Overview

The discipline of anthropology is grounded in holistic understandings of biological and socio-cultural realities. With this mandate, it becomes second nature for anthropologists to investigate how culture, human attributes, history, structural barriers, and ever-changing attitudes, behaviors, and beliefs shape peoples’ responses to the changing world around them. As anthropologists, before we advocate for specific ways to better understand pressing problems and help individuals and communities solve or cope with a problem, we want to find out the details surrounding the problem and what influences and motivates action. Anthropological focus and method routinely looks toward analyzing and addressing dynamics and circumstances that have the potential to unite or divide. In a nutshell, we advocate for culturally tailored and contextually driven approaches to problem solving. Equally we advocate for equity and creating spaces for all voices and all forms of knowledge to be heard. To be sure, one central goal of any anthropological endeavor is to help people find ways to take ownership over approaches to their own problems. It is no surprise then that anthropologists are well positioned to develop, implement, support, and promote nuanced and culturally-sensitive approaches to HIV and AIDS work. It is a primary goal of the AIDS and Anthropology Research Group to advance these types of approaches.

HIV and AIDS are widely recognized as representing both a series of regionally diverse epidemics and a global pandemic, depending on one’s level of analysis. This dual recognition is part of the reason there is no single anthropological approach to HIV/AIDS. Additionally, a single approach is not possible given the complex nature of HIV/AIDS and its existence in locally specific yet globally connected worlds. The perspectives that a researcher, development professional, or care provider takes will likely direct them toward different approaches. At the end of the day, whether an anthropologist is involved in analysis, policy work, prevention, care, or treatment, he or she holds as central a commitment to advocate for interventions that carry with them deep understandings with respect to what creates and sustains epidemics. For example, anthropologists have a keen eye in recognizing that HIV spreads for different reasons in different settings, and are attentive to the reality that not all individuals will conform to clinical procedures in the uptake of ARVs. The keen and attentive eye of an anthropologist importantly uncovers and works to address the layered effects of HIV/AIDS and its connections to issues such as poverty, gender disparities, raced/ethnic injustice, violence, and uneven access to education.

Ensuring culturally specific interventions is a difficult and challenging task, particularly given that HIV/AIDS work is often carried out based on priorities set in far off board rooms rather than based on culturally informed knowledge. Anthropologists have a proven track record in moving things out of board rooms and into the field, thus, helping to improve outcomes in many areas of HIV and AIDS work. We are at the forefront of advocating for holistic and nuanced understandings of the pandemic, such as identifying social and structural phenomenon that may exacerbate spread of the virus or compromise access to care. We are especially competent with uncovering cultural beliefs and attitudes that support structures and behaviors that compel people to engage in behaviors that place them at high-risk with regard to contracting HIV. Equally important, we are at the forefront of advocating for development of strategies for ARV provisioning and care-giving that are culturally appropriate and that avoid stigmatization.

Since 1987 AARG has been advocating culturally appropriate strategies for combating HIV/AIDS. Our advocacy is based on applying the basic tenets of anthropology while also integrating established best practices. We have done good work but continue to learn and adjust. Below are some exemplary works that overtly discuss anthropological contributions in efforts to stem the spread HIV and mitigate the impacts of AIDS. And, you don’t have to look far to find very many reports and articles in which the works of anthropologists figure prominently. Indeed, just visit the extensive bibliography of anthropological contributions posted in the Resources section of this website. In very many other instances, however, anthropological contributions are not highlighted in works where they nonetheless figure prominently. This is testimony to the value of the methods and perspectives of anthropology, and primary reason that this organization represents a diverse and passionate membership who are dedicated to seeing an end to the scourge of HIV and AIDS.

Baer, Hans A., Merrill Singer, and Ida Susser (2003) AIDS: A Disease of the Global System. In Medical Anthropology and the World System: A Critical Perspective. Second Edition. By Hans A. Baer, Merrill Singer, and Ida Susser. Pp. 227-281 (Chapter 8). Westport, CT: Bergin and Harvey Publishing Group.

