Post-AIDS: Viral Futures and the After/ing of HIV/AIDS Histories

Chase Ledin, PhD Researcher

Centre for Biomedicine, Self & Society

University of Edinburgh

Research Question:

“How to do a history of HIV from the perspective of the aftermath?”

Project Overview

  • Objective: To investigate how queer cultural histories of HIV/AIDS are written from the perspective of the “aftermath”
  • Approach(es): Discourse analysis, queer historiography
  • Discipline(s): queer cultural studies, HIV/AIDS historiography, sociology
  • Relevance: collects and analyses historial materials across public health, sociology, and cultural/media studies to understand how HIV discourses continue to evolve in the period of effective treatment (ARVs, PEP, PrEP)

Australian sociologist Gary Dowsett coined the term post-AIDS to describe “the end to the singularity of gay men’s experiences of the epidemic [in the mid-1990s] and the increasing diversification in gay men’s engagement with the evolving epidemic” (2017, p. 143).

What is Post-AIDS?

“Post-AIDS is premised not just on the political and economic commitment to treatment and prevention but, fundamentally, on the ‘normalisation’ of HIV” (Liz Walker, 2017, p. 9).

“The discourse of an AIDS-free generation encourages us to imagine a pristine future untrained by the abjection of HIV/AIDS [...] But the persistent appeal to an AIDS-free generation effectively override[s] any in-depth conversation or balanced discussion of the material needs of actually existing adults, not least those living with HIV infection” (Kane Race, 2018, p. 97).

After/ing AIDS

Q: How to do a history of HIV from the perspective of the aftermath?

This study examines how writers, artists and activists negotiate the histories and anticipated futures of HIV, particularly by envisioning its “end(s)”.

The project investigates how three central epistemologies ground the reproduction of HIV’s “end(s)”: the non-viral, less-viral, and viral.







  • The project draws on post-structural queer historiography to investigate how HIV/AIDS histories are devised, and how historiographic practices have changed since the 1990s.
  • Forms of queer historiography employed:
    • Fantasmatic historiography: to understand how “subjects live not only their histories, but 'history' itself, to the extent that history is lived as and through fantasy in the form of ideology” (Freccero 2006, p. 4).
    • Temporal drag: to explore the relationship between HIV and generational discourse(s) - that is, how the “undertow” of “archival transmission” plays into the development of HIV histories in post-AIDS context(s) (Freeman 2010; Bradway 2018).


  • The project analyses the cultural production and signification of HIV/AIDS histories using discourse analysis.
  • Form(s) of discourse analysis employed:
    • Critical discourse analysis: to determine how the meanings of “post-AIDS” ideology are a product of social and cultural relationships negotiated through language (Butler 1990).
    • Queer theory: to understand how “post-AIDS” challenges “mainstream demands for [hetero]comportment” by locating and discussing the historical relationship among homosexuality, social progress and HIV prevention (Race 2009; Kagan 2018).

Critical Theory

Simon Watney

Art historian Simon Watney publishes Policing Desire (1987), which examines the parallels between AIDS media and representations of homosexuality in the United Kingdom.

Cindy Patton

Sociologist Cindy Patton provides extensive research on social and linguistic constructions of HIV & AIDS within medical research in Sex & Germs (1985) and Inventing AIDS (1990).

Steven Epstein

Sociologist Steven Epstein discusses the transformation of “lay” discourses into forms of politicised medical expertise through AIDS activism in Impure Science (1996).

Paula Treichler

American cultural theorist Paula Treichler provides an extensive study on the socio- cultural dimensions of HIV/AIDS in the U.S. since the 1980s in How to Have Theory in an Epidemic (1999).

Linda Singer

American philosopher Linda Singer traces the regulatory mechanics and biopolitics of reproductive rights and the construction of femininity during the AIDS crisis in Erotic Warfare (1993).

Critical Theory

Gary Dowsett

Sociologist Gary Dowsett presents research on gay-male populations in 1995, describing changing social conditions for GMSM and particularly the transition from “crisis” conditions to “post-crisis” society.

Douglas Crimp

Art historian Douglas Crimp details the socio-political metaphors that bind homosexuality, HIV histories and traditions of psychoanalytic thinking in Melancholia and Moralism (2002).

