STS Helsinki seminar 25.5.: Steve Hinchliffe

On 25 May, we are delighted to host Steve Hinchliffe from the University of Exeter. Join us for the talk at 14:15–15:45 at Unioninkatu 35, room 113.

Regulating Antimicrobial Resistance: Virtual Consumers, Poultry and the Audit Lock-in

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has become one of the defining challenges of the 21st century. Food production and farming account for well over half of annual global consumption of antimicrobials, with the result that the sector’s potential to contribute to AMR is large even if its role in resistance emergence and transmission is subject to uncertainty. Acting in a climate of potential rather than demonstrable threats requires social and technical innovation. In this paper we engage with the role of market actors, or virtual consumers, and associated devices in the precautionary regulation of farming practices and AMR threats. The paper takes the UK poultry sector as exemplary of a device- and audit-led process that has achieved notable and impressive reductions in antimicrobial uses. Using qualitative interview data with farmers and veterinarians we chart the changing farming, diagnostic and health practices that have accompanied this reduction in routine treatments. Contrary to some commentators, we use this analysis to raise some cautions around audit-led systems of regulation. Audits can lock farms and animals into particular versions of farming and animal health; they can produce distortions and elevate otherwise harmful compensatory practices; and they can reproduce an actuarial approach to an issue that may not fit the conventions of risk management. The paper presents the considerable successes that have been achieved over a short period of time in a livestock sector, while generating significant notes of caution concerning the manageability of livestock related AMR threats.

Steve Hinchliffe is a Geographer and Social Scientist at the University of Exeter, UK, with specialisms in science and technology studies, risk, health and human-nonhuman relations. He has published widely on issues of food, risk, biosecurity, contagion and nature/cultures. His recent books include the monograph Pathological Lives (Wiley Blackwell), which pioneered a situated approach to human and animal health, the edited volume Humans, Animals and Biopolitics and the monograph Geographies of Nature. He is currently working on socio-economic approaches to antimicrobial resistance, the social production of microbiomes and public participation and public as well as planetary health. He is an elected Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences. He has served from 2017-2023 as a member of the UK Government’s DEFRA Social Science Expert Group and continues to work on its Scientific Advisory Committee on Exotic Diseases. He currently co-leads the University’s Interdisciplinary Research Network on Microbes and Society, and acts as a steering group member on the GW4 (Bath, Bristol, Cardiff and Exeter universities) initiative on One Health and Antimicrobial Resistance. He is currently a member of, principal investigator and has previously co-directed the Wellcome Centre for Cultures and Environments of Health.