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Thinking practice with care. An exploration of the risks and rewards of practice based approaches to a social problem in AMR

Dr Catherine Will, University of Sussex
Dr Catherine Will, University of Sussex

In this paper I wish to share some ideas about the ways in which theories of practice may be used in pursuing medical sociology. I start from the policy interest in anti-microbial resistance (AMR) as a pressing social problem, and explore how sociology has been invoked in the response. I show how lay practices of antibiotic use have been targeted through various public health initiatives, which have here confronted yet another apparently problematic relation between knowledge and ‘behaviour'.

Drawing on work by Shove, Pantzar and Watson I discuss how their practice theory can usefully disrupt such approaches by decentring one material element (here antibiotics) in favour of an effort to identify the range of practices in which that element may be used or saved. I then seek to test this value of this approach with data from online talk between parents and patients. In order to make sociological sense of very diverse health-seeking practices visible in such talk - and the relevance to antibiotics to these practices - I suggest we must identify both distinct practices and what Shove and colleagues would describe as practice bundles. Working through this material I also look into what some theorists have identified as ‘blindspots' in their version of practice theory, and suggest that we draw on work on care by scholars such as Mol and Pols and other traditions in medical sociology to address these.

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