Sociology, Department of


Date of this Version



White Paper 1993


Copyright 1993 Michael R. Hill


The frequently inexorable fatality, pansexual communicability, and lengthy period of asymptomatic latency of HIV combine to form biological realities and ecological dangers that are individually and socially problematic at very deep levels. How can we think sociologically about the AIDS epidemic? Talcott Parsons’ concept of “sick role,”2 a venerable and productive staple of medical sociology, gives us little to work with here, precisely as sexually active, HIV-positive but undiagnosed and asymptomatic persons do not see themselves as “sick.” Nor, importantly, do others, including: sexual intimates, friends, family members, employers, and health professionals. The interpersonal face of HIV is often trusted, sexually inviting, and deceptively healthy. In choosing sexual partners today, the age of AIDS confronts us with our vulnerabilities as embodied beings living together in institutionally-ordered, bureaucratized lifeworlds. This case study places these vulnerabilities within the reach of contemporary sociological thought, with particular emphasis on Erving Goffman’s penultimate work: Frame Analysis.