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Inessential Theory: Culture and AIDS Risk Governance

Author(s): Adam M. Geary

Journal: Eä : Revista de Humanidades Médicas & Estudios Sociales de la Ciencia y la Tecnología
ISSN 1852-4680

Volume: 2;
Issue: 3;
Date: 2011;
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Keywords: AIDS-prevention | governmentality | theory of culture | behavioralism | advanced liberalism

This paper takes as its problem the fact that while there has long been a vigorous critique of the category of culture in AIDS ethnography and epidemiology, culture has continued to serve as a crucial conceptual frame for AIDS behavioral sciences. It argues that the tenacity of the culture-concept in AIDS prevention is due not to its representational adequacy or theoretical sophistication but to its utility for the social governance of behavior. The concept of culture is compelling and powerful in AIDS prevention because it links HIV risk with a pragmatics of behavioral intervention, without, in fact, providing a vigorous or compelling theoretical justification. This link is fundamentally discursive rather than theoretical, and originates, not from the analysis of risk, but from the rationality of advanced-liberal governance (governmentality) that drives AIDS-prevention interventions: a rationality marked by indirect governance, individual and small-group “empowerment,” and the cultivation of “active” subjectivity.

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