Myth, Manners, and Medical Ritual: Defensive Medicine and the Fetish of Antibiotics

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Abstract

Given the global crisis of antimicrobial resistance, the continued misuse of antibiotics is perplexing, particularly despite persistent attempts to curb usage. This issue extends beyond traditional “wastage” areas, of livestock and community medicine, to hospitals, raising questions regarding the current principles of hospital practice. Drawing on five focus group discussions, we explore why doctors act in the ways they do regarding antibiotics, revealing how practices are done, justified, and perpetuated. We posit that antibiotic misuse is better understood in terms of social relations of fear, survival and a desire for autonomy; everyday rituals, performances, and forms of professional etiquette; and the mixed obligations evident in the health sector. Moreover, that antibiotic misuse presents as a case study of the broader problematic of defensive medicine. We argue that the impending global antibiotic crisis will involve understanding how medicine is built around certain logics of practice, many that are highly resistant to change.

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