Skip to main content

Recent Dissertation Defenses

Pepe Rojo (2023): How to Misread Properly: the Metaphor in the Real

Title: How to Misread Properly: the Metaphor in the Real

PhD Committee: Fernando Dominguez (Chair), Kelly Gates, Page Dubois, Ricardo Dominguez, Patricia Ahn

This dissertation explores the misreading of figurative language (mainly metaphors), especially when literalized, in “sites” where reality is challenged by these misreadings. The “proper” mode of reading metaphors tends towards abstraction (metaphorical “meaning”), while “improper” readings veer towards materiality (literal interpretations) forming a familiar two-poled continuum that goes from the material to the abstract. Science fiction becomes the means of transportation between these different sites, as literalizing metaphorical language is one of the basic mechanisms of speculative fiction, which disagrees with reality while explaining it through its prophetic mode.

There is a double danger of reading metaphors. The first is reading them properly, abstracting features and transporting them. This abstraction reduces the world to data, and enforces, by different methods, the realization of the ways the information is organized. This danger is studied as the mechanism of speculative finances, the border wall and extractivism, a process I call mise-en-force by which abstract value is enforced and material wealth is extracted. This procedure forces itself on a world that is materially collapsing (ecological disaster; species extinction; rogue-weather). Abstraction is co-related to the ecological/health/political crisis the world is going through, intimately related to colonialism.

The second danger, literalizing metaphors, is characterized by certainty, and rounds up fundamentalism, conspiracy theories, indigenous cosmogonies, lack of intelligence and madness (especially delusions). Misreading metaphors is pathologized, almost criminalized. The procedure for understanding figurative language becomes a major, even decisive factor, in the production of subjectivity (according to psycho- and schizoanalysis). Abstraction is the mandatory way in which the algorithmic unconscious works. It is political: its effects bypass the difference between abstraction and materiality.

Literalizing metaphors is also a strategy to make sense of the world. Science fiction’s literalizations make the complex world we are living in “available for representation” in the same way a delusion, or any conspiracy theory, is always an attempt to understand the world. The difference between facts and ficts is hard to tell apart when the authority of the Other —language, the law— is failing.

In order to break away from the dichotomy between abstraction and materiality, this dissertation understands metaphors as a coupling between different species: a device that creates a productive becoming between categories that are seemingly disparate. Metaphor is, by definition, as much an ontological device as a transdisciplinary one, which is why I use the opportunities this device allows me as a methodology, preferring trajects to arguments, and throughs rather than points in a straight line that leads to a clear-cut conclusion, a logical sentence. A proposal to understand metaphors through double negations that shortcircuit the difference between the abstract and the material is attempted, through the use of both anthropology and, not surprisingly, theories and practices of magic and madness.


Dr. Rojo commented, "My committee received [the dissertation] as a designed e-book where several key quotes occupy a complete page to force the reader to decide how to properly read those quotes. My committee also received a media package, which includes a comic book, a couple of videos, and a photographical report of the Tierra y Libertad interventions Grant Leuning and I have been organizing for the last six years as part of the work I have done during my time as a Ph.D. student at the Comm department." Here are some images from his dissertation:











Akshita Sivakumar (2023): Model Governance, Model Solidarity/ Social Infrastructure and Regulatory Technologies in California

Title: Model Governance, Model Solidarity/ Social Infrastructure and Regulatory Technologies in California

PhD Committee: Christo Sims (chair), Lilly Irani, Matilde Córdoba Azcárate, Fernando Domínguez Rubio, Matthew Vitz

Keywords: governance, social infrastructure, agonistic arrangements, solidarities, environmental justice

