Public Lecture: Myra Hird at Penn State – "Microontologies of Waste, and the Radical Asymmetry of a Stratified Planet"

Myra Hird is giving a public lecture at Penn State on October 13th, 4:00pm-5:30pm. This will be followed by an advanced seminar on October 14th, 10:00am-11:30pm.

Microbes famously starred in Latour’s path-breaking account of a modern networked power that hinged upon turning microscopic life into visible, present and negotiable participants in socio-political worlds. Microorganisms continue to feature in accounts of global power in which human actors mobilize – globally, speedily, even preemptively – to counter threats of emergent pathogenic life. More recently, anthropogenic environmental disasters provide an opportunity for industry to set bacteria to work eating oil spills and cyanide in water systems. Both characterizations harbor a sense of control and mastery; that humans will overcome nature’s vicissitudes, and ultimately put nature – in this case the microcosmos – in our service as we imagine geo-engineering solutions to anthropogenic environmental change. This talk suggests an alternate framing of bacterial life as providing the condition of possibility for all other life forms on Earth. Through an analysis of the creative capacities of bacteria in metabolizing our global detritus, I argue that the ontological provocation of the human waste-bacterial conjunction is the fact of our total dependence on life forms whose life-worlds and trajectories are likely to remain overwhelmingly unknown to us. If this offers a cautionary note about our own increasingly hyperbolic perturbations of the Earth’s constitutive strata, perhaps its more profound prompting is about the force of the stratifications and destratifications proper to the planet itself.

Additional details, including directions and specific locations are available for the public lecture and for the seminar