Thinking with HIV: microbiopolitics, pathogens and the limits of multispecies relationality

Lim, Bryan. 2021. Thinking with HIV: microbiopolitics, pathogens and the limits of multispecies relationality. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

The contemporary shift towards ecological modes of thinking is shaping the way human-microbial relationalities are being practiced – the proliferation of practices aimed at the deliberate entanglement of human and micro-organisms for therapeutic ends can be linked for example, to the emergence of a post- Pasteurian notion of health. Yet, what responses to the COVID-19 pandemic suggest is that such post-Pasteurian microbiopolitics (Paxson, 2012) also run parallel to a more traditional immuno-microbiopolitics (Cohen, 2009) which figures co-existence with microbial others in terms of defence/aggression. Situated at the point where these two different microbiopolitics meet, this thesis builds on posthumanist thinking and probes the limits of current debates in social theory regarding multispecies relationality by asking: what might it mean to embrace an ‘unloved’ and ‘unloving’ pathogenic other if doing so also simultaneously threatens one’s very own existence? To this end, this thesis engages HIV – a virus that is often seen only as scourge, crisis, and disaster – as a more-than-human heuristic to learn what microbes and infectious diseases have to teach us more broadly about different ways of wading through viral clouds, uncertain ethico-onto-epistem-ological projects and multiplying utopian and apocalyptic futures. Thinking with HIV, I argue that in the context of pathogens which do not become ‘good’ in a post-Pasteurian framework (as opposed to microbes like hookworms for example; see Lorimer, 2019), taking seriously the idea that the microbe is multiple (Mol, 2002) will require that research focuses not exclusively on health-seeking practices but also on those which do not aim directly at the absence of disease or even the avoidance of death. Subsequently, by telling multispecies stories associated with voluntary HIV autoinfection as practiced by the Los Frikis and bugchasers, the microbiopolitics of HIV will be opened up to theoretical and empirical scrutiny to illustrate how a multiplicity of HIVs and modes of lives are gestated-into-being (Neimanis, 2018). By braiding these multispecies (his)stories and their multiply enacted bodies – both human and more-than-human – with meditations on anthropocentrism, human foodiness, birth and loss, this thesis takes to heart how multispecies worldmaking is never only benign and makes clear some of the microbiopolitical calculations at stake when reassembling modern life.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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microbiopolitics, multispecies, HIV, microbe, posthumanism, anthropocentrism, death

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31 December 2021

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Date Deposited:

17 Jan 2022 15:42

Last Modified:

07 Sep 2022 17:19


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