• complexityfactory

Social Theory and Antimicrobial Resistance at Durham Institute for Advanced Study

Updated: Jan 20

Post by Kimberly Jamie


As part of my Institute of Advanced Studies grant, I organised a workshop in November 2019 bringing together researchers from across social, biological, and chemical sciences with an interest in antimicrobial resistance (AMR).


I started off the day by giving an overview of the IAS project on antibacterial clay. In this talk, I suggested that social scientists need to pay closer attention to the material life of antimicrobial products and think about what effect this might have on antibiotic use. I suggested that while social science has examined some significant aspects of the AMR issue, antimicrobial products themselves have been somewhat absent from analysis and I offered clay-based products as an exemplar through which we might better focus on materiality.


This was followed by a presentation by Marie-Louise Wohrle who has recently finished a Masters in Medical Anthropology at Durham. In her research, Marie-Louise also worked on clay, specifically looking at the motivations and experiences of people who use clay for medical, health and wellbeing. She recruited participants through online forums and social media groups dedicated to therapeutic clay use and found a diversity of uses for clay from drawing out cancer to treating snake bites. This talk was also hands-on as Marie-Louise passed around a clay-based face mask marketed in the UK as a beauty product (pictured).

Then we were joined by Catherine Will from the University of Sussex who spoke about public health campaigns around antibiotic stewardship. In this talk, Catherine took a critical approach to two decades worth of public health literature, drawing on theories of expert and lay ignorance. Within this, she suggested that ignorance can be productive for public health campaigns in prompting a shift towards campaigns reliant on unreflective action.

(Catherine’s paper can be found here)


After this, we were joined by Andrea Nunez Casal who spoke about her work on the human microbiome. In this talk, Andrea talked us through her feminist para-ethnographic approach to research which combined her own experiences of AMR and childbirth with ethnographic analysis of the production of techno-scientific claims and interventions. Andrea talked of her research with microbiome scientists in South America who are researching the bodies of ‘uncontacted’ tribes in the Amazon. This generated lots of debate and discussion about ethics.


Finally, Chrissy Buse from the University of York shared her research on the management of AMR in cystic fibrosis clinics through the physical space of hospital buildings. She spoke about the movement of cystic fibrosis patients around waiting rooms, corridors, and treatment rooms as being like a ‘choreography’ and drew attention to the problems that new open-plan hospital designs have for staff and patients dealing with a condition like cystic fibrosis where AMR is a significant threat. (Chrissy’s paper can be found here.)


We finished the day with an open-discussion during which we talked about the importance, but also challenges, of working across disciplinary areas. During this open discussion, Iona Walker from the University of Edinburgh told us about an AMR colloquium which will focus on "Reimagining AMR: Borders, Boundaries and Beyond the Human" and will take place at the The Violet Laidlaw Room in the Crystal Macmillan Building in Edinburgh, George Square 13:00.








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