Action = Vie

A History of AIDS Activism and Gay Politics in France

Christophe Broqua, With a Foreword by David M. Halperin
Book Cover

HC: $125.00
EAN: 978-1-4399-0320-9
Publication: Jan 20

Ebook: $125.00
EAN: 978-1-4399-0322-3
Publication: Jan 20

340 pages
6 x 9

Chronicling the history and accomplishments of Act Up-Paris

Read the Introduction (pdf).


Act Up–Paris became one of the most notable protest groups in France in the mid-1990s. Founded in 1989, and following the New York model, it became a confrontational voice representing the interests of those affected by HIV through openly political activism. Action = Vie, the English-language translation of Christophe Broqua’s study of the grassroots activist branch, explains the reasons for the French group’s success and sheds light on Act Up’s defining features—such as its unique articulation between AIDS and gay activism.

Featuring numerous accounts by witnesses and participants, Broqua traces the history of Act Up–Paris and shows how thousands of gay men and women confronted the AIDS epidemic by mobilizing with public actions. Act Up–Paris helped shape the social definition not only of HIV-positive persons but also of sexual minorities. Broqua analyzes the changes that have accompanied the group’s history, from the emergence of new treatments for HIV infection to normalizing homosexuality and a controversy involving HIV-positive writers’ remarks about unprotected sex. This rousing history ends in the mid-2000s before HIV/AIDS normalization and marriage equality caused Act Up–Paris to decline.


"Action = Vie is the first comprehensive study of Act Up Paris for Anglophone audiences. It thus makes a significant contribution to the recent uptick in analyses of AIDS activist groups across the Global North.... Action = Vie excels at tracing the cultural and social contexts of Act Up Paris, using 20 years of ethnographic data to construct an intimate history of AIDS activism in France."
—Sociology of Health and Illness

" Christophe Broqua’s fascinating intellectual, activist history work explores the French group’s ideas and through lines linking AIDS and gay activism.... This is a story about how we act when we are fighting for our lives. Each chapter in Action = Vie builds on this question, how do we respond?"
—Logos: a journal of modern society & culture

In this thoughtful and comprehensive account, Christophe Broqua explains how Act Up–Paris become a leader in the global fight against the injustices of the AIDS epidemic—and how an iconic organization remade the landscape of gay politics in France. Action = Vie conveys the novelty of Act Up’s styles of protest and the urgency that infused its analysis and actions. But it also captures the specificity of the French experience with a devastating epidemic.”—Steven Epstein, Professor of Sociology and John C. Shaffer Professor in the Humanities at Northwestern University and author of Impure Science: AIDS, Activism, and the Politics of Knowledge

“English readers now have access to this work that has already made significant contributions to the sociology of social movements and sexualities…. The emotion, urgency, and tension of (activists’) words gives readers an opportunity to feel some of what people at the time who might have been handed a leaflet at a demonstration or opened the gay newsletter they subscribed to might have felt…. (In) addition to teaching us about the international history of gay and AIDS mobilizations, this book is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand more about the intellectual history of queer theory and Foucault, to the spread and critique of which Act Up is an important contributor.”
—Contemporary Sociology

"Among Broqua’s enlightening contributions is his study of Act Up’s distinctive combination of street demonstrations and artistic interventions, which he reads both as strategic choices and expressions of actors’ emotions—a mix of strategizing and expressivism.... Broqua carefully documents the history of Act Up-Paris with interview material as well as Act Up’s own publications, memoirs published by one of the founders, or a documentary on a subsequent president. Of particular interest are interview materials that allow a longitudinal apprehension of participants’ activist and professional backgrounds, their motives of involvement, the meaning they attributed to Act Up’s action, controversies, and internal feuds."
—The Lancet

