“If wine hasn’t been turned into a standardized beverage, there’s room for variation. There’s an appreciation for variation that has something to do with the taste of place. And there’s different vintages, if not manipulated to achieve a standard outcome, will be distinctive. You’re tasting 2009 compared to 2016. And that tells you something about how warm it was that year or things that are more complex than that”
Deborah Heath, a leading anthropologist of wine and Associate Professor of Anthropology at Lewis & Clark in Portland, Oregan, chats (over a glass of wine, of course) with our very own Jodie-Lee Trembath at the 4S Conference in Sydney in late August.
Keeping with the theme of Deborah’s workshop with Mike Bennie, Natty Wine and Its Companion Species, they discuss the meaning behind wine by comparing the differences between commercial winemaking and natural winemaking, how chemicals used during the production cycle of wine create post-apocalyptic worlds around Donna Haraway’s “contact zone”, and about living with the trouble of anthropology, the work that can and has been invasive and has privileged our relative power concerning those that we work with.
(Just like our last panel episode, this interview was not recorded in our usual studio so you may notice a difference in sound quality – what can we say, we like getting out of the office to learn from as many people as we can!)
“Wine doesn’t exist in nature. Grapes don’t turn themselves into wine without some sort of collaborative relationship with people who make wine.”
“The loose umbrella of so-called ‘natural wine’ is variously used to refer to wines that are manipulated less – wines that don’t have chemical inputs in the vineyard, which have become routine especially since World War Two, and that minimize interventions in the wine cellar” … “It’s pretty common practice to do what’s called chaptalization which means to add sugar which boosts alcohol, it’s fairly common practice to add acid, but a natural winemaker wouldn’t do either of those things.”
“Thinking about the other agents that collaborate in the growing of grapes and the vineyard and the fermentation process that delivers us with our delicious wine, there are opportunities to think about lots of different worlds that are in play in making this happen.”
“The travels that I’ve done to wine regions in different parts of the world have shown me these stark contrasts – you’ll see side by side vineyards that are managed organically and bio-dynamically, and those that are managed conventionally. The ones that are managed conventionally have been sprayed with herbicides like Roundup between the rows of the vines and they’re brown. They look like a moonscape. And next door is a thriving, teeming cornucopia of plants that are growing between the vines … So instead of there being a community of plants and micro-flora working in concert with one another, you’ve got … a disrupted circuit of communication.”
“Normally when we think of companion species, we’re kind of thinking about pets.”
“In a fully self-sustaining vineyard environment, there will be lots of other critters involved. If you have animals like sheep, chickens, cattle, horses, that graze on the property and produce manure, then that manure can then be composted, you’ve got their participation in this nutrient soil that also then contributes to the micro-flora in the soil.”
“Composting is described by those who do it as magical!”
“Each of us can decide what tastes good to us. And then again we’re in the cross-hairs of marketing.”
Jodie: “She told me, the kinds of white wines that you’ve been drinking are highly commercialized and not very refined.”
Deborah: “They’re highly manipulated.”
“People are only patients when they’re in the middle of an appointment.”
“We all strive to, as Donna Haraway says, live with the trouble, live with the contradictions of the work that we do that can and has been invasive, that has – many times – privileged our relative power, vis-à-vis those that we work with.”
LINKS AND CITATIONS
Haraway D. (2008) When species meet, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota.
You can read more about Donna Haraway’s book ‘When Species Meet’ here: https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/when-species-meet
For an explainer about chaptalization, give this article on Vine Pair a read:
Trubek A. (2009) The Taste of Place: A Cultural Journey into Terroir, Berkeley: University of California Press.
For a further explanation and exploration of affordances:
Rietveld E., de Haan S., Denys D. (2013) Social Affordances in Context: What is it that we are bodily responsive to?, in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, vol. 36, no. 4.
