You can read the interview here
I accepted an invitation from Zizi Papacharissi to contribute to a volume she is editing – The Networked Self ~ Love on the topic of gay social networking apps and websites.
My piece explores the sorts of solutions these devices propose to various, collectively felt, problems and asks how tech users, product developers and sexuality researchers might work together to construct better infrastructures for sex and sociability between men, among other users of these devices – with a specific focus on how various apps and websites have sought to incorporate and operationalise methods of HIV prevention.
Sexual networks such as Bareback Realtime, Grindr, Manhunt, Gaydar, Hornet and Scruff all feature in the discussion, which you can access by clicking on the title:
Abstract: Drawing on previous work in which I have approached digital sex as a marketplace and conceived hookup apps and online cruising sites as market devices, in this chapter I argue that problematization (Foucault 1995) is a useful analytic for conceiving the design of online dating and cruising devices, because tech developers tend to rely on some problematization of the existing sexual marketplace, as it is being enacted, in their efforts to improve the prospects of specific groups of participants, qualify their products and secure a niche in the digital marketplace. Drawing on a rare interview with the founder of BarebackRT.com (‘BBRT’), the world’s largest hookup site for men looking for other barebackers, I discuss how this site was conceived and designed in an attempt to address certain problems its developers perceived in the gay sexual marketplace as it was digitally and practically enacted at the time of the site’s conception. BBRT is an especially interesting example because it demonstrates how clinical indicators, among other personal and technical specifications, can emerge as criteria for discriminating between prospective partners, populating personal profiles and qualifying the self in the pursuit of sexual encounters. In this respect, BBRT stands as a fascinating example of how innovations in digital culture can eventuate from convergences between digital and clinical media and how such convergences effect differences in the pragmatic qualification of social networking applications. But it also stages the categories according to which members are required to present themselves online as provisional, historically situated, and available to experimentation and critical transformation.
Update: the book based on the research this blog was first set up to facilitate has just been released by Routledge in hardcover and e-form, with a paperback edition to be released in late 2018. It’s called The Gay Science: Intimate experiments with HIV (2018). here’s the cover blurb:
Since the onset of the HIV epidemic, the behaviour of men who have sex with men has been subject to intense scrutiny on the part of the behavioural and sociomedical sciences. What happens when we consider the work of these sciences to be not merely descriptive, but also constitutive of the realities it describes? The Gay Science pays attention to lived experiences of sex, drugs and the scientific practices that make these experiences intelligible. Through a series of empirically and historically detailed case studies, the book examines how new technologies and scientific artifacts – such as antiretroviral therapy, digital hookup apps and research methods – mediate sexual encounters and shape the worlds and self-practices of men who have sex with men.
Rather than debunking scientific practices or minimizing their significance, The Gay Scienceapproaches these practices as ways in which we ‘learn to be affected’ by HIV. It explores what knowledge practices best engage us, move us and increase our powers and capacities for action. The book includes an historical analysis of drug use as a significant element in the formation of urban gay cultures; constructivist accounts of the emergence of barebacking and chemsex; a performative response to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis and its uptake; and, a speculative analysis of ways of thinking and doing sexual community in the digital context.
Combining insights from queer theory, process philosophy and science and technology studies to develop an original approach to the analysis of sexuality, drug use, public health and digital practices, this book demonstrates the ontological consequences of different modes of attending to risk and pleasure. It is suitable for those interested in cultural studies, sociology, gender and sexuality studies, digital culture, public health and drug and alcohol studies.
So thrilled that Indian-Australian artist Leon Fernandes generously granted me permission to reproduce his extraordinary piece Krishna in Erskinville on the cover, an artwork first exhibited at East Sydney Doctors Gallery the week I sent my manuscript off to the publishers (!!); AND to have received such generous endorsements from Lauren Berlant and Steven Epstein – such brilliant, inspirational and inspiring critics and social thinkers.
