blog 23 Mar 2018
– Laurie Denyer Willis – London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

Antimicrobials are central to many contemporary forms of care and production for humans, animals, plants and even objects – clothing, for example, uses antimicrobials in the production process. The sheer scale of our current dependence on antimicrobials means that in order to have any chance of addressing antimicrobial resistance (AMR) we are greatly in need of fresh framings, approaches and solutions.

Currently, much of our understanding of the social side of AMR has come from KAP surveys and cultural belief models. Social sciences, however, have much more to offer. There is great potential to learn from the considerable research from across the social sciences, to provide broader and richer approaches that can contribute to effective strategies to address AMR.

The AMIS Hub draws together these fresh approaches in one place. Much of the work we showcase on our website highlights the structural and historical factors that affect antibiotic use, illustrating the complex stories behind our relations with microbes and antimicrobial medicines across the world today. These fresh approaches can help us to study and anticipate consequences – intended or not – of both AMR and AMR control strategies globally.

Social science studies of antimicrobials bring to the fore the rich social-material worlds that microbes and antimicrobials are situated in, and in doing so offer policy-makers, scientists, and funders new ways to conceptualise and act upon AMR. For example, anthropologists propose that antibiotics are so deeply embedded in the way our societies, politics, and economies work, that it makes sense to think about them as a kind of infrastructure that enables life as we know it (Chandler, Hutchinson and Hutchison 2016). If antimicrobials are infrastructure, it is important to understand the extent and nature of the way we have become intertwined with these medicines in order to anticipate the consequences of resistance and the best ways to control it. While a ‘rational use’ framework has informed many AMR policy undertakings over the past few decades (Podolsky 2014), and anthropologists have provided evidence of consumers’ own rationalities for use of medicines (for a review, see Chandler and Hutchison 2016), it is valuable to go beyond the rational-irrational dichotomy if we are to understand and address our collective dependencies on antibiotics and the ways we have come to relate to and control microbes today.

The AMIS HUB is a vehicle for thinking about these new perspectives. Please explore and always feel free to reach out to us with your questions!