Formulating citizenship: The microbiopolitics of the malfunctioning functional beverage
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Human and microbial lives constantly intersect. However, accounts of microbial-human partnerings have yet to explore how producers, consumers, and regulators use their imaginings of microbiological activity to shape individual action. How do these understandings and imaginings of microbial life shape relationships with the state in an environment where citizens expect and demand that their government promote food safety via regulatory intervention? This article provides a theoretical framework for understanding producer and consumer responses to the regulatory crackdown over minimal levels of alcohol in kombucha in the U.S., as well as larger conversations about human–microbe relationships. Through interviews with kombucha producers and consumers, media analysis, and observation, I develop the concept of microbiological citizenship to analyze how producers and consumers of kombucha – a fermented tea – sought to preserve their relations with microbial life in the face of regulatory crackdown. Producer practices to re-manage and preserve microbial life in the face of structural difficulties suggest that for post-Pasteurians, encouragement of human–microbe relationships creates new ties of responsibility that promote collaboration rather than competition. Read through the lens of microbiological citizenship, the controversy over kombucha points to how acknowledging, and even welcoming, the microbial irruptions into human life opens up, complicates, and potentially addresses some of the troubling aspects of biological citizenship.
Keywordscitizenship microbiopolitics food multispecies
This project was supported by a SSRC-DPDF, a Mellon/ACLS doctoral dissertation fellowship, and by the Hixon-Riggs Early Career Fellowship in Science, Technology, and Society at Harvey Mudd College. I am indebted to Emily Martin, Peter Galison, and Caroline Jones for feedback on early drafts of this paper, to Hi’ilei Hobart, Gwen D’Arcangelis, Stacy Macías, Cherisse Yanit Nadal, and to the three anonymous reviewers for their helpful suggestions and comments. This manuscript is comprised of original material and is not under review elsewhere. The study on which the research is based received exempt status from New York University’s Institutional Review Board, and additional research conducted in 2015–2016 received exempt status from the Claremont Graduate University’s Institutional Review Board. I have no competing interests in the research detailed in this manuscript.
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