Cosima Reichenbach

Grant Type

Dissertation Fieldwork Grant

Institutional Affiliation

California, Santa Cruz, U. of

Grant number

Gr. 10535

Approve Date

April 6, 2023

Project Title

Reichenbach, Cosima (California, Santa Cruz, U. of) "Microbes at work: Capitalist production and human-nonhuman relationships of labor and care in Japanese soy sauce"

This research seeks to understand how capitalism appropriates the labor of nonhumans as natural resource by asking: how are microorganisms both put to work and tended to in the production of Japanese shoyu (soy sauce)? To understand how human-microbe relationships in shoyu fermentation operate at once in a register of care and one of labor, it focuses on three guiding questions: What are the relationships between humans and microbes in the fermentation process? How are modernity and tradition produced and performed via fermentation methods? How does capitalism transform these relationships and is also transformed by them? It draws on works on the ‘microbial turn’ in both anthropology and science and technology studies; on literature that analyses the complex relationships of tradition and modernity in Japan; and on works that situate capitalism in contingent historical contexts. Methodologically, it is accomplished through two 6-month apprenticeships in industrial and artisanal shoyu production. It uses apprenticeship, interviews, discursive analysis, sensory attunements to nonhuman agency, process mapping and photoethnography to develop a multi-faceted understanding of human-microbe relations are shaped by traditional and modern practices and shape Japan’s engagement with capitalism.