And you can read Rietveld et al (2013)’s article here: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/251877658_Social_affordances_in_context_What_is_it_that_we_are_bodily_responsive_to
The Brad Weiss episode Jodie mentions can be found here: https://thefamiliarstrange.com/2018/07/23/ep-18-brad-weiss/
For more about noble grapes vs. marginalized grapes, give these a read:
1) ‘Noble Grapes 101’ from Virtual Vino:
2) ‘The 6 Noble Grapes: Their History & Influence on Wine’ from Vine Pair: https://vinepair.com/wine-blog/the-6-noble-grapes/
If you’d like to know more about Deborah’s work mapping genetic knowledge, see the news post from Lewis & Clark:
This anthropology podcast is supported by the Australian Anthropological Society, the ANU’s College of Asia and the Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, and the Australian Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, and is produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.
Show notes by Deanna Catto
Image: “Tasting Place″ by Jodie-Lee Trembath
Jodie Trembath: 00:00 Hey everyone, first off, we at the Familiar Strange want to acknowledge and celebrate the first Australians on whose traditional lands we are recording this podcast and pay our respects to the elders of the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples past, present, and emerging. Let's go.
Music interlude: 00:00 Music
Jodie Trembath: 00:26 Hello and welcome to The Familiar Strange! I am your Familiar Stranger today, Jodie-Lee Trembath. Welcome to the podcast, brought to you with support from: the Australian Anthropological Society, The Australian National University’s College of Asia Pacific and College of Arts and Social Sciences, the Australian Center for the Public Awareness of Science, and produced in collaboration with the American Anthropological Association.
Jodie Trembath: 00:46 So today I am bringing you an interview with Deborah Heath who is a leading anthropologist of wine. We recorded this interview at the 4S Conference in August 2018, and I should probably just mentioned that that's on Gadigal land, not on Ngambri and Ngunnawal land. When we recorded this interview, we sat down, we had a good chat about wine over a glass of wine and that was probably the best possible way to record an interview and I recommend everybody doing it that way in the future. Deborah Heath is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at Lewis and Clark in Portland, Oregon, and she's had quite a diverse academic career ranging from the anthropology of science, medicine and technology, to the anthropology of food and drink, and to feminist studies.
Jodie Trembath: 01:28 She has worked on collaborative projects aimed at mapping genetic knowledge and she's also researched women's dance and fashion in Senegal. And she is obviously quite the connoisseur of wine. So at the 4S conference, Deborah joined with Mike Bennie, who's the founder of the sustainably focused wine fair 'Rootstock' and also co owner of P&V Wine and Liquor Merchants. Both of those are in Sydney. And she created a workshop that talked about natural wine worlds and the complex relationships that take place around grape vines, with grape vines, and between grape vines. So we unpack the meaning behind wine by exploring the differences between commercial winemaking and natural wine making. We look at how using chemicals, like the ones that Monsanto create on grapevines actually creates these post-apocalyptic worlds in which the communications all go down between the vines. We talk about companion species. They're not just your pets; sometimes they are bringing you wine which would be the best kind of pet. And we talk about living with the trouble. That's kind of the mantra of science and technology studies, particularly in regards to anthropology, being able to move forward knowing that that complication is there and pushing through anyway. So here it is. My conversation with Deborah Heath at the 4S conference.
Music interlude: 02:50 Music
Jodie Trembath: 03:00 So maybe you could start by telling us what is natural wine - isn't all wine natural? I mean, it's grapes.
Deborah Heath: 03:06 So wine doesn't exist in nature.
Jodie Trembath: 03:10 That's true.
Deborah Heath: 03:11 Grapes don't turn themselves into wine without some sort of collaborative relationship with people who make wine. The loose umbrella of so-called natural wine is variously used to refer to wines that are manipulated less. Wines that don't have chemical inputs in the vineyard, which have become routine, especially since World War II and that minimize the interventions in the wine cellar. And it's the loose network of people around the world who are thinking about making low intervention wine that have been one of the foci of my research as an anthropologist for a number of years now.
