AIDS talk

Joyce Elizabeth Elder Yost, The University of Texas School of Public Health


The observations of Michel Foucault, noted Twentieth Century French philosopher, regarding modern power relations and orders of discourse, form the framework utilized to analyze and interpret the power struggles of AIDS activists and their opponents--the religious and radical right, and the administrative agencies of the 'Liberal' welfare State. Supported by the tools of sociolinguistic inquiry, the analysis highlights the success of a safer sex campaign in Houston, Texas to illustrate the dynamics of cultural and political change by means of discursive transformations initiated by the gay micro-culture. The KS/AIDS Foundation, allied with both the biomedical community and gay entertainment spheres, was successful in conveying biomedical cautions that resulted in altered personal behavior and modified public attitudes by using linguistic conventions consonant with the discourse of the Houston gay micro-culture. The transformation of discursive practices transgressed not only the Houston gay micro-culture's boundaries, but the city boundaries of Houston as well. In addition to cultural and political change, moderate and confrontational gay activists also sought to change the cognitive boundaries surrounding 'the gold standard' for clinical research trials. From a Foucauldian perspective, the same-sex community evolved from the subordinated Other to a position of power in a period of five years. Transformations in discursive practices and power relations are exemplified by the changing definitions employed by AIDS policy-makers, the public validation of community-based research and the establishment of parallel track drug studies. Finally, transformations in discursive practices surrounding the issues of HIV antibody testing are interpreted using Foucault's six points of power relations. The Montrose Clinic provides the case study for this investigation. The clinic turned the technical rationalities of the State against itself to achieve its own ends and those of the gay micro-culture--anonymous testing with pre and post test counseling. AIDS Talk portrays a dramatic transformation in discursive practices and power relations that transcends the historical moment to provide a model for future activists. Volume 2 contains copies of fugitive primary source materials largely unavailable elsewhere. Original documents are archived in the Harris County Medical Archives in the Houston Academy of Medicine located in the Texas Medical Center Library, Houston, Texas.

Subject Area

Public health|Cultural anthropology|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Yost, Joyce Elizabeth Elder, "AIDS talk" (1996). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI9736148.