Aids and Postcolonial Politics: Acting Up on Science and Immigration in France
Bosia, Michael J., French Politics, Culture and Society
From a postcolonial left that challenges the French state over immigration policy and neoliberal globalization, Act Up has advocated for the social and political rights and needs of women, inmates, drug users, and immigrants with HIV/AIDS. This essay examines as well Act Up's engagement with science and globalization in response to new experimental medical trials in the Global South. Act Up's emphasis on local empowerment against global economic and social actors has earned criticism from American and South African AIDS activists, but at the same time these campaigns stress the universalist impulse imbedded in the Act Up brand of French Republican politics.
Keywords: HIV/AIDS, France, postcolonial politics, globalization, social movements
Activists stood silently in front of scientists who were presenting the findings from an HIV treatment project in Uganda at the 2006 International AIDS Conference in Toronto. Their posters read, simply, "Shame." This would not have been unusual in the 1980s and 90s, when activists stormed such meetings, disrupted talks, and occupied public health laboratories and research facilities. But since then, HIV/AIDS activists in some locales have entered into a variety of cooperative ventures with medical researchers, and adapted to, as well as adapted, the protocols upon which such medical research is based. Nevertheless, this group of French activists from Act Up Paris have continued to challenge the ethics of drug and treatment trials, focusing attention on the demands and concerns of trial participants far away from their Paris constituency. In the process, they have earned the enmity of many treatment activists in the global South as well as the industrialized North, and they have been attacked as practitioners of "pseudoscience," the same accusation lodged against those, like former South African President Mbeki, who have denied the link between HIV and AIDS.
If medical research has earned the cooperation of many activists in a transnational HIV/AIDS activist movement, why does Act Up Paris stand apart in its willingness to challenge the ethical basis of drug trials? If a truly cooperative transnational movement exists, what explains the sharp and intense conflict between some in the global South and activists at Act Up Paris? There is a significant turn in scholarship on HIV/AIDS politics, exhibiting greater attention to movements outside Europe and North America but only rarely to relationships between activists in the developed countries and those in the global South. (1) Placing such engagements at the center, I look to domestic challenges facing even the internationalized HIV/AIDS movement, and argue that global activists situate themselves simultaneously in global and national experiences. While they respond to the same forms of power against which the global movement organizes a shared vision--what can be called the macroclimate that includes political, scientific, and economic institutions and relationships--they contest such challenges through the manifestation of the global in the local. We might consider the local to be the microclimate, or terroir, where relations of global power are expressed and resisted. Such microclimates reflect the logic of the global system, but do so in consideration of a unique complex of more and less material circumstances, such as histories, traditions, norms, and habits.
Focusing on the dispute over two research trials--among sex workers in Cameroon and Cambodia, and among people with HIV in Uganda--I will situate the competing claims over "science" and "politics" within the microclimate of domestic politics reaching out globally, introducing what Act Up reflects in the world from its French terroir. In this process, I turn to another intervention Act Up Paris has made in terms of global politics that brings the global back home, by looking at the response to a policy of automatic expulsion of undocumented immigrants carried out by French governments of the Left and the Right. …