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Will to Live:
AIDS Therapies and the Politics of Survival
João Biehl
Photographs by Torben Eskerod

Joint Winner of the 2008 Wellcome Medal for Medical Anthropology, Royal Anthropological Institute and the Wellcome Trust
Winner of the 2008 Diana Forsythe Prize, American Anthropological Association

Paperback | 2009 | $52.50 | £44.95 | ISBN: 9780691143859
472 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 109 halftones. 5 line illus. 6 tables.
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Will to Live tells how Brazil, against all odds, became the first developing country to universalize access to life-saving AIDS therapies--a breakthrough made possible by an unexpected alliance of activists, government reformers, development agencies, and the pharmaceutical industry. But anthropologist João Biehl also tells why this policy, hailed as a model worldwide, has been so difficult to implement among poor Brazilians with HIV/AIDS, who are often stigmatized as noncompliant or untreatable, becoming invisible to the public. More broadly, Biehl examines the political economy of pharmaceuticals that lies behind large-scale treatment rollouts, revealing the possibilities and inequalities that come with a magic bullet approach to health care.

By moving back and forth between the institutions shaping the Brazilian response to AIDS and the people affected by the disease, Biehl has created a book of unusual vividness, scope, and detail. At the core of Will to Live is a group of AIDS patients--unemployed, homeless, involved with prostitution and drugs--that established a makeshift health service. Biehl chronicled the personal lives of these people for over ten years and Torben Eskerod represents them here in more than one hundred stark photographs.

Ethnography, social medicine, and art merge in this unique book, illuminating the care and agency needed to extend life amid perennial violence. Full of lessons for the future, Will to Live promises to have a lasting influence in the social sciences and in the theory and practice of global public health.


"Biehl's powerful ethnography beautifully mixes visual and written portraits of those who lived and died as Brazil developed its public health and policy responses to AIDS. The author gives voice to those at the margins--the poor, the homeless, homosexuals, drug addicts, transvestites, prostitutes--who remained stigmatized and invisible as Brazil universalized access to AIDS therapies. . . . Biehl convincingly argues the importance of understanding the history and politics of AIDS pharmaceuticalization, the role of social mobilization, and the invisibility of the marginalized in official statistics and care in grasping the reality of AIDS in Brazil."--E.J. Schatz, Choice

"In Will to Live, João Biehl combines critical public health, ethnography, and even a mini epidemiological survey, studying AIDS therapies up, down, and sideways. . . . The running commentary from major decision-makers in the novel Brazilian approach to AIDS provides both insights and rather transparent post facto justifications for the state's regulatory practices. These are nicely complemented by activist and patient critiques throughout the text."--Matthew Gutmann, American Ethnologist

"Biehl's ethnography is already a paradigmatic example of how transformations in subjectivities and social experience can be investigated at all levels: personal, social, political, and global. The book is also exceptional, while describing in fruitful ways, complex interconnections that might occur within and across levels of lived experience. . . . I strongly recommend this book to all those interested in pursuing anthropological investigations emphasizing the conceptual significance of lived experience through 'experience-near' analyses and 'thick description.'"--Cristina Redko, Ethos

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File created: 7/11/2017

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