Risk, Culture, and Health Inequality: Shifting Perceptions of Danger and Blame

By Barbara Herr Harthorn; Laury Oaks | Go to book overview

Chapter 8

Governing Migrants' Sexual Behavior:
Work, HIV/AIDS, and Condom Use Campaigns
in Southeast Asia

Peter Chua

In the media and in political debate, the epidemiological category of risk group has been
used to stereotype and stigmatize people already seen as outside the moral and economic
parameters of “the general population.” “United States Senator” Jesse Helms's success in
October 1987 in getting the Senate to prevent federal dollars from being spent on safe
sex information for gay men—the hardest hit “risk group” in the U.S., and the only
group in which reported transmission of the virus has declined due to safe sex education
by gay men themselves—makes clear the social and political as opposed to epidemiolog-
ical functions of the risk group concept: to isolate and condemn people rather than to
contact and protect them. (Grover 1988:27–28)

Nearly 20 years since AIDS first emerged, the medical concept of risk group remains in use without sufficient civic accountability. As cultural critic Grover recounts in the opening quote, the concept of risk group resulted in the stigmatization of group members during the early years of the AIDS epidemic in the United States (see Schiller, Crystal, and Lewellen 1994). She emphasizes the ways dominant institutions construct groups that are already marginalized socially by saddling them with the added classification of being “at risk” for HIV/AIDS.

This chapter examines two of these risk group constructions, the “woman sex worker” and the “male truck driver,” through an historical analysis of pub-

I presented earlier versions of this research at the 2000 American Sociological Associa-
tion Annual Meeting in Washington, DC, and at the 2000 Women, Culture, Develop
ment Graduate Conference at the University of California, Santa Barbara. I am thankful
to the panel organizers and participants for their thoughtful suggestions. Barbara Herr
Harthorn's and Laury Oaks's editorial comments improved my argument in many
ways. The University of California Pacific Rim Research Grant provided financial sup-
port for data collection.

-165-

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