Hot Shots: Professor Viviane Namaste: Viviane Namaste

Viviane Namaste

Namaste: No fear of rocking the boat
Photo: Liam Maloney

Professor Do-Right

Viviane Namaste doesn’t stick to the ivory tower. The associate professor at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute, and the Research Chair in HIV/AIDS and Sexual Health at Concordia University, she was awarded the 2009 Award for Action on HIV/AIDS and Human Rights by the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and Human Rights Watch, an international honour that recognizes her tireless research and activism in HIV/AIDS prevention and services, particularly for bisexuals and transsexuals.

What is your training/schooling?

BA in sociology from Carleton, MA in sociology from York University (Toronto), PhD in semiology from UQAM. But my real training in understanding the complexities of HIV prevention comes from 20 years of working with communities and organizations, from Cactus-Montréal to the lower Main to Act-Up Paris.

Are you in this line of work by accident or design?

I’ve been quite deliberate in designing the accidents of my work and life. Like many people who began work in HIV/AIDS in the 1980s, the impact of seeing friends, lovers and activists succumb to AIDS motivated me to act.

What inspires you?

When everyday people who do not necessarily have formal education make sophisticated arguments about the compelling need for knowledge that is relevant to their lives.

What skills do you need in your profession?

As a professor, the ability to synthesize information, think comparatively and communicate clearly. As a researcher and activist, the ability to listen carefully is the most important skill I need.

What challenges you most in your line of work?

In the past 20 years, community organizations in HIV/AIDS have transformed from sites of grassroots action and popular education to agencies that only deliver services to "clients." The lack of reflection on this dynamic is rather discouraging – most, but not all, people working in the AIDS bureaucracy are perhaps too busy writing the next grant to think about genuine community mobilization. One of the most important challenges of HIV/AIDS work now, as we enter its third decade, is to conceive and implement community education and services that engage critically with a neo-liberal state.

What is the worst career advice you ever got?

With the best of intentions, many academics have suggested that I play it safe in the subject matters of my research. Everyone seems to want to wait until tenure to do any kind of research that might even possibly rock the boat a little!

What makes you keep doing this? Why?

Producing knowledge that puts forgotten people and communities on the map inspires me, because too often people who are invisible are left out of the historical record.

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