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The epistemology of AIDS in South Africa: Lessons from three scenario projects

Charl Swart
Pieter Fourie


This article reviews the methodology of future scenario-building in the context of HIV and AIDS in Africa. It considers three scenario studies conducted in the past decade: UNAIDS (2005), Metropolitan Holdings (2006) and the AIDS Governance scenarios (2015). The article is a critical reflection of Future Studies epistemology which claims to contribute a unique heuristic niche in the study of AIDS. The article offers several methodological insights: (1) despite claims to the contrary, scenario methodology remains profoundly influenced by existing political and research  agenda; instead of denying these, scenarists should acknowledge this; (2) the utility of scenario studies is strongly influenced by their unit of analysis and their time frame, which determine their applicability and therefore their policy relevance; and (3) scenario planners should guard against  perpetuating the myth that this methodology is a crystal ball into the future because they are powerful tools for strategic planning about the present, rather than the distant future. In addition to these methodological insights, the article finds that future scenario studies are useful in identifying significant discursive and policy shifts in the AIDS response.

Keywords: AIDS governance, Future Studies methodology, HIV, policy analysis; strategic planning