Working “from the Perspective of Microbes”: On Unknowability in Natural Fermentation Practices

invited by STS Helsinki, prepared for STS scholars, 06 April 2023

Academic Abstract: This talk examines the onto-ethico-epistemologies of working with microbes in a natural fermentation setting: what are microbes, how do microbes become known, and what is done with them in the multiple steps of sake-brewing? Since the ‘natural’ part of natural fermentation assumes low-intervention brewing methods, the answers to these questions paint a less mechanistic understanding than modern logics of control would imply. Microbes are still categorized along good/bad binaries but only insofar as they mobilize deference and proactivity on the part of the brewers; the practices of working with them prioritize ongoingness over mastery and finality; and brewers adopt a dispositional ethic that takes seriously the unknowability of microbes. To accept this unknowability as such could mean positing a way to work with, think with, and be with microbes despite/given the incommensurability across different agents. Based on ethnographic data, this talk analyzes how brewers “work from the perspective of microbes” at the scale of a brewing business, and how this perspective comes with an opportunity to test the tensility of concepts such as non-anthropocentrism, multispecies worlding, and differential ways of knowing. It weaves together three disciplinary foci—the epistemics and knowledge-production of STS, multispecies relationality and ethical entanglements in environmental humanities, and mediated sense-making in communication studies—with the hopes of furthering discussions about ways of knowing microbial life.

Fermentation Futures in the Making

invited by KojiCon, prepared for koji enthusiasts, 02 March 2023

Summary: This talk is about the science of enzymes in mold-based fermentation and how that understanding is being used to benefit (and complicate) the future of food innovations, biotechnology, and nutrition. If we are to aim for a better future through fermentation, we will need to question the science, its assumptions, and its politics as well. 

What Connects Us: stories of working across difference with humans and microbes

invited by Microbes and Social Equity Group, prepared for bench scientists, 25 April 2022

Summary: What connects us across different scales of life? This talk examines three case studies—on fermentation, conversation, and innovation—to better understand how micro-organisms affect macro-cultures and vice-versa, with emphasis on working with difference instead of resolving them. 

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guest lecture, invited by the Department of Communication & Media Studies, York University, Canada, November 2021

guest lecture, invited by the Department of English Language and Literature, University of Waterloo, Canada, October 2021

guest lecture, invited by the School of Management and Strate Ecole de Design, ESC Clermont, Lyon, France, August 2021

guest lecture, invited by The Harker Upper School, California, May 2020

guest lecture, invited by Champlain College St-Lambert (CÉGEP), Canda, March 2017, 2018, 2020

keynote address, invited by Niida Honke, Fukushima, Japan, February 2020

guest lecture, invited by Departments of East Asian Studies and Media Studies, McGill University, Canada, 2019

talk, invited by Chiitorattsu Nousha, Shizuoka, Japan, April 2019

keynote address, invited by Irish Fermentation Festival, County Sligo, June 2017

guest lecture, invited by the Department of Food Science, University of Copenhagen, March 2016

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