19 September 2008

I have just received enough copies of my new book to feel confident that it is truly 'out there', in the world. I had a couple of 'advance copies' weeks ago, and finally received a box of the 10 that the press had promised. What a lovely day. It was just in time to sell them all to my HIV/AIDS in Context class. I teach the course with sociology and history, and the next couple of weeks are mine to teach. Naturally, I will use the book as the primary text.

The book details and information are all below.

Robert J. Thornton.

Unimagined Community: Sex, Networks, and AIDS in Uganda and South Africa

California Series in Public Anthropology, 20

$60.00, £35.00; ISBN 978-0-520-25552-4


$24.95, £14.95; ISBN 978-0-520-25553-1

304 pages, 6 x 9 inches, 7 b/w photographs, 13 line illustrations.

September 2008, Available worldwide

Categories: Anthropology; Cultural Anthropology; MedicalAnthropology

Unimagined Community examines the social-structural and cultural contexts and forces that shape the radical differences between prevalence trends in Uganda and South
Africa from the late 1970s to the present. This book is not,
however, about statistics, demography or epidemiology of HIV trends
or AIDS, or about the social, cultural and economic consequences
of HIV and AIDS.

Instead, it shifts our focus away from the personal/ individual aspects of sexual behaviour and risk to the large scale social-structural issues. In line with this shift in scale of analysis, the principle theoretical innovation is to demonstrate that ‘sexual networks’ can be understood as social structures, albeit ‘invisible’ or‘unimagined’ ones. These, in turn, are part of the social contexts in which they form and are partly determined by them.

Kinship, family property and inheritance regimes, population mobility, local-level and ‘traditional’ authority, national-level political structures, and systems of traditional healing are all examined and brought into relation with one another in order to explain the specific differences in the configuration or topology of sexual networks.

This approach explains, for instance, specific apparent anomalies such as the fact that South Africa has the lowest (and falling) total fertility rate (TFR) in Africa but rapidly rising rates of HIV. Uganda, on the other hand, has the one of the highest TFR in Africa that is very stable whileHIV has both risen and fallen dramatically over the same period.

This study shows that large-scale social facts such as these can only be explained at the social level, not at the individual level of sexual ‘behaviour’ and ‘risk.’

Radically different political responses to AIDS emerged in Uganda and South Africa. The book argues that in Uganda HIV-caused illnesses were already part ofindigenous knowledge or ‘native medical categories’ bythe time the virus was identified by science, and this fostered amore rational national response. In South Africa, on the other hand,indigenous medical categories did not encompass this disease. Forthis and other reasons the American scientists Duesberg andRasnik—the so-called ‘AIDS denialists’—had asympathetic audience in South Africa. The book demonstrates how andwhen South African ‘denialism’ arose and why it capturedcentral ideological ground in the AIDS struggle.

The author also examines the differing impacts of land-tenure systems, inheritance patterns, and traditional authority structures on patterns of sexual networks. South African and Ugandan indigenous healing epistemologies are compared, especially with respect to differing
concepts of gendered bodies and the flows of 'sexual substance' between them. This deep yet comparative anthropological investigation is focused on explaining how differences between
large-scale patterns of sexual networks can advance our knowledge of the large differences that exist between HIV prevalence and trends in different regions.

It goes well beyond merely pointing to the significance of sexual networks, for instance,as in Helen Epstein’s recent book ‘The Invisible Cure’. It develops a sophisticated anthropological approach to the epidemiology of diseases that are spread by and through social networks rather than, as is most other cases, across populations through random distribution of pathogens.

The book is written in a way that will be widely accessible. (The mathematics, for instance,
is isolated in sidebars and text boxes. It is not necessary to understand the mathematics of networks to understand the argument, but the mathematical analysis is innovative and compelling.)

'Blurbs' on the back cover rate the book highly.

"Like Durkheim in Suicide, Robert Thornton's audacious ambition is to reveal the collective causes of intimate personal behavior; and he takes as the critical zone for his investigation thehidden network linking sexual partners to society at large. Unimagined Community succeeds as a compellingly original study of AIDS and as a work of deep anthropology. This book is a tour de force, reflected in the consistently high quality of the writing which never flags."—Keith Hart, author of Money in

Thornton cuts an original and creative path through
the massive AIDS literature assembled since the 1980s. Based on his
view that sex is to be seen as a social relationship, not a behavior,
he uses this as a building block in his analysis of the different
configurations of sexual networks in Uganda and South Africa.
Thornton departs from current purely epidemiological, demographic,
sociological, and behavioral approaches, and also goes beyond the
analysis and proposals for intervention to be found in most medical,
public health, and policy studies. It is a study grand in conception
and scale."—
Shirley Lindenbaum, coauthor of The Time

University of California Press's Description

This groundbreaking work, with its unique anthropological approach,
sheds new light on a central conundrum surrounding AIDS in Africa.
Robert J. Thornton explores why HIV prevalence fell during the 1990s
in Uganda despite that country's having one of Africa's highest
fertility rates, while during the same period HIV prevalence rose in
South Africa, the country with Africa's lowest fertility rate.
Thornton finds that culturally and socially determined differences in
the structure of sexual networks—rather than changes in
individual behavior—were responsible for these radical
differences in HIV prevalence. Incorporating such factors as
property, mobility, social status, and political authority into our
understanding of AIDS transmission, Thornton's analysis also suggests
new avenues for fighting the disease worldwide.

book can be ordered from the Univ. of California Press’s
website at http://www.ucpress.edu/books/pages/11116.php#bio
or from other booksellers.

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