Jamie Lorimer: Going probiotic: using life to manage life in human and environmental health

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The Centre for the Study of Democracy, based in the Department of Politics and International Relations, has an international reputation for research excellence, with research themes in contentious politics and democracy, security and violence in global politics, gender and sexuality, as well as resilience and sustainability.


To date the Anthropocene has been an antibiotic epoch, marked by systematic (if patchy) efforts to eradicate, control, and rationalise life. Widespread anxieties about the pathologies of such modern forms of biopower are informing a probiotic turn in the management of human and environmental health. Here formerly taboo lifeforms and process are being reintroduced into our bodies, homes, cities and the wider countryside. The aim being to use life to manage life, securing the circulation of biological and geophysical process to deliver desired functions and services. This lecture critically evaluates this turn, focusing on the use of keystone species – ecologically significant animals capable of regulating ecological dynamics – to restore target ecologies. It draws on examples of rewilding in the macrobiome and biome restoration in the microbiome to identify a common ontology and ‘environmental’ mode of biopower (after Foucault 2010). The analysis offers criteria for critically evaluating the political ecologies of these probiotic environmentalities and their potential for hospitable government for, and beyond, the Anthropocene.

Jamie Lorimer is an Associate Professor in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. His research examines popular and scientific understandings of nature and the politics of managing life. Past projects have crossed scales from elephants to microbes. He is the author of Wildlife in the Anthropocene: Conservation after Nature (University of Minnesota Press). His current book project examines the probiotic turn in Western healthcare and environmental management.

Seminars are followed by drinks with the speaker.

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Westminster Forum, Level 5, 32-38 Wells St, London W1T 3UW