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Faecal microbiota transplants: towards a healthy disgust scepticism


This paper engages with the obstacle of disgust surrounding the use of faecal microbiota transplants (FMT). In discourse about the human microbiome and microbiota-based therapies (like FMT), disgust has become an unavoidable emotion for physicians, patients and caregivers interested in these therapies. Additionally, microbiota therapies and microbiomes are challenging our conception of an individual biological self. As these two discourses converge with FMT, it becomes necessary to understand how they are working together. To do this, this paper explores the way disgust functions in the formation of subjects. Scholarship about disgust can be categorised into two approaches: disgust as a deep wisdom or disgust scepticism. The former approach focuses on the physiological, embodied aspects of our disgust reactions as evidence of ‘truth’ in disgusting encounters, and the latter recognises the way disgust is culturally contingent and adapted for use in moral and social determinations of good and bad. However, both positions accept the use of disgust as a defence against ‘toxins and diseases’. Yet, as this paper argues, we should take the sceptical approach further. The disgust sceptical approach, particularly as developed by Sarah Ahmed, does more than just challenge disgust’s role in moral deliberations. It also demands sceptical reflection on disgust as a universal defence against ‘toxins and diseases’. Much as disgust can be co-opted to support oppression, it too can be co-opted to reconstitute a false vision of human subjectivity—the coherent, contained and exceptional human subject situated above the natural world. The human microbiome, faecal therapeutics and being disgusted give us an opportunity to recognise ourselves as more-than-human subjects.

  • gastroenterology
  • medical humanities
  • microbiology
  • cultural studies
  • philosophy of science

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All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information. All text used for this analysis are listed in the references.

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