Seminar | Resistant Microbes and Precarious Lives: Aquaculture health practices and their social and material determinants.


This seminar presents field evidence and experience in Bangladesh that examines the country’s export-led aquaculture practices and associated therapeutic applications. In the southwest of Bangladesh farmers earn a precarious living farming shrimp and prawn in aquatic environments harbouring novel pathogens, and in a state of near permanent disease.

Over the past four decades development programmes, market forces and global economic management policy have all encouraged the conversion from rice paddy and mangrove forest to aquaculture ponds across a vast geographic expanse in order to generate foreign cash reserves and improve rural livelihoods. The experience of the local economy transformation (with both negative and positive impacts) extended to coastal ecologies, in which water, soil and pond microbiomes were also transformed. Oceanic temperatures, increasing salinity and international damming upstream further contribute to emergence of diseased aquatic systems, challenging the environments required for successful aquaculture and increasing the likelihood of antibiotic intervention. Population density, the intimacy of shared human and animal environments, and a dynamic and unpredictable hydrological system prone to extremes of drought and flooding provide conduits for emergence, rapid dissemination and distribution of transfer of drug-resistance genes. Thus, the situation encountered amounts to one that can be understood as a ‘reconfiguration of matters’ resulting from the contribution of wider spatial, managerial and non-human dynamics, rather than one that can be easily remedied by surveillance of antibiotics usage and behaviour alone. This is particularly pertinent as knowledge of the specific capabilities aquatic environments possess for offering selective resistance pressure increases (Taylor et al 2011).

As farmers grapple with increasingly hostile aquatic environments, national and international development programmes and in-country NGOs prioritise disease management by implementing organic solutions and introducing novel technologies to encourage diverse microbial and organic communities, remove pollutants and manage disease. Anecdotally, greater understanding of the processes that encourage good biotic environments results in greater production success; nevertheless a question mark hovers over the actual efficacy of these strategies.


Speaker: Dr Andrea Butcher, University of Exeter

I completed my PhD in Religious Studies from the University of Aberdeen examined the intersection of religion, development and climate in Ladakh, North-West India. I then acted as teaching fellow in anthropology at the University of Exeter, where I continued to research and publish material on the relationship between religious and ceremonial governance, and the development encounter in the Himalaya. I am currently a postdoctoral research assistant for the University of Exeter’s geography department on an ESRC-funded multidisciplinary collaboration examining the socioeconomic drivers for antimicrobial use in Bangladesh’s aquaculture industry. I bring previous experience of economic progress and development, sustainability and environment, and disaster response to the project, as well as exploring novel avenues and methodologies in medical anthropology.

Date: 5 December 2017

Time: 1 – 2 pm

Venue: LG04, Tavistock Place

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