Unimagined Community: Sex, Networks, and AIDS in Uganda and South Africa

Unimagined Community: Sex, Networks, and AIDS in Uganda and South Africa

Unimagined Community: Sex, Networks, and AIDS in Uganda and South Africa

Unimagined Community: Sex, Networks, and AIDS in Uganda and South Africa

Synopsis

This groundbreaking work, with its unique anthropological approach, sheds new light on a central conundrum surrounding AIDS in Africa. Robert J. Thornton explores why HIV prevalence fell during the 1990s in Uganda despite that country's having one of Africa's highest fertility rates, while during the same period HIV prevalence rose in South Africa, the country with Africa's lowest fertility rate. Thornton finds that culturally and socially determined differences in the structure of sexual networks--rather than changes in individual behavior--were responsible for these radical differences in HIV prevalence. Incorporating such factors as property, mobility, social status, and political authority into our understanding of AIDS transmission, Thornton's analysis also suggests new avenues for fighting the disease worldwide.

Excerpt

I did not want to study AIDS, but as an anthropologist in Africa, I could not avoid it. Anthropology has been called the study of mankind in context. HIV/AIDS is now part of that context, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. It touches on the deepest of human concerns: sex, health, death, kinship, family, language, and culture. Because these are also the core areas of anthropology, my concern with HIV and AIDS is thus an anthropological concern. This anthropological approach departs significantly from standard epidemiological, public health, medical, and sociological perspectives and methods.

Anthropology is holistic, integrative, and, where appropriate, comparative. I offer here a holistic comparison of Uganda and South Africa — two countries with radically different trends in HIV prevalence — using methodological tools that integrate mathematics, sociology, demography, epidemiology, and traditional anthropological approaches and techniques. Uganda and South Africa are part of a broadly similar cultural area — Bantu-speaking sub-Saharan Africa — and thus suitable for comparison. I compare them across a broad range of cultural and social features in order to explain the differences in the epidemiology of AIDS in a way that is not reduced to the biology of a single body (or cell) or to the psychology of the individual who “behaves” sexually, or encounters “risk.” In other words, my approach links the world of individual meanings, motives, and understandings to increasingly . . .

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