This paper explores the ways in which HIV specialists based in the United Kingdom (UK) construct, conceptualise and imagine their patient group via the concept of the ‘imaginary’, a notion encompassing the symbols, concepts and values through which people make sense of their social environment. In discussing their work with men who have sex with men (MSM), practitioners described patients as knowledgeable and highly adherent to treatment, yet apt to pursue hedonistic lives involving sex and recreational drugs. Recent innovations in treatment were formulated in terms of optimism and progress and the ascent of biomedical approaches was cast as an advance over former emphases on psychosocial interventions and attempts to facilitate behaviour change. In contrast to the imaginary of patients who were well-informed and highly compliant with treatment, participants also sought to explain those who were not easily enfolded within modern treatment regimens or who were seen to be overly emotional. These patients, it was said, had some pre-existing psychological problem or perhaps were especially vulnerable to societal pressures. Overall, the imaginary of the public was pervaded by therapeutic optimism, a sense of progress and an invigoration of biomedical themes in overcoming the challenges of delivering services to MSM.
- health behaviour
- sexual health
- sexually transmitted infections
- social epistemology