Environmentality in biomedicine: microbiome research and the perspectival body

Joana Formosinho, Adam Bencard, Louise Whiteley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Microbiome research shows that human health is foundationally intertwined with the ecology of microbial communities living on and in our bodies. This challenges the categorical separation of organisms from environments that has been central to biomedicine, and questions the boundaries between them. Biomedicine is left with an empirical problem: how to understand causal pathways between host health, microbiota and environment? We propose a conceptual tool – environmentality – to think through this problem. Environmentality is the state or quality of being an environment for something else in a particular context: a fully perspectival proposition. Its power lies partly in what Isabelle Stengers has called the efficacy of the word itself, contrasting the dominant sense of the word environment as something both external and fixed. Through three case studies, we argue that environmentality can help think about the causality of microbiota vis-a-vis host health in a processual, relational and situated manner, across scales and temporalities. We situate this intervention within historical trajectories of thought in biomedicine, focusing on the challenge microbiome research poses to an aperspectival body. We argue that addressing entanglements between microbial and human lives requires that the environment is brought into the clinic, thus shortening the conceptual gap between medicine and public health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)148-158
Number of pages11
JournalStudies in History and Philosophy of Science
Volume91
Early online date16 Dec 2021
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2022

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Microbiome
  • Environment
  • Public health
  • Holobiont
  • Biomedicine
  • Situated knowledges

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