QLE.20.004 – Local Ecologies: Living and Working with Microbes for Planetary Wellbeing

Route: Quality of the living environment

Cluster question: 005 What role do micro-organisms play in ecosystems and how can we use them to improve health and the environment?

Inspired by bio-scientific insights into microbial worlds, social scientists who study the ways humans make sense of and order nature have begun to ask foundational questions about the entwinement of culture and nature, including contemporary attempts to reorganize social, political and economic life to tackle planetary problems such climate change, biodiversity loss, ecological collapse and infectious pandemics. Through a series of loosely connected case studies intent on ethnographically examining human-microbial relations in specific situated ecologies, this interdisciplinary research aims to understand the ways that new scientific knowledge about the embeddedness and connectedness of biological life forms invites modes of ecological thinking critical to the survival of people and planet.

Microbiome, epigenetic and phylogenetic research has drawn attention to and stimulated public debate about gene-environment interactions and the ways that humans come into being in relation to microbial life forms embedded in local ecologies shaped by global forces and deep time trajectories. This knowledge is challenging cultural understandings of evolution, kinship, genetic inheritance, human origins, and human life itself. At stake is a reconceptualization of life on Earth as being contingent upon microbial entanglement, and therefore integrated and processual. Might such understandings of life provide leverage for new modes of ecological thinking that facilitate and encourage planetary approaches to global governance, sustainable trade, and future health?

The big question asked in this research is: How can novel understandings of life emerging from molecular biology, phylogenetics, epigenetics and biotechnology reshape human institutions to tackle planetary problems? More specifically: What ecological insights might be gained from investigating the social, economic and political context of human encounters with microbial others?


anthropology of science, biotechnology, epigenetics, microbiomes, multi-species ethnography, phylogenetics, planetary health, science and technology studies, symbiosis

Other organisations

Amsterdam Institute for Global Health and Development


Organisation University of Amsterdam (UvA)
Name Dr. E.M. (Eileen) Moyer
E-mail e.m.moyer@uva.nl
Website https://www.uva.nl/profiel/m/o/e.m.moyer/e.m.moyer.html