This dissertation analyzes using regulatory technologies within participatory processes of environmental governance that aim for just outcomes. Since the rise of informational responses to environmental management in the 1980s, the dominant regulatory regime has employed tools and technologies such as monitoring, mapping, and computer modeling for governance. More recently, amidst the rise of civic participation within governance mechanisms, these collective regulatory technologies have influenced the potential for solidarities within and across social movements. To tease out these potentials, I focus on two related cases under the aegis of high-stakes, state legislation claiming to be community-driven. The first is implementing a state-mandated, community-driven air pollution mitigation program in the Portside Environmental Justice Neighborhoods of San Diego. Pollution from military-industrial and vehicular sources has long disproportionately burdened this community. From here, the project travels up the coast in the second case to analyze the participation of various environmental justice activists across California to develop a state-wide plan for carbon neutrality using computer models. Through these two cases, I problematize dominant forms of environmental governance as they call on civic participation. Over two-and-a-half years, I conducted extensive fieldwork in San Diego and Sacramento as sites of mediative practices between the state, market, and civil society. I examined various stages of development, maintenance, use, and contestation of these collective regulatory technologies in practice. In addition to participant observation and observant participation, I conducted over 125 semi-structured interviews, analyzed historical documents, and developed designed interventions.

I advance a concept of 'social infrastructure of governance' (social infrastructure) to identify, describe, and analyze the labor and social practices that foster and maintain solidarities for participatory governance. Far from being subordinate to technocratic tools, I argue it is the work of this social infrastructure that makes governing with scientific and technical instruments both possible and contestable. Further, I argue that environmental justice’s participation in environmental governance is not predestined to be subsumed by the dominant regulatory regime. Instead, social movement actors routinely develop counter-practices resulting from the social reproductive work of social infrastructures. Through these counter-practices, social movement actors tactically use these environmental governance spaces to develop and maintain other forms of knowledge and solidarities and reimagine governance structures. This work indicates that amidst calls for data-driven environmental justice and a desire for a just transition, social movement, state, and market actors must recognize the labors and practices of social infrastructure as both vital to the legitimacy of and resistance to prevailing regulatory technologies. Social infrastructure holds the possibility for both reformative and transformative solidarities. Results from this study will enhance theories of civic participation in technoscientific forms of environmental justice and governance, with implications for policymakers, environmental justice activists, designers, civic groups, scientists, and state agencies. Although this dissertation focuses on environmental governance, it can spur discussions in various other domains of governance that call for increased participation and oversight from civic actors for just outcomes.

Sophie Staschus (2023): Curtailing Reproductive Freedom through Choice: The Informed Consent Doctrine and “Abortion Regret” in U.S. Abortion Regulation

Title: Curtailing Reproductive Freedom through Choice: The Informed Consent Doctrine and “Abortion Regret” in U.S. Abortion Regulation

PhD Committee:
Val Hartouni (Co-Chair), Robert Horwitz (Co-Chair), Claire Edington, Kelly Gates, and Cathy Gere

Before the Dobbs v. Jackson
(2022) decision overturned the constitutional right to abortion, the 21st-century anti-choice movement was focused on establishing informed consent statutes as a means to discourage or prevent abortions. Often titled “A Woman’s Right to Know,” these laws require that patients are warned of alleged risks of breast cancer, infertility, and psychological trauma following abortions. In some states, patients must undergo an ultrasound and wait at least 24-hours before receiving an abortion. Thesestatutes have been shown to delay or hinder care.

My dissertation is a genealogy of these informational requirements. I analyze how Roe v. Wade (1973) and ensuing abortion jurisprudence in the 1970s enshrined the abortion right in a medicalized framework of abortion access. This framing eschewed feminists’ requests that women be solely responsible for deciding when and why to undergo an abortion. Instead, the Court articulated a qualified first-trimester privacy right in which pregnant women were tasked with making a responsible abortion decision in consultation with their physician.
I argue, using historical and legislative analysis, that the medicalized right to abortion enabled the later development of informed consent statutes. The informed consent doctrine ideally seeks to protect patient autonomy from medical paternalism. But the noun “patient” acts as a qualifier that configures someone’s autonomy and available choices according to their status as a patient. The doctrine was thus an ideal vehicle for anti-choice efforts to implement restrictions meant to protect abortion patients. It enabled statutes that nominally promoted pregnant women’s autonomy, while infusing informational requirements with religious views of well-being that confused motherhood with health. I contend that the threat of “abortion regret”, which produced motherhood as the rational, retroactive, even if foregone choice, legitimized these informational requirements. From Roe onwards, pregnant people were tasked with making responsible abortion decisions in light of their health. Throughout the decades, however, 1) how “women’s health” was conceptualized and 2) whether physicians or the State were the rightful shepherds of the abortion decision became battleg
rounds for pro- and anti-choice organizing.