Jodie Trembath: 04:00 You said that there's less chemicals. What kind of chemicals go into wine when it's not natural?
Deborah Heath: 04:07 It's actually pretty incredible. In the cellar, there's a really long list of additives. Some of them wouldn't strike you as out of the ordinary perhaps, but labeling rules typically don't require wine makers to tell us what they've added. So it's pretty common practice, for instance, to do what's called chaptalization, which means to add sugar, which boosts alcohol. It's fairly common practice to add acid, but a natural winemaker wouldn't do either of those things. It's standard practice really to use sulfur dioxide in order to stabilize wine. It's both the anti microbial and the antioxidant. It's used in pretty high quantities in conventional winemaking and people who are participating in this conversation will say that adding too much or some of them will say adding any sulfur dioxide mutes the aromatic properties of the wine and ask that we not do that.
Jodie Trembath: 05:13 Yeah. So if it's...if it's stabilizing it, does that imply that the wine lasts longer, that it's more consistent---
Deborah Heath: 05:21 That it's better suited for travel---
Jodie Trembath: 05:22 Right
Deborah Heath: 05:22 For instance, many producers who are trying to minimize how much their wine is messed with will add a bit of S02 at time of bottling
Jodie Trembath: 05:35 S02's the sulfur dioxide?
Deborah Heath: 05:36 Sulfur dioxide right, and commercial producers will add a ton of it at the time that grapes are brought in for harvest and one of the things that allows them to do is not be so careful about the condition of the grapes when they bring them in. They don't have to harvest them carefully, so a lot of natural producers are returning to the practices of artisan winemaking, of hand harvesting, for instance, in just making sure that the grapes that end up in the fermentation vessels are intact so that there's not a way for undesirable microbes to make their way in.
Jodie Trembath: 06:17 I want to ask you about the title of your presentation and also just for the purposes of listeners, can I just say that I drank a lot of wine at Deborah's presentation the other night and I didn't have a hangover, to the extent that I'm now having another glass of this delicious wine while we are recording this episode...
Deborah Heath: 06:35 The title of the workshop that Jodie joined me for was 'Natty Wine and its Companion Species'.
Jodie Trembath: 06:43 Yeah. Which I love. And so you mentioned undesirable microbes. Are they some of the companion species or are they the bad guys?
Deborah Heath: 06:53 Well, you know, not all companions are good companions, right? Or not all companions are necessary or desirable under all circumstances. So there's a lot that's going on in fermentation and as an anthropologist who also works in STS, science and technology studies, I've been part of this conversation that we now refer to as multispecies ethnography and thinking about the other agents that collaborate in the growing of grapes, in the vineyard, in the fermentation process that delivers us with our delicious wine. There are opportunities to think about lots of different worlds that are in play, in making this happen. So in the vineyard, I've become enamoured with the zone around the root of the grapevine, which is called the rhizosphere and the rhizosphere is what Donna Haraway and others have called 'a contact zone' where the plant and its root meet the fungi and bacteria that live in the soil that create the symbiotic relationships that give the grapevine access to water and nutrients.
Deborah Heath: 08:12 So the mycorrhizal fungi send out their filaments into the pores of the soil and they're much finer than even the finest of root hairs. And they also have this symbiotic relationship with the root where they are fed by the root of the plant. They're fed carbohydrates, and so there's a nutrient exchange this going on and the winemakers interest in what the French call Terroir. Terroir. Which anthropologist Amy Trubek calls the taste of place is facilitated by these multispecies relationships. So if someone's practicing conventional or what came to be conventional after World War Two and using chemical herbicides---
Jodie Trembath: 09:01 Like Roundup?
