Embodied history. Uniqueness and exemplarity of South African AIDS

  • Didier Fassin Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, 54 boulevard Raspail, 75 006, Paris<br> Centre de Recherche sur les Enjeux contemporains en Santé Publique, Université Paris North — Inserm 74, rue Marcel Cachin, 93 017, Bobigny, Paris


The exceptionality of AIDS in South Africa, both for its epidemiological features and public controversies, seems to have its correspondence in the exceptionalism of South African history, with its unprecedented regime of apartheid and its unexpected turn to democracy. The article shows that AIDS in this country can simultaneously be seen as unique (because of the historical context in which it is inscribed) and exemplar (of social determinants observed in other countries characterised by similar past or present of domination). As an alternative to cultural and behavioural models of the epidemic which have been widely spread on the African continent, the concept of embodiment of history is proposed in order to account for both the structural facts underlying the epidemic (inequality, violence, migration) and the construction of collective as well as individual narratives of the disease (including victimisation and accusation).

Keywords: political anthropology; social history; embodiment; South Africa, AIDS

(Af J AIDS Res: 2002 1(1): 63-68)

Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 1608-5906
print ISSN: 1727-9445