Inaugural Lecture – Professor Jonathan Bell on: Rethinking the ‘Straight State’: Welfare Politics, Health Care, and Public Policy in the United States in the Shadow of AIDS (UCL, Institute of the Americas)
Jonathan Bell (UCL Institute of the Americas) – In this lecture, Professor Bell will consider together questions of political economy and sexual politics to establish how liberal politicians, health care advocacy groups, and queer activists understood and debated health care policy in the USA between the late 1970s and late 1980s.
He will argue that efforts of AIDS activists to access private and public health benefits highlighted the inadequacies of a system predicated upon the centrality of disability as a marker of eligibility for health benefits. The Social Security Administration looked to medical professionals in the Centers for Disease Control for working definitions of illnesses that could count as a disability. The state welfare apparatus did not work on the principle of medical need, but rather adopted the CDC’s categorization of sickness that divided People with AIDS into disabled and non-disabled, into those stamped with the imprimatur of state approval and those who were not.
As the AIDS crisis developed and affected a diverse range of people by the end of the decade, it became clear that this process of state categorization revealed fundamental gender, race, and class divisions bifurcating the rights revolutions that had sprung out of the Sixties. Access to health services was not a right afforded those given new legitimacy by the political activism of the 1970s and 80s, but a privilege afforded those most adept at negotiating the complex web of forces at the heart of government.
Jonathan Bell arrived at UCL in 2014 as Professor of US History and Director of the UCL Institute of the Americas. Prior to coming to the Institute he was an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the University of Reading, including four years as Head of Department. He gained his BA degree from the University of Oxford and his PhD from the University of Cambridge, and spent a year as a research student at the University of Maryland.
Jonathan is a historian of US politics, with a particular emphasis on American liberalism since the New Deal and the ways in which liberal politics have adapted to social change during the twentieth century. He has published widely in US political history, including a book on how the Cold War transformed American political discourse and policy formation on domestic issues during the Truman Presidency, a collection of essays on American liberalism, and a book charting the changing political complexion of California since World War Two.
Professor Bell is currently Chair of the Historians of the Twentieth-Century United States (HOTCUS), and is an AHRC Strategic Reviewer and member of its Peer Review College.
Attendance is free of charge but registration is required. The lecture will be followed by a drinks reception.