An international conference on ‘Chronic living: Quality, vitality and health in the 21st century‘ will take place in Copenhagen 23-25 April 2020. The deadline for submitting abstracts is 1 November 2019. Medical Museion participates with a panel on ‘Living with microbes’.
Despite advances in medical treatments and technologies, many people worldwide live with chronic diseases. As the chronicity of disease infiltrates our daily lives, daily life becomes a site for generating knowledge and for interventions targeted at improving life style and well-being. It reflects a pursuit of a ‘normal’ life or the highest possible ‘quality of life’. It is also an invitation to consider contemporary imperatives toward living well. Chronic Living is the final conference of the research project The Vitality of Disease – Quality of Life in the Making. It addresses these new politics of living by delving into chronicity through issues of quality, vitality and health.
I have been starting to think about how such politics of living also might emerge in relation to our daily lives with microbes in our gut. We are (more or less reflectively) used to talking about the connection between our gut and mental wellbeing. In everyday situations our ‘gut feelings’ may for instance help us making a difficult decision. Some people have taken this further and responded to their gut-mind experiences by changing routines in their daily life. Eating fermented food or following special diets to increase microbial diversity in the gut and counter (mental) health issues is an example of this. Microbiome research is also exploring the talk between our digestive system and brain – now, in relation to the entanglement with our emotions, cognition and even mental health issues such as depression, autism and anxiety.
At the Chronic Living conference, Medical Museion and University of Helsinki are organizing a panel that addresses the politics of living with microbes*. We address central dilemmas at stake and how people attempt to live with their microbiomes in chronic conditions. And we engage with questions such as: Are we individual humans, strange holobionts, or co-dependent communities? Are lifestyle interventions inevitably 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? We have started making ground for such questions through the Mind the Gut exhibition, but I am intrigued to find out what might emerge from discussing living with microbes in the context of the politics of chronic living.
*The Panel organizers are: Adam Bencard & Louise Whiteley (University of Copenhagen), Andrea Butcher, Jose Cañada & Salla Sariola (University of Helsinki).