Negotiating hospital infections: The debate between ecological balance and eradication strategies in british hospitals, 1947-1969

Flurin Condrau, Robert G W Kirk

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    This paper reviews and contrasts two strategies of infection control that emerged in response to the growing use of antibiotics within British hospitals, c.1946-1969. At this time, we argue, the hospital became an arena within which representatives of the medical sciences and clinical practices contested not so much the content of knowledge but the way that knowledge translated into practice. Key to our story are the conceptual assumptions about antibiotics put forward by clinicians, on the one hand, and microbiologists on the other. The former embraced antibiotics as the latest weapon in their fight to eradicate disease. For clinicians, the use of antibiotics were utilised within a conceptual frame that prioritised the value of the individual patient before them. Microbiologists, in contrast, understood antibiotics quite differently. They adopted a complex understanding of the way antibiotics functioned within the hospital environment that emphasised the relational and ecological aspects of their use. Despite their broader environmental focus, microbiologists focus on the ways in which bacteria travelled led to ever greater emphasis to be placed on the «healthy» body which, having been exposed to antibiotics, became a dangerous carrier of resistant staphylococcal strains. The su-rrounding debate regarding the appropriate use of antibiotics reveals the complex relationship between hospital, the medical sciences and clinical practice. We conclude that the history of hospital infections invites a more fundamental reflection on global hospital cultures, antibiotic prescription practices, and the fostering of an interdisciplinary spirit among the professional groups living and working in the hospital.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)385-405
    Number of pages20
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2011


    • Antibiotics
    • Ecology
    • Epidemiology
    • Hospital infection
    • Resistance


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