UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Aids : social construct and implications for social work Baisley, Kerry Wade


The social construction of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome), or the ways in which people perceive or think about it, is the focus of this thesis. Exploratory research is conducted through guided interviews with social workers involved in AIDS care. Their responses and perceptions are compared to those gathered from similar interviews with individuals diagnosed with AIDS or ARC (AIDS Related Complex) and family members and lovers of people with AIDS and ARC. The constructivist model is employed as the methodological framework in this process. News magazines and professional literature augmented the data collection process. AIDS has been in the forum of public discussion for some time. Given this fact, news magazines were included as they contain data pertaining to the construct of AIDS distributed to the general public. Social workers confirmed the importance of such material by stating that much of their AIDS related information was gathered from newspapers, articles, and television programmes. Foucault's analysis of sexuality contextualizes the news reporting of AIDS and the actions of those who live with AIDS. Sexuality is socially constructed and employed in the development of knowledge and the exertion of power. Sexuality exists as a form of social control. This perception clarifies the social construction of AIDS and the decisions and actions made by those living with AIDS. The analysis of interviews and documentary materials concludes that AIDS has been constructed in three ways; medically, socially, and politically. Social workers and those who live personally with AIDS had the greatest perceptual agreement when they spoke of the social components of this syndrome. They were the furthest apart when they spoke of the political aspects of this illness. Individuals with AIDS and ARC spoke of their explorations of alternative therapies and their attempts to gather knowledge about their illnesses. They also spoke of the conflicting situations which sometimes developed between themselves and the authorities they dealt with through institutionalized medicine. Social workers mentioned some of these issues, but appeared to operate on the institutional side of certain issues rather than acting as advocates for those who live with AIDS. A clear example of this is terms of reference. Those who live with AIDS used terms such as "People with AIDS" or "PWA." Social workers, on the other hand, defended their use of the clinical term "patient." Interviews with social workers revealed how stereotypes and attitudes towards gay men changed as health care providers had direct experience with those living with AIDS. Interviews discovered that in caring for "patients" many professionals grew to care about people. Discrepancies in financial assistance and institutional support were also noted. Private agencies such as AIDS Vancouver and the PWA Coalition were found to supply many of the services needed in the community outside of hospitals. Social workers noted that they depended on those agencies when making referrals to the community. Governments were chastized for their responses to this health crisis. General questions for social work in health care are posed as the result of these findings. Where does social work "fit" in the political framework of health care? As professionals where should and do social workers place their allegiance while engaging in every day work? Social workers should be aware of the importance of their attitudes towards those they work with and realize how that work can be effected by such perceptions. Such work begins with an analysis of one's own attitudes and beliefs.

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