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When the state won’t do: Aids and civil society in Sweden 1982–2000

HOW DID CIVIL SOCIETY REACT WHEN HIV/AIDS CAME TO SWEDEN IN THE BEGINNING OF THE 1980s? HOW DID VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS ADAPT TO A NEW REALITY WHEN NEW MEDICINES APPEARED IN THE 1990s? HOW DID THEY INTERACT WITH THE STATE AND WITH EACH OTHER?
Funded by The Swedish Research Council (VR)
Project period: 2017–2019

The project aims at investigating the role of the Swedish civil society during the HIV/AIDS crisis 1982–2000. Established NGOs, like the Swedish Union for Sex Education (RFSU), the National Lesbian and Gay Organisation (RFSL), and the National Association for Haemophiliacs (FBIS) adapted their activities and faced radically new challenges. Also, new organisations were created, like Noah’s Ark (for men who have sex with men), Convictus (for IV drug users), or the Women’s Circle.

Earlier historical research on AIDS in Sweden has focused on government politics, whereas our project will analyse social movements. How did the NGOs organise their inner activities? How did they interact with each other and with the state? What were the attitudes to new forms of hybridisation of welfare-services provision – when the State transfers some of its medical and caring services to volunteers? Through memory interviews and archival material, such as letters, memos, and newspaper clippings, we will analyse the reactions of marginalised groups facing a crisis.

Our analysis is inspired by Carol Bacchi’s ‘What’s-the-problem-represented-to-be’ approach, and theoretically we will use the insights of recent research on vulnerability.

The two researchers (Lena Lennerhed, Södertörn University, and Jens Rydström, Lund University) have long been studying sexuality and the history of social movements. Their project will be an important contribution to our knowledge about how marginalised groups react and organise when faced by a sudden life- threatening epidemic.