Health humanities in action: How to follow the literary, historical, and political ‘careers’ of antimicrobials and resistance
“With the growth of science, however, microbes become less and less important as an evolutionary factor. The microbes have finished their political career, and now mankind is engaged in subjugating, and breeding, and abolishing them.” — Ronald Campbell Macfie, The Romance of Medicine (1907)
It does not require much imagination to understand that antimicrobials and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) have a history - one that was once cast as a narrative of monumental conquest over nature, of miracle drugs bringing humankind out of the dark age of medicine and into modernity. By the end of the millennium, this triumphant account of antimicrobials would be recast as tenuous, insecure; a pyrrhic victory. It would then shift from a romance to a post-apocalyptic dystopia. If we follow this line of inquiry - the historical, literary, and political ‘career of antimicrobials’ - where does it take us?
We know the temporal, spatial, and epistemological scale of AMR is expansive. Understanding and mitigating AMR likewise requires expertise from a range of fields and disciplines within the sciences and biomedicine. Moreover, as antimicrobials themselves have become “infrastructural” to modernity (Chandler, 2019) - embedded in our social, cultural, political and economic healthscapes - all the technological and biomedical innovation humankind can muster cannot fully capture the complex contexts which catalyse AMR. Enter the social science of AMR.
This seminar will consider how an interdisciplinary health-humanistic approach to AMR can integrate work in the sciences, social sciences, and public health to help us understand the ‘career’ of antimicrobials, its evolution today, and what historical structures remain as less obvious influences to living sustainably with microbes and resistance.
- Lorenzo Servitje, Associate Professor of Literature and Medicine at Lehigh University