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American Ethnologist

How to do things to children with words: Language, ritual, and apocalypse in pediatric HIV treatment in Botswana

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ABSTRACT

Concerned that children understood the word AIDS to portend their imminent deaths, U.S. pediatricians in Botswana used ritual speech to reveal HIV-positive children's diagnoses to them in an effort to ensure these children took their medications. They relied on euphemisms such as soldier and bad guy, gradually and methodically replacing them with biomedically derived terms. While the ritual was predicated on transparency and accuracy, pediatricians’ conviction that the word AIDS impaired children's ability to manage their infections led them to silence representations of the epidemic as anything other than a manageable condition in order to create a stable object of biomedical intervention.

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