University of Sussex
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Embodied precarity: the biopolitics of AIDS biomedicine in South Africa

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posted on 2023-06-08, 17:32 authored by Elizabeth MillsElizabeth Mills
This thesis centres on the lives of women who live in Khayelitsha and who receive AIDS biomedicines through South Africa’s public health system. It is tiered across five ethnographic chapters to elucidate a single overarching argument: biopolitical precarity is networked into the permeable body. This argument is based on ethnographic research and seeks to challenge the discursive construction of distance that divorces women’s lives and bodies from the governance of AIDS biomedicines as life-­giving technologies. The multi-­sited ethnography underpinning this thesis was configured to follow the networked threads that weave women’s embodied precarity into the governance of technologies and the technologies of governance. To this end, fieldwork was conducted in South Africa from October 2010 – July 2011 in order to understand the embodied and political dimensions of access to AIDS biomedicine. Thereafter, fieldwork was conducted in Brazil from August 2011 – September 2011 to explore the networked connections spanning activist organisations, government coalitions and economic blocs to move out from the intimate spaces of women’s lives and bodies to locate them in the regional and global spaces of biomedical developments and health policy dynamics. This thesis argues that although it is crucial to anchor technologies in people’s lives, it is also analytically and politically necessary to link people’s lives - and the technologies that sustain them - back into the global assemblage that is networked around the governance of medicine. Therefore, I locate biomedical technologies in social and political contexts of lives of the people with whom I worked in Khayelitsha, and I argue further that their lives also need to be understood as part of a complex network of actors (spanning international organisations, regional coalitions and national governments) and actants (HIV and ARVs) that assemble in dynamic configurations and that are woven into and through the body.


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