Deborah Heath: 09:04 Like, like glyphosate. The, the, the main agent in Roundup, which is routinely used in vineyards and fields of gardens that Monsanto says is perfectly safe, but plenty of data suggests otherwise. It's NOT safe to these soil micro flora. It kills them and that cuts off this communication network between minerals and other soil attributes in the plant itself. So, strike number one.
Jodie Trembath: 09:37 So it sounds almost like, I don't know, some kind of SciFi fiction story, doesn't it? You've got these underground tunnels that are communicating with each other across the different vines and I mean you can imagine that we'd end up with a post apocalyptic world if you killed off all of the communication systems between regions.
Deborah Heath: 09:59 Yeah, it sounds sort of grim, doesn't it?
Jodie Trembath: 10:01 A little bit!
Deborah Heath: 10:02 And the travels that I've done to wine regions in different parts of the world have shown me these stark contrasts. You'll see, side-by-side, vineyards that are managed organically, biodynamically and those that are managed conventionally. The ones that are managed conventionally have been sprayed with herbicides like Roundup between the rows of the vines, and they're brown. They look like a moonscape. And next door is a thriving, teeming cornucopia of plants that are growing between the vines. And many people, plant particular cover crops now that can serve to fix nitrogen, to, to actually stabilize, access atmosphere nitrogen and make it accessible to the plants.
Deborah Heath: 10:49 So instead of there being a community of plants and micro flora working in concert with one another, you've got this kind of disrupted circuit of communication.
Jodie Trembath: 11:02 So other than the plants and the fungi, the---
Deborah Heath: 11:07 ---the mycorrhizal fungi?
Jodie Trembath: 11:07 Yes, the micro... rhizal...
Deborah Heath: 11:11 Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi to be exact.
Jodie Trembath: 11:11 Ahhm... I'm going to keep getting you to repeat those when necessary [Deborah laughing]. So those things that we would think of as living but not sentient---Oh, Deborah just pulled a face! Not... maybe sentient.... are they sentient?
Deborah Heath: 11:25 You know, there's a very interesting literature that's not regarded as strictly mainstream in academic science, but that talks about plant communication and uses terms like 'neurobiology' to discuss something that some people refer to as plant intelligence.
Jodie Trembath: 11:47 So are we talking literally like the plants are plotting? To... well, haha, that was a good pun. Um, [laughing], the plants are thinking? Is that like the latest thinking about plants?
Deborah Heath: 12:02 Let's say there's a broader conversation that considers the ways in which these more-than-human others behave in an observably adaptable way to their environments. The conversation in STS linked to Bruno Latour and his followers that considers the notion of non-human agency is relevant here. The notion of affordances is one way of talking about this.
Jodie Trembath: 12:34 Can you talk us through that idea of affordances?
Deborah Heath: 12:36 Sure, so the way that the mycorrhizal fungi help feed the grapevine.
Jodie Trembath: 12:42 Right, so they're affording it---
Deborah Heath: 12:44 They're affording it access to nutrients. That's right. They're affording it a more robust life, let's say.
Jodie Trembath: 12:51 So I guess my question was going to be, other than the plants, are there other companion species that you're thinking about? Because I guess normally when we think of companion species we're kind of thinking about pets and the animals, or pet rocks, Wilson, whatever, that we choose to spend our time with. So what are the critters that vines choose to spend their time with?
Deborah Heath: 13:20 Vines are sedentary rather than pastoral---
Jodie Trembath: 13:26 [laughing] Me too...
Deborah Heath: 13:26 They settle, they get put in one place and then they mostly stay there, but in their relations with those who have relations of care with them, in a fully self-sustaining vineyard environment, there will be lots of other critters involved. If you have animals like sheep, chickens, cattle, horses that graze on the property and produce manure and that manure can then be composted, you've got their participation in this nutrient soil that also then contributes to the micro flora in the soil. And one of the practices that is used in organic and biodynamic agriculture and viticulture is composting. Composting is described by those who do it as 'magical'. It produces all of this heat and the, the level of microbial activity that's going on in the compost as it decomposes the, the organic matter from the manure, foodstuffs and other things that might be added, um, that, that then will be distributed among the vines and contribute to the vitality of these soil microbes that are active in helping to feed the vines. And in the soil itself, as well as the fungi, and, and certain soil bacteria there are also microfauna including earthworms, which do an incredible job of turning rocks into soil.
