Popular moralities and institutional rationalities in Malawi's struggle against AIDS

Nicole Angotti, Margaret Frye, Amy Kaler, Michelle Poulin, Susan Cotts Watkins, Sara Yeatman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


The AIDS epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa is fertile ground for examining how moral evaluations evolve over time and across different settings. We compare the discourse on AIDS in Malawi as presented in the media with that of everyday conversations. Drawing on two sets of texts, newspaper articles and conversational journals, produced over a ten-year period from 1999 through 2008, we analyze their moral injunctions, or what individuals should or should not do in response to the AIDS epidemic. The predominant injunctions in the early years in both sources were premarital abstinence and marital fidelity. Following the introduction of HIV testing and treatment, however, the discourses diverged. Discourse in the media turned toward moral injunctions requiring individuals to interact with authoritative institutions; thus the conceptual center of gravity of the struggle against AIDS in the media shifted from collectivities of individuals to collectivities of institutions. Rural Malawians, however, received these moral injunctions with great skepticism and continued to advise each other to prevent death by controlling one's sexual appetites.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)447-473
Number of pages27
JournalPopulation and Development Review
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Demography
  • Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


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