Meanwhile I’ve commenced a new ARC Discovery Project with Dean Murphy, Toby Lea and Kiran Pienaar on LGBTQ drug and medication use, ‘Chemical Practices: Enhancement and experimentation‘ this year (DP17), which proposes to treat queer and trans drugtaking practices as intimate experiments (in the science studies sense) while considering the forces that constrain and enable such experiments to assemble and find their publics and thus become more collectively and carefully elaborated. More details and a link to the project’s website, still in development, to follow
I’m also continuing work on my interest in the design and transformation of geo-sexual networking devices and how they structure the arrangement of sex between men, as well as dreaming up a new project about the normalising effects of the terms of national membership in Australia and the opportunistic policing of citizenship via mundane legal provisions that serve as pretexts for increased surveillance of migrant/ethnic and queer & gender minoritized communities & populations.
This project will work across ‘queer’ and ‘wog’ practices of body modification in Australia (car modification culture and queer drug and party practices mainly) to bring anti-racist critiques into better articulation with queer counterpublic theory in critical studies of the disciplinary terms of Australian citizenship and national membership, as well as the ethico-political and aesthetic dimensions of self-experimentation, body-modification, collective self-transformation, and how they are inter-implicated with evolving markets, cultural economies, and gender identities in the pre- and post-digital context.
Tentative working title-headers for this longer term project are taken from the subcultures this work will learn form and have particular vernacular relevance within them respectively. They include “Policing Cruising: body-modification and resistance within queer and wog scenes in Australia”; “Defected”; or maybe just “@toughstreetmachines”
I’m off to Norway to give some workshops and a couple of talks about my research at the University of Oslo. I’m excited to have the opportunity to meet researchers and students from the schools of public health and medical anthropology there. I’ve organised the workshops around my work on pleasure, digital sex, HIV prevention and harm reduction – and I’ve attached the outline here: thinking-with-pleasure-norway-workshops. It will be a great opportunity to workshop these pieces so I can pull them all together, as they’ll form the basis of the monograph I’m due to deliver by the end of the year: The Gay Science: Intimate Experiments with the Problem of HIV
Intimate Experiments with the Problem of HIV
I’m in the throes of preparing my manuscript for Routledge on gay sex and HIV prevention in the pharmaceutical and digital context
And I think my aha! moment has finally struck me. My key wager is that science and related knowledge practices should both be guided by, and promote, an embracing of the pleasures some seek in sex.
Because science, too, is best when it feels the risk of its involvement – but also acknowledges its investment in – being transformatively affected by its encounters, experienced as events.
The determining question is the range of feelings one activates in response to such events.
I’m using this proposition to frame a range of social scientific and gay male sexual responses to HIV/AIDS in our digital times. What happens when we treat the sexual and social practices of affected groups as situated experiments and consider how they get articulated with the problems HIV science and policy put forward?
My thinking derives much of its energy from bringing the later work of Foucault on problematisation and ‘bodies and pleasures’ into conversation with A.N. Whitehead’s adventurous definition of events.
For an early experiment with this, see my piece ‘Reluctant Objects’ in the first edition of GLQ this year, 2016.
My piece on PREP and sexual pleasure has now been published in the first ed of GLQ this year. Linked here for those who can’t access through uni libraries. Hope you enjoy!
This paper considers the difference that a conception of sex as social practice has made to the relations articulated in HIV social research in Australia. In defining sexual practice as “fluid, embedded in specific social formations, and involving the negotiation of meaning” (Kippax & Stephenson, 2005), social researchers put their own research categories and questions at risk by constructing situations in which their objects of research were given occasions to differ. Taking this risk produced sharp insights about the evolving dynamics of the sexual and prevention fields and produced distinctive, interesting findings. It enabled the articulation of the practice of “negotiated safety” and later strategies of HIV risk reduction emerging from gay men’s practice, for example. I draw on Latour’s (2004) concept of articulation to make sense of these innovations and query some of the key distinctions that organise the field of HIV research: qualitative/quantitative; social/biomedical; subject/object; human/nonhuman; interpretations/evidence. In the present context, I argue that keeping HIV prevention effective, engaging and interesting will require ongoing attention to the embodied articulation of HIV relations.
[This post is the abstract of a paper of mine just submitted to AIDS Education & Prevention. Should be of interest to HIV prevention geeks and potential prevention geeks mainly ; )]