The Specter of AIDS: Testimonial Activism in the Aftermath of the Epidemic

Sociological Theory 26 (3):230 - 257 (2008)
Abstract
Reporting on a study of activists living with HIV/AIDS who give testimonials of their experiences with the disease in various educational settings, this article employs the notion of 'haunting' as a means of analyzing the effect of social justice activism in the "aftermath" of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Because of a shift in both the discursive construction of AIDS and the material symptoms of the disease (due to widespread availability of anti-retroviral medication), the signified of AIDS is "out of joint" with the signification of the disease in the public sphere. AIDS, as a social phenomena and a personal, traumatic experience has been rendered spectral through processes of social othering, structural disenfranchisement, and cultural denialism. Most of the presenters included in this study utilize a strategy of "survivorhood" in order to promote prevention and combat stigma. In doing so, they inadvertently buttress dominant discourses that claim that the disease is now "manageable," normalized, and under control. By contrast, one presenter utilizes a completely different performative approach. In order to confront and subvert the "aftermath" discourse and thereby presence the living trauma of AIDS, this presenter embodies the specter of AIDS. As such, his presentation forces the audience to reckon with processes of social exclusion and cultural otherness.
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