Manel Palos Pons (2022): Media Wars: Mediatization, populism and media reform in Rafael Correa’s Ecuador

Title: Media Wars: Mediatization, populism and media reform in Rafael Correa’s Ecuador

PhD Committee: Dan Hallin (Chair), Scott Desposato, Alexander Fattal, Robert Horwitz, Nancy Postero, Thomas Schmidt

Abstract: Engaging multimodal ethnographic work and content analysis methods, my dissertation examines how populism emerges and endures in a particular media and institutional environment, how journalism and populism’s relationship presents a conflictive and symbiotic logic, and how the experience of media policy under these circumstances demands a re-evaluation of how we think the role of the state and the law in producing the institutions and practices necessary for independent and democratic journalism to thrive.
More specifically, my study focuses on the intersection of the mediatization of politics and populism in Ecuador around Rafael Correa’s presidency (2007-2017), a critical case to understand processes of media and politics transformation from a Global South perspective. Correa’s era was marked by one of the boldest media reforms in Latin America and the severe clash between mainstream media and the populist government. My analysis shows how a persistent institutional instability between the fields of politics and journalism shapes the struggle to settle a diverse, democratic, and plural public sphere.
My findings highlight, first, that the Ecuadorean case clearly challenges the analytical distinction between media and political logics, since in Ecuador we observe how a populist actor (Correa and his allies) is not only able to adopt media logic’s core features, but also to use them to support a political and legislative agenda with outcomes affecting the media logic itself. These ambiguous delimitations contribute critically to feed a conflictive (although productive) relationship between media and populism. In this context, secondly, and after Correa implemented a deep media reform, journalistic professionalism increased; this is confirmed by in-depth interviews with journalists, and by the content analysis of the most read national newspapers. Once Correa left the presidency, private and public media alike aligned with the government, and levels of critical journalism, pluralism and diversity decreased. Finally, these findings critically modify how we think the role of the state in enabling the institutions and practices necessary for independent and democratic news media to progress. Usually, main narratives about the emergence of the independent press focus on the rise of a professionalized media market, circumventing the position of the state; the Ecuadorean case requires a re-evaluation of the role of the state over the birth of an autonomous journalistic field able to protect and spread democratic, inclusive, and pluralist values.

Thomas Conner (2021): Learning to Live With Ghosts: Holopresence and the Historical Emergence of Real Virtuality Technologies

Title: Learning to Live With Ghosts: Holopresence and the Historical Emergence of Real Virtuality Technologies

PhD Committee: David Serlin (Chair), Elizabeth Cartwright, Kelly Gates, Catherina Gere, Tara Knight

Abstract: This dissertation is a media-archaeological inquiry into emergences of holograms, broadly defined, in order to demonstrate how human interaction with a specific style of technical imagery may be seen as a social negotiation of inherent contradictions that haunt ideologies of modernity — tensions between presence and absence, body and spirit, life and death. Throughout this work, I discuss what I have identified as visual forms of technically mediated mortality in order to situate these forms within relevant fields — namely, science and technology studies, media archaeology and media studies, and visual culture studies — and their varied but networked examinations of human-machine social relations that have taken shape since the European Enlightenment.

