Networks, norms and solidaristic/altruistic action against aids among the demonized

Samuel R. Friedman, Alan Neaigus, Benny Jose, Richard Curtis, Gilbert Ildefonso, Marjorie Goldstein, Don C. Des Jarlais

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Drug injectors have simultaneously faced a devastating HIV I AIDS epidemic and an intense program of government repression and media demonization known as the “War on Drugs.” We address patterns of association (networks) among drug injectors; how these networks shape their norms toward condom use and safer sex; the extent to which drug injectors take it upon themselves to promulgate safer sex norms to others; and, on a different level of analysis, the extent to which drug injectors have created organizations to reduce HIV transmission and to deal with other problems. Data from 767 street-recruited Brooklyn drug injectors indicate that about half of their drug- injector network ties, and of their sexual network ties, have lasted for at least five years; perceived peer norms supportive of condom use are widespread; almost half had told others (in the last month) that they should use condoms, and this was particularly likely among those in an ethnographically defined core group; consistent condom use with non-drug-injectors is reported for 44 percent of such relationships, and is most likely if the drug injector is HIV-infected, if the relationship is not *very close,” if peer norms support condom use and among those without network ties to the ethnographic core group. Observational and historical research on drug users’ organizations is used to describe the activities of “users’ groups” around the world. In spite of the pressures they have been under, drug users’ organizations exist in many cities and are active in anti-HIV efforts. Thus, norms and networks affect risk networks; and norms themselves vary by social network location and by social role. In spite of being subjected to intense repression and stigma, drug users have acted to shape their own culture, to protect themselves and others against HIV/AIDS and, to some extent, have engaged in collective action through formal organizations. The possibility of dialectic response seems to extend even to the most oppressed, dependent and stigmatized members of humanity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)127-142
Number of pages16
JournalSociological Focus
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 1999

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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