In 2012 I started research on Changing Spaces of HIV Prevention: a cultural analysis of transformations in sexual sociability among gay and homosexually active men. It’s an ARC-funded Discovery Project which is investigating how new infrastructures of sexual encounter – principally online meeting sites – are reshaping gay life. The aim is to produce an historically grounded account that looks at the constitutive part played by spaces, objects, architectures, formats and devices in the shaping and imagination of gay community, identity, practices, desires.
In Pleasure Consuming Medicine I argued that the dance party was a crucial mechanism in the formation and imagination of a “community response to HIV/AIDS” in Sydney. Implicit in this argument was the (Latourian) idea that we can’t take notions like ‘community’, ‘society’, etc as pre-given formations with some sort of magical explanatory power. We actually have to trace the associations through which particular communities, identities, attachments, etc. emerge. This takes more than a study of meanings and representations (the classical fodder of cultural studies) – though of course these are significant. We also need to look at the part played by particular infrastructures, devices, objects, technologies, affects, architectures, etc. in these processes.
In our everyday, social and sexual lives we’re involved in particular structures of entanglement that have their own specificity … and that change over time. Connecting with others in a bar is different from connecting with others online. You’re exposed to different things, with implications for one’s sense of belonging, attachments, sympathies and expressive manner – some subtle, some huge. Of course, whinging about the internet is practically a community mantra these days, ironically it’s one of the topics that people bond with over beers (so it’s not like these spaces are mutually exclusive…) But in public discussion, I don’t think we’ve really got to the heart of what people are getting out of (for example) online hookups – how they are doing them and what new pleasures, capacities, forms of exchange, or play they give rise to. These things ought to be worked out collectively. I’m hoping this blog will contribute towards that. What can we make of the structures that are shaping our encounters and processes of self-formation now?
I’m currently have a contract to produce a book based on this research with Routledge. The book will be called Gay Science: Intimate Experiments with the Problem of HIV – and should appear some time in 2017. Watch out for it!