Making memory work: Performing and inscribing HIV/AIDS in post-apartheid South Africa

Doubt, Jenny Suzanne (2014). Making memory work: Performing and inscribing HIV/AIDS in post-apartheid South Africa. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis argues that the cultural practices and productions associated with HIV/AIDS represent a major resource in the struggle to understand and combat the epidemic. Research into HIV/AIDS is dominated by biomedical scholarship, and yet in South Africa, the main drivers of the epidemic are social and economic. The cultural productions analysed in this thesis confront and illuminate many of the contradictory and unresolved questions facing HIV/AIDS research today. The primary materials analysed in this thesis are the cultural texts that explore representations and performances of HIV/AIDS in South Africa from 1995-2012. I locate experiences of HIV/AIDS in a range of theatrical, literary and visual artworks, including prose, drama and memoir, as well as film and critical work across an array of genres. More than simply surveying HIV/AIDS cultural artefacts, I offer socially and historically contextualised accounts of how stories from post-apartheid writers, performers, artists and subjects engage with HIV/AIDS within a climate hostile to their existence. In my analysis of the texts considered, I develop an argument that underlines the interventionist capacities of cultural production around HIV/AIDS. I investigate to what degree these texts aim to change consciousness and challenge the social behaviours that contribute to HIV prevalence. I argue that the most significant responses to HIV/AIDS in the last thirty years have been grassroots cultural practices that empower those who otherwise have had little agency in dictating their own circumstances and histories of the epidemic. These findings lead me to argue for a paradigm shift in HIV/AIDS research: from the widespread application of medical hegemony to the consideration of community-level cultural interventions in addressing the epidemic.

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