Richard Karl Deang
Richard Karl Deang is a Ph.D. candidate in Comparative Gender Studies (with concentration in Anthropology) at Central European University. His academic interests lie at the interface of four research areas: medical anthropology; gender and sexuality studies; science, technology, and society; and postcolonial studies.
His doctoral dissertation is an ethnography of the category of “men who have sex with men” (MSM), a public health category that was created in the 1990s in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Manila, this dissertation unpacks the foundations of modern biomedical and sexual citizenship within the overlapping contexts of the HIV/AIDS crisis of the Philippines and President Rodrigo Duterte's “war on drugs.”
Because “men who have sex with men” now represent almost nine out of ten cases of HIV infection in the Philippines, epidemiologists, doctors, and other health professionals who work in national health policy and management have targeted MSM populations using various HIV/AIDS intervention projects. One of these is PrEP Pilipinas, a pilot project introducing HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs in the Philippines for MSM. It is the first pilot project of PrEP in the world to use a community-based organization (CBO) instead of a hospital or a clinic to receive participants. Participants are counseled by volunteer “peers” who identify the participants and themselves as MSM.
PrEP Pilipinas raises three questions for anthropological reflection. First, as intermediaries between the biomedical establishment and the participants of the project, how do lay CBO volunteers mediate and modulate scientific knowledge? Second, if these three groups are brought together by the “MSM” category, what conflicting discourses define the distinctions between this overtly scientific public health category and other categories like “bakla,” “gay,” “homosexual,” and “transgender”? Third, in what ways does the use of drugs—including both HIV prevention drugs like PrEP and recreational drugs used in “chemsex” parties—code bodies in terms of the capacity of people for self-government and their value to the national population? In Foucauldian terms, if PrEP takers and “drug addicts” are both subject to increased surveillance and disciplinary normalization, what does the uncanny comparison between the two populations reveal about their relationships with “scientific facts” and “community knowledge”?
Using material from participant observation, in-depth interviews, discourse analysis, and online ethnography, this dissertation offers a postcolonial, queer critique of the continuing mutual construction of sexuality and pathology in the global biomedical age.