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Alternative beliefs about HIV/AIDS: re‐examining distrust among young adults in Cape Town, South Africa

Rubincam, Clara (2013) Alternative beliefs about HIV/AIDS: re‐examining distrust among young adults in Cape Town, South Africa. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Alternative beliefs about HIV – such as the man‐made origins of the virus or the secret existence of a cure ‐ can undermine trust in, and engagement with HIV prevention and treatment initiatives. These effects make understanding such beliefs an important component of responding to HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Echoing Robins’ observation that the current era allows for “the possibility of critical reflection on the ways in which contestations over scientific truth unfold under particular historical conditions” (2009a), this thesis seeks to reconsider dominant explanations for alternative beliefs about HIV/AIDS in South Africa. Previous studies maintain that the experiences of apartheid, the transition to democracy, and the early years of the new government have had permanent implications for the public’s trust in biomedical claims. In this thesis I argue that in addition to these explanations, individuals express distrust about HIV science because certain aspects of these scientific explanations do not ‘add‐up’, particularly when considered in light of their everyday observations and experiences. These disjunctures in information do not simply reflect a lack of HIV knowledge or rejection of scientific principles. Rather, in drawing on past and present experiences, individuals demonstrate their commitment to “street‐level epistemologies of trust” (Hardin 1992), an informal manner of empirically engaging with science’s rationale. Employing the Public Understandings of Science (PUS) framework to analyze these beliefs, this study conceptualizes trust and mistrust of scientific and official claims about HIV along a spectrum. Study participants endorse a range of alternative beliefs and knowledge about HIV/AIDS. They cite experiential and observational reasons to justify why they trust some authority figures and not others. In their role as trusted sources of information about HIV, peer educators with the Treatment Action Campaign draw on various “rhetorics of persuasion” (Robins 2009b) in order to lend practical plausibility to their claims. Ultimately, this study argues that respondents’ distrust of HIV science should be seen less as a rejection of scientific principles and more as a form of skeptical engagement with certain aspects of these scientific claims.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2013 Clara Rubincam
Library of Congress subject classification: D History General and Old World > DT Africa
H Social Sciences > HN Social history and conditions. Social problems. Social reform
R Medicine > RA Public aspects of medicine > RA0421 Public health. Hygiene. Preventive Medicine
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Seckinelgin, Hakan and Barnett, Tony

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