Table of Contents

Foreword to the English-Language Edition by David M. Halperin


1. From the Gay Movement to the Fight against AIDS
Gay Mobilization before AIDS
The “Homophile” Movement
The Revolutionary Movement
Liberation Groups and Reformist Groups
Early Signs of AIDS Mobilization
The First Generation of AIDS Organizations
Protests and Public Expression of HIV-Positive Status
Emergence of Organizations of HIV-Positive Persons
HIV-Positive Status and Gay Demands

2. The Birth and Rise of Act Up
Didier Lestrade: A Path
An Imported Model: AIDS Activism in the United States
Larry Kramer: Founder or Leader?
Claiming a Legacy
Creation of Act Up–Paris
Conversions to Activism
Interorganizational Positions
Media Relations
Rationales for Public Exposure and Journalistic Habitus
Firsthand Accounts, AIDS Organizations, and the Media

3. A Theory of AIDS
The Political Etiology of AIDS
The Ghost of Foucault
Act Up and Michel Foucault: An Unexpected Connection?
An Indirect Influence (1)
“Biopower” and the Fight against AIDS: An Unsettling Analogy
An Indirect Influence (2)
A Positional Rejection or an Illegitimate Legacy?
Act Up versus Literary Representations of AIDS

4. Gay Politics
The “Homosexualization” of AIDS under Debate
Constructing a Collective Identity
AIDS from the “Point of View” of Homosexuality
Building a Community
HIV-Positive Gay Identity as a Frame of Reference
Hierarchies of Experience and Identification
Act Up’s Gay Image
Act Up and the Gay Pride March
Gay Activists and the Fight against AIDS

5. Reconciling the Experiences of Homosexuality and AIDS through Activism
Sexual Orientations and Proximities to AIDS
Social and Sociosexual Backgrounds
Degrees of Proximity to the Epidemic and Motives for Engagement
Gay Trajectories
Socialization Effects
Paths of Gay Socialization
Bridging the Experiences of Homosexuality and AIDS
Ambivalences in the Recognition of People with HIV

6. The Rationale for Public Action
Strategic Emotions
Uses of Violence
Violence according to Act Up
Violence Attributed to Activists
Experiencing Violence versus Inflicting Violence
Self-Inflicted Violence

7. Activism, Grief, and Memory Politics
A “Grieving Machine”?
Act Up and Memorial Practices
Political Uses of Death and Memory
Naming the Deceased
Simulating Death
Political Funerals
Competing Memories
References to the History of Homosexuals
The Pink Triangle
Holocaust References

8. The Emergence of Hope and Redefinition of Activism
Act Up’s Response to Advances in Treatment
The First Sidaction and Its Impact
The Second Sidaction and Its Impact
Revival of Act Up’s Gay Politics
The Fight for Recognition of Same-Sex Couples
The Threat of Outing
A New Identity?
A Paradigm Shift: From Despair to Hope
Hope versus Despair
Hope and Memory
Act Up’s Dissolution under Debate
The Tenth Anniversary

9. Act Up and the Bareback Controversy
The Controversy
Books as Mirrors (1996–1999)
The Activist Offensive (1999–2000)
The Conflict Escalates (2000–2004)
Conditions and Key Issues
Evolution of Sexual Behaviors
Disengagement and Positioning Strategies
The Inexhaustible U.S. Model
The President’s Position
A Threatening Closeness
Barebacking as an Instrumental Frontier
Communitarianism as an Implicit Frontier
Competing Legitimacies
Transmission as an End and a Means

10. Changing Representations of Homosexuality
Resurgence of Gay Mobilization
The Fight against AIDS and Gay Socialization
Specializations of Identity and Struggles for Recognition
Toward the Normalization of Homosexuality?
Between Normalization and Dissidence
The Freaks’ Parable
The U.S. Queer Movement against Assimilation
Act Up, the Queer Movement, and Normalization in France
Fantasy of the Murderous Gay
The HIV-Positive Gay as a Model
Activism and Imagination as Catharsis



About the Author(s)

Christophe Broqua is a socio-anthropologist at the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS; French National Centre for Scientific Research) in France.