Astrid Schrader: Haunted Microbes between Science and Art


In the age of climate change, microbes and microbiology are receiving increasing attention in the natural and social sciences, the humanities and the arts; microbes matter not only for the human gut and human health but also for the health of the planet. Marine microbes account for more than 90 percent of the biomass of the planet’s oceans; they both create and sustain the environmental conditions in which plants, animals and humans thrive. This talk explores how recent scientific investigation into microbial lives and ecologies undo some long held metaphysical assumptions about histories and temporalities of life, and their possibilities for reshaping the relationship between science, philosophy, politics and arts. In this context, Astrid Schrader draws from the scientific discoveries of cyanobacteria that follow a circadian (daily) rhythm but don’t live a day, dinoflagellates (harmful algae) that synchronize their death and collectively commit suicide, and marine viruses as ecological agents, that intervene in the distinction between life and non-life and undo the link between liveliness and agency. All these phenomena are cases of hauntings, in each of which haunted microbes are enacted slightly differently. Schraderis inspired by Jacques Derrida’s notion of hauntology that displaces conventional ontologies. The “logic of haunting” writes Derrida in his book Specters of Marx transcends “the opposition between presence and non-presence, actuality and inactuality, life and non-life” (1994, 12). Hauntologically existing microbes, Schrader argues, make explicit the practices that bring them about. Exploring an ethics of haunting, Schrader is interested in how arts practices may interrogate and illuminate scientific knowledge production, on one hand, and how science (itself) may become affective and creative, on the other hand.

Astrid Schrader

is a lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Philosophy, and Anthropology at the University of Exeter, UK. She works at the intersections of feminist science studies, human-animal studies, new materialisms, and posthumanist theories. Schrader is particularly interested in scientific research on marine microbes, responsible knowledge production, time in the Anthropocene, interdisciplinarity and relations between science and arts. Her work has been published in Social Studies of ScienceEnvironmental Philosophydifferences, Body & Society, Catalysts: Feminism, Theory, Technoscienceand Postmodern Culture (pmc). She coedited a special issue of differences titled “Feminist Theory Out of Science.”