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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Viral Politics: Sex Worker Activism and HIV/AIDS Programs from Bangalore to Nairobi

  • Author(s): Vijayakumar, Srigowri
  • Advisor(s): Ray, Raka
  • et al.
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This dissertation studies the international success story of India’s HIV/AIDS response and the activism of sex workers and sexual minorities that produced it. A number of recent ethnographies have turned their attention to the workings of state programs in middle-income countries (e.g. Baiocchi 2005; Sharma 2008; A. Gupta 2012; Auyero 2012), demonstrating both the micro-effects of state strategies for managing poverty on poor people and the ways in which state programs are produced outside the visible boundaries of “the state”—through NGOs and social movement organizations as well as transnational donors and research institutes. Yet, even as state programs are constituted through struggles over resources and representations within and outside the official agencies of the state, states also derive legitimacy from projecting themselves as cohesive rather than disaggregated, and as autonomous from society rather than anchored within it (Abrams 1988; Mitchell 1991b; Mitchell 1999; A. Gupta 2012). The representation of state programs as cohesive, pre-constituted, exportable “models” serves as a new way of consolidating state legitimacy within a global, hierarchical order of development “success.” However, this dissertation argues that the traveling policies disseminated through transnational expert communities are a selective codification of hard-fought struggles among institutions within the state, between the state and organizations, among organizations, and among groups within organizations over the aims and strategies of social policies and programs. These struggles shape what travels in traveling policies and what is left out. Drawing on over 150 in-depth interviews and a year of participant observation with sex workers involved in implementing policy in community-based organizations, NGOs, and activist groups, I show how the material and social conditions of men, women, and transgender women in sex work, mediated through community-based organizations, constituted the successful approaches to HIV prevention that were later, sometimes selectively, translated around the world.

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This item is under embargo until August 22, 2020.