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When Bodies Remember: Experiences and Politics of AIDS in South Africa (California Series in Public Anthropology) 1st Edition

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ISBN-13: 978-0520250277
ISBN-10: 0520250273
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Editorial Reviews


“This ethnography is comprehensive and nuanced in its approach. . . . Fassin’s ethnography is ambitious and provocative. It is recommended to anyone interested in exploring how the past critically shapes the present characterization of AIDS in South Africa.”
(Marisa Macari Journal Of Biosocial Science 2009-02-13)

From the Inside Flap

"Didier Fassin makes a compelling case against behaviorist approaches that dominate AIDS research. Using a vivid mosaic of public controversies and ethnographic vignettes, Fassin works through the controversial denials of South African President Thabo Mbeki and the precautionary policies of his Health Ministers within histories of apartheid, epidemics which justified segregation, and secret biological warfare plans of Project Coast, as well as wider battles over the ethical protocols of AIDS testing and widening inequalities. Fassin writes with compassion and deep moral inquietude."—Michael M.J. Fischer, author of Emergent Forms of Life and the Anthropological Voice

"When Bodies Remember is an extraordinary exercise in counterpoint between the disquieting politics and the subjective experience of AIDS in South Africa. Didier Fassin deftly leads his readers into the 'heart of darkness' that we may comprehend this monstrous tragedy, literally unspeakable for so many, as one that touches our shared humanity. He insists that recognition of inequality rather than difference, and of embodied history rather than culture, are the keys to overcoming indifference, inciting in its place moral outrage and action. This brilliant, sensitive ethnography should be read by everyone who cares about the kind of world we live in."—Margaret Lock, author of Twice Dead: Organ Transplants and the Reinvention of Death

"A gracefully written and politically astute account of one of the world's greatest AIDS tragedies, the arrival of a full-blown AIDS epidemic in South Africa on the cusp of political victory and jubilation over the end of apartheid. The cultural and political logic of President Mbeki's refusal to accept the international public health model of the virus and his pursuit of an alternative explanation of the epidemic is given a fair and just hearing by France's leading critical medical anthropologist."—Nancy Scheper-Hughes, author of Death without Weeping

"This is a remarkable book. As Fassin dissects the deadly powers of today, he also unrelentingly looks for human alternatives to turn the AIDS tragedy around. Multi-layered and deeply moving, When Bodies Remember sets new standards for anthropological theory in the 21st century. The book's interpretive care and hope will stay with you in times to come."—João Biehl, author of Vita: Life in a Zone of Social Abandonment

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Product Details

  • Series: California Series in Public Anthropology (Book 15)
  • Paperback: 390 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; 1 edition (March 14, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520250273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520250277
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,054,788 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By John Bergren on November 11, 2008
Format: Paperback
After spending last year working as a doctor in a rural district hospital in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, I have found it difficult to describe depth of human tragedy taking place in this part of the world. Even more challenging is trying to explain why so little progress has been made with HIV/AIDS prevention in the face of so many sick and dying people--people in the prime of their lives with so many hopes as aspirations of a free South Africa.

Of the many writings I've come across on this difficult subject, Fassin's work clearly stands out as the most thoughtful treatment of the unique social, political and historical aspects of HIV/AIDS in South Africa for those of us situated in the biomedical paradigm and public health models of health promotion and disease prevention.

He writes: "The history of South Africa reminds us, often tragically, that opposite rationales may clash, that emotions may explode, and finally that health care policies are not only about health...[studies on health policy] tend to take at face value things that in my opinion do not at all go without saying; for example, that health is humankind's most precious possession and that everybody thinks so, or that sick people and doctors share the same interests, or that prevention is better than cure."(p. 35)

Through careful ethnographic observation and commentary, Fassin begins to explain the seemingly inexplicable in a way that for me was at once intellectually challenging and therapeutic. I highly recommend this book.

He concludes "Ours is an age of anxiety precisely because of the tension that exists between what is being protected and what is being abandoned, what is being fought for and what is given up for lost.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Laleh Khalili on December 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
The book is a careful ethnography and even if one disagrees with some of its content, it should at the very least be taken seriously. The previous reviewer should never have reviewed the book if she doesn't understand such simple everyday words as ebullient, polemic, orthodoxy, precocity, licentious, or contemporaneous. Other words have theoretical content (like diachronic), but for god's sake, what on earth are you doing at Berkeley if you don't even know what a "polemic" is, and shouldn't you be challenging your own ignorance, rather than berating a book that doesn't conform to your super-simplistic views of what authorship is?
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2 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Jessica Jacobs on November 24, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book was a tad erudite for the average reader. A sampling of the words Fassin used that I looked up: diachronic, prophylaxy, contemporaneous, precocity, licentious, eponymous, tautology, leitmotiv, inculate, polemic, and phantasmatic. So while I wouldn't pick it up if I didn't have a dictionary (or wikipedia for those 'creative license' words) in hand, once you get past the tortuous sentences, Fassin's thesis proves pertinent.

Within Bodies there is a richly supported ethnography of the HIV/AIDS crisis in South Africa. The battle between Cultural Relativism and Universalism is presented in terms of South Africa's credibility in opposition to Western ideals being forced upon the country. Fassin summarizes the paradigm shift between Universal thinking and Culturally Relative thinking succinctly on page 93 in writing: "for a long time that approach focused on racial disqualification and discrimination (i.e., Africans seen as inferior); today it tends to shift toward cultural essentialism and exoticism (i.e., Africans seen as different)." Additionally, Fassin points out that looking at African's as different serves only to "mix empirical facts and unfounded rumors when they have not been proved, draw[ing] a catastrophic picture of Africa but also provid[ing] a view, legitimated by international organization label. (Fassin 150)"

All in all, When Bodies Remember, serves to better educate its readers not only on the history of the HIV/AIDS crisis, but also on how it's a cultural lesson for the global community:

"What is at stake is how people can live together, not only in South African society, from which we nevertheless have more to learn than is commonly supposed but also in a global society, whose injustices and divergences are rooted in ways of thinking that ignore or justify them." (Fassin xv)
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