The Centre for the Social Study of Microbes at the University of Helsinki is a hub for social scientists and artists conducting research on human-microbial relations. We aim to develop theory and methods to better make sense of the complex relations between humans, nonhumans, microbes, and their environments.
Microbes are not only biological entities but also shape, and are shaped by, our social worlds. Relationships with microbes raise profound challenges for social theory, which demand new social scientific language and methodologies for describing and explaining the complex and entwined relationships between human and nonhuman animals, microbes, and the environment. Not only is this work theoretically motivated, it is key to developing sustainable methods of planetary co-existence in the Anthropocene.
The creation of innovative knowledge about these new relations requires novel, inclusive, and egalitarian ways of knowing and the CSSM has a strong emphasis on collaboration. The Centre is establishing an exploratory setting in which new non-hierarchical collaborative practices are developed, seeking inspiration from how the slime mould evolves without a central organising body.
The Centre is located in Helsinki, Finland, and hosts international research fellows and an art residency and organises experimental social theory and methodology workshops, academic seminars,and a yearly PhD school, and provides funding for international workshops.
The global proliferation of antimicrobial resistance, anthropogenic environmental change, and now the COVID-19 global pandemic are examples of the urgency to find new ways of living in a more sustainable and socially just way with each other, with other animals, plants and our microbial ancestors. The aim of our research is to produce fine-grained analysis of human-animal-microbial relationships that can inspire change. From the global governance of antimicrobial resistance and practices with microbial materials; through biotechnical practices with humans and microbes; to traditional and contemporary fermentation practices, our research projects and practices are interdisciplinary, geographically dispersed, and multi-scalar.
The diverse research backgrounds of our members spanning gender studies, development studies, sociology, science and technology studies, philosophy, anthropology, arts, and the medical and natural sciences, combine to produce a rich ecology of approaches and practices to developing new forms of knowledge about and with microbes. Our collective aim is to develop novel theories and methodologies for producing knowledge about and with microbes. These include combining ethnography with artistic and performative practices, and public fermentation and other experimental workshops to gain a deeper, more sensory and embodied perspective of our shared lives with microbes.