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Seminar Series: Treating Culture: The Making of HIV / AIDS Experts and Communities

Thurka Sangaramoorthy, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Maryland
When Nov 11, 2013
from 12:00 PM to 01:00 PM
Where 0124B Cole Student Activities Building
Contact Name
Contact Phone 301-405-6403
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About the Talk

This talk is drawn from the forthcoming book, Treating AIDS: Politics of Difference, Paradox of Prevention, to be published by Rutgers University Press in 2014. Treating AIDS is the story of everyday practices of HIV / AIDS prevention in the United States from the perspective of HIV / AIDS experts and Haitian immigrants in South Florida. It delineates the paradox between the unified responsibility and global response to HIV / AIDS, where we all become implicated as carriers of risk, and the uncontested existence of racial and ethnic disparities in HIV / AIDS rates, access to treatment and care, and overall stigma. The book closely documents how health policies and enumerative practices help to reinforce categories of individual and collective difference, and sustain race and ethnicity as risk factors for HIV / AIDS. In addition, it highlights specific problems facing marginalized immigrant communities and documents how HIV / AIDS prevention becomes the platform through which they assert social membership and citizenship claims. Through such arguments this book illustrates that public understandings of health interventions and diseases are complex and, therefore, highly interdisciplinary frameworks are necessary to understand these relations.

Taken from a chapter from Treating AIDS, this talk will explore how HIV / AIDS prevention experts have become increasingly focused on communities and their cultures as the site of risk and, consequently, targeted interventions. In response to calls to promote health equity by addressing social and structural determinants of health, HIV / AIDS prevention science is continually shifting its priorities from individual-level interventions to those that target communities. This has necessitated a change in how risk is conceptualized, moving from predominantly biological (race, age, and gender) and behavioral (heterosexual and homosexual) categories of risk to discourses of culture as inherently related to risk. Using ethnographic evidence from long-term engaged fieldwork, I will show that this shift in practice has diluted notions of community, conflated behavioral and biological traits with culture, and reformulated the concepts of culture and community as essentialized and fixed entities. This has the effect of naturalizing the categorization of people by behavioral risk and, in turn, linking particular diseases to social categories of people. This move in HIV / AIDS prevention toward a community-level focus also overlooks the complex ways in which Haitians conceptualize community as a site of both disengagement and belonging.

About the Speaker

Thurka S.

Thurka Sangaramoorthy is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Maryland College Park. Before coming to the University of Maryland she worked for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Sangaramoorthy is a medical anthropologist who studies the relationships between the everyday lived experiences of individuals and communities and the biopolitics of global health institutions, neoliberal health policies, and enumerative practices. Her research and teaching interests are in the areas of medical anthropology, science and technology studies, anthropology of medicine, global public health, HIV / AIDS, critical race theory, and citizenship. For more than 10 years Dr. Sangaramoorthy has worked in the fields of sexual health and STD / HIV prevention with vulnerable and at-risk populations in international non-profits, state and local health departments, academic institutions and governmental agencies.

Visit Professor Sangaramoorthy's webpage

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