Jodie Trembath: 15:06 Literally turning rocks into soil?
Deborah Heath: 15:08 Yeah, not directly, but they, they participate in this process that facilitates this transformation from inorganic to organic. And you see many more of them in soil that's not been disrupted by the mortal intervention of these, these agricultural chemicals.
Jodie Trembath: 15:30 So, I mean it's pretty obvious that doing things more naturally is going to get better results both for the earth and for the wine, but given that wine is often seen as a recreational, ah.. device? Technology? To make ourselves happier, but possibly not always seen as doing that in a very healthy way, what's the value of studying this? Why as an anthropologist, should we be looking at wine?
Deborah Heath: 16:00 [laughing] Well, I really don't consider it a mandate that all anthropologists do this.
Jodie Trembath: 16:05 [laughing] I'm pretty sure they all do, in some way though.
Deborah Heath: 16:09 But you know, really, if you, if you look back at the long history of anthropology, haven't we long been interested in the way that human practices mediate between nature and culture? So that's at the heart of the notion of terroir. So terroir is about nature/culture. It's about natural/cultural relations. And in the broader conversations about what some call the anthropocene and the ways in which human extractive practices have created deleterious environmental conditions. This is one of those canaries in the mine shaft, right? Other sorts of ingestibles have required labeling---
Jodie Trembath: 16:57 Ingestibles... food?
Deborah Heath: 17:00 Things that we eat, things we eat and drink. It's not required in North America and I'm not sure about Australian society. It's not required that we drink wine---
Jodie Trembath: 17:08 No, that's beer...
Deborah Heath: 17:10 Yeah [laughs]. But because grapevines are perennials, an analogous practice would be the cultivation of orchards, fruit trees. There's a longterm investment in particular plants in particular places. So it's different from growing lettuce or carrots that that might be rotated with something else from one year to the next. And conversations in the European Union around the taste of place have been incorporated into the regulatory systems of things like the AOC in France, or the DOC in Italy or Spain---
Jodie Trembath: 17:51 ---which are the regulatory bodies for wine---
Deborah Heath: 17:54 ---for wine, and have been extended in some cases to other foods grown in particular places. So there are infrastructures that allow or encourage us to talk about the relationships that people have with particular regions and the things that are grown there and this is one of the entry points for us to participate in those important conversations.
Music interlude: 17:54
Jodie Trembath: 18:30 You talked about the taste of place. We had Brad Weiss on the show a while ago and we were talking a little bit about that. Can you talk me through a little bit more about how a place can have a taste? What is taste?
Deborah Heath: 18:46 Excellent question and not an easy answer. We can talk about the physiology of taste, sensory qualities that that let us distinguish one eating experience from another. There are certainly cultural and historical aspects involved, so we learn to think of some things as edible and other things as inedible. Some things as tasty and others as less tasty. People in the wine world who have professional training, the sommeliers, and people who've been certified by the program that produces people with a Masters of Wine. They've learned, to cite Bourdieu, right, a 'level of distinction', in terms of being able to tell one thing from another. But, you know, finally, each of us can decide what tastes good to us.
Deborah Heath: 19:37 And then again, we're in the crosshairs of marketing. So in the wine world, the US wine writer, Robert Parker, had a huge influence on the sensory profile of wines that have been deemed quality. So he's the one who created the numerical scoring system that you'll see on tags in grocery stores. 'This wine got a 97!' And also he's someone who has preferred red wines with a big bold profile. That, in combination with the scoring system, in terms of the commodification of wine and it's global distribution, has influenced, has altered the way that wine makers around the world have chosen to produce their wine one way rather than another. So the 'big bold red' has had a kind of hegemonic position for quite a while, through the 1990s up to the present, and folks involved in this minimal intervention wine movement tend not to reproduce that flavor profile.
