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Risky Rhetoric: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing

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Risky Rhetoric: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing is the first book-length study of the rhetoric inherent in and surrounding HIV testing. In addition to providing a history of HIV testing in the United States from 1985 to the present, J. Blake Scott explains how faulty arguments about testing’s power and effects have promoted unresponsive and even dangerous testing practices for so-called normal subjects as well as those deemed risky.


 Drawing on classical rhetoric as well as Michel Foucault’s theorizing of the examination as a form of disciplinary power, this study explores how HIV testing functions as a disciplinary technology that shapes subjects and exerts power over individual bodies and populations. Testing has largely been deployed to protect those defined as normal members of the general population by detecting, managing, and even punishing those diagnosed as risky (e.g., gay and bisexual men, poor women of color). But Scott reveals that testing’s function of protection-through-detection has been fueled in part by faulty arguments that exaggerate testing’s interventive power and benefits. These arguments have also created a perception that testing is a magic bullet. By overestimating the benefits of HIV testing and overlooking its contingencies and harmful effects, dominant arguments about testing have enabled a shortsighted public health response to HIV and unresponsive testing policies.


 The ultimate goal of Risky Rhetoric: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing is to offer strategies to policymakers, HIV educators and test counselors, and other rhetors for developing more responsive and egalitarian testing-related rhetorics and practices.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Risky Rhetoric: AIDS and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing makes a significant and much needed contribution to reawaken us to a new critical sensibility toward the politics of testing. There is no other book like it.”

—John N. Erni, author of Unstable Frontiers: Technomedicine and the Cultural Politics of “Curing” AIDS 

“In addition to a comprehensive history of HIV testing in the U.S., Scott provides an in-depth analysis of the politics and cultural practices of testing . . . . Clinicians, health care practitioners, educators, policy makers, and communication scholars will benefit from the thorough review of HIV testing and suggested new directions of research.”Choice 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780809324941
  • Publisher: Southern Illinois University Press
  • Publication date: 2/28/2003
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 296
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

J. Blake Scott is an assistant professor of English at the University of Central Florida. He is the coauthor with Melody Bowdon of Service-Learning in Technical and Professional Communication.

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Table of Contents

List of Figures
1 Rhetoric and the Cultural Practices of HIV Testing 1
2 Refocusing Rhetoric in a Rhetorical-Cultural Approach 15
3 The HIV Test as a Disciplinary Technology: A Genealogy 35
4 Mapping the HIV Test in the Discursive-Material Practices of Sex 90
5 Microtechniques of Testing at the AIDS Project 121
6 Putting Women and Newborns to the HIV Test 160
7 Rhetoric and the Cultural Practices of Home Collection Testing 196
8 Ensuring Ethical HIV Testing Practices 229
Notes 245
Works Cited 255
Index 273
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