My analysis is organized around the historical figures of the hologram and the “hologram,” a bifurcated term with differing denotations but similar connotations. By following the transportation of the label from an object of science imagery to one of digital projection, this study traces emergences of dimensional, spectral imagery within situated contexts in which spectators not only wrestle with existential concerns but struggle to negotiate the immateriality of mediated experience. I examine four cases that may appear to be (and are often discussed as) apparatuses that are technically and phenomenologically distinct: the Pepper’s Ghost stage illusion as developed by the Royal Polytechnic Institute in London in the mid-19th century, optical holograms displayed at the Museum of Holography in New York City during the 1970s, the imaginary of science-fiction “holograms” (as depicted mainly in Star Wars and Star Trek), and a posthumous performance by the rapper Tupac Shakur as a “hologram” at a live music festival in 2012. Each example demonstrates the emergence of a specific code of visual communication, which I refer to as the technical image, following from the work of communication philosopher Vilém Flusser. The hologram, in fact, projects forward the essence
of Flusser’s category by hailing a different kind of spectator (a holosubject), a mobile viewing body who might “read” imagery from a variety of subjective perspectives. By interacting with 3D image-bodies (reaching out to touch, and failing) the holosubject is hailed by the hologram as a fellow specter within a comingling of the virtual and the visceral — a novel mediated experience I call holopresence, the direct experience of a mixed space that includes the virtual
space of the image. Rather than “entering” a separate virtual-reality space, holopresence is an encounter with virtuality amid the real — an interaction with real virtuality.

Christina Aushana (2021): Screening Racial Visions, Scripting State Violence: The Performance and Visual Culture of Patrol Work and Police Training in San Diego

Title: Screening Racial Visions, Scripting State Violence: The Performance and Visual Culture of Patrol Work and Police Training in San Diego

PhD Committee: Elana Zilberg (Chair), Patrick Anderson, Lisa Cartwright, Ricardo Dominguez, Kelly Gates, Roshanak Kheshti

Abstract: In this dissertation, I consider sites where policing is visualized, staged, rehearsed, and performed to theorize how performances of racialized police violence become ordinary in the constructed worlds that police move through as they are trained--such that they are always a scripted heartbeat away from “shooting to kill.” Through methods in performance and visual culture, I ethnographically examine the materials that shape officers’ training and professional vision. By focusing on the ways these visual logics travel across sites of policing, I argue that racialized police violence emerges as a tacit expectation of police training rather than an object of its address and that such acts rarely, if ever, originate in an individual’s intent. Through tracking the violent logics embedded in policing’s historical and lived material culture, I theorize how training performances become citable in the field of patrol work, work which “feeds back” into acts of training.

This project is based on more than 24 months of fieldwork conducted between 2015 and 2021 that included performing as a role-play actor in San Diego’s regional police academy and “riding along” with officers from the El Cajon Police Department through heavily policed communities in East San Diego County. Through participant-observation, I spent most of my fieldwork observing police-civilian interactions from behind the windshield of the on-duty patrol car. This led me to turn my interpretive, ethnographic lens back onto the very vehicle that made possible the knowledge claims in this dissertation: the police citizen ride-along. It was on the ride-along that I found myself immersed in the mobile proscenium of the police vehicle and, through it, in a position of spectatorship that itself was prefigured by 19th-century parallel mobile technologies of automobility and cinema.

The first part of the dissertation focuses on how the spectatorial architecture of the ride-along invites the rider to see and share in a tightly framed and directed mobile view onto an outside. Further, I argue that policing’s cinematic foundations structure both patrol work and recruits’ performances in the academy, as, for example, when they are tasked with interpreting images of policing in films like Antoine Fuqua’s Training Day (2001). The second part of this dissertation historicizes this “mobile police vision” through the methodological entanglements between press, police, and academic researchers, where the ride-along becomes an epistemic vehicle for all three to both produce knowledge about and visual representations of policing. These histories had consequences for South West Asian and North African (SWANA) communities of El Cajon, California, where this fieldwork was conducted: cinematic scripts and histories of military occupation both undergirded and shaped encounters between police and SWANA community members, each of whom tended to bring their own iterative cultural and racialized scripts to bear upon their encounters.

Moving from the ride-along back to the police academy, I examine these training scripts by entangling myself with them as an explicitly feminist praxis, in what I call an “ethnographic feedback loop,” providing my own racialized and gendered body as material to be read by police recruits and officers. Further, I perform “against the grain” of these materials by drawing on my encounters with policed community members to perform against the academy’s racialized scripts. I argue that engaging policing’s scripts – from cinematic architectures to role-play scenarios – figure new language for theorizing the mobility and visuality of these performances as they travel non-linearly between the academy’s “backstage” and the “front stage” of everyday policing, appearing in both sites as mimetic re-enactments of racial violence. At a time when social scientists and policy makers are calling for reforms to address police violence, I argue that the urgency of this moment calls performance ethnographers – those committed to the always-political work of being on the ground of lived experience – to expose scripted forms of racial violence that are continuously staged and reconstituted by routine police-citizen interactions. What I observed and performed in El Cajon supports an abolitionist framework that understands police violence to be not simply a choice of individual officers, but a structural violence maintained by an ecology of scripts and visual logics that produce policing’s racialized objects of inquiry.

