Epidemiologizing Culture: Scaling Chineseness through Narratives of Stigma in New York City


Drawing on 18 months of participation on an epidemiological research team and close analysis of in‐depth interviews the team conducted with 30 Chinese immigrants to New York City, this article traces a process I call epidemiologizing culture. In producing qualitative interview data from Chinese immigrants at risk for HIV, team members smoothed over individual variation to extract elements thought to be relevant to population‐level experiences of “Chinese culture.” Relevance was determined based on how closely the experiences of participants mirrored the behavior of a Chinese ideal type. Interviewer and interviewee collaborated in articulating and reproducing homophobic and HIV‐phobic discourses associated with Chinese culture while erasing details of lived experience, and conflating race and culture. I conclude that differing epistemic virtues make an epidemiological embrace of contemporary anthropological understandings of culture difficult. A model of “parallel play” may be an alternative approach to interdisciplinary synthesis.