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Harding Distinguished Postgraduate Scholars Programme


Gabriel Duckels

United Kingdom

Faculty of Education, Hughes Hall

PhD thesis: Street Queens and Clean Teens: Melodramatic Approaches to AIDS in Young Adult Literature and Popular Culture

Research interests
1. HIV/AIDS studies
2. Children’s literature studies
3. Queer theory
4. Medical humanities


My research explores the changing political contexts and social narratives of the AIDS crisis in books published for teenagers, focusing on the lives of LGBTQ+ youth. Although HIV/AIDS became significant as a symbol for the pre-existing, and residual, alterity of queer people, that significance is underplayed in youth literature. Publishers sought to avoid conflating (for example) gay men with AIDS, while non-heterosexual sexualities were, in any case, very rarely represented. Today, however, an increasing number of popular narratives return to the once-elided early years of the crisis to recover and re-politicize its experience for a contemporary youth audience. I am interested in how the comparison and analysis of these different forms of representation – contemporary and late-twentieth century; fiction, nonfiction, ephemera – might shine light on the emergence of queer representation as an acceptable, ‘grievable’ component of mainstream youth culture, and its pedagogical implications. 


Who or what inspired you to pursue your research interests?

I decided to pursue this research after studying the MPhil in Critical Approaches to Children’s Literature at the Faculty of Education here in Cambridge. The course was a life-changing experience which I highly recommend. In general, I am inspired by the innate power of narrative in how children and young people make sense of the world around them, and how this power can be harnessed to communicate (to paraphrase Arundhati Roy) the deliberately silenced or the preferably unheard.