Deborah Heath: 20:53 So they're also part of a kind of resistance to a certain way of shaping consumer tastes. Kind of a pushback that those big bold reds have tended to be higher alcohol as well. So that process of adding sugar, chaptalization, is part of that. Also in terms of climate change, warmer harvests produce riper grapes which have more sugar which produce higher alcohol. And it's become the case that, folks who are looking for a different sort of experience in how they produce their own wines or in what they buy are looking for regions that are cooler or producing wines at higher altitudes or harvesting earlier rather than later in order to seek a different sort of taste experience.
Jodie Trembath: 21:44 So in terms of educating the public about different types of taste then. So Deborah and I had a conversation the other night where I said, 'Normally I only drink red wine, but all of the wines here tonight have been white wines and I've adored every single one of them, which makes no sense to me.' And Deborah said to me, 'Well, the kinds of white wines that you've been drinking are highly commercialized and not very refined and highly manipulated. And that when you're drinking the kind of white wine that hasn't been through that highly chemicalized process, that you're actually going to be getting a lot more flavor and a lot less sourness. In terms of education, a lot of people have that experience, right, that they, they think they only want to drink red wines?
Deborah Heath: 22:34 Right. If wine hasn't been turned into a standardized beverage, there's room for variation. See this appreciation for variation that has something to do with the taste of place, there's-- different vintages, if not manipulated to achieve a standard outcome, will be distinctive. You're tasting 2009 versus 2016. And that tells you something about how warm it was that year or, or things that are more complex than that. So when did rains come, if they did---
Jodie Trembath: 23:08 ---were there any disasters
Deborah Heath: 23:09 ---was there a hot spell, followed by a little rainy spell, and all of those things have, make specific interventions in what Goethe called the metamorphosis of plants. Right?
Jodie Trembath: 23:21 And you were talking also in your seminar about the Georgian grape vines. That was incredible.
Deborah Heath: 23:26 Yeah, one of the places that I visited is the Republic of Georgia, sometimes referred to as 'the Cradle of Wine', so it's on the Black Sea. They've been making wine continuously for 8,000 years, right?
Jodie Trembath: 23:39 Mindblowing...
Deborah Heath: 23:39 They've currently identified more than 500 varieties of grape vine that are mostly not heard of in the globalized wine world. They ferment and age the wines in these large clay vessels that are older than Greek 'amphorae', they're called 'Qvevri' and they're quite delicious. Again, a range of flavors that palettes that have only had standardized commercial wines, wouldn't have had an opportunity to taste. So most of the wines that we are used to seeing on the shelves come from a really short list of what are referred to, and this is sociologically interesting, 'noble grapes', right? And the the marginalized grapes are legions and legions that are left off a list that usually numbers about 18, 18 grapes, right? The ones that are most commonly commercialized and distributed. So in, in this world of folks who are looking back in order to look forward to other possible futures, there's a renewed appreciation for grapes that are indigenous to particular places that have been eclipsed by the noble grapes. There lots of lots of tales that are horror stories for folks who like to court this kind of biodiversity of places. Portugal is one example. That, the whole Iberian Peninsula was south of the front end of the glaciers in the last big ice age and they constitute what biologists call a 'refugio'. They're a biological refuge or refugio were many, many more varieties of grape vines survived than north of that line and say in modern day Spain and Portugal, you can still find lots and lots of different kinds of grapes, varieties of grapes, if you choose to take a look. And they're, there are more producers who are doing their best to bring these old indigenous grapes back into production.
Jodie Trembath: 25:44 Do we have any sense of how many grape -- well, wine varieties of grape -- exist?
