Becoming non-infectious: tempering discourses of hope in biomedical HIV prevention

Keogh, Peter and Dodds, Catherine (2020). Becoming non-infectious: tempering discourses of hope in biomedical HIV prevention. Sociology of Health & Illness (In press).


This paper is concerned with the deployment of discourses of hope in increasingly biomedicalised global responses to HIV. In particular, we contrast two emergences of the concept of ‘non -infectious’ (that pharmaceuticals can render someone living with HIV as non-infectious and protect someone at risk from contracting HIV).

First, using Novas’ framing of ‘political economies of hope’, we describe the deployment of ‘non-infectious’ as part of the global health campaign ‘undetectable = untransmittable’ or ‘U=U’. Second, we draw on Raffles’ (2002) concept of ‘intimate knowledge’ to theorise our own account of ‘non-infectious’ using accounts of the embodied and intimate experiences of people living with or around HIV collected at various points over the last twenty years.

Framed as intimate knowledge, ‘non-infectious’ becomes known through people’s multiple engagements with and developing understandings of HIV over a prolonged period. As contingent and specific, intimate knowledge does not register within the biomedical/scientific ontological system that underpins discourses of hope employed in the U=U campaign.

However, the concept of intimate knowledge offers the potential to bridge epistemological divides between scientific knowledge on the one hand and embodied/affective knowledge on the other. Bridging this divide is important for us to understand the many ways in which HIV has been and will be transformed.

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