Struggling to care: A discursive-material analysis of negotiating agency among HIV-positive MSM

Document Type


Publication Date



A discursive-materialist framework of agency asserts the mutual constitution of agency within cultural discursive, economic, and embodied material structures. Understanding how HIV-positive men who have sex with men in the Philippines negotiate agency vis-a-vis wider social structures, we utilized Foucault’s care of the self to locate agency in relationships with the self, others, and the broader world. Using data from narratives of 20 Filipino HIV-positive men who have sex with men, we analyzed the negotiation of agency as HIV-positive as embedded in the unique discursive terrain of Roman Catholicism and the economic materiality of a developing country. Three main processes of negotiating agency are elaborated: (1) questioning the spiritual self and the sexual body in the relationship with the self, (2) navigating interpersonal limits to care giving in the relationship with others, and (3) reclaiming human dignity in health care in the relationship with the broader world. Theoretical insights on the discursive and material constitution of healing in light of discursive and material challenges are discussed.