I am a postdoctoral researcher at the Medical Museion and Department of Public Health, University of Copenhagen, since October 2019. The project I will be working on examines motivations to and contexts for dietary orientations of people who, for different reasons, have chosen to adhere to a diet specifically targeting the gut microbiome. The project is a part of the research program Microbes on the Mind, lead by Associate Professor Louise Whiteley here at the Medical Museion.

There has been a growing scientific focus on the gut microbiome in the recent. The findings of its crucial role for our physical as well as mental health has had a rather large effect on popular culture. The number of popular scientific publications on the topic, as well as the amounts of gut microbiome oriented cookbooks, food products and diets – has grown rapidly over the last decade.

Photo from fermenting workshop
Photo from fermenting workshop

People, for very different reasons, seem to increasingly choose to eat to achieve and maintain gut health. The choice of such a diet may function primarily to keep a medical condition under control, as well as to achieve better general health. However, these choices may also tell us something wider about societal and cultural notions of life efficiency, a ‘maximized’ lifestyle and increased individual responsibility for wellbeing and health. Making microbiome-oriented dietary choices can thus be viewed as techniques of self-care, as well as of ways of orientating oneself in a landscape where the demarcations between lifestyle, health, illness, wellbeing and social status are not necessarily well outlined. 

A primary aim of the project is to (by ethnographic research) investigate how dieter’s background, current situation and health history contribute to their motivation to adhering to a microbiome-targeting diet. The project also seeks to investigate issues such as, what happens to our self-understanding and idea of autonomy, when starting to treat our guts as the home of millions of other organisms and thousands of other species? Where in this eco-systemic model, do the dieters place themselves?

My background

Throughout my academic education (PhD of Ethnology, MA of Applied Cultural Analysis and BA of History of Ideas and Sciences from Lund University, Sweden), the common theme of interest has always been medicine in history and in the contemporary, and its entwinement with social context and situated cultural notions of the ill, deviant or healthy and normal body. I have always taken a particular interest in how different normative assumptions influence even the most advanced and technical knowledge production in science, through rather mundane cultural expressions and practices. Novel biotechnologies have, up until now, been my main area of investigation.

Since defending my dissertation in February 2019, I have been working with supervision and teaching, at Lund and Malmö Universities. 

Alongside my work at the Medical Museion I will be engaging in the startup of a future project, exploring how the idea of “responsible research and innovation” (RRI) is reproduced at the intersection between laboratory and society, and between everyday research practice and discourse on modern biomedicine in research using CRISPR and other bio-modifying technologies. (Read more here)

Bacterial microbiome mapping, bioartistic experiment.
Credit: François-Joseph Lapointe, Université de Montréal.
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