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This book offers an original anthropological approach to the AIDS epidemic in South Africa. Based on a more than fifteen years association with the region, it demonstrates why AIDS interventions in the former homeland of Venda have failed – and possibly even been counterproductive. It does so through a series of ethnographic encounters, from kings to condoms, which expose the ways in which biomedical understanding of the virus have been rejected by – and incorporated into – local understandings of health, illness, sex, and death. Through the songs of female initiation, AIDS education, and wandering minstrels, the book argues that music is central to understanding how AIDS interventions operate. This book elucidates a hidden world of meaning in which people sing about what they cannot talk about, where educators are blamed for spreading the virus, and in which condoms are often thought to cause AIDS. The policy implications are clear: African worldviews must be taken seriously if AIDS interventions in Africa are to become successful.Read more
- This book accompanies a website on which readers can listen to the songs that are being analyzed
- Includes rich ethnographic detail, reflecting the 15 year association the author has with the region, and his fluency in the local language, Tshivenda
Reviews & endorsements
“McNeill’s book brings fresh, illuminating, and, at times, revelatory material to a host of questions: the impact of chronic unemployment on the moral lives of the young; the politics of tradition in post-apartheid South Africa; and, of course, the highly contested meanings of HIV/AIDS. For anyone interested in the African HIV/AIDS pandemic, indeed, for anyone interested in Africa, this is essential reading.” – Jonny Steinberg, author of Sizwe’s Test: A Young Man’s Journey Through Africa’s AIDS EpidemicSee more reviews
“This eloquent ethnography exposes the contours of everyday life in the age of AIDS. McNeill reveals, with uncommon sensitivity, how the pandemic pervades existence in the Venda region of post-apartheid South Africa, how it makes visible long-standing tensions and forces new conflicts between ‘tradition’ and technology, privation and promise, censorship and song. AIDS, he shows, is perversely productive: while it sharpens a crisis of social reproduction in the countryside, it also opens up new domains of possibility, knowledge, and creativity. As such, it is both a sign and a vector of uncertain, postcolonial times.” – Jean Comaroff, University of Chicago
“This is the best analysis I’ve read of how the performance arts play a role on the confounding terrain of AIDS prevention and care in the context of poverty. McNeill neither singles out song, dance, and theater as the answer to the problem nor dismisses them as ineffective. Through careful ethnography of performance events and lyrics, he demonstrates that the failures of HIV/AIDS intervention in Venda lie in the intersection of global conventions of peer education with the politics of traditionalism. This is a humanizing text that keeps a political framework active in every chapter. The author’s immersion in the community (and dedicated ‘hanging out’) registers in his passing humor, nuanced local insights, and incisive thinking.” – Louise Meintjes, Duke University
"...this book is significant in depicting the bigger picture of HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa and compels the reader to consider the future of HIV/AIDS intervention." -Yemurai Matibe, South African Journal of Musicology
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- Date Published: September 2014
- format: Paperback
- isbn: 9781107417564
- length: 308 pages
- dimensions: 229 x 152 x 18 mm
- weight: 0.46kg
- contains: 18 b/w illus. 4 maps 2 tables
- availability: Available
Table of Contents
1. Introduction: AIDS, politics and music
2. The battle for Venda kingship
3. A rite to AIDS education? Venda girls' initiation and HIV prevention
4. 'We want a job in the government': motivation and mobility in AIDS peer education
5. 'We sing about what we cannot talk about': biomedical AIDS knowledge in stanza
6. Guitar songs and 'sexy women': a folk cosmology of AIDS
7. 'Condoms cause AIDS': poison, prevention, and degrees of separation
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