Journal of Bioethical Inquiry

, Volume 9, Issue 3, pp 327–338 | Cite as

Framing Responsibility

HIV, Biomedical Prevention, and the Performativity of the Law
Original Research


How can we register the participation of a range of elements, extending beyond the human subject, in the production of HIV events? In the context of proposals around biomedical prevention, there is a growing awareness of the need to find ways of responding to complexity, as everywhere new combinations of treatment, behavior, drugs, norms, meanings and devices are coming into encounter with one another, or are set to come into encounter with one another, with a range of unpredictable effects. In this paper I consider the operation of various framing devices that attribute responsibility and causation with regard to HIV events. I propose that we need to sharpen our analytic focus on what these devices do, their performativity—that is, their full range of worldly implications and effects. My primary examples are the criminal law and the randomized control trial. I argue that these institutions operate as framing devices: They attribute responsibility for HIV events and externalize other elements and effects in the process. Drawing on recent work in science and technology studies as well as queer theory, I set out an analytic frame that marks out a new role for HIV social research. Attentiveness to the performative effects of these devices is crucial, I suggest, if we want better to address the global HIV epidemic.


Criminalization of HIV Biomedical prevention Randomized control trials Responsibility Stigma Performativity 



This paper was first delivered as part of a symposium of Biomedicine and Subjectivity organized by Peter Aggleton and Carlos Caceres for the 1 st International HIV Social Science and Humanities conference held in Durban, South Africa, in June 2011. It was developed for publication over the course of special study leave granted by the University of Sydney, which I spent as a visiting scholar at the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality (CSGS) at New York University. I would like to thank my hosts at CSGS for their constructive and generous responses to this work as it emerged—in particular Ann Pellegrini and Robert Campbell. Thanks also to Judith Auerbach, Martin French, Susan Kippax, Gail Mason, Marsha Rosengarten, and audiences at the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California, San Francisco; the Institute for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Michigan; the Center for Human Rights and Justice at the University of Texas; and two anonymous reviewers of this journal for their discussion and suggestions. All errors are my own.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Gender & Cultural Studies, School of Philosophical and Historical InquiryUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia

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