Dr Sharif Mowlabocus - abstract

Il/legitimate communities of HIV: How the virus went virtual and what ‘we’ did
with it.
Dr Sharif Mowlabocus
Senior Lecturer - Digital Media
University of Sussex
This presentation is centered around two ‘digital narratives’ of HIV. In both
narratives, networked communities are central actors. In both narratives, these
communities come to form a set of relationships to the HIV virus. In both narratives,
digital and social media technologies have become platforms for community and
individual articulation. In doing so, they also echo broader changes within the media
practices of the sub-population most affected by HIV/AIDS in the UK – gay men,
bisexual men and MSM.
The first community, an ‘illegitimate’ community of HIV, is made of up those men
who identify with, congregate around, or otherwise fantasize about bareback sex –
unprotected sex between men. The second ‘legitimate’ community of HIV, is that
which is being formed by health promotion outreach workers in the digital spaces
used by men to maintain identities and negotiate sexual ‘hook ups’.
Taken together, these two narratives demonstrate the ways in which virtual
communities have formed around the HIV virus. These communities are creative,
fluid and mobile. They are also contradictory and provocative and they challenge
existing understandings of the virus and the relationships that people form with it. At
the same time, they are examples of the ways in which the ‘Virus + Community’
equation is being continually rewritten in order to articulate our shifting perceptions
of, and relationship to HIV.