Deborah Heath: 25:50 There are different ways of counting it, in terms of what's commercialized or not, but they've identified over 2000 and there may well be more.
Jodie Trembath: 25:59 So you haven't always looked at wine.
Deborah Heath: 26:02 True
Jodie Trembath: 26:03 You've also done quite a lot of other things.
Deborah Heath: 26:04 Well, you know, why, just do one thing, right? [laughs] My, um, my dissertation research was actually in West Africa in Senegal where I did work on a political culture, political oratory, women's dance and fashion, among other things. And then I later moved into the beginning of my connection with STS, I got interested in genetics at the beginning of the human genome project and was able to get some of the funding that became available for people in fields like anthropology, philosophy and law to look at the ethical, legal and social implications of genetic research. We had a project called "Mapping genetic knowledge: an anthropological approach",looking at the emerging worlds, linking people with three different families of genetic conditions with clinical practitioners and others who shaped their worlds and vice versa. And we were really interested in the way in which lay health activists produce biomedical knowledge and don't just consume or submit to it.
Jodie Trembath: 27:20 So you were studying three families of genetic conditions, and what were those three families?
Deborah Heath: 27:27 Marfan Syndrome, which is people who are taller than average with some high risks for cardiovascular and skeletal conditions. People with heritable dwarfism, of which there are a couple of hundred forms, and people with a family of pretty devastating, blistering skin diseases called EB, which is short for Epidermolysis Bullosa.
Jodie Trembath: 27:51 So why do we call those "families"?
Deborah Heath: 27:54 Excellent question. There are different manifestations of conditions that have taxonomically and biomedically been grouped together. As so-called disease genes came to be identified, those are sometimes used to group diseases together and sometimes to distinguish them within families. All three of those are what are called 'heritable connective tissue disorders', and they all affect human morphology.
Jodie Trembath: 28:23 What does that mean?
Deborah Heath: 28:23 That the, you know how, how people are shaped. Taller or shorter or less corporeally intact than the average way of human being?
Jodie Trembath: 28:36 Oh, okay. Can we pause there to unpack what that is? Because, I mean, even looking across the average of each country or each, uh, I know that my Scandinavian friends, all tower over me for example, but, and I'm sure everybody towers over me, but I mean from that perspective, like, is there an average for humans that we can look at and feel that it's a meaningful statistic?
Deborah Heath: 29:02 Well, the way that a geneticist would approach this, within any particular population group, folks who have these genetic anomalies will vary from the norm within that group. In each of these cases, the molecules that are involved bring about many different changes. And so one of the things that was of interest to us in the project is that in terms of medical treatment or care, lots of different specialties need to be involved. So people in orthopaedics as well as cardiology, etc. etc. all need to be brought into the conversation. And this is one of the reasons that the networks that Health Activists form to support one another have come to be an important source of knowledge because they know more collectively than any given medical specialists. As a fabulous friend, interlocutor, woman who was a nurse, who was affected with marfan syndrome, also a researcher unfortunately passed away a few years ago, but she would tell her patients, "If you can't change your doctor, change doctors". I mean, there's incredible empowerment through knowledge sharing and direct action among the lay advocates.
Jodie Trembath: 30:21 Who constitutes that group of lay advocates?
Deborah Heath: 30:23 They started them themselves.
Jodie Trembath: 30:25 But who are they?
Deborah Heath: 30:25 In the United States, the advocacy organization for people with heritable dwarfism is called --this was their naming-- 'The Little People of America'. They were started by dwarves in Hollywood who you know had been typecast in all sorts of stereotypical ways and had suffered in terms of disadvantageous labor practices as well as the stigma that they suffered. They became a really powerful force, and pulled together this organization and established a medical board and set strict limits that required medical researchers to get clearance from them before they could proceed with research on anyone with their conditions. It's impressive.
Jodie Trembath: 31:12 Yeah. So what does that mean to map genetic knowledge in the sense that you're referring to with these health advocates?
