The Anthropocene is the outcome of an antibiotic mode of managing life, characterised by systemic efforts to eradicate, control and simply ecological systems. This rationalisation of life has enabled a specific and selective mode of human flourishing. But it comes at a cost. Across a range of scales, we are now experiencing Anthropocene blowback: the intensified emergence of pathogenic and dangerous risks, from pandemics to extreme weather. In response to these risks, a growing range of scientists, citizens and politicians are experimenting with probiotic approaches to managing life. Probiotic approaches use life to manage life; introducing ecologically significant, ‘keystone species’ to deliver desired functions and services. Examples range from rewilding to tackle biodiversity loss and climate change in the countryside to microbiome restoration for gut and soil health. These interventions involve target programmes of ‘controlled decontrolling’. This lecture provides an overview of these developments, reflecting on the specific mode of biopolitics they perform, and the unequal implications of the probiotic turn for the human and nonhuman lives it governs and neglects.
Jamie Lorimer is associate professor of geography and the environment at Oxford University. His research interests encompass cultural geography, the geographies of science, the politics of Nature and wildlife conservation. He is the author of Wildlife in the Anthropocene: Conservation after Nature (2015).