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Rijneveld, Cornelis J. (2023) High fun: An ethnography of HIV risk and stigma among gay and bisexual men in urban India. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis is an ethnography of HIV risk and stigma among gay and bisexual men in urban India, a demographic that is underrepresented in HIV/Aids research. It explores the effects of the biomedicalization of the HIV/Aids epidemic over the past decade (Kenworthy, Thomann, and Parker 2018) at both the policy and personal level, and asks what an anthropology of the treatment-as-prevention era might look like. I begin by offering an anthropological account of “high fun”, as sexualized drug use is known among gay and bisexual men India, attending closely to the some of its “organizing logics” (Race 2015) and the way in which interlocutors make sense of and navigate a variety of risks in these contexts. In doing so, I problematize some of the tendencies of both traditional and critical “chemsex” research, almost all of which refers to gay communities in Europe, North-America, and Australia (Møller & Hakim 2021). I then suggest the failure to reach men who are into high fun is symptomatic of the decline of India’s celebrated strategy of targeted intervention, and exposes several tensions in the conceptualization and mobilization of “community” in Indian HIV/Aids governance. Moving beyond prevention, the final part of this thesis focuses on gay and bisexual men living with HIV, some of whom trace their infection to high fun. Challenging the assumption that treatment-as-prevention technologies and discourses will reduce stigma, I argue the discourse of Undetectability, referring to the impact of viral suppression on forward sexual transmission, instead contributes to the closeting of HIV among gay and bisexual men in the face of intense social risk. I then ask how a more thoroughly intersectional approach to HIV stigma might help us understand its persistence despite the medical normalization of HIV/Aids. All this attests to the continued importance of anthropological engagement with HIV/Aids at a time when biomedical triumphalism (Kenworthy, Thomann, and Parker 2018) threatens to marginalize social approaches to the epidemic.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses
Supervisors Name: Fabio Gygi and Orkideh Behrouzan
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2023 16:52
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council

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