Action=Vie (2020)

Book Review, HIV/AIDS, LGBT

Broqua, Christophe. (2020). Action=Vie: A History of AIDS Activism and Gay Politics in France. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 340pp.

Action=Vie is a comprehensive ethnographic analysis of AIDS activism in France. It focuses on responses to the HIV pandemic during the 1980s and 90s, through the lens of Act Up-Paris and their myriad contributions. More broadly, the book follows the emergence of gay community politics in the French context. Broqua helpfully traces the pathways of intellectual, cultural, and sociological ideas exchanged across the nexus of United States, United Kingdom, and French crises. The book is wonderfully accessible, comparable to the writing of media scholar Dion Kagan (see Positive Images, 2018), and will be of interest to both students of HIV histories, gay liberation politics and sociology of health activism in France, and general audiences.

The book is structured in chronological order but highlights key themes that hold together AIDS and gay politics in France. For instance, both Chapters 2 and 10 carefully detail how liberation politics were entangled in Parisian AIDS activism, which helped to draw out not only a unified image of ‘gays against HIV,’ but more broadly a cultural legacy of a unified homosexual front that emerged from tensions between French republicanism and communitarian debates. Chapters 3 and 4 consider the etiologies of AIDS and their relationship to gay liberation politics in France, crucially highlighting the development of gay community politics as a result of AIDS activism (a topic which Broqua deepens and contests by assessing the transformation in intellectual movements in Chapter 10). Broqua draws on interviews he collected in the 1990s and 2000s, during/after his time participating in Act Up-Paris, and thus reflects not simply as a researcher on the political dynamics of AIDS activism but usefully illuminates an insider view of the day-to-day tensions that re-created AIDS activism through personal and identity politics.

Action=Vie is exceptionally smart and meticulously researched. The book presents a refined lens to interrogate Act Up-Paris for Anglophone audiences. Alas, this is material we have not seen explored at length in English since David Caron’s AIDS in French Culture: Social Ills, Literary Cures (2001). It thus reasserts the importance of interrogating the international and global spread of AIDS activism(s) within media cultures, sociology, and health promotion histories. Broqua has provided a beautiful array of secondary texts (largely in French) that help to piece together the complex political histories of AIDS in France. He dutifully stitches these materials together for a truly captivating read. I hope more of Broqua’s work will appear in the Anglophone world very soon.