The Politics of AIDS Research

The epidemic of AIDS highlights a crisis in policy on which the social sciences may shed some light. In the process, it may also move the study of policymaking to some substantial higher ground. Whenever we pose a question in terms of understanding rather than resolving, we run the risk of hearing social research denounced as irrelevant, if not downright obstructionist. Yet such a risk is minor compared to a bland acceptance of a presumed common wisdom that often points to an uncommon folly. With AIDS, for example, a recitation of raw numbers of potential victims is of less importance for policy than the demographic, geographic, and sexual characteristics of those involved.

We need to begin, then, by a disaggregation of macropolicy from micro-policy. In one sense, the former is a bundle of issues composed of the latter. But each has dynamics of its own. Affirmative action is a macro-policy. But it is derived in part from Executive Order No. 11246 issued during the Lyndon B. Johnson White House years. In its specifics, this order concerned government hiring. Now mandated quotas have been imposed on ever wider areas of both the public and private sector. At such a level, the concept of policy is a 20th-century equivalent to the 19th-century notion of geist or espirit. Racial equity is not so much a crafted political position as a broadly felt need of the age. It exists across class no less than racial boundaries.


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