Bolton, Ralph (1998) Rethinking Anthropology: The Study of AIDS. In The Art of Medical Anthropology: Readings. Sjaak van der Geest, and Adri Rienks, eds. Pp. 369-382. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Het Spinhuis Publishers.

Bond, George, John Kreniske, Ida Susser, and Joan Vincent (1997) Introduction: The Anthropology of AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. In AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. George Bond, John Kreniske, Ida Susser, and Joan Vincent eds. Pp 3-10. Boulder, CO and Oxford, UK: Westview Press.

Farmer, Paul (1997) AIDS and Anthropologists: Ten Years Later. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 11(4): 516-525.

(1999) AIDS and Social Scientists: Critical Reflections. In Experiencing and Understanding AIDS in Africa. Charles Becker, Jean-Pierre Dozon, Christine Obbo, and Moriba Touré, eds. Pp. 33-40. Dakar, Senegal and Paris, France: Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA).

Farmer, Paul, and Jim Young Kim (1991) Anthropology, Accountability, and the Prevention of AIDS. The Journal of Sex Research 28(2):203-221.

Feierman, Steven, Arthur Kleinman, Kearsley Stewart, Paul Farmer, and Veena Das (2010) Anthropology, Knowledge-Flows and Global Health. Global Public Health 5(2): 122-128.

Heald, Suzette (2003) An Absence of Anthropology: Critical Reflections on Anthropology and AIDS Policy and Practice in Africa. In Learning From HIV and AIDS. George Ellison, Melissa Parker, and Catherine Campbell, eds. Pp. 210-237. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Herdt, Gilbert, and Andrew M. Boxer (1991) Ethnographic Issues in the Study of AIDS. The Journal of Sex Research 28(2):171-187.

Janes, Craig R., and Kitty K. Corbett (2009) Anthropology and Global Health. Annual Review of Anthropology 38: 167-183.

Kleinman, Arthur (1995) The New Wave of Ethnographies in Medical Anthropology. In Writing at the Margin: Discourse Between Anthropology and Medicine. Arthur Kleinman. Chapter 9, pp. 193-255. Berkeley, CA, Los Angeles, CA, and London, UK: University of California Press.

Kotarba, Joseph (1990) Ethnography and AIDS: Returning to the Streets. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography 19(3):259-270.

Nguyen, Vinh-Kim, and Karine Peschard (2003) Anthropology, Inequality, and Disease: A Review. Annual Review of Anthropology 32:447-474.

Parker, Richard (2001) Sexuality, Culture, and Power in HIV/AIDS Research. Annual Review of Anthropology 30: 163-179.

Parker, Richard, and Anke A. Ehrhardt (2001) Through an Ethnographic Lens: Ethnographic Methods, Comparative Analysis, and HIV/AIDS Research. AIDS and Behavior 5(2):105-114.

Schoepf, Brooke G. (2001) International AIDS Research in Anthropology: Taking a Critical Perspective on the Crisis. Annual Review of Anthropology 30: 335-361.

(2010) Assessing Aids Research in Africa: Twenty-Five Years Later. African Studies Review 53(1): 105-142.

Singer, Merrill (1998) Foraging a Political Economy of AIDS. In The Political Economy of AIDS. Merrill Singer, ed. Pp 3 - 31. Amityville, NY: Baywood Publishing Company.

(2009) Interdisciplinarity and Collaboration in Responding to HIV and AIDS in Africa: Anthropological Perspectives. Introduction to the Special Issue. African Journal of AIDS Research (AJAR) 8(4): 1-9.

ten Brummelhuis, Hans, and Gilbert Herdt, eds. (1995) Culture and Sexual Risk: Anthropological Perspectives on AIDS. Amsterdam, Netherlands: Gordon and Breach Publishers.