Publications & Reports

The embodied relationality of blood-borne viruses: How families matter in the context of a stigmatised viral infection.

Persson A, Newman CE, Valentine K, Hamilton M, Bryant J, Wallace J
Centre for Social Research in Health, Goodsell Building, UNSW Sydney, Kensington, NSW, 2052, Australia. Electronic address: [email protected]


This paper argues that blood-borne viruses are relationally embodied, providing an alternative ontology to the individualising tendencies in medical science, and a more inclusive analysis of serodiscordance (mixed infection status) than the literature’s focus on transmission risk in couples. We know little about the wider world of significant relationships in the lives of those with blood-borne viruses. People with HIV and hepatitis C are in a mixed-status relationship not just with intimate partners, but with other family members too. Drawing on qualitative interviews and phenomenological theory, we make the case that families (broadly defined) matter in the context of stigmatised, transmissible infections in ways that extend beyond individual bodies and beyond the usual preoccupation with risk. Despite recent advances in the treatment of blood-borne viruses, our study shows that these infections continue to be experienced and negotiated through embodied connections to significant others, made meaningful through culturally situated understandings and expectations regarding kinship, affinity, love, shared history and obligations. Our findings encourage broader recognition of these viral infections as intercorporeal phenomena, with families intimately entangled in co-creating the meanings and experiences of disease.

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  • Journal: Social Science & Medicine
  • Published: 22/10/2019
  • Volume: 243
  • Pagination: 112620