Shifting Paradigms and the Politics of AIDS in Zambia

By Frank, Emily | African Studies Review, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Shifting Paradigms and the Politics of AIDS in Zambia


Frank, Emily, African Studies Review


Abstract:

This article explores how international discourses on AIDS prevention have been incorporated into national-level programs that promote particular lifestyle and livelihood strategies in Zambia, particularly within the realms of wife inheritance, widowhood, and marriage. In response, Zambian communities have recast these narratives to inform local political economies, identities, and struggles for power. Often community and national-level efforts work at odds with each other, as each seeks to legitimize various moralities and codes of behavior. At the local level actors choose the strategies that most effectively mitigate the impact of HIV/AIDS and also enhance their overall well-being.

Response to ABDS is political everywhere, in Africa, no less than in the West. Knowledge is socially situated, built on previous knowledges with the power to define how we know, and to determine what facts shall be considered "real. "

Brook Grundfest Schoepf

While Brooke Schoepf s claim (2004:15) regarding the political nature of AIDS discourse is widely accepted among social scientists, how the "politics of AIDS" plays out in actual practice within local community structures and social organizations has not been adequately treated. What exactìy do die politics of AIDS mean to people caught in the midst of the pandemic? In Zambia these politics are played out at a level of personal, community, and national politics to promote particular lifestyles, moral standards, and gender performances. In this article I seek to move the discussion of AIDS beyond the concrete experiences of managing the direct impact of the disease. Specifically, I explore how understandings of the disease have been used to create discourses about behaviors and to construct both strategies for action and pathways to power. Today in sub-Saharan Africa the disease itself is being invoked in unexpected ways to rationalize particular types of social change and upheaval in daily lives. In this way, the politics of AIDS is changing social life as much as the disease itself is doing so.

When communities, NGOs, or government officials invoke an AIDS discourse, they are talking about more than the ways in which AIDS causes increased workloads, or the careful or fearful decisions people make about whom to marry, or even when or if to marry, or the burdens of caring for orphans. They are invoking a discourse embedded in relations of power that differentially affect politics at community, national, and international levels. Invoking AIDS has created new boundaries around which behaviors are legitimate and which are prohibited. What I am suggesting here, then, is that talking about AIDS has become a way of talking about more than just the disease and its impact. Discourses about HJTV/ AIDS articulate arguments concerning many other ongoing discussions in society about customary authority, state authority, and conceptions of science, health, modernity, and development - giving them new shape. In this article I would like to focus on how AIDS in Zambia has been central in promoting particular types of practices related to inheritance, marriage, family structure, and material accumulation, drawing specifically from ethnographic material gathered during field research in Southern Province.

In order to comprehend the context within which AIDS has been invoked, I locate my argument within scholarly discussions about modernization and globalization in an African context (e.g., Probst et al. 2002; Ferguson 2006; Moore & Sanders 2001). We must recognize that AIDS is experienced as a distincdy modern phenomenon in sub-Saharan Africa (e.g., Booth 2004; Frank 2006; Setel 1999), and therefore responses to the pandemic are often reactions to projections of modernity as much as they are strategies for avoiding or mitigating the impact of the disease. This article does not suggest a unified experience with AIDS, or a linear trajectory in terms of the way AIDS discourses are changing social life in sub-Saharan Africa. …

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