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Regular version of the site

Research seminar: MIT anthropologists Heather Paxson and Stephen Helmreich on microbiopolitics and science

On October, 3, at 6 p.m. the Center for Historical Research organizes a scholar seminar with participation of Professor Heather Paxson and Professor Stefan Helmreich (Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA).

The seminar will include a paper by Professor Heather Paxson which will be followed by a discussion with Professor Stephen Helmreich.

“The Microbiopolitics of American Cheese: Taste, Safety and Risk in a Post-Industrializing Food Landscape”

paper by Heather Paxson


Cheese is alive with bacteria, yeasts and molds whose populations are guided, if not strictly controlled, by human manipulations. While generally understood to be a healthy food, cheese — especially when made from raw (unpasteurized) milk — may also harbor pathogenic organisms that can pose public health risks. Drawing on Foucault and Latour, this paper introduces the notion of "microbiopolitics" to call attention to how dissent over how best to live with microbes -- and “nature" more generally -- reflects disagreement about how humans ought to live with one another. For much of the 20th century, the microbiopolitics of cheese making in the U.S. presupposed and promoted industrial methods and standards. Over the last four decades, however, interest in producing and consuming artisanally made, raw-milk cheese has risen dramatically. Government food safety officials and artisan producers disagree over how best to ensure the safety of such cheeses. Recent regulatory battles over raw-milk cheese are shown to reveal cultural and political dissent in the United States concerning the nature of milk, the validity and efficacy of technoscientific v. "traditional" methods and equipment, the appropriate role of federal government, and even international trade politics.

The presentation by Professor Paxson will be followed by the conversion with Professor Stefan Helmreich.


“On some questions in current anthropology of science and anthropocene”

Conversion with Stefan Helmreich


Discussion will draw on Stefan Helmreich’s current work on how contemporary scientists—biologists, oceanographers, and audio engineers—are redefining the concepts of life, water, and sound. In the age of synthetic biology, rising sea levels, and new technologies of listening, these phenomena stretch toward their conceptual snapping points, breaching the boundaries between the natural, cultural, and virtual.

 

Heather Paxson is Professor of Anthropology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She is the author of ethnographic monographs Making Modern Mothers: Ethics and Family Planning in Urban Greece (University of California Press, 2004) and The Life of Cheese: Crafting Food and Value in America (University of California Press, 2012).

Stefan Helmreich is Professor of Anthropology, and Head of Anthropology Program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research has examined how biologists think through the limits of "life" as a category of analysis. He is the author of ethnographic monographs Silicon Second Nature: Culturing Artificial Life in a Digital World (University of California Press, 1998), Alien Ocean: Anthropological Voyages in Microbial Seas (University of California Press, 2009) and Sounding the Limits of Life: Essays in the Anthropology of Biology and Beyond (Princeton University Press, 2016).

The seminar will take place on October, 3, at 6 p.m. at HSE in St.Petersburg, 17 Promyshlennaya St., assembly hall, 4th floor, room 412.

Working language of the seminar: English

Contact e-mail (information and registration for non-HSE in St.Petersburg participants):iazakharova@hse.ru

We kindly ask non HSE participants to register for the event.