Knowledge Production Through Making and Living with Other Species

Panel of Knowledge Production Through Making and Living with Other Species. Photo credit: Ostin Zarse

Friday, April 27
1:30pm – 3:00pm
ACT Cube, e15-001

Part of the Zooetics+ Symposium

Visions for species equality. Conviviality. Accessing other-than-human ways of knowing. Learning from other species (vis-a-vis biomimicry of other species)

Scott Gilbert and Stefan Helmreich
Moderator: Caitlin Berrigan
Respondent: Caroline A. Jones

Scott Gilbert

Professor of Biology Emeritus, Swarthmore College and Finland Distinguished Professor Emeritas, University of Helsinki

Becoming with Others: Better Living through Sympoiesis

Our bodies are not merely the cellular products of the zygote. Rather, animal bodies are composed of zygote-derived cells entangled with symbiotic microbes from many species. These microbes play important roles in our anatomical, physiological, immunological, and (perhaps even) mental constitution. Animals and plants are thus “holobionts,” collectivities of different species. Moreover, these microbes play numerous roles in forming our bodies. So embryology must expand to become a study of sympoiesis, the collective coming-into-being of our body through the entanglements of many species. We find, for example, that bacteria are needed for the formation of the gut-associated capillaries (which deliver food to the body) and the gut-associated immune cells of mammals. In insects, microbes are often needed for the maintenance of gonadal tissues and for metamorphosis. In fish, symbiotic microbes are critical for the normal formation of the insulin-secreting pancreatic cells as well as for the proper division of gut stem cells. Several studies have concluded that several mammalian social behaviors depend on symbiotic bacteria. Mammals have also evolved ways of transmitting these microbes to their offspring at a relatively high frequency. We literally become with others.


Stefan Helmreich

Professor of Anthropology, MIT

MultiMultispecies/Thinking against Species

This talk will provide an anthropologically tuned history of multispecies ethnography as a mode of encountering various animals, plants, fungi, and microbial life not only as tokens and technologies of human concerns, but also as others (significant and detached) and as agents (organic, semiotic) on something like their own terms. It will offer ways of thinking with/against/across the very concept of “species” that underwrites so much multi- species ethnography, and will therefore look and listen toward unexpected recombinations of science, art, nature/culture.


Caroline A. Jones

Professor, History, Theory, Criticism section, Department of Architecture, MIT

Reflecting Donna Haraway’s wordplay with ontics and antics, Caroline Jones’ panel response calls for a new aesthetic of “Symbiontics” —a critical subset of bio-art tuned to the new biology we are starting to feel and aspirationally be. Galvanized by the science of bionts, holobionts, the hologenome, horizontal inheritance, and metagenomics, artists are moving in where individualist philosophy fears to tread. Symbiontics proposes we join the gathering cultural evolution towards sensing our utter dependency on, and in, the planetary life systems.




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