01 Jun 2018
– Clare Chandler – London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
Co-authors: – Komatra Chuengsatiansup –

Two of us from the AMIS Programme Team (Clare Chandler and Komatra Chuengsatiansup) are acting as associate editors for Palgrave Communications – the multidisciplinary open access journal published by Palgrave Macmillan – for a special issue on Anti-biosis? – Social and Cultural Inquiries into Human-Microbe Relations. We and are excited to have received some excellent submissions so far, and already see the collection is shaping up to be a cutting-edge resource on AMR with research contributions from a range of disciplinary perspectives.

Setting the Scene

As a pinnacle of twentieth-century medical innovation, one could argue that antibiotics, and more broadly antimicrobials, have fundamentally altered ways of life.  Everything from the control of common infectious diseases, to the possibility for densely housed, mass-produced livestock, to the availability of minor surgery, to the ability to treat life-threatening diseases are entangled with effective antibiosis.

And yet, the role of antimicrobials cannot be taken for granted. Resistance to these medicines is accelerated though their extensive and intensive uses. Resistant bacteria as well as mobile genetic elements are now known to be widespread in some communities and environments. The threat of resistance, alongside corporate, market and governance failures that militate against new therapies or alternative treatments, raise the spectre of a post-antibiotic future.  Needless to say, the effects could be severe.

The requirement to find therapeutic alternatives, to develop more targeted therapies, to reduce unnecessary medicinal dependencies, all pose social, cultural and economic challenges, as the impetus to tackle antimicrobial resistance is differentially taken up – or imposed – and reconfigured across diverse scientific and biomedical establishments as well as governance regimes and cultures worldwide. We need to understand the place and use of medicines; we need to trace new pathways and overcome barriers to innovative practices; we need to analyse regulatory environments and we need to build social capacity for change. Only by moving beyond narrowly biomedical visions of resistance can we realise the aim of sustaining effective health treatments, while delivering food security and protecting livelihoods.

The Collection

This special issue invites papers that address questions such as:

  • What lessons can histories of medicine offer to the current antibiotic predicament?
  • How is antibiosis bound up with a particular worldview, and is this shifting in light of new scientific and social knowledge?
  • What social as well as technical innovations are possible as a means to address antibiotic and antimicrobial resistance and what are the barriers to their realisation or equitable distribution?
  • What are the consequences and opportunity costs of directing resources to addressing global resistance?

Papers will cover the following:

  • The social lives, meanings, uneven availability, demand for and appeal of antibiotics
  • Regulatory responses to resistance, including attempts to alter expectations, to change uses of medicines and unintended consequences of regulation
  • Cultural and historical approaches to antibiotics and resistance – how can cultural sensibilities inform practice?
  • Environmental and social geographies of antibiosis, their role in landscapes of production and pathways to change
  • Institutional responses to antimicrobial resistance as a new global imperative – how are health policies, laboratory practices and public health initiatives being variably reconfigured to manage resistant microbes?
  • How can understanding the antibiotic era, its history as well as ‘the biology of that history’, reconfigure approaches to life?
  • How microbes and the challenges of resistance change social science and humanities practices?
  • How do social understandings of scientific and other knowledge improve or help to inform current actions?
  • How can the history of ‘rational drug use’ serve to inform current framings of antimicrobial stewardship?

Papers are welcomed that speak to clinical, public health and community medicine as well as agricultural uses, one health perspectives and environmental persistence and transmission of resistant microbes and genes. We welcome papers across the humanities and social sciences as well as inter-disciplinary papers that have a strong and explicit social or humanities component.

Article proposals can be submitted to the editorial team.