The Social Organization of AIDS
Institut für Soziologie Universität Leipzig Berlin, Germany
The AIDS epidemic marked a turning point for the institutional response to public health threats. It was the context for further institutionalizing and widely implementing an approach known as "new public health". This became the dominant political response to the epidemic in many countries. The central aim of this approach is to involve affected communities as carriers of public health efforts. Accordingly, AIDS organizations have become the pivotal actor for managing the public health risks signified by "AIDS". Research on AIDS organizations, however, is scattered. This presentation will synthesize the existing research and will sketch out general aspects of a sociology of AIDS organizations. Neo-corporatism and neo-institutionalism can function as a theoretical basis, but wider cultural aspects need to be included as well. AIDS organizations evolved within the broader context of AIDS-discourses that constructed in complex ways culture-coded notions of risks - these left crucial imprints on AIDS organizations. These combined perspectives help to explore the significance of explanatory factors, starting from political opportunity structures and ending with the processes of professionalization. In particular, this approach allows dissection of key conditions for AIDS organizations to operate as well as analysis of the complex forms of power that constitute and permeate them. AIDS organizations then appear in the dual role of challenging power structures while wielding power themselves. This will be briefly illustrated by some of the burgeoning research on emerging practices and identities of bareback sex. Another example will be taken from my own research on dissolved AIDS organizations that reveals the significance of civic identities (activism, volunteerism, professionalism) for degrees of politicization and the maintenance of individual commitment to AIDS work.