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

By Robert J. Thornton | Go to book overview

Preface

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

-xvii-

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