Yelena Gluzman (2021): "Cognitive Neuroscience and the Experimental Theater of Other Minds"

Yelena Gluzman

Title: "Cognitive Neuroscience and the Experimental Theater of Other Minds"

Committee: Morana Alac (Chair), Bennetta Jules-Rosette, Catherina Gere, Fernando Dominguez Rubio, Patrick Anderson, Ricardo Dominguez


Science and technology studies (STS) literatures have long demonstrated how laboratory experiments are shaped by their political, social, and interactional conditions. Only recently, however, has a collaborative turn advocated for bringing STS perspectives to directly bear upon scientific practice. I take up these literatures from the perspective of experimental theater, an approach rooted in the historical coarticulation of theater conventions and experimental science. “Going experimental” entails reflexive engagement with laboratory encounters as both staged and lived. Drawing on theater and centering ethnomethods, I embed myself in sites of cognitive neuroscientific practice, working with researchers and research subjects to collaboratively consider and reconsider how experiments are conceptualized, enacted, and interpreted. More broadly, I argue that engagement with the interpretive practices of both scientists and subjects in the doing of experiments allows for STS to productively reconfigure science’s “replication crisis” as a crisis of interpretation, a move that aims to recognizes broader challenges to science’s epistemic supremacy from marginalized communities.

I focus primarily on a collaboration with a cognitive neuroscience lab that was interested in designing a novel way to investigate autism and creativity. Our collaboration began with close readings of previous creativity studies. Thinking of these previous studies not as simple tests of a hypothesis but as complex unfolding events shifted our shared attention from experimental data to the ways that data was produced. Taking up lived perspectives of experimental subjects challenged how these previous studies interpreted their data, and contested the claims of autistic deficits that rested upon such interpretations. Moving from a critique of these literatures to incorporating such critiques in the design of a novel experiment was an opportunity to collaboratively grapple with staging an experiment outside of a deficit framework that configures autistic minds as lacking. In response to previous research that used animated geometrical figures based on Heider-Simmel animations (1944) to demonstrate a mentalizing deficit in autistic children, we designed and conducted an experiment that asked autistic and typically developing children to create their own animated films. This experiment serves as an empirical case to consider the challenges and promises of critical collaboration in expanding interpretive possibilities in the cognitive neuroscience lab.  

Riley Taitingfong (2021): "Editing Islands: (Re)Imagining Isolation in Gene Drive Science and Engagement"

Riley Taitingfong

Title: "Editing Islands: (Re)Imagining Isolation in Gene Drive Science and Engagement"

Committee: Brian Goldfarb (Chair), Akosua Boateng, Angela Booker, Cinnamon Bloss, Daniel Hallin, Elana Zilberg


Westerners have long imagined, represented, and treated islands around the globe as “natural laboratories” given their perceived geographic isolation. It was on islands that colonizers first conducted “experiments” in imperial expansion via the establishment of plantation economies and maritime military infrastructure, and where scientists developed myriad ecological, evolutionary, and anthropological theories predicated on views of islands as enclosed systems containing human and nonhuman subjects amenable to scientific observation.  In this way, island isolation represents an enduring mythology fundamental to the entangled projects of settler colonialism, militarism, and scientific knowledge production. This dissertation employs interdisciplinary methodology to examine the meaning-making processes that continue to uphold myths of isolation in contemporary scientific practice, focusing on an emerging genetic engineering technology known as gene drive.

