Navigating the AIDS Epidemic in Rural Malawi


  • Susan Cotts Watkins

    1. Susan Cotts Watkins is Professor, Department of Sociology, and Associate, