Situating the Present Study

Situating the Present Study

Situating the Present Study
Situating the Present Study

The present study contributes to ethnographic approaches to violence and, as in the above-mentioned body of work, conceptualizes violence as operating on a con- tinuum from the physical to the symbolic and structural. Like Farmer, it situates

Everyday Violence in the Time of AIDS 97

violence and AIDS in a materialist framework, particularly by linking it to the im- pacts of neoliberalism and widespread privatization policies in East Africa. It avoids the economic reductionism associated with the term structural violence by focusing on various forms of violence at the local level, particularly how they arise as the result of an interaction between political and economic processes and the lived ex- perience of individuals as they negotiate local contexts (e.g., household and familial relationships, life on the streets) and symbolic capital (e.g., gender, sexuality, social legitimacy, risk, the politics of space). Scheper-Hughes’s term everyday violence is used here because it more effectively frames this local complexity while remaining attentive to the political economy of severe poverty.

Because this study focuses on the case of a single child, it also draws from the literature on childhood and violence, particularly the importance that body of work attributes to a life history approach (Korbin 2003). While much of that work has tended to define childhood, violence, and the relationship between them in terms of individual pathologies, specific settings, and linear life stages, the fundamental focus on violence over the life course remains an important contribution. By moving beyond the ethnographic present, a life history approach can shed light on the links between the lived trajectories and chronologies of children (and those around them) and what James Quesada (1998) calls the “chronic” and “lingering” forms (and consequences) of violence. In this way, it frames the complex, shifting nature of the conjuncture between macrostructural processes and local manifestations of violence and suffering within which AIDS and its impact must be situated, including short- and long-term vulnerability to the disease. A life history approach can also be used to distinguish between those times or critical events when the subjugating force of violence is overwhelming and when opportunities for agency, action, or intervention are taken (or the potential for positive returns may be greatest). In this manner, we are challenged to broaden our mandate when it comes to the alleviation of the violence and suffering that are the root causes of AIDS, while being encouraged to target more accurately specific AIDS prevention and intervention efforts in the process.


This study is based primarily on data collected in Mwanza over a 13-month period between December 1997 and January 1999. Data were also collected during two month-long follow-up visits in 2003 and 2006.

During the initial 13-month stay, I lived and worked on Bugando Hill, one of Tanzania’s oldest shantytown neighborhoods that sits directly adjacent to Mwanza’s central district. Each week between Wednesday evening and Monday morning, I lived and slept directly on the streets of Mwanza in the company of the city’s street children. This population numbered more than 600 at the time, an estimated 95 percent of whom were boys (Lockhart 2002).1 I formed strong friendships with many of the children, one of whom is the focus of this study. I have named this individual Juma (a pseudonym).

I interviewed Juma numerous times, all of which were conducted in Kiswahili, audiotaped, and transcribed into English. I also accompanied Juma on the streets each week, where it was possible to document hundreds of hours of observation and

98 Medical Anthropology Quarterly

informal discussion. While the range of topics discussed were wide ranging, the most significant with respect to this study involved Juma’s recollection and knowledge of the following: (1) experience of life in a rural village, (2) circumstances surrounding the breakup of the rural household and the subsequent migration to Mwanza, (3) the attraction of and gradual introduction to Mwanza’s street scene, (4) survival strategies while on the street, (5) dangers and risks associated with life on the streets, and (6) sexual decision making and perceptions of AIDS.

Data collection also involved interviews and informal discussions with a number of key individuals. Included among these are: (1) people from Juma’s rural village (including extended kin); (2) members of his immediate family; (3) legal authori- ties, NGO workers, and social services personnel who interacted with Mwanza’s street children as part of their official duties; and (4) local businessmen, community members, and other, more informal groups who, for one reason or another, had an interest in street children.

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