Research at the medico-legal borderland: perspectives on HIV and criminal lawPublished on Monday, 14 October 2013 15:58
By Alex McClelland
In recent years, the criminalization of HIV transmission, exposure and non-disclosure has become a hot topic among those working within the global AIDS milieu. Social scientists have become increasingly attentive to the complex and varied consequences and impacts of HIV criminalization.
Not surprisingly, at this year’s Association of the Social Science and Humanities on HIV (ASSHH) Conference there was a wide variety of innovative work on the issue. A majority of the research was presented from social scientists working in the two countries with some of the greatest number of per-capita criminal charges and prosecutions related to HIV non-disclosure and exposure: the United States and Canada.
The conference held two formal sessions highlighting new work in this area entitled: Viral Politics: HIV Criminalization & Social Inquiry and Social Science, Criminal Law and HIV Transmissions Risks: Novel Research Perspectives. In this article I summarize highlights and key findings from these presentations, and examine some of the methodological approaches and theories employed by social scientists working on the ‘medico-legal borderland’. I also provide a brief critical analysis in order to pose questions for future potential inquiry.
The medico-legal borderland
Social research into HIV criminalization is most often situated within the theoretical and discursive space described by Timmermans and Gabe (2003) as the ‘medico-legal borderland’. The medico-legal borderland emerges from the intersection of the medical and the legal wherein both forms of knowledge and power join together to constitute new regimes of knowledge; ones that produce hybrid legal and medical subjects who are governed through normative knowledge on health and illness, as well as legal regulation, discipline and forms of social control (Mykhalovskiy, 2011).
This intersection of crime and health contains elements of both realms but cannot be simply reduced to either one. The medico-legal borderland itself constitutes a hybrid disciplinary environment in which state institutions mobilize medical knowledge for legal purposes, and where the medical becomes intertwined with other mechanisms of power – both legal and extra-legal. As highlighted by HIV criminalization scholar Eric Mykhalovskiy (2011), Timmermans and Gabe use the term medico-legal borderland to “decry the absence of dialogue between criminology and medical sociology and to encourage critical analyses of sites in which health care and criminal-legal practices intersect” (pg. 674, 2011). Read more
Source: Somatosphere – Transcriptions Series