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Summary of Readings: Rumor, Gossip and Blame: Implications for HIV/AIDS Prevention in the South African Lowveld

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Robb Travers

SOC309 October 7, 2011 Rumor, Gossip and Blame: Implications for HIV/AIDS prevention in the South African Lowveld Jonathan Stadler  article examines the articulation of AIDS through gossip and rumor. A Crisis of Meaning  There is much confusion about AIDS – questions of who to blame, why it affects some people and not others.  Article: explores people’s response to AIDS by interrogating cultural and social production in a contemporary South African society.  Rumor: implies a lack of certainty in the truth of the story. o Popular, public account that circulates widely, but has not been proven true. o Rich in detail, characters remain mysterious and location murky. o People’s behaviour is observed and moral judgments made. o Gossip is a gendered conversational form. (men try not to)  Methods: conversations, interviews about AIDS, recording of conversations, group discussions, etc.  Gossip and rumor not simply conventional storytelling – they evaluate reputations and reveal contradictions.  Gossip about AIDS not only describe, but is prescriptive – creates moral readings of behaviour, linking AIDS to discourses of tradition, gender and generational relationships.  Rumours of AIDS has power to construct moral panic.  The threat of AIDS is real, rumours about AIDS construct it as a social danger that is out of proportion to the actual threat offered. (over exaggerated) The Research Context  Present study: KwaBombha (village in Bushbuckridge district of rural Limpopo Province – home to 30,000 Shangaan speakers)  Witchcraft accusations between neighbours increased. Targeted elderly men who were believed to be jealous of the new educational and employment opportunities of the younger generation.  1990s: infrastructural developments – low cost housing, tarred roads, shopping complexes. o Narratives of moral decline: low cost housing developments are notorious as lodgings for mistresses and are seen to be areas where AIDS epidemic thrives.  Geographical locations of settlements are important risk factor to epidemiology of AIDS – especially truck stops and major highways. o Roads = locales for transactional sex  AIDS. Young girls warned about lingering on roads, AIDS seen to attack those who “play in the street”.  Arrival of AIDS was preceded by radical socioeconomic change that transformed relationships between men and women, and young and old, creating conditions for the spread of AIDS. AIDS Awareness in KwaBombha  present since 1990s, little knowledge on it. 1SOC309 October 7, 2011  First encounter was through media – AIDS awareness campaigns had limited effect – too obtuse/confusing  Many South Africans rejected these initial attempts due to suspicions that they were part of a conspiracy to stem black population groups. Not thought as real threat. o AIDS characterized as gay plague, innocent victims, guilty sinners and malicious infectors. o AIDS = elaborate joke cooked up by television.  Mid 1990s, strategy: school based education. Teachers complained of difficulty in understanding training manuals and lack of support – openly rejected idea of providing sex and AIDS education. o Teachers themselves are often implicated in sex scandals with schoolchildren and seen as carriers of HIV.  Condom campaign – died out shortly due to lack of funding  Non governmental organizations to create awareness, Worlds AIDS day (15km away)  loveLife youth centre (25km away) – provides AIDS awareness and positive lifestyle recreational and educational activities for local youth. o thought as a place for “training prostitutes” and engaging sexual promiscuity. o Few able to go – far, no $. o Seen as elitist and exclusionist – very modern, consumerist, seems out of place for them. o Many accessed services through telephone and received informat
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