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NARRATIVES OF DEATH IN RURAL MALAWI IN THE TIME OF AIDS

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2015

Abstract

The key to understanding the experience of AIDS mortality lies in the stories that people tell each other about those they know who are suspected to have died from AIDS. We use a unique set of texts produced by rural Malawians reporting everyday conversations in their communities. These texts, drawn from the online archive of the Malawi Journals Project, consist of several thousand instances of ordinary people telling each other stories in the ordinary course of their lives. They are a form of insider ethnography, accounts of everyday life written by people immersed in the lives of their communities. Through analysis of these texts, we show that narratives of death are predicated upon the question ‘Who is to blame?’ We argue that a micropolitics of blame arises from practices of narrating death and shapes individual and collective responses to the epidemic. When we pay attention to the details of the production and exchange of these stories, we can see how the fact that narratives of death are predicated upon the question of blame both expresses and produces a desire for justice, both for the righting of wrongs through retributive punishment and for the restoration of harmonious social relations among the living. This desire for justice, we argue, is a central feature of the social impact of AIDS.

Résumé

La clé pour comprendre l’expérience de mortalité par le SIDA réside dans les récits que les personnes se racontent mutuellement à propos de ceux qui sont suspectés d’être morts du SIDA. Il utilise pour cela une collection unique de textes produits par des ruraux du Malawi relatant des conversations du quotidien au sein de leurs communautés. Ces textes, tirés des archives en ligne du Malawi Journals Project, consistent en plusieurs milliers de cas de personnes ordinaires se racontant des récits dans le cours ordinaire de leur existence. Ils sont une forme d’ethnographie de l’intérieur, des récits de la vie quotidienne rédigés par des personnes immergées dans la vie de leur communauté. À travers l’analyse de ces textes, l’auteur montre que les récits de mort reposent sur la question « À qui la faute ? ». Il soutient qu’une micropolitique du blâme résulte de pratiques de récit de mort et façonne les réactions individuelles et collectives à l’épidémie. L’étude des détails relatifs à la production et à l'échange de ces récits montre comment le fait que les récits de mort reposent sur la question du blâme exprime et produit un désir de justice, à la fois pour rectifier des tors par une punition rétributive et pour rétablir des relations sociales harmonieuses entre les vivants. Ce désir de justice est, selon l’auteur, un élément central de l’impact social du SIDA.

Type
Texts, politics and blame
Copyright
Copyright © International African Institute 2015 

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