"I'm Positive. So What?" HIV Illness Narratives from Zimbabwe and the United States



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Storytelling is potentially an important resource for HIV-positive individuals as they grapple with the changes HIV brings to their lives and seek ways to make meaning of their experiences. Illness narratives in particular create the opportunity for healing by facilitating a recasting of illness within a person's understood moral and social order; through the story’s adaptability to alternative endings; and by placing “the human drama of illness” in the foreground (Mattingly and Garro 2000:8). Using fieldwork and open-ended interviews from America and Zimbabwe, I illustrate the multidimensionality of illness narratives and their value in helping to understand the experience of living with HIV. Experiences with and conceptualizations of stigma and discrimination, community and religion emerge as main themes throughout my participants’ narratives. Their stories reflect an active negotiation between themselves, their social worlds and their HIV status. I also problematize the notion that storytelling is inherently therapeutic and the implications this has for those associated with the epidemic. My participants’ stories clearly illustrate that HIV does not exist only within the biomedical sphere. I therefore have drawn upon the diverse fields of anthropology, epidemiology, history, medical ethics and narratology. Approaching the epidemic comprehensively allows practitioners, support group leaders and others associated with HIV to more capably respond to the needs of HIV-positive individuals. Analysis of illness narratives emerges as a key resource in this process.



HIV, Illness Narratives, Zimbabwe