Eurograd message

Message posted on 16/01/2023

Reminder: STS Graz abstracts for microbial food systems panel - due 30 Jan

Dear colleagues,

We are pleased to invite abstract submissions to the panel "Microbes in, for, around Food Systems” as part of the 21st Annual STS Conference in Graz (held 8-10 May 2023). At present, the organizers are planning for a hybrid event.

A description of the panel is also pasted below.

The convenors are affiliated with the Centre for the Social Study of Microbes at the University of Helsinki, and we are keen to have robust discussions about a human-focused food system in a more-than-human foodscape.

SUBMISSION INSTRUCTIONS

Please use the conference portal to submit an abstract, in English, of 300-500 words and 5 keywords. Indicate in your submission that you’re interested in Session F1. We anticipate sending notices of acceptance/rejection by mid-February. Abstracts are due 30 January 2023.

For inquiries, please contact: Maya Hey (maya.hey@helsinki.fi) or Alicia Ng (alicia.ng@helsinki.fi).

PANEL DESCRIPTION

F.1 Microbes in, for, around Food Systems Organizers: Maya Hey, Alicia Ng, Mikko Jauho (University of Helsinki, Finland)

This panel is interested in nuancing where and how microbes tangle up with humans—both in and around food systems. Food systems encompass all aspects of nourishing humanity, which could be characterized by its gerunds (e.g., the growing, harvesting, raising, slaughtering, processing, packaging, transporting, marketing, purchasing, cooking, cleaning, and consuming of other organisms) as well as the institutions, infrastructures, and knowledge hierarchies that enable such actions. Microbes enable and disrupt these gerunds; some are along for the ride, some may even help us, but others can kill, especially people who are more vulnerable to microbial toxicities due to physiological, historico-social, or geopolitical reasons. As convenors, we are keen to dwell on these differential stakes and their sociotechnical configurations insofar as they help us think through what exactly is being sustained, to what extent, and for whom. How can we make sense of a human-focused food system in a more-than-human foodscape?

Microbes are ubiquitous in the food system and impact social practices across economies of scale. They often evade governance, disrupt supply chains, and spoil what would’ve been food for us. Modern attention to the microbe has pivoted from “containing” their deleterious effects to “harnessing” their powers, often hailing microbes as a nature-based solution to a broken food system. This shift has recently invited social scientific discussions in areas such as probiotics, resource/waste managements, and cellular agriculture, increasingly scrutinizing how we envision and encounter microbial life. Given that microbes are not only ‘out there’ affecting our food but are in-and-of our foodways, how we think about, handle, and regulate microbial life will underwrite our futures of food.

Baked into questions about microbes and sustainable food futures is the degree to which human flourishing (in food systems) and microbial flourishing (in more-than-human entanglements) stand at odds with each other. If one comes at the cost of the other, then these tensions are worth exploring in finer detail. Conversely, if there is a way to honor both, then the preconditions for such a future are worth elaborating. Extending the critique of Paxson and Helmreich (2014) on the perils and promises of microbes, how can we model and ideate a desirable set of relations, without falling into a set of temporary, prescriptive, or technosolutionist fixes? What rhetorics, narratives, or assumptions need reworking?

We welcome case studies and musings that span, but are not limited to, laboratories, soils, fields, farms, kitchens, markets, waste facilities, and, especially, the move from one space into another (e.g., lab to field, field to kitchen, kitchen to intestine). We also invite different disciplinary vantage points (e.g., agroecology, biotechnology, culinary praxis, design, and beyond), transnational perspectives, and a variety of methodological priorities. We seek empirical, applied work, as well as theoretical, speculative work and we value works-in-progress as much as we do completed manuscripts. Our aim is a panel that coalesces around microbial life and the complex (re)considerations they pose to human systems.

Paxson, H., & Helmreich, S. (2014). The perils and promises of microbial abundance. Social Studies of Science, 44(2), 165–193.


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