“Working from the Perspective of Microbes”: On Unknowability in Natural Fermentation Practices
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.
is a postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for the Social Study of Microbes at the University of Helsinki. She received her doctorate in Communication Studies from Concordia University in Montreal, Canada, and was a postdoc for the international STS-project “Future Organisms” with University of Edinburgh, Colorado State University, and Keio University. Maya Hey
“Inside the steaming basket” Credit: Maya Hey, 2019.
We’re kicking off the seminar series again this spring! For our upcoming seminar in March, STS Helsinki will host Cindy Kohtala. Welcome to the talk, which will be held at Unioninkatu 35, room 113, at 14–16!
Studying Fab Labs as an Industrial Transitions Movement
DIY makers are grassroots translocal groups whose activities, strategies and visions are directed at localizing design, innovation and production. They develop their own open-source projects, products and inventions in shared spaces (fab labs, hacklabs and makerspaces); contribute to open software and distributed web development; and engage wider publics in material experimentation. Discourses and practices in maker culture are fragmented and shifting over the previous two decades, at times critiqued for being techno-utopian and at others explicitly oriented to environmental sustainability, material circularity and social justice. At the same time, European Commission funding calls are increasingly attracting fab labs and distributed manufacturing interests into strategic coalitions, design research and education is experiencing an identity crisis with regard to its origins in European and US “industrial design”, and the utopian promises of initial world wide web peer-to-peer culture are now being experienced as social media capitalist enclosure, mass surveillance and threats to democracy. In this talk I will discuss my experiences as a design researcher examining maker culture and sustainability material activism as an industrial transitions movement, after David J Hess’s framework bridging Science & Technology Studies, transitions studies and social movement studies.
Cindy Kohtala is Professor in Design for Sustainability and Programme Director of the MFA programme in Interaction Design at the Umeå Institute of Design, Umeå University, Sweden. She received her doctorate from Aalto University, Department of Design, and was a postdoc in Aalto’s INUSE Users and Innovation research group.
Join the talk on Zoom: