Making chemical infrastructures (in)visible: environmental imaginaries and the environmental sciences of antimicrobial resistance
Richard Helliwell (University of Nottingham)
Sujatha Raman (University of Nottingham)
Carol Morris (University of Nottingham)
Paper short abstract:
We explore the environmental imaginaries shaping the practices and places through which the field of environmental AMR attempts to make visible antimicrobial pollutants, resistant bacteria and genes.
Paper long abstract:
Deployed in the face of microbial threats to human and animal life, antibiotic, antifungal, anti-parasitic, anti-virals and other antimicrobial agents pose distinctive challenges for STS analysis of 'chemical infrastructures' (Murphy, 2013). Positioned as representing hope that human life can flourish in the face of pathogenic life, paradoxically the use of antimicrobials has also come to represent a threat to their future efficacy. Once susceptible microbes have become resilient to the toxic effects of antimicrobials and are becoming significant problems in human health care settings, with increasing human mortality and morbidity resulting from resistant microbial infections. However, AMR is not only centred on its impacts on diseased bodies, but also includes the environment. The environmental sciences of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) engages with a number of questions regarding antimicrobial agents within environmental systems, their impacts on microbial communities and their implications for human health outcomes arising from AMR. However, in investigating these questions, the field enacts culturally specific forms of imagining the environment which shape the practices and places through which antimicrobials, resistant microbes and genes are made visible, while effacing others. This paper investigates what environmental imaginaries are evident in environmental AMR research, and how they are shaping the practices and places through which environmental sciences attempt to make visible antimicrobial pollutants, resistant bacteria and genes. In doing so we draw attention to the tensions between an imagined, flattened and global environment, and the environment as encountered through scientific practices, which reveals the uneven spatial and temporal distributions of chemical infrastructures.
Meet our chemicals: ubiquitous presence, selective views