November 7, 2010

Readings: Etiologies

As Randall Packard and Paul Epstein have written, “The medical research community expected the social scientist to adhere to the dominant behavioral model. Constructed in this way, the question immediately narrowed the range of sociological data relevant for the discussion. It became not: ‘What is the social context within which HIV transmission occurs in Africa’? but rather: ‘What are the patterns of behavior which are placing the Africans at risk of infection?’ While the first construction would have allowed for open-ended discussion of a wide range of social, political and economic conditions that might be affecting health levels in Africa, the latter formulation quickly narrowed discussion to an inquiry into the ‘customs of the natives.’” Not only is this approach to the problem ineffective, as many studies conducted since have shown, it is also unjust, because it leads to laying responsibility for their affliction on people with AIDS themselves, a classic reversal of the order of things that consists in “blaming the victim.”
- Didier Fassin from When Bodies Remember

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