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?
Update: the book based on the above research, The Gay Science: Intimate experiments with HIV, has just been released by Routledge in hardcover and e-form, with a paperback edition to be released in late 2018. Here is 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, first exhibited at East Sydney Doctors Gallery the week I sent my manuscript off to the publishers (!!), on the cover; 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‘, (DP17) which proposes to treat queer and trans drugtaking practices as intimate experiments while considering the forces that constrain and enable such experiments to assemble 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 work on the disciplinary terms of Australian citizenship and national membership, and the ethico-political and aesthetic dimensions of self-experimentation, body modification, collective self-transformation, and how they are inter-implicated with, and concretised within, evolving cultural economies.
Tentative working title-headers for this longer term project are taken from the subcultures this work will learn form and have specific vernacular relevance within them. They include “Policing/Cruising”; “Defected”; or maybe just “@toughstreetmachines”