Research Update – July 2021


Even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the past year has been a remarkably busy and rewarding year of personal and collaborative research. In March 2021, Ben Weil (UCL) and I had an article, titled “‘Test Now, Stop HIV’: COVID-19 and the idealisation of quarantine as the ‘end of HIV’,” published in Culture, Health and Sexuality. The article explored the dissemination of messages about ending new HIV transmissions during the first-wave COVID-19 lockdown in England, UK, and its situatedness in the social histories of Western medicine, especially histories of hygienist health practices in the British context. This work has built on my doctoral research, which explores the social and cultural implications of ‘post-AIDS’ health promotion strategies in the UK and US. As I near submission in the autumn, this co-authored piece presents a helpful lens into understand the political nature of messages about ‘ending AIDS’ as a public health strategy across local, national and global contexts.

A co-authored book chapter with Kristian Møller (IT Copenhagen), titled “Viral Hauntology: Specters of AIDS in Infrastructures of Gay Sexual Sociability,” was finally published in June 2021 in the edited book collection Affects, Interfaces, Events (ed. Bodil Marie Stavning Thomsen, Jette Kofoed and Jonas Fritsch). In this chapter, we explored the hauntologies of AIDS knowledges within social media apparatuses – particularly how old intervention epistemologies continue to inform the construction of sexual social media platforms and how users interact with HIV/AIDS prevention knowledge in these spaces. The chapter builds upon previous theories of viral hauntologies – largely from cultural studies – in order to create formative links with science and technology studies and the digital humanities.

Following an informal discussion with culture and media studies scholars, about the release and dissemination of Russell T. Davie’s (2021) television series It’s a Sin, Ben Weil and I submitted for publication a rapid response paper concerning the health promotion pedagogies embedded in the series’ framework and some of the associated press that followed. It is under consideration as part of a forthcoming cultural commons section in the European Journal of Cultural Studies.

Accepted for publication in July 2021, a co-authored article with Jaime Garcia-Iglesias, titled “‘Who cares if you’re poz right now?’: Barebackers, HIV and COVID-19,” is forthcoming in Sociology of Health and Illness. This online ethnography explores how gay and bisexual men on a popular online sex forum discussed HIV and COVID-19 prevention strategies during the early COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Our findings included careful assessment of short-term changes to sexual practices, including reduction of partner numbers, as well as position sorting to exclude face-to-face contact where possible. The authors will disseminate these findings at the British Sociological Association online medical sociology conference in September 2021.

My original article about retroactivist histories and the futures of HIV prevention in Robin Campillo’s (2017) film 120 Beats per Minute, based on research presented at a conference in 2019 and one of my doctoral thesis chapters, is still under consideration for a special issue of Modern and Contemporary France.

In addition to original research articles, I published an assortment of book reviews, including a review of Christophe Broqua’s (2020) excellent ethnography of ACT UP Paris – the English translation of his 2006 monograph on the same subject. See my online CV for additional book reviews recently published.

Looking ahead, I have a few publications in the work. First, I had a book chapter abstract accepted for publication in Marsha Morton and Ann-Marie Akehurst’s (2022) forthcoming collection Capturing Contagion: Visual Culture and Epidemic Disease since 1750. In this chapter, titled “Reliving Hygienist Histories in Post-AIDS Visual Cultures,” I will explore how logics of contamination, quarantine and social hygiene are revisited and contested within popular AIDS media, including Russell T. Davie’s (2021) television series It’s a Sin and Luke Davies’s (2018-19) web series The Grass is Always Grindr.

Additionally, I have a co-authored book chapter with artist Ash Kotak, titled “Crafting the London AIDS Memorial,” accepted for publication in Daniel Fountain’s (2022) forthcoming edited collection Crafted with Pride: Queer Craft and Contemporary Activism in Britain. The chapter will use interviews with Ash and archival research to articulate contemporary politics of memorialising AIDS crisis in London – and the struggle to create a unified movement to remember HIV/AIDS experiences throughout the UK.

In autumn 2021, I will submit my PhD thesis. At the same time, I will prepare a monograph proposal, titled “Speculative Health Promotion: The Politics of Promoting the ‘End of AIDS’ in the US and UK, 1994-2021”. The monograph will draw together my research on health promotion practices, cultural perceptions of the ‘end of AIDS’ in the Global North, and ethnographies of perceived ‘futures’ of HIV/AIDS in the US and UK. The monograph will build upon recent research about the social problem of ending new HIV transmissions by increasing biomedical surveillance and employing disease modelling to eradicate HIV. It will present original findings about the social significance of constructing an ideological future through biotechnological apparatuses – and how the negotiation of a biotechnological future(s) is perceived, reproduced and/or contested by populations impacted by HIV/AIDS.

The monograph will be produced in tandem with ongoing research about ‘post-AIDS’ health promotion in Scotland. In June 2021, I submitted a funding app to the Glasgow Medical Humanities Network Early Career Foundation Awards to analyse how recent health promotion in the Scottish context has either integrated or might integrate ‘post-AIDS’ perspectives in engagement with local communities. This foundation award will provide a scoping analysis to determine to what extent further engagement with local communities is needed to interrogate the perceived ‘end of AIDS’ in Scotland. It is my hope that this project will lead to further work working with community members to discuss perceived social futures with less HIV transmission, including interviews, workshops, and creative projects articulating the strengths and limitations of appealing to the ‘end of AIDS’ before curative technologies are developed.

For more information about my ongoing research, please visit my online CV.