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Waging war: discourses of HIV/AIDS in South African media

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This paper explores a discourse of war against HIV/AIDS evident in the Daily Dispatch, a South African daily newspaper, from 1985 to 2000, and discusses the implications of this in terms of the way in which HIV/AIDS is constructed. The discursive framework of the war depends, fundamentally, on the personification of HIV/AIDS, in which agency is accorded to the virus, and which allows for its construction as the enemy. The war discourse positions different groups of subjects (the diseased body, the commanders, the experts, the ordinary citizens) in relations of power. The diseased body, which is the point of transmission, the polluter or infector, is cast as the 'Other', as a dark and threatening force. This takes on racialised overtones. The government takes on the role of commander, directing the war through policy and intervention strategies. Opposition to government is couched in a struggle discourse that dove-tails with the overall framework of war. Medical and scientific understandings pre-dominate in the investigative practices and expert commentary on the war, with alternative voices (such as those of people living with HIV/AIDS) being silenced. The ordinary citizen is incited to take on prevention and caring roles with a strong gendered overlay.

Keywords: HIV/AIDS; discourse analysis; media; war discourse

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Psychology, University of Fort Hare/Rhodes University, PO Box 7426, East London 5200, South Africa

Publication date: May 1, 2003

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