Sexual Behavior and HIV/AIDS in Europe: Comparisons of National Surveys

By Michel Hubert; Nathalie Bajos et al. | Go to book overview

Chapter 12

Knowledge and Representations of HIV/AIDS

Jacques Marquet, Ester Zantedeschi and Philippe Huynen

Introduction

The issue covered in this chapter is the state of the population’s knowledge of HIV transmission and means of protection. 1 In this respect, it is fruitless to isolate knowledge about a specific problem, such as knowing how HIV is or is not transmitted, from the complex process of apprehending the problem. As Schütz (1982, p. 5) writes, ‘All our knowledge of the world, in common-sense as well as in scientific thinking, involves constructs, i.e., a set of abstractions, generalizations, formalizations, idealizations specific to the respective level of thought organization. Strictly speaking, there are no such things as facts, pure and simple. All facts are…always interpreted facts…’. Knowledge is part of a broader set of representations (Moscovici, 1983) comprising complex cognitive, affective, and cultural components that perform vital psychological and social functions for the individual. These include reassurance, the search for cohesion with close friends, and so on. Knowledge does not result from a purely rational approach and individuals do not necessarily accept the explanations given by the most qualified specialists, especially if they run counter to the convictions around which they tend to organize their lives and behaviour. Information uptake is selective and may be influenced by factors quite different from those influencing prevention guidelines.

While information remains crucial, some data nevertheless show that the knowledge acquisition process is not merely a question of having access to what is considered correct information. If one wants to change people’s representations, it is not enough to identify ‘poorly informed’ or ‘under-informed’ groups and bombard them with messages containing information that is considered correct by specialists and policy-makers. The fact that a considerable proportion of the population has inappropriate representations of the risk of (in this case) HIV transmission is at least partly the result of more

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