Not the Whole Story : The Impact of the Church, Traditional Religion and Society on the Individual and Collective Perceptions of HIV in Swaziland

University dissertation from Lund University

Abstract: The thesis is an attempt to contribute to a critical discussion around the discourses that characterize HIV in southern Africa in general, and in Swaziland in particular. The aim of the study is to explore and visualize the experiences of HIV-positive Swazi Christians in church and society, as well as an attempt to explain these experiences with the contributions of key informants and the Swazi tradition. The study is based upon focus group interviews with twelve women and eight men. The study focuses the everyday experiences of HIV-positive Christian Swazis in church and society, and the fifteen key informant interviews are important resources in explaining and elaborating the context within which these experiences have been formed. The sociological question of the study is: How do HIV-positive Swazi Christians perceive their situation in church and society? A problem, which is analyzed by way of Bourdieu’s theory on symbolic power, and the act of operation, is realized through the symbolic principles HIV-related stigmatization and male dominance, as well as silence and denial strategies. My analysis discusses the struggle within the HIV-field between two discourses: the biomedical discourse and the socio-religious discourse. I discuss how HIV seems to represent, or even constitute, the crisis that has broken doxa, how the struggle in the HIV-field is about definitions of HIV, and also how the distribution of the HIV-field’s legitimate resources into symbolic and economic capital is of decisive significance to the field. The struggle is between a bio-medical discourse, whose agents are mainly represented by INGO’s, and a socio-religious discourse, whose agents are composed of local cultural, political and religious representatives. HIV as a crisis raises questions about male dominance, something that I have discussed. Through the empirical material, I have indicated the importance of the exchange of symbolic capital as a basis for social order, and how the exchange, as well as the illusion of the naturalness of the male dominance’s and the common action are present within both discourses and produce euphemisms of symbolic dominance and inequality in relation to male dominance. The empirical material is composed of joint descriptions of experiences concerning cultural principles and the Bible as authorities in order to legitimate male dominance, together with experiences concerning the reproduction of male dominance within the practices of institutions. I analyze how the somatization of the gendered power relations and the ideology about sexuality and gender, serve the dominating group of adult men and thereby render the control of women’s sexuality possible. Orthodoxy’s possession of symbolic capital constitutes a condition for dominance, forms the basis of the ideology that legitimates separation categories, and also provides a capital of trust, which gives the legitimacy to speak. The collective expectations and the habitus of individuals result in a situation where no one chooses to disclose due to the risk of being separated from the collective. The ideology and the intentional action demand silence from the collective and a mis-recognition in order to take away men’s responsibility for HIV. The empirical material shows that the publicly communicated ecclesiological truth about HIV is a euphemism by the churches that HIV-positive people are prostitute and promiscuous women who are not members of the congregation, and therefore HIV does not exist in the church. I have tried to demonstrate how recognition and acknowledgement can make HIV visible.

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