 This examination is organized into three chapters. Chapter 1 considers the historical basis of the myth of the isolated island laboratory, focusing on appropriations of Pacific Islands as military outposts and sites of nuclear weapons testing. Against this history, it considers the incommensurability of the conception of island isolation with Indigenous relations to islands as connected by the ocean. Chapter 2 examines presumptions of island isolation embedded in calls to trial genetically engineered organisms containing gene drives on remote islands. The third and final chapter provides an ethnographic account of emergent community and stakeholder engagement practices meant to facilitate just decision-making surrounding the deployment of gene drive technologies, focusing on two Hawaiian Islands where gene drive research is underway. I identify isolation and containment as salient frames structuring scientific practices related to gene drives, and argue that these are ill-equipped to facilitate the just use of these technologies, which hold unprecedented capacity to alter wild species and ecosystems. I invite a reimagination of gene drive science and engagement through oceanic and archipelagic ways of knowing that embrace connectivity and attend to history and power

Monika Sengul-Jones (2020): "The Liminal Work of Online Freelance Writing: Networked Configurations of Gendered Labor, Technologies, Subjectivities"

Monika Sengul-Jones

Title: "The Liminal Work of Online Freelance Writing: Networked Configurations of Gendered Labor, Technologies, Subjectivities."

Committee: Kalindi Vora, Elizabeth Losh, Martha Lampland, Lilly Irani, Dan Hallin, and Lisa Cartwright (chair).

ABSTRACT: This dissertation is a theoretical, interpretative, and empirical study of online freelance writing work in the 2010s in the United States. The aftermath of the 2008 recession saw a rise in remote writing work opportunities and online platforms facilitating and scaffolding such work. A field of precarious work that was predominately occupied by women, the dissertation tracks freelance writing work done on explicitly feminist online platforms for women readers and writing work done by women on crowdwork marketplace platforms brokering low-paid content writing piece work. Using ethnographic methods, participant observation, and interpretative, historical textual analysis, this dissertation advances the neologism "liminal work" to ground my analysis over four chapters. Liminal, which comes from the Latin word "threshold," suggests a physical crossing from one place to another. The "liminal work" of freelance writing online is the maintenance of ambiguity, accomplished through attachments to historical and speculative concepts of autonomy and the liberal human subject. I advance this argument with attention to the mythology of entrepreneurialism as a frame that enables contemporary, situated dependencies to perpetuate in platform design. I scope the intersection of historical debates about freedom to access information online before the commercial internet with the gendered work of library service professionals as prefiguring commercial online websites and writerly work. I analyze empirical reports from women doing online freelance writing, interwoven with my own experiences as a researcher and writer. I focus on stories that are told, from the stories in published articles, stories justifying practical work processes and their logics, to stories about professional alignments, hopes, disappointments, and dependencies. The dissertation diagnoses the liminal work of online freelance writing as a technology of a compulsion to possess a subject position that is not quite realized. My analysis is grounded in theories of feminist infrastructure studies and intersubjectivity, and I give close attention to the function of apostrophe, metaphors and non-representational myths as devices of intersubjective feelings and the networked configurations of technologies and subjectivities that they are realized within. The outcome is a modest recuperation of less visible work histories. This is an interpretation of a snapshot of the inner workings of this moment in the early 21st century economy and a map of the ways that gendered intersections of networked configurations of labor and technologies open up certain futures, and also make destabilization possible. While this work is about the 2010s, the dissertation may stoke the imagination beyond the time of this writing, into the 2020s, a period during which we face yet another, even harsher, economic turndown and an unprecedented reliance on commercial and mediated digital work practices.

Ned Randolph: Clear As Mud: The Struggle Over Louisiana’s Disappearing Wetlands

Ned Randolph

Title: Clear As Mud: The Struggle Over Louisiana’s Disappearing Wetlands

Committee: Patrick Anderson (Chair), Angela Booker, Kelly Gates, Valerie Hartouni, Octavio Aburto-Oropeza

ABSTRACT: The dissertation is about power and the landscape that power produces. It explicates a paradox of modernity, which is this: how one of the most vulnerable places to sea-level rise organizes its economy and culture around extractive thinking and the production of fossil fuels. To do that, it tracks how power produces its own conditions of possibility through crises and responses to such crises that guarantee future action. The dissertation likewise interrogates structures of discourse, science, and common sense. It analyzes and problematizes the state of Louisiana’s historic responses to various environmental crises of flooding, storms, and, starting in the late 20th century, its disappearing coastal wetlands. It frames the state’s efforts to restore its coast as part of a complex but ongoing continuum that began three centuries ago with the 1718 colonial settlement of New Orleans and recently made visible by Hurricane Katrina. I argue that the state’s political economy organizes itself as the solution to the environmental crisis of its own making. The dissertation relies on mixed methods of archival research, interviews and discourse analysis from a variety of texts, policy position papers, historic newspaper articles, scientific studies, and transcripts of public meetings and court cases. It gestures to traditional and emerging critical fields in the Humanities and Social Sciences such as political geography and political ecology, cultural studies, environmental humanities, science studies, and cultural history. The dissertation is conceptually grounded and organized around a material component of Mississippi Delta Mud. Through mud, it explicates a cultural and environmental history of New Orleans and Lower Mississippi River Delta region. This is a story of both the natural environment and the social conditions and histories entangled within it. Far from being a passive object that has meandered through the backdrop of national identity and struggle, the Mississippi River and its mud functions as agents in the production of difference – racial and ethnic, colonizer and colonized. This dissertation attends to stories as they have been told and uses these moments to provoke a discussion of the way in which natural history becomes a venue for violence

Poyao Huang: How to Become “HIV Negative, on PrEP” in the Post-AIDS Era: The Material Culture of Gay Taiwanese Men’s Sexual Health

Poyao Huang

Title: How to Become “HIV Negative, on PrEP” in the Post-AIDS Era: The Material Culture of Gay Taiwanese Men’s Sexual Health

Committee: David Serlin (Co-Chair), Lisa Cartwright (Co-Chair), Patrick Anderson, Dredge Byung'chu Kang, Kalindi Vora

ABSTRACT: This dissertation is an ethnographic study of contemporary gay Taiwanese men's sexual health with a focus on the circulation of HIV prevention medicine and blood management. In the 2010s, the governance of HIV/AIDS has undergone a significant shift, moving from biomedical treatment to prevention: pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is prescribed for HIV-negative individuals to prevent sexually contracting HIV. PrEP engenders a new serological condition, "HIV negative, on PrEP." By signaling the absence of virus and personal use of HIV biomedicine, "HIV negative, on PrEP" implies that this medicine works at the molecular level of human blood to suppress viral incubation and replication, and entails a medical and social urgency of constantly bringing the drug into an individual's body. This dissertation asks what it means to be “HIV negative, on PrEP” in the neoliberal, transnational context of drug consumption and regulation. In this project, I argue that serostatus associated with HIV biomedicine should not be seen as a fixed scientific category about one’s wellbeing, but instead a dynamic process of becoming “HIV negative, on PrEP.” I tell the story of how gay men, governments, AIDS advocates, pharmaceutical companies, and other social actors utilize "HIV negative, on PrEP" as a means to redefine sexual health during a time when drugs are newly introduced and not yet widely available or financially accessible. In doing so, I unearth the socio-economic tensions, health inequalities, and hegemonic oppressions against gay men amid the HIV biomedical prevention regime. A multi-sited ethnography conducted in Taiwan and Thailand from 2016 to 2019, this dissertation traces PrEP’s social trajectory and gay men’s socio-sexual practices to document the transformation of sexual health in four main chapters: government-led medical support programs, the AIDS advocacy organizations initiated drug-delivery model, gay men’s medical tourism to Thailand, and gay men’s sexual communication through smartphone social apps. Drawing on the theories and methods from the science and technology studies (STS), new feminist materialism, medical anthropology, and media studies, I offer an expansive and performative interpretation of health, safety, risk, and other taken-for-granted notions in public health, illustrating how gay Taiwanese men have undergone a biomedical and social transformation of blood management and body modification. In moving toward self-health enhancement, their bodies and sexualities have become intertwined with the economies of pharmaceutical innovation, governmental regulation, and personal mobility and pleasure. Ultimately, this dissertation contributes to the emerging scholarship of “Queer STS” by addressing the broader issues of the politics of self-medication, the marketization of HIV medicine, and the making of queer sexuality in the digital environment