A decade into the AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome) epidemic, we have witnessed a terrible cost in human suffering. The challenge of AIDS has mobilized resources and contributed to advances in biomedical science. The effect of AIDS on the polarization of social and political forces has also helped to accentuate the already existing forces for change in morality and social science. Though the social and political context deeply affects the ability to conduct scientific research and design AIDS prevention programs--most obviously through the government and its agencies' control of funding--the focus of this book is on the change in social scientific inquiry brought about by AIDS research that is community based.
Though we will not debate the definition of community here, we lean toward the definition of contemporary communities, particularly in the developed, postindustrial or modern world, as "liberated" communities of association ( Wellman and Leighton 1979). Though that association is often within a particular geographical context, for example, Orange County or San Francisco, the neighborhood or locale is not its defining characteristic, which is, rather, an association based on life-style, ethnicity, social economic status, or occupation. Although a community can consist of people of a common ethnic bond or people living in a certain locality, it also includes those of a similar life-style, whose relations are not bound by geographical proximity.
Our concern is with community based research. It involves the researchers in an intimate way with the communities in which they are working and provides them with information that central government--administered programs1 are often lacking. Each of the contributors has been involved in the community studied, as part of the research process so as to study and intimately know the design of a community based program that reaches the target community in a culturally sensitive and therefore effective manner.