SURF

Allison Yates

When Bacteria Get "Good" - Purity, Progress, and the Making of Probiotics

Probiotics, microorganisms known to benefit their host, appear in curious sites: from the projected $23 billion dollar market involving upper-middle class white women searching for perfect intestinal balance – to the international struggle to treat infant mortality in the third world. My research will investigate the manner in which probiotics are discussed in scientific and clinical settings, as well as the ways they are marketed and consumed. I will interview leaders in clinical probiotics research, travel to a Bay Area creamery that uses probiotics in their products, and survey probiotics consumers at Berkeley grocery stores. Identical probiotics strains are described in very different ways depending on the context of their usage. Sometimes they are said to restore balance. Other times they are said to save lives. Rather than asking the question of whether or not probiotics are, in fact, effective health remedies I want to explore the ways in which stories about these microorganisms travel. What happens, and who benefits, when bacteria get good?

Message to Sponsor

As someone typically situated in the social sciences and humanities, it can be difficult for me to access the world of scientific research. SURF enables me to explore scientific research at its source, allowing me to travel to an international conference on probiotics. Because of the independent nature of SURF work, I will be able to expand my theoretical lens in feminist theory and the history of science while simultaneously conducting original ethnographic research of my own. Im very grateful for the opportunity to explore the social life of microscopic organisms as I finish my senior honors thesis.
  • Major: Interdisciplinary Studies Field: Food and the Body
  • Sponsor: JSB Fund
  • Mentor: Cori Hayden, Anthropology