HIV is mutating. Today, as anti-retroviral therapy (ART) is made available to larger numbers of persons afﬂicted with HIV, the biological and social consequences of infection are being remade.
HIV is mutating. Today, as anti-retroviral therapy (ART) is made available to larger numbers of persons afﬂicted with HIV, the biological and social consequences of infection are being remade. As unprecendented financial resources are devoted to extending the global reach of ART and to identifying and overcoming local challenges in ART distribution and access, it becomes ever more important to describe and analyze the social ramiﬁcations of lifelong treatment for HIV. Care-givers, advocates, and the scholars who study them are often concerned with clinical issues such as compliance and larger questions such as the political economy of drug distribution. For example, according to UNAIDS, in East Africa the number of people who require treatment continues to far exceed those receiving it. Nevertheless, over 600,000 people in Uganda, Kenya, and Tanzania are presently receiving ART. If treatment 'scale up' and 'roll out' are successful and sustained, there will be millions of people worldwide living long-term with the virus. Complementing vital research on how organizations can deliver the medicines and care that enable survival, 'Positive Publics' asks a further question: What happens after people start surviving? What kind of social future do we imagine for the millions of people who will be living with HIV?
This is an abstract-and consequential-question. I have identiﬁed three intersecting phenomena or 'sites' where ethnographic observation and cultural analysis may give us clues to emergent futures for people with HIV: (1) prevention messages targeting people with HIV, (2) the criminalisation of HIV transmission, and (3) the preferential selection of serocondordant (HIV+) sexual and romantic partners by people with HIV. Together, these sites begin to comprise what I am calling a 'Positive Public': a type of social space or formation in which HIV+ people are reﬂexively included. Developments in each of these domains will contribute to the kind of future people with HIV hope, or fear, to inhabit: they meet where the figure of the HIV+ person stands. Thus, if Positive Publics investigates emerging types of public and the legal, clinical, mass-mediated, and everyday norms and forms through which they are elicited, crucially the project also investigates the moral and (social) scientific understanding of those meant to inhabit those social spaces. The project therefore documents and analyzes the new types of person, population, and public that responses to the epidemic are creating. In association with the Combat Diseases of Poverty Consortium, since 2009 I have been conducting exploratory field-site selection research for Positive Publics in East Africa.