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.