Rethinking HIV Stigma: Locating Intersectionality and Agency in the Experience of Social Exclusion




Pavletic, Nevia

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The aim of this thesis is to provide a “thick description” of HIV stigma within the United States cultural context, a topic that has received relatively little attention from anthropologists. Since the early days of the epidemic, HIV/AIDS has been symbolically linked with the “dangerous other,” and the stigma associated with the disease has had devastating consequences for both individuals and communities. Through a combination of semi-structured interviews, textual analysis, and a literature review, I examine how the embodied experience of HIV stigma intersects with other forms of social exclusion and discrimination, and also how people living with HIV/AIDS (PHA) challenge and resist stigmatization. Specifically, I bring to light how agency is put into practice through the process of disclosure and also through the strategies that PHA employ to transform their illness experiences into a meaningful life narrative. My research builds on the existing scholarship on stigma and structural violence, while simultaneously bringing to light the power of PHA to resist the shame, secrecy, silence, and isolation that usually accompany an HIV diagnosis. I argue that by shifting our interpretive lens towards agency and subjectivity and away from vulnerability and passivity, we can begin to view PHA and other marginalized groups as less Other.



HIV/AIDS, Stigma