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Microbes, chemicals and the health of homes: integrating theories to account for more-than-human entanglements

  • Rachael Wakefield-RannEmail author
  • Dena Fam
  • Susan Stewart
Original Article


In the post-war period, the health risks posed by indoor environments have both transformed and challenged notions of environmental health centred on pathogenic germs. The composition of home spaces, particularly in developed nations, has been fundamentally altered by the introduction of formerly industrial chemicals to everyday products and building materials. Further, the changing nature of building design, cleaning practices and urban life have altered the ‘microbiomes’ of homes, contributing to a rise in certain immune system conditions. This paper contends that to begin to address these concerns, the microscopic elements of ‘indoor ecosystems’, and how they are created and maintained, must become a focal point for research. It proposes an approach that integrates social practice theories and multispecies ethnography to investigate the cumulative composition of indoor spaces. Findings detail the application of this approach to research into the domestic hygiene practices of parents with young children in Sydney, Australia. This approach highlights crucial assumptions about the ways micro-scale agency is embedded in everyday domestic practices that are contributing to sub-optimal indoor environments.


Multispecies ethnography Social practice theory Indoor environmental health Micro-species 


Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors have no competing interests—intellectual or financial—in the research detailed in the manuscript.

Ethical approval

The authors confirm that the manuscript is comprised of original material that is not under review elsewhere, and that the study on which the research is based has been subject to the University of Technology Sydney’s internal ethics review process.


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© Springer Nature Limited 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Sustainable FuturesUniversity of Technology SydneyUltimoAustralia
  2. 2.Faculty of Design Architecture and BuildingUniversity of Technology SydneyUltimoAustralia

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