'Conceiving kothis': men who have sex with men in India and the cultural subject of HIV prevention

Med Anthropol. 2007 Apr-Jun;26(2):175-203. doi: 10.1080/01459740701285582.


HIV prevention with men who have sex with men in India has, in large part, been premised on the reification of "cultural categories"--kothi being among the most popularized terms in this context, broadly designating men who have a feminine sense of self and who enact "passive" sexual roles. Countering prevailing research trends, this article explores ways in which local, national, and global processes inform contemporary kothi sexual subjectivities--disrupting simplistic perspectives on the cultural coherence of the category. Derivative uses of anthropological knowledge in public health and activist milieux are seen to have propounded limited representations of men who have sex with men in India. Drawing on ethnographic research in Calcutta, conceptualization of time in ethnography is examined and a critique of positivist epistemologies is put forward as a basis for advancing more conceptually cogent and effective HIV prevention research and programming strategies, especially those that aim to address sexuality between men.

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural
  • HIV Infections / etiology
  • HIV Infections / prevention & control*
  • Homosexuality, Male / psychology*
  • Humans
  • India
  • Male
  • Sexuality