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.
© 2020 by the American Anthropological Association.