Gregg Bordowitz

Artist Gregg Bordowitz publishes his activist work in The AIDS Crisis is Ridiculous (2004), in which he questions the role of social change through the production of AIDS activism, art and scholarship.

Dion Kagan

Critical media scholar Dion Kagan critiques the “positive images” of HIV/AIDS media after 1996. His book Positive Images (2018) provides the first extensive study of HIV/AIDS portrayals in “post-crisis” context.

Kane Race

Sociologist Kane Race studies the parallels between HAART consumption, medical discourses and social representations of homosexuality, which appears in Pleasure Consuming Medicine (2009).

Chapter 1: Non-Viral Futures

Central Question(s): How are queer cultural histories of HIV/AIDS written using non-viral ideological frameworks?

Cultural Materials:

  • Feinberg, D. (1991). Spontaneous Combustion. London: Penguin.
  • Herrera, L. (2018). “The Fathers Project,” web series. [Online].

“The Fathers Project” (2018)

Chapter 1: Non-Viral Futures

What is a non-viral framework?

  • The non-viral is employed to negotiate the politics of new sexual conventions within society. It also alludes to life after or beyond the “crises” of HIV and AIDS, and the desire to live without crisis.

How are non-viral futures negotiated through cultural (re)production and representation(s)?

  • Writers and artists use the non-viral as a method to counter, revise and reduce HIV dissemination during the process of “re-crisis” (Kagan 2018).

Chapter 1: Non-Viral Futures

  • This chapter examines the how non-viral frameworks are deployed in David Feinberg’s (1991) and Leo Herrera’s (2018) work.
  • It follows how non-viral frameworks both challenge and reify “generational” narratives and “wave-like” thinking that occurs within epidemiology. It centralises social liberation discourses as means to end the cycles of “re-crisis” narration (Kagan 2018).
  • It suggests that the non-viral “afters” HIV/AIDS histories in order to get past or beyond epidemic trauma/s (Cvetkovich 2003).

Chapters 2-3: Next Steps

Chapter 2: Less-Viral Futures

  • Central Question(s): How are queer cultural histories of HIV/AIDS written using less-viral ideological frameworks?

  • Cultural Material(s):
    • The Grass is Always Grindr (Patrick Cash, 2018-2019).

Chapter 3: Viral Futures

  • Central Question(s): How are queer cultural histories of HIV/AIDS written using viral ideological frameworks?
  • Cultural Material(s):
    • Otto; or Up with Dead People (Bruce LaBruce, 2008).


Bass, E. (2015). “How to Survive a Footnote: AIDS Activism in the ‘After’ Years,” n+1 (23). [Online].

Bordowitz, G. (2004). The AIDS Crisis is Ridiculous and Other Writings, 1986-2003. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Bradway, T. (2018). Queer Experimental Reading: The Affective Politics of Bad Reading. New York: Palgrave.

Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.

Crimp, D. (2002). Melancholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Dowsett, G. (2017). Abjection. Objection. Subjection: Rethinking the History of AIDS in Australian Gay Men’s Futures. Culture, Health and Society 19(9), pp. 935-947.

Epstein, S. (1996). Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Freccero, C. (2006). Queer/Early/Modern. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Freeman, E. (2010). Time Binds: Queer Temporalities, Queer Histories. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Kagan, D. (2018). Positive Images: Gay Men and HIV/AIDS in the Culture of ‘Post Crisis’. London: I.B. Tauris.

Patton, C. (1990). Inventing AIDS. London: Routledge.


Race, K. (2009). Pleasure Consuming Medicine: The Queer Politics of Drugs. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

----------. (2018). The Gay Science: Intimate Experiences with the Problem of HIV. London: Routledge.

Singer, L. (1993). Erotic Welfare: Sexual Theory and Politics in the Age of Epidemic. New York: Routledge.

Treichler, P. (1999). How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Walker, L. (2017). Problematising the Discourse of ‘Post-AIDS’. Journal of Medical Humanities. [Online].

Watney, S. (1987). Policing Desire: Pornography, AIDS and the Media. London: Methuen.

CBSS Prez - Oct 2019 (Rev) - Google Slides