Academic journal article Melbourne Journal of Politics

Prefacing Research on the Global Gay

Academic journal article Melbourne Journal of Politics

Prefacing Research on the Global Gay

Article excerpt

Dennis Altman's paper "Research and its Discontents" aims to raise methodological issues that would accompany any investigation into the modalities of homosexuality in Southeast Asia. The central empirical question it raises is the extent to which there has been either a traditional continuity or modern rupture in ways of being homosexual.

The laconic nature of the paper makes it difficult to offer any substantial response. Accordingly, I've decided to offer brief comments on aspects of the paper that interest me.

Dennis' observations of the various individuals and organizations he has come into contact with during the course of his HIV/AIDS work deserves comment. The paper is scattered with inferences to `face': `the desire of informants to tell the observer [Dennis] what they think he wants to hear', especially people involved in AIDS work. Dennis even places himself in this position vis-a-vis the funder of his research project. Anyone who has worked with non-government agencies will know this scenario well.(1)

These comments are really an occasion to reflect on the fluid power relations between granter and grantee. It is a process in which potential grantees can successfully present an appropriate face in order to secure funding for purposes in excess of any stated objective. `Face' is a strategy which takes account of realistic options within an institutionalised field. Its practitioners are often specialists, either having an imagined, potential or real constituency. Operating at the level of peak organisational politics, the issue of `face' doesn't say much about the broader social processes framing the problems `face' is designed to address. In terms of the `face' of the homosexual grantee, the few individuals who work at that level are rarely `representative' of the broader medium of lived homosexuality. What goes on behind the face and even beyond it, that is to say what funded groups do and indeed what a `ungranted' population does, is perhaps the real area of investigation, rather than centre-staging a relationship that defines the fund-seeker immediately as in some kind of need or suffering some kind of lack. It may be the case that in Dennis' experience AIDS is the medium through which some activists are forging a global gay identity. The positioning of the newly emerging global gay network within the context of AIDS politics, while unavoidable, is also problematic, for it brings into play the impact of consciously designed and funded projects, often sourced from western experience.

Surely what Dennis encountered on the field was nothing new to him. The `face' practises themselves have been an integral part of the functioning of Australian AIDS organizations. Most commentators are apt to praise the success of Australian AIDS organizations but it was a success predicated on the use of `face' to secure funding and keeping certain things out of sight, as well as the use of bloated rhetoric of community. Just as these organizations are political actors so too are the objects of Dennis's study and this has important ramifications. Dennis is globally renowned in AIDS fields. He is not just any researcher. In interviewing a variety of activists his stature would have been on their mind: not by any evil design, he is in a position of power, and the objects of his study are no doubt playing political games.

If we think about these politicians of face, their position is undoubtedly a complex one, crisscrossing the global and domestic: as local articulators of their own culture and as global articulators to that culture. They are framed within contradictory but dynamic roles that are, it seems, consciously manipulated. Beyond them is the emerging global capitalist economy which is doing more to modernize (differentiate hierarchically) sex than any `discourse'. The capitalist economies of `Southeast Asia', dynamic and instantly global, are creating displaced, incomed, urban individuals who, seeking place, turn their sexual desire to identity. …

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