Calls for action on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) have existed almost as early as the discovery of penicillin and the sulpha drugs. Since then solutions to AMR have circled around the development of new antimicrobials and the rationalisation of their use via various configurations of regulation of access and distribution, promotion of diagnostics and education of prescribers and consumers. Research by historians and social scientists (HSS) are increasingly demonstrating the various limitations and unintended consequences of many of these approaches, while also seeking to propose not only different ways to study AMR as a problem, but also address it. Part of this, involves serious engagement with microbiological insights (i.e. related to the microbiome) and methods to move beyond the impasses of outdated concepts (e.g. germ theory), methodological reductionism and disciplinary boundaries. Based on our empirical research on AMR and human microbiome science, we demonstrate how AMR is a transdisciplinary problem requiring contributions from HSS’s research and expertise in order to devise socially meaningful and microbiologically effective solutions. We have identified four areas where such contributions would be beneficial: (1) policies (e.g. AMR policies still assume germ theory and operate within silos); (2) AMR solutions are human centred (i.e. neglect of the microbiome and pay limited attention to other nonhumans) vs one health; (3) epidemiological variables and microbiological discourse (i.e. often employ outdated anthropological and philosophical concepts, such as westernised, modern, traditional); (4) Rhetorics and lexicon (i.e. can be morally and conceptually simplistic, like ‘war’, ‘sweets’, ‘good’/’bad’ bugs, ‘irrational’).

  • This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License.

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