The politics of testing positive : an autoethnography of media (mis)representations at the 'start' and 'end' of different pandemics

Morris, Max (2021) The politics of testing positive : an autoethnography of media (mis)representations at the 'start' and 'end' of different pandemics. Culture, Health & Sexuality, ISSN (print) 1369-1058 (Epub Ahead of Print)

Abstract

This paper draws on an autoethnographic ‘digital diary’ which the author began after testing positive for HIV in July 2016, until May 2021, to critically assess (mis)representations of both the AIDS and COVID-19 pandemics in the media. Drawing on insights from art, literature, queer theory and social anthropology, the paper focuses on dominant moral and political discourses to show how narratives of blame, shame and guilt about viral transmission contribute to the stigmatisation of ‘at risk’ groups. Concepts of biopower and normative judgement are used to reflect on discourses which construct those who ‘test positive’ for HIV or SARS-CoV-2 as ‘reckless’, ‘risky’ or ‘irresponsible’ subjects. The paper also analyses notes on recent media appearances made by the author to discuss their participation in the PARTNER study, which showed that HIV antiretroviral therapy eliminates the possibility of HIV transmission, including reports on BBC News, in The Guardian, on Sky News, on Channel 5 News, and in the Metro. As the latter had reported that the ‘Covid-19 crisis raises hopes of end to UK transmission of HIV’, portrayals of the two pandemics are compared to explore tensions between public health and individual responsibility as normative priorities.

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