind project is a podcast series about our relationship with microbes – more specifically those of them that either live in us or enter us through food. The journey we aim to take our listeners through mirrors the overall motion in the research project, moving from personal and empirical stories about microbes and their representations in specific settings to a more problematizing discussion of how and if we can (and indeed should?) relate to our fellow microbial beings.
The podcast is an experiment with science communication, where we use a collage of interviews, reportages, music and artistic elements to approach the various ways that microbes – and ideas about microbes – shape our everyday life. The podcast format also enables us to experiment with sound as a way of bridging the gap between the ‘human-body-sized world’ and imaginations of the small-scale and usually invisible world of microbes through our collaboration with sound artist Eduardo Abrantes. This entails distorting the reading of an author who writes about ‘family ecologies’ to sound like the voice(s) of a different species as well as a synthetical ‘farting-explosiosn’, to move the listnener’s attention from the head to the workings of the gut.
Another way in which the series experiment with science communication is that rather than focusing on delivering the factsabout the effects on microbes on different areas of life, the series attempt to communicate about various experiences and thoughts about our co-existence. In practice, that means that we have taken an ethnographic approach to curating the different features of the podcast, in order to provide insights into people’s lifeworlds and how they make sense about their relations to microbes. As such the role of facts and knowledge about microbes are not exclusively in the hands of people traditionally labelled as ‘experts’, i.e. scientists and researchers. They may also come from what would in mainstream journalism be considered as ‘non-experts’, for instance the anarchist fermenting for a more just an independent society or the gourmet chef, who has developed a philosophy and style of cooking based on the biological mechanisms of digestion. This does not mean that the category of ‘scientists with microbial expertise’, be it cultural or natural scientific experts, are left out of the show. However, we try to let their voices enter into dialogue with other ideas and voices, and let them tell us of their own daily experiences with microbes. For example we present a historian from Medical Museion, who tells us about her dead mother’s sour dough in the freezer and as this blogpost is written we are trying to set up an interview with a microbiologist, who explain the very practical and dirty work of taking care of his lab’s artificial gut and its excrements.
The podcast consists of five episodes, four in Danish and one in English. The first three episodes center on specific thematics, namely microbes in relation to food, wellbeing and parenthood respectively. With the fourth episode we ask how microbes are and should be represented in popular culture. In the fifth and last episode, we compile the best elements of the first four episodes for an international audience, hopefully creating a colorful, collaged explosion of thoughts and ideas on the microbiome.