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Unimagined Community

Sex, Networks, and AIDS in Uganda and South Africa

Robert Thornton (Author)

Available worldwide

Paperback, 304 pages
ISBN: 9780520255531
September 2008
$34.95, £27.00
Other Formats Available:
This groundbreaking work, with its unique anthropological approach, sheds new light on a central conundrum surrounding AIDS in Africa. Robert J. Thornton explores why HIV prevalence fell during the 1990s in Uganda despite that country's having one of Africa's highest fertility rates, while during the same period HIV prevalence rose in South Africa, the country with Africa's lowest fertility rate. Thornton finds that culturally and socially determined differences in the structure of sexual networks—rather than changes in individual behavior—were responsible for these radical differences in HIV prevalence. Incorporating such factors as property, mobility, social status, and political authority into our understanding of AIDS transmission, Thornton's analysis also suggests new avenues for fighting the disease worldwide.
List of Illustrations
Note on Ethnic Names and Languages

1. Introduction: Meaning and Structure in the Study of AIDS
2. Comparing Uganda and South Africa: Sexual Networks, Family Structure, and Property
3. The Social Determinants of Sexual Network Configuration
4. The Tightening Chain: Civil Society and Uganda’s Response to HIV/AIDS
5. AIDS in Uganda: Years of Chaos and Recovery
6. Siliimu as Native Category: AIDS as Local Knowledge in Uganda
7. The Indigenization of AIDS: Governance and the Political Response in Uganda
8. South Africa’s Struggle: The Omission and Commission of Truth about AIDS
9. Imagining AIDS: South Africa’s Viral Politics
10. Flows of Sexual Substance: The Sexual Network in South Africa
11. Preventing AIDS: A New Paradigm for a New Strategy

Robert J. Thornton is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa and author of The Early Writings of Bronislaw Malinowski and Space, Time, and Culture among the Iraqw of Tanzania. His articles have appeared in Current Anthropology and American Ethnologist.
“Makes a strong case.”—Nature
“Readers of this book are given new ways to think about sex and behviour change campaigns.”—Journal Royal Anthro Inst
“[Thornton] succeeds in showing the important role that anthropological research has to play in the field of HIV prevention.”—The Journal Of Africa
"Like Durkheim in Suicide, Robert Thornton's audacious ambition is to reveal the collective causes of intimate personal behavior; and he takes as the critical zone for his investigation the hidden network linking sexual partners to society at large. Unimagined Community succeeds as a compellingly original study of AIDS and as a work of deep anthropology. This book is a tour de force, reflected in the consistently high quality of the writing which never flags."—Keith Hart, author of Money in an Unequal World

"Robert Thornton cuts an original and creative path through the massive AIDS literature assembled since the 1980s. Based on his view that sex is to be seen as a social relationship, not a behavior, he uses this as a building block in his analysis of the different configurations of sexual networks in Uganda and South Africa. Thornton departs from current purely epidemiological, demographic, sociological, and behavioral approaches, and also goes beyond the analysis and proposals for intervention to be found in most medical, public health, and policy studies. It is a study grand in conception and scale."—Shirley Lindenbaum, coauthor of The Time of AIDS

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