Call for Papers (RGS-IBG Annual Conference 2021): “Biotic Geographies: Unpicking Microbial Worlds in Health, Hygiene and Environmental Spaces”

This is an updated version of the session we proposed in 2020 for the then-postponed RGS-IBG Annual Conference.

This year, the conference will be from the 31st August to the 3rd September.

Convened by Alistair Anderson (University of Nottingham, & Alice Beck (University of Bristol,

In recent years there has been an increased attention from geographers towards pre/pro- and anti-biotic imaginaries that drive the bordering and administration of non-, in- and human subjects. These engagements have included examinations of social, cultural, political, and economic landscapes and more-than-human entanglements of microbial life. In proposing new modes of relating to microbiomes for example – from a “feeling for the microbiome” (Greenhough et al. 2018) to a conception of “corporeal communication” (Beck 2019) – geographers have engaged with pro-biotic perspectives to trouble the ontological borders between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ microbial life and the “virtuous and the pathological” worlds that such conceptions may divide (Hinchliffe 2015). Pre/pro- and anti-bioses are not limited to microbial relations, with further engagements highlighting the importance of considering the “violent colonial presents, and forms of political economy, within which [the probiotic turn] proceeds” (Lorimer 2017).

This session will put into question how representations of, and interactions with, microbial life challenge or extend narratives of borders/borderlands in health-related spaces, illustrated for example by COVID-19 and including ‘One Health’ contexts. The session aims to extend geographical engagements with the microbiome and microbial life more broadly by questioning how conceptions of the microbiome, and pre-/pro- and anti-biotic approaches are implicated in social, political, economic, methodological and cultural imaginations through understandings of health, hygiene and environment.

In thinking with the theme of ‘borders, borderlands and bordering’, we invite contributions that respond to the above challenge and speak to these inexhaustive prompts:

  • How is an identity made for microbial life and what is at stake in health settings?
  • How do microbial mobilities, such as those involved in COVID-19, generate or dissolve borders and borderlands?
  • Whose bodies count, and what counts as a ‘body’, within pre/pro- and anti-biotic discourses?
  • Are probiotic discourses used to justify damaging – or anti-biotic – forms of surveillance or extraction?

Instructions for prospective presenters:
Please email a title, 250 word abstract, name, and affiliation to and by 23:59 on 31st January 2021.

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