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ERC

AIDSRIGHTS Report Summary

Project ID: 281148
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: Netherlands

Final Report Summary - AIDSRIGHTS (Rights, Responsibilities, and the HIV/AIDS Pandemic: Global Impact on Moral and Political Subjectivity)

The project “Rights, Responsibilities, and the HIV/AIDS Pandemic: Global Impact on Moral and Political Subjectivity” studies moral and political subjectivity in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs from the perspective of socio-cultural anthropology. The main research question is: what kinds of politico-moral persons are constituted in institutional contexts that combine human rights and personal responsibility approaches to health, and how these kinds of subjectivities relate to local, national, and global forms of the politico-moral represented in health policies? This project was carried out in Jakarta and Bali, Indonesia, Western Cape, South Africa, and New York City, USA.
An important conclusion of the project is that the challenge of comparing multiple sites is relatively easy to overcome in the context of research related to transnational therapeutic “best practice,” as it is referred to, human rights discourse, which has become internationalized, and disease. This will make an important contribution to the discipline as the latter continues to struggle to adapt its traditional research methodology to a world that has become increasingly interconnected. Thus, the way in which this triad “universalizes,” as it were, particular local contexts eases the challenges of such large-scale comparative research. This, of course, does not flatten the world and erase local differences, but it does provide a kind of stable background against which the local differences become much more clear. Thus, for example, although the notion of individual responsibility on the part of those receiving HIV-related treatment was universally emphasized in all of the project’s sites, how this was articulated differed locally – for example, a focus on responsibility toward family networks in Indonesia and a focus on being responsible enough to hold a job in the United States.
Another important conclusion of the project is the link between moralities and politics. The findings of this project show that moral discourses, training, and personhood significantly contribute to political practices, and that political practices and discourse significantly shape the former. In other words, we found that there is an important feedback occurring between these two such that it seems analytically impossible to separate one from the other. Many of those with whom the project team did research were participants in HIV-related organizations and clinics, and as a result of being so, had become political activists for HIV-related issues. Significantly, the political activity and the demands made were articulated using the same moral language – centering on rights, responsibility, dignity and respect – that were used within the clinic/organizations in relation to individuals and their health. Neither morality nor politics, our results suggest, are possible without the other.
A third important conclusion of the project pertains to the increasing “universalization” of moral and political discourse. Our results confirm that in fact this phenomenon seems to be occurring but not in an unquestioned manner. For example, there is no doubt that people in all of our research sites use the expected moral and political language of human rights, such as, human rights, dignity, and respect. And this language is also used in diverse contexts outside of our central research sites – for example, during political protest or some conversations in homes, as opposed to the therapeutic settings most of the research focused on. But it is also clear that this language is rather strategic in the sense that our informants know that by using this language they will get what they seek. For example, they know that using the language of human rights in a grant application will better their chance of receiving the grant, or when seeking permission from the government to establish a new program this language helps. It is also the lingua franca of meetings and events held at our sites. But as of yet this language does not seem to “erase” local notions of morality but rather blends with it. It does, however, seem to impact the way people conceive of political expectations on the part of their governments and politicians.
The results of the project, to the extent that they have been made public, are well received within the scholarly community. During the research phase of the project the team utilized some unconventional anthropological methodologies – such as photo interviews, diary writing, and focus groups – and these have proven imperative to the success of the project. Within the research team we established productive cross-subproject interaction that significantly contributed to the success of the project. We also established formal and informal relations with two other major universities in the United States and Europe that share our interest in politico-moral subjectivities.

Reported by

UNIVERSITEIT VAN AMSTERDAM
Netherlands
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