The Lives of Other Citizens.
The intention of New York Stories was to extend my previous research that tried to understand the thinking and being of people close to death—especially in relation to the sometimes radical transformations that take place when confronting one’s own or another person’s mortality—for example, transformations in the perception of time, existence, religion, otherness and one’s body. This was for my original doctoral research in the late 1990s that compared living with HIV/AIDS in Africa and the USA.
At the time AIDS was seen as a death sentence, however the development of effective antiretroviral medications radically transformed people’s lives. Antiretrovirals re-opened time, space and society for over 100,000 people in New York alone, triggering a massive shift of mind, body and emotion across the city away from death and toward life. Having experienced intense, life-threatening episodes of illness and often having made irreversible life decisions, the people I worked with had to learn how to ‘live’ again but unsurprisingly many found it impossible to return to previous ways of thinking and being, and made substantial life style changes and career choices that affect how they live today. Thus the aim of New York Stories was to re-establish contact with persons from my original doctoral research to understand how they learned to re-establish their lives and maintain social and existential continuity while living in a future that few imagined they would survive to see.
One of the primary aims was to think about how all social life, including illness, is mediated by complex streams internally represented speech, moral commentary and imagery that are not always externalised or publicly articulated. Inner expression is central to experiences of illness and a primary means through which people understand their condition, negotiate periods of crisis and debate things such as suicide, that may not even be shared with close friends or family.
However an interesting new strand was introduced into the project by considering the inner dialogues of the general population, which ended up being the Lives of Other Citizens Project.