January 31 – February 2, 2014
Carleton University, Ottawa


The Body as Machine: Neoliberal Biopolitics and the Performative Rhetorics of HIV Treatment-as-Prevention

The TasP (Treatment-as-Prevention) paradigm is premised on the claim that scaling up testing and providing immediate access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) for individuals living with HIV will produce a broader preventative benefit at the public health level and reduce the number of new HIV infections. Building on Marilou Gagnon’s paper, which argues for the emergence of a new medical category of “virally suppressed,” this paper performs an analysis of two pro-TasP media campaigns in order to demonstrate the rhetorical strategies at play in the constitution of virally suppressed/unsuppressed subjectivities. First, it analyzes a BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS YouTube “public service” advertisement, which enjoins the viewer to get tested by analogizing the body to “a great machine.” Second, it reads the cover photograph of a recent Médicins sans frontières publication depicting an African woman wearing a t-shirt declaring, “Viral Load Undetectable.” These two, unrelated campaigns, provide the occasion for a critical assessment of subject-formation within the rhetoric of suppression. While these campaigns presume vastly different audiences, each provides an image with which the viewer is meant to identify—desirable subject-positions available to be taken up, incorporated, and lived. In brief, the images of the bodies they propose are synecdochal for a normative and compliant subject, while a nexus of normalizing forces operate covertly in the background. Judith Butler’s theory of performativity is used to help read these campaigns and to understand the kind of subject that consolidates around the norm that is proposed by the TasP paradigm.

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