Sexual Behavior and HIV/AIDS in Europe: Comparisons of National Surveys

By Michel Hubert; Nathalie Bajos et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 13

Attitudes towards People with HIV/AIDS

Elizabeth Ioannidi and Michael Haeder

Introduction

Discrimination against people with HIV/AIDS (PWHAs) has been registered widely in all parts of the world. HIV infected people have lost jobs and homes, children with AIDS have been denied access to public schools, and funeral directors have refused to handle the corpses of people who have died from AIDS (Fineberg, 1988). These ‘rituals of decontamination’ were rampant mainly between 1982 to 1985, the period of moral panic (Weeks, 1989). Subsequently, while earlier fears and loathing have perhaps diminished, prejudice and discrimination against PWHAs continue to be widespread (Weeks, 1989). Such tendencies persist not only among the public at large, but also among health workers, which is a much more alarming phenomenon (Hornung, Lert and Moatti, 1995). Today, as we deal with the second decade of the AIDS epidemic and the disease is continuing to spread around the world, it seems appropriate to discuss attitudes towards those who are infected, as they were expressed in various European countries.

Illness is defined by sociologists in terms ‘of social situation and social behaviour, as well as in terms of biological reality’ (Herzlich and Graham, 1973). As society is considered a system of social relationships and interactions, sickness from the social behavioural standpoint refers to a state of social dysfunction that affects the individual’s relation with others. According to Parsons (1951), who first conceptualized the notion of the sick role, sickness can be classified as a form of deviant behaviour that requires legitimization and social control (Turner, 1987). Illness is considered an unnatural state of the human body, causing both physical and social dysfunction and, according to classic functionalist theorists, may be interpreted as a potential state of social ‘deviance’, that is, failure to conform to societal expectations and norms in some way (Lupton, 1994).

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