Embodied subjectivities : exploring the stories of HIV-positive African women through body mapping and narrative theory.
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This qualitative research project attempts to consider how HIV-infected African women position themselves, through the stories that they tell, within the dominant discourses of HIV in contemporary South Africa. The research is couched within the theoretical framework of social constructionism which upholds that there are no absolute truths but rather that individuals inhabit different 'realities' and possess different 'knowledges' relative to their social and cultural context. In this view language is the medium through which discursive practices inscribe identities with meanings. Seen through a Foucauldian lens, these discursive practices, in the case of South Africa, operate as forms of surveillance and social control to 'silence' those living with HIV. Through cultural and patriarchal norms operating in conjunction with the racialising legacy left by apartheid, women, particularly African women, have come to be the group most infected with HIV. Despite their often-difficult circumstances, narrative research has shown that, through acts of storytelling, many African women are able to construct positive versions of their lives. Using body mapping in conjunction with narrative interviewing, a small group of African women of varying ages and from diverse locations, but all belonging to a single Durban-based HIV support group, were asked to tell stories about their lives and how their experiences of themselves had been impacted by HIV. Their body maps and stories showed that, while dominant discourses about HIV/AIDS do function to limit their positions for positive self-definition, these women also produced counter-narratives that resisted some of the discrediting social constructions of the illness. Four dimensions relating to self in time, self in relation to others, HIV as a disruptive event, and spiritual beliefs and morality were found to be operating in their narratives. In addition, a fifth dimension, looking at how research practices themselves are 'situated' and construct 'subjects' in particular ways was considered and this called on 'the researcher' to deconstruct the subject positions of his (in this case) own discursive positioning.