Deborah Heath: 31:20 Well, it really-- Donna Haraway's felicitous phrase, 'situated knowledges' is important here, so, there are many different perspectives on what a condition like heritable Dwarfism or Marfan Syndrome means. It's understood differently by physicians than it is by researchers and it's understood differently by people who live with the condition and their families than it is people in political milieus or laboratory settings. What I'll say is that working with the physicians and scientists who developed relationships with the lay advocates over the years, those people in those particular networks were and are quite open to learning from the people living with the conditions. I came to have a lot of respect for them. I remember early on being corrected by, by one geneticists when I referred to someone as a patient and he said, 'no, people are only patients when they're in the middle of an appointment in a clinic'.
Jodie Trembath: 32:28 Would patients agree with that?
Deborah Heath: 32:30 I think there are many who would. 'I'm not a patient, you know, I'm, I'm a person living a whole life and sometimes I seek care for my condition. I want that to be respectful and well informed. If I need to help make that happen, I have support to do so.'
Jodie Trembath: 32:50 So in fact it was, it was a way of empowering them to be whole people.
Deborah Heath: 32:55 That's right. Yeah.
Jodie Trembath: 32:56 We're just coming towards the end. So for my, my final question, given the different types of research that you've done, you've done human centric research and you've done research where the humans are almost peripheral to the anthropological relationships going on in the---
Deborah Heath: 33:16 I probably wouldn't go quite that far. In our conversation they, they've been off to the side, but complete your thought there.
Jodie Trembath: 33:22 Well, I guess. I guess my question is does the practice of anthropology change across the different types of anthropology that you're doing and if so, how?
Deborah Heath: 33:34 That's the $64,000 question [Jodie laughing]. We all strive to, as Donna Haraway says, 'live with the trouble', live with the contradictions of the work that we do that can, and has been invasive, that has many times privileged our relative power vis-a-vis those we work with. I think the expansion of our perspective to think about the myriad of interlocutors that are included across the human plus more than human spectrum gives us more opportunities to practice openness and practice a kind of awareness to relations between organisms and their environments.
Jodie Trembath: 34:22 So on a practical level, is that just something that you have in mind, that you're thinking about when you are in the field, or is it, does it actually change what you do in the field?
Deborah Heath: 34:36 Backing away from discourses and practices of mastery and control, puts us in a different sort of gestalt, I think, that opens us up to a more fine-tuned awareness of environmental degradation and also opens up our imaginations to and our aspirations to try to map out other possible worlds.
Jodie Trembath: 35:03 What a beautiful note to end on.
Deborah Heath: 35:04 Thank you so much.
Jodie Trembath: 35:05 Thank you so much [glasses clink].
Music interlude: 35:06 Music
Jodie Trembath: 35:22 So that was it. Me and Deborah Heath. Today's episode was produced by me, Jodie-Lee Trembath, with help from the other Familiar Strangers, Julia Brown and Simon Theobold, and our executive producers, Ian Pollock, Matthew Phung, and Deanna Catto. Subscribe to The Familiar Strange. You can find us on iTunes, Spotify, and all the other familiar places, and since it's coming to the end of the year, do not forget to leave us a rating or review with your likes and your dislikes. It helps people find the show and it helps us make the show better. You can find the show notes for this episode, including a list of all the books and the papers mentioned today, plus our blog about anthropology's role in the world at www.thefamiliarstrange.com. If you want to contribute to the blog or you have anything to say to us at The Familiar Strange, email us at email@example.com, Tweet @TfsTweets, or look us up on facebook or instagram. Our music's by Pete Dabro, and special thanks today to Mike Bennie, Nic Farrelly and Maud Rowe. The Familiar Strange will be taking a break over the Christmas period to recharge and reflect on the past year so that we can bring you some great new content in the new year, so we'll be back in January. Keep an eye out. Until then, hey, have a great festive season and keep talking strange.