Not (HIV) Negative: Visual Representation and Viral Responsibilisation

Until highly effective treatments became available for HIV in the mid-1990s, AIDS had a profound impact on the culture industries and queer communities, including the loss of many innovative visual artists (Keith Haring, Derek Jarman, Robert Mapplethorpe, to name a few). The dominant political ideology which emerged during this period—neoliberalism—tended to frame viral transmission as a matter of individual responsibility, rather than collective concern, with governments slow or unwilling to respond to the epidemic. In this talk, drawing on 20 interviews with people living with HIV during COVID-19, Max Morris suggests that creative methods can reframe how viral blame is represented and reproduced by the media, alongside whether the positive/negative binary should be rejected altogether. As someone who volunteered for the PARTNER Study, which proved that HIV transmission is impossible when someone is on treatment, Max also reflects on how art and activism have shaped their experiences as a social researcher.

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Dr Max Morris is a Lecturer in Criminology at Oxford Brookes University whose research draws on queer theory to examine the role of law and culture in constructing social identities. They have published articles in Culture, Health and Sexuality, Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, Sexuality Research and Social Policy, Sociology, The British Journal of Sociology and The Journal of Criminal Law on topics including the criminalisation of HIV transmission, online sex work, and the changing experiences of LGBTQ+ people in the UK. Max advocates for the abolition of laws and norms that marginalise non-normative sexualities.

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