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Film, Video What's in a Name? AIDS, Vernacular Risk Perception and the Culture of Ownership

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  • What's in a Name? AIDS, Vernacular Risk Perception and the Culture of Ownership


  • Since reports of the first cases of HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s, contemporary, or "urban," legends about origins of the virus, modes of transmission, deliberate infection, withheld treatment and minority genocide have proliferated. Told cross-culturally, AIDS legends recount HIV-filled needles in movie theater seats, pinpricks in drugstore shelf condoms, semen in fast food and HIV-positive sexual predators. Diane Goldstein explores the story-making activities that have surrounded the AIDS epidemic, focusing on the potential implications of legend discourse for public health, as part of the Benjamin Botkin Lecture Series sponsored by the American Folklife Center. AIDS legends enable understandings of perceptions of risk, reveal local views of public health efforts and highlight areas of health care and education that need to be improved. AIDS narratives, however, do not simply articulate perceptions of disease realities, they also create those realities. Told within scientific and official sectors as well as lay communities, legends play a significant role in medical, legal and educational responses to the disease and its management. Goldstein explores how narrative constructs the way we interact with disease, creating cultural scripts for both personal and scientific decision-making. To mark the recent designation of the AIDS Memorial Quilt as an American Treasure, and in honor of the work of the Names Project, this talk focuses specifically on the powerful relationship between names and AIDS in vernacular understandings of risk. AIDS legends focus heavily on names; names to scapegoat, names at risk, names hidden and names flaunted. In this lecture, Goldstein explores one community's legendary association of AIDS with a single name, tracing vernacular notions of risk in the absence of pluralistic models of vulnerability. Moving out from that case study, Goldstein explores the relationship between names and ownership, demonstrating the crucial role of vernacular artistry in AIDS interventions.

Event Date

  • October 04, 2006


  • -  This recording is not available.
  • -  Diane Goldstein is professor of folklore at Memorial University of Newfoundland and is cross-appointed to Memorial University's School of Medicine. She is author of "Once Upon A Virus: AIDS Legends and Vernacular Risk Perception" (Utah State University Press 2004), co-editor (with Cindy Patton and Heather Worth) of a special issue of Sexuality Research and Social Policy titled "Reckless Vectors: The Infecting 'Other' in HIV/AIDS Law" (2005) and editor of one of the earliest interdisciplinary anthologies on AIDS, titled "Talking AIDS: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome" (ISER Books 1991). Goldstein has been extensively involved in AIDS priority-setting and policy-making initiatives over the last 20 years, including a three year appointment to the Canadian National Planning and Priorities Forum for HIV/AIDS. She is president of the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research, member of the executive board of the American Folklore Society and serves or has served on the editorial boards of the Journal of American Folklore, Folklore, Ethnologies, Contemporary Legend and The Journal of Applied Folklore.

Running Time

  • 56 minutes 51 seconds





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What's in a Name? AIDS, Vernacular Risk Perception and the Culture of Ownership. 2006. Web..

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(2006) What's in a Name? AIDS, Vernacular Risk Perception and the Culture of Ownership. [Web.] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

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What's in a Name? AIDS, Vernacular Risk Perception and the Culture of Ownership. 2006. Web.. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.