WP2: Health and medicine

WP2 Leaders: Espen Ytreberg, Anne Kveim Lie

WP2 studies the emergence and deployment of temporal arrangements in the field of health and medicine, more precisely, how bio-, geo-, and cosmo-chronologies enter into human life and behavior from the point of view of microbes. Microbes have their own time scales and life cycles. They have the power to mutate and recombine relentlessly and are constantly reinventing themselves in response to the antimicrobial treatments that have been developed over the last decades.

1) The first part of WP2 will explore the transformations of bacteria and bacterial ecologies during the 20th century as temporal and spatial events, that is, as biological, historical and cultural processes. Since the 1950s, bacterial populations everywhere, not only in the human body, have been exposed to antibiotics in increasing amounts, changing both the tempo (acceleration) and the mode (horizontal gene transfer) of microbes. In order to target these new microbes, new scientific theories and technologies, diagnostic techniques, surveillance and antibiotics, have been produced: Antibiotic resistance has changed the very science from which it sprung (Landecker 2016), and we will explore these changing transformations during the last 60 years.

2) The second part of WP2 continues the exploration of the time scales of microbes, but now exploring the old and ageing body, in which microbes are assigned the role as both indicators and factors of on-going processes of decay. We will study how microbes have emerged as keys to understanding the temporal arrangement, the durations, speeds, and rhythms of human life, ageing, for short, from the beginning of the 20th century until the current globally disseminated discussions on microbiome diets. Recently, the time scales of microbes have thus become entangled with one of the most significant global challenges of the 21st century: that the population of the world, and especially the Western world, is incessantly ageing. The second part of WP2 will follow the emergence of gerontology as a practice designed to synchronize lifetimes and historical times, or more precisely, microbiotic times with the modern dream of progress (Jordheim, 2017b). 3) The third part of WP2 takes its cue from two observations: firstly, that microbe pandemics can be viewed as global events that have been pervasively mediated throughout the modern period and even before. Second, that these events involve an interrelation of politics, mediations and the biologies of microbes. The medial context will be this subproject’s special emphasis. Its empirical material is culled from coverage in the periodical media of selected international influenza pandemics such as the 1918 “Spanish flu”, the 1958 Asian influenza and the 2009 flu pandemic. These will be analysed with a view to to the events’ historically changing forms and temporal structures. In terms of theory, this subproject builds on a developing strain of media-historical research on events (e.g. Bösch and Schmidt 2010, Ytreberg 2017). It will also draw upon and contribute to an emerging interdisciplinary discourse on interrelationships between the history of media/mediation and various forms of natural science and history (for biology, e.g Parikka 2010; ecology, e.g. Fuller 2007; the natural environment, e.g. Peters 2015).