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Impure Science

AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge

Steven Epstein (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 480 pages
ISBN: 9780520214453
September 1998
$33.95, £23.95
In the short, turbulent history of AIDS research and treatment, the boundaries between scientist insiders and lay outsiders have been crisscrossed to a degree never before seen in medical history. Steven Epstein's astute and readable investigation focuses on the critical question of "how certainty is constructed or deconstructed," leading us through the views of medical researchers, activists, policy makers, and others to discover how knowledge about AIDS emerges out of what he calls "credibility struggles."

Epstein shows the extent to which AIDS research has been a social and political phenomenon and how the AIDS movement has transformed biomedical research practices through its capacity to garner credibility by novel strategies. Epstein finds that nonscientist AIDS activists have gained enough of a voice in the scientific world to shape NIH–sponsored research to a remarkable extent. Because of the blurring of roles and responsibilities, the production of biomedical knowledge about AIDS does not, he says, follow the pathways common to science; indeed, AIDS research can only be understood as a field that is unusually broad, public, and contested. He concludes by analyzing recent moves to democratize biomedicine, arguing that although AIDS activists have set the stage for new challenges to scientific authority, all social movements that seek to democratize expertise face unusual difficulties.

Avoiding polemics and accusations, Epstein provides a benchmark account of the AIDS epidemic to date, one that will be as useful to activists, policy makers, and general readers as to sociologists, physicians, and scientists.
Steven Epstein is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of California, San Diego. The work on which this book is based won the American Sociological Association's award for best dissertation of the year.
"The best empirical piece of work on the AIDS epidemic that I have read—detailed, well-informed, and expressed in lucid and accessible prose."—Charles E. Rosenberg, University of Pennsylvania

"This study surpasses all the best current writing in the AIDS field and bids fair, in my opinion, to set the standard for some time to come—not only in relation to the policy problems and the scientific and political conflicts associated with AIDS but also in the academic arenas of sociology of science, sociology of knowledge, and sociological theory."—Virginia Olesen, University of California, San Francisco

Robert K. Merton Professional Award, American Sociological Association section on Science, Knowledge and Technology

C. Wright Mills Award, Society for the Study of Social Problems

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