The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Entextualizing Health Disparities: How Best Practices Produce Queer Populations

Saturday, January 18, 2014: 2:30 PM
HBG Convention Center, Room 008A River Level (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Tyler M. Arguello, PhD, Adjunct Faculty, University of Southern California, Sacramento, CA
BACKGROUND & PURPOSE: While biomedicine continues to struggle with seizing the physicality of HIV, cultural-based practices have persisted to proliferate and evince strong influence in the discursive side of the virus. Branding and cause marketing are one interrelated practice that has been scaled up and replicated globally in the recent past. This practice has been deployed to not only bring awareness and basic education about the virus, but also to bridge commerce and welfare, selling the pandemic through products in the marketplace all the while reformulating viral subjectivities. Attempting to think “the logic of the object” inspires this study; that is, how does the object of HIV gain meaning in the everyday lives of justice-seeking and targeted populations in HIV work? In globalized pandemic, consumption becomes the practice that imbues everyday life with meaning, and the branded objects exist as the “alibis” for the social relationship between professionals and targeted populations, the last of which are built anew through heavily stylized cultural practices. 

METHODS: This case study employs a transdisciplinary methodology based in critical language, visual, and health studies. Social semiotic analysis provides the design and analysis of the (RED) brand, an exemplar of contemporary strategies to coalesce best practices technologies from communication, biomedicine, and business under the banner, rhetoric, and social justice commitments typically found in Western practices of social welfare. 

RESULTS: The analysis illustrates how (RED) capitalizes on three general processes to imagine HIV and its attendant subjects anew. The brand re-aestheticizes the contemporary discursive virus, imploding certain understanding of what and who it is. (RED) recontextualizes the longstanding, recognizable cultural resources used to produce awareness, education, and identity, working to occlude brand equity. Finally, the brand and cause marketing re-stylize neocolonial and subaltern actors within (new) the globalizing political- and viral-economy. 

CONCLUSIONS: In the helping professions, social work has an express interest and mission to attend to the disenfranchising consequences of social structures, especially when the implications affect the bodies, abilities, and livelihoods of people. This paper is important to social work for a number of reasons. First, it is an example of contemporary transdisciplinary research. Second, this work directs attention from the over burdened, marginalized client and turns the gaze back towards professionals and their best practice labor. Third, this paper shows that contemporary social work practice can do well in the globalizing world to train professionals to work with and intervene in discourse and communication technologies; Pragmatically, this paper offers the practice tools of “semiopublics”, cultural palletes in health promotion, and an ethic of self-reflexivity.