What do non-social scientists want out of a curriculum on the social dimensions of AMR?
Karlijn Hofstraat, Vera Spaan, Danny de Vries
The Sonar-Global (www.sonar-global.eu) network aims to mobilise the social sciences against infectious threats (pandemic preparedness, antimicrobial resistance/AMR, vaccine hesitancy), by addressing social, political, economic, and ecological contexts, and enhancing international interdisciplinary collaboration.
Our European-commission funded project is split up into five work packages, one of which focusses on capacity building in relation to AMR and epidemics. As part of this work, we are developing curricula for both social scientists (listen to an introduction here), and non-social scientists, on the social dimensions of AMR. In order to explore what kind of content might be useful for researchers from different disciplines, we interviewed eleven scientists based in Europe or Asia with backgrounds ranging from medicine and veterinary medicine, to epidemiology and biology.
Interdisciplinary approaches to AMR: on speaking each other’s languages
Increasingly, interdisciplinary collaboration is a key mode of knowledge production in the context of global challenges and complex real-world problems such as AMR. Such research transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries, moving beyond historical dualisms of nature/culture, science and society. The One Health approach is an example of such an integrative framework – holistic and multi-sectoral, with value placed on interdisciplinarity.
Our informants had an appetite for interdisciplinary work on AMR but they also pointed to several potential challenges for scientists to engage with social science perspectives on AMR. First, relevance: “You will not get interest from scientists who work on AMR […] if they do not see […] that it is relevant for the work that they are doing.” (Microbiologist). Second, epistemic and linguistic infrastructures: “for non-social scientists it is an eye-opener to broaden your view on what is social sciences in the first place.” And “you have to be able to speak and understand each other’s language at least. You do not have to be a social scientist, but at least you have to be able to see where someone is coming from.” (Computational Biologist).
These comments remind us that bridging different disciplinary perspectives on AMR requires careful consideration of the frameworks that shape research agendas, goals, and outcomes. In order to address these challenges, a curriculum should outline the theoretical and analytical vocabularies that underpin social science approaches to AMR: What are the social sciences? What kinds of questions and why? What contributions/insights are useful? How can we collaborate with, and learn from researchers in other disciplines? What are the possibilities and limitations?
Social science in practice
An additional challenge identified by our informants concerned how to implement social science methodologies in practice. A Veterinarian explained, “We as practitioners we are in the field, […] we need to translate this research into some very concrete operations that can be mobilized, especially in times of crisis.” What methodological and analytical tools do the social sciences offer (for example, vulnerability assessments, community engagement, network analysis), that could be useful in addressing research questions in the field?
Further, several participants questioned, what does social science actually achieve? How can we translate theoretical/analytical insights into concrete interventions that can be implemented, measured, and tested in ‘real world’ situations? What metrics of measurement are employed in different disciplines – can the ‘social’ be measured? A clinical microbiologist stated: “I would like to know which interventions, and that is something I do not hear often from the social sciences […] what you could do to see if things change.” How can interventions be applied, measured and tested, and how can social science insights be successfully communicated to the public and policy makers?
Engaging participants and sharing interdisciplinary insights
In practical terms, most respondents suggested that a curriculum on the social dimensions of AMR should include case studies, personal stories, and visual media, such as photos, videos, and documentaries, to make abstract issues more relatable and engaging. They also agreed that it is important to collaborate with researchers from different disciplines: “To get more insight into each other’s sectors and to understand that antibiotic resistance is not very specific, but that it is all connected to each other. And I think that makes it interesting, that you can learn from each other as a profession.” (Veterinarian).
Social Science Curriculum on AMR
In summary, our brief needs-assessment highlighted several key areas for consideration when facilitating interdisciplinary engagement with AMR. First, relevance to work in practice; second, overview of theory, methodology and analytical frameworks; third, practical tools and interventions; fourth, interdisciplinary learning and collaboration.
This was a useful exercise for the development of our curriculum. Moreover, by sharing these insights we recognise their relevance for interdisciplinary research practices. This goes beyond the need for surface-level communication, to a need to engage with the epistemological underpinnings of research endeavours across disciplines, and identify points for connection in addressing critical global challenges such as antimicrobial resistance.