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Health and Development: HIV/Aids in Africa




Admission requirements

  • Classes of 2013-2016: a similarly tagged 200/300-level course or permission from the instructor.

Course description

In many African communities, AIDS is seen as more than an infectious disease: it touches the core of human life: sexuality, care, death and morality. In doing so AIDS has become a metaphor for inequality, the failures of modernity and the rise of globalization. Both individuals and structural economic and political conditions are blamed for the rise and spread of the disease. This provides the opportunity to understand how people assign meaning to illness and in doing so incorporate global political and economic processes in their everyday lives. In the past three decades, AIDS has also spurred an unprecedented global movement to combat its spread. This includes the transportation of global prevention models and, in the past decade, highly advanced technological medical interventions.

By contextualizing AIDS in people’s everyday lives, we will study how people live and die with the disease and in doing so, we will critically examine public health interventions. Students will be encouraged to locate AIDS historically, understanding interventions addressed to combat its spread in a specific political and ideological timeframe. The course will briefly link and compare approaches to HIV/AIDS with public health approaches to emerging chronic and infectious diseases in Africa.

Students are expected to apply their acquired knowledge and insights from literature and class, to contemporary case-studies that highlight the complexity of AIDS, and to identify the ways anthropological research can identify interventions designed to combat the disease.

Weekly overview

Week 1: What is an ‘anthropology’ of AIDS

  • Anthropological approaches to HIV/AIDS

  • Ethnography: approach and method

Week 2: Situating HIV/AIDS in Africa: Historical Approaches

  • AIDS as infectious and chronic illness
    Film: Influenza (60 min)

  • Situating AIDS in Africa


  • Cancer in Botswana

  • Diabetes and old age in Dar es Salaam

  • Creating the Orphan Problem

Week 3: Power and inequality

  • Social epidemiology of AIDS: structural violence

  • What is risk? Masculinity and social inequality

1. Using Viagra in Addis Abeba
2. Responsible men
3. Key-populations, Bridging the Gaps

Week 4: Making Sense of HIV/AIDS Morality & Stigma

  • Meaning making and HIV: Religion and morality

  • Rethinking stigma: Silence and secrecy


  • Grandparent’s reluctance to disclose to their adolescent grandchildren.

  • Salvation and Re-birth: Healing Churches

  • AIDS testimonies

Week 5: Death, Dying and Rebirth: Aids and the Intimate Politics of Care

  • From Palliative to Chronic home-care.
    Film: The everyday challenges of aging with HIV in Mombasa, Kenya (10 min)

  • Grandparents and Grandchildren

Case studies:

  • Home-testing in Kenya

  • Social Pensions and Day Care for elderly in South Africa

  • Psycho-social grief counseling; an NGO approach

Week 6: Prevention models and counseling

  • The global transportation of local prevention models

  • Historical shifts in counseling


  • Provider Initiated Counseling and Testing

  • Male circumcision in Mwanza, Tanzania

  • MSM in Nairobi

Week 7: Treatment, Activism, Ethics

  • Global advocacy and the politics of ‘triage’.
    Film: Living positively: a conversation with AIDS activists

  • Living a ‘normal life’ (Ethics and Clinical Trials)


  • Test and Treat Program Swaziland

  • Clinical trial in Durban rural South Africa

Week 8: Reading week

Learning objectives

By the end of the course students will:

  • have acquired a state of the art overview of the anthropology of AIDS in Africa which they can actively apply in a research paper and interdisciplinary debates.

  • be able to locate the emergence of specific public health approaches to AIDS historically

  • will be able to identify ways that anthropological research can inform interventions intended to combat HIV/AIDS.

  • will be able to compare and contrast HIV/AIDS with other chronic and infectious diseases

Mode of instruction

Focusing weekly on a specific theme in the anthropology of HIV/AIDS, meetings will combine a participatory lecture and a series of assignments and student presentations around case-studies or films. The case-studies comprise contemporary topics that highlight the complexity of AIDS. Students will be expected to prepare a 15 minute presentation on a case-study. A list of literature will be provided and students are expected to have thoroughly read and prepared these texts as they will form the basis of interactive discussions during the participatory lecture. Students are expected to actively engage in discussions. To do so students will receive assignments to help them prepare the meetings. These assignments may include the formulation of a discussion-point or question


Assessment 1: In-class participation
Weight: 20%, deadline: weeks 1-7
Learning aim: Interactive engagement with course material

Your participation mark will be judged as follows:

  • 5-minute presentation on last day of class on in-class participation assignment 40 %

  • Weekly assignments that assist in preparing literature (week 1-7) 20%

  • Informed engagement in discussion (questions and discussions reveal knowledge of assigned literature) 20 %

  • Attendance of all meetings. 20% Missing a meeting will reflect in your participation grade: two missed meetings will result in 0% for this part of the participation grade. Should you be unable to attend a meeting you need to notify the instructor to discuss alternative assignments to substitute the missed meeting.

Assessment 2: Case-study Presentation
Weight: 20%, deadline: weeks 2,3,4,5,6 (5 in total)
Learning aim: Individual engagement and with and ability to apply course readings to case-study.
Student will prepare two case-studies in pairs and alternately present a 15 minute PPT on one of the case-studies, reading additional literature (both suggested and individually researched). Every meeting we will have one or two case-study presentations.

Your case-study mark will be judged as follows:

  • Presentation skills and PPT quality (guidelines will be provided) (30 %)

  • Effort made to independently research the topic (30 %)

  • Connection of case-study to broader debates discussed in class (40 %)

Assessment 4: Final Research Essay
Weight: 40%, deadline: week 8
Learning aim: Expression of holistic understanding of the course

You can decide to use your case-study presentation as the basis of your research essay but you are also free to choose a topic of your liking. A one-page outline of your research essay topic, including a full bibliography of at least fifteen titles is expected in the second meeting of week 6. You will receive feedback a week later, in time for the reading week.

Your final research essay mark will be judged as follows (guidelines will be provided):

  • Argumentation (40 %

  • Scientific quality (40 %)

  • Writing style and referencing (20 %)

Compulsory textbook

  • Smith, Daniel Jordan (2014). AIDS Doesn’t Show Its Face. Inequality, Morality and Social Change in
    . Chicago: University of Chicago Press

A reader with a selection of book chapters and articles will be made available before the start of the course

Iliffe (2006) The African AIDS epidemic: A History. Oxford: James Curry
Seeley, J (2013) HIV and East Africa: Thirty Years in the Shadow of an Epidemic. New York: Routledge
Dilger, H (2009) Morality, Hope and Grief: Anthropologies of AIDS in Africa. New York: Berghahn Books
Nguyen, VK (2010) The Republic of Therapy: Triage and Sovereignty in West Africa’s Time of AIDS. Durham: Duke University Press

Contact information

Josien de Klerk