Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
The past decade has witnessed tremendous advances in HIV science, including the possibility of using antiretroviral therapies to treat humanity out of this disease. A major challenge of global health initiaitves working to eradicate AIDS, however, is the persistence of HIV-related stigma. A vast body of literature has emerged that examines this persistence, yet little research explores the impact of storytelling practices in the (re)production of such processes. Drawing on theories of globalization and stigma, as well as ethnographic research in Kenya, this paper centers on the circulation of information about HIV/AIDS--from HIV/AIDS statistics, anti-stigma campaigns, and global treatment/prevention messages, to illness narratives and local gossip/rumors--that worked their way into local narratives or what I call viral stories. Viral stories illuminate the frictions produced at the intersections of global health efforts and the cascading inequities and violent structural conditions that engulf the lives of people and deny social justice for many. Likewise, they demonstrate the power of words--as people circulated, processed, and expressed them--to foreground their local, everyday struggles in situ--while critically keeping in mind the broader social, economic, political, scientific, and historic contexts shaping them. Such knowledge is necessary if AIDS--the disease and associated stigmas--are to be eliminated.