Risky Rhetoric: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing

Risky Rhetoric: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing

Risky Rhetoric: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing

Risky Rhetoric: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing


Risky Rhetoric: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing is the first book-length study of the rhetoric inherent in and surrounding HIV testing. In addition to providing a history of HIV testing in the United States from 1985 to the present, J. Blake Scott explains how faulty arguments about testing's power and effects have promoted unresponsive and even dangerous testing practices for so-called normal subjects as well as those deemed risky.

Drawing on classical rhetoric as well as Michel Foucault's theorizing of the examination as a form of disciplinary power, this study explores how HIV testing functions as a disciplinary technology that shapes subjects and exerts power over individual bodies and populations. Testing has largely been deployed to protect those defined as normal members of the general population by detecting, managing, and even punishing those diagnosed as risky (e.g., gay and bisexual men, poor women of color). But Scott reveals that testing's function of protection-through-detection has been fueled in part by faulty arguments that exaggerate testing's interventive power and benefits. These arguments have also created a perception that testing is a magic bullet. By overestimating the benefits of HIV testing and overlooking its contingencies and harmful effects, dominant arguments about testing have enabled a shortsighted public health response to HIV and unresponsive testing policies.

The ultimate goal of Risky Rhetoric: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing is to offer strategies to policymakers, HIV educators and test counselors, and other rhetors for developing more responsive and egalitarian testing-related rhetorics and practices.


We are entering the age of the infinite examination. —Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish

The twenty-seventh of June 2000 was the sixth annual National hiv (human immunodeficiency virus) Testing Day, a massive campaign and testing event carried out at more than ten thousand national, state, and local sites and sponsored mainly by the National Association of People with aids (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome), media networks, government agencies, and major pharmaceutical companies. the campaign's slogan of“Take the Test—Take Control” employed the charge ofindividual responsibility and appeal ofpersonal empowerment so common in testing- and AIDS-related discourses (e.g., drug ads, home testing ads). According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the organizers of the event aimed to “empower those at risk for hiv to take personal control and responsibility for their own health” (“CDC Points”). Testing was depicted as empowering, especially for those living with hiv but unaware of their serostatus—an estimated 250,000—300,000 Americans.

The National hiv Testing Day points to the growing importance ofwhat is commonly known as “the test”in U.S. culture. Indeed, hiv testing in the United States takes place on a massive scale across a wide spectrum ofpublic and private sites. the growing network of federally funded counseling and testing sites—which includes facilities devoted to hiv counseling and testing, as well as sexually transmitted disease (STD) clinics, drug and alcohol treatment centers, tuberculosis clinics, family planning clinics, correctional facilities, women's health clinics, adolescent health clinics, and community health centers—provides around 2.5 million tests annually (Weber et al. 90). This number accounts for only about 15 percent ofnon—blood donation hiv tests (CDC, “Anonymous” 509). Most testing takes place at physicians' offices, managed care clinics, hospitals and other urgent care facilities, and other sites where counseling is less common. All in all, about 24.6 million people are tested for hiv each year, many . . .

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