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Open Access

“What Would a Microbe Say?”: Paving the Way toMultispecies Communication


Microbiome research has shown that microbes sustain and significantly affect human and non-human existence. However, an antagonistic view of microbes still prevails, even on a linguistic level. In this paper, we use the approach of ecolinguistics to critique the term ‘invasion,’ which is frequently applied to describe microbe-human entanglements. Taking the example of Sonja Bäumel and Helen Blackwell’s BioArt project What WouldaMicrobe Say?, we demonstrate how even progressive non-anthropocentric perspectives of humanmicrobe interactions struggle with long-established language patterns. Yet, only respectfully conceived multispecies relationships allow for engaging in multispecies communication, which, in turn, makes it possible to perceive multispecies knowledge production. We argue that sensitivity to language is essential in order to reshape the perception of human-microbe relationships. Combining perspectives from medical and environmental humanities, we conclude our paper with a call for a microbial ethics that might allow for visions of how to live together with microbes in a respectful way.