Cover of At Risk by Gowri Vijayakumar
At Risk
Indian Sexual Politics and the Global AIDS Crisis
Gowri Vijayakumar


280 pages.
from $28.00

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503627529
Paperback ISBN: 9781503628052
Ebook ISBN: 9781503628069

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Winner of the 2022 Transnational Book Award, sponsored by the American Sociological Association (ASA) - Asia and Asian America Section.

Winner of the 2022 Outstanding Book Award, sponsored by the Society for the Study of Social Problems (SSSP) - Global Division.

Winner of the 2022 ASA Global and Transnational Sociology Section Best Scholarly Book Award, sponsored by the American Sociological Association - Global and Transnational Sociology Section.

Honorable Mention in the 2022 Sociology of Sexualities Distinguished Book Award, sponsored by the American Sociological Association (ASA) - Sociology of Sexualities Section.

In the mid-1990s, experts predicted that India would face the world's biggest AIDS epidemic by 2000. Though a crisis at this scale never fully materialized, global public health institutions, donors, and the Indian state initiated a massive effort to prevent it. HIV prevention programs channeled billions of dollars toward those groups designated as at-risk—sex workers and men who have sex with men. At Risk captures this unique moment in which these criminalized and marginalized groups reinvented their "at-risk" categorization and became central players in the crisis response. The AIDS crisis created a contradictory, conditional, and temporary opening for sex-worker and LGBTIQ activists to renegotiate citizenship and to make demands on the state.

Working across India and Kenya, Gowri Vijayakumar provides a fine-grained account of the political struggles at the heart of the Indian AIDS response. These range from everyday articulations of sexual identity in activist organizations in Bangalore to new approaches to HIV prevention in Nairobi, where prevention strategies first introduced in India are adapted and circulate, as in the global AIDS field more broadly. Vijayakumar illuminates how the politics of gender, sexuality, and nationalism shape global crisis response. In so doing, she considers the precarious potential for social change in and after a crisis.

About the author

Gowri Vijayakumar is Assistant Professor of Sociology and Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Brandeis University.

"At Risk is feminist transnational sociology at its best! Meticulously researched and beautifully written, this book tells a richly textured, and often surprising, story about how Indian sex workers and LGBTQ people impacted the terrains of sexual politics amidst the AIDS crisis. Vijayakumar deftly illuminates what the global South has to teach us about sexual epidemics, activism, and the transformation of sexual cultures."

—Jyoti Puri, Simmons University

"At Risk offers the near-historical, ethnographic critique of sexuality politics and the HIV/AIDS crisis in India that we need. Vijayakumar shows in rich detail how 'ideas of sexuality are the "fulcrum" for constructing difference around race, caste, gender, and class,' in part by seriously examining the transnational linkages between Indian and African sex workers' rights movements during the 1990s and 2000s. This book is a critique of a moment that is critical for understanding a uniquely global health crisis, and what it revealed about the idea of 'India' in a uniquely changing world."

—Svati P. Shah, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

"[At Risk] provides an excellent overview of not only the AIDS epidemic in India but also its intersections with sexual politics at home as well as its linkages to the global AIDS field. The work will prove to be useful for anthropologists, sociologists, historians, and any scholar interested in the sexual politics of AIDS in India."

—Arnav Bhattacharya, H-Sci-Med-Tech

"Reading [At Risk] at a time when global discourses of COVID-19 continue to dominate public health and media narratives has provided an important frame for critically thinking about global inequalities and their long- and short-term impacts on the lives of people. The book will make for interesting reading for gender and sexuality scholars and scholars interested in critically understanding the everyday state as well as contemporary India and its global dynamics."

—Shannon Philip, Contributions to Indian Sociology

"At Risk expands the possibilities of decolonizing American sociological scholarship... to build theory from global sites that have implications beyond their immediate coordinates. Particularly now, as we emerge from the reluctant aftermath of another global pandemic, and—perhaps unrelated—deal with new sexual crises produced by the state that implicate gendered bodies, these findings feel atemporal, omnipresent, and urgent."

—Swethaa Ballakrishnen, American Journal of Sociology

"In At Risk,Vijayakumar offers an insightful, ethnographically rich account of how AIDS funding changed the landscape of sex worker activism and related state bureaucracy in India."

—Tara Gonsalves, British Journal of Sociology

"With its palpable details about the altered and fraught political terrain of AIDS responses, At Risk offers transformative insights about how risk and crises are defined, managed, and circulated across local, national, and global scales – with profound implications for social movements and people seeking a more livable life."

—Reya Farber, Journal of Development Studies

"While exploring the experiences of the AIDS crisis, material practices of the state, and sociopolitical mobilizations in the global South, [At Risk] masterfully illustrates the myriad ways in which HIV prevention programs affected and reshaped the everyday lives of the sexually marginalized."

—Rahul Bhaumik, World Medical and Health Policy

"The compelling interviews in At Risk correct the calculative canvas by bringing unforgettable insights to bear on institutional ecologies and histories, therein reshaping what 'after AIDS' might mean today. Published in 2021, the book's open-endedness about the ongoing global dynamics of acute infectious disease emergences is prescient as we continue to ask what the HIV/AIDS crisis can teach us about living with our current global pandemic."

—Bishnupriya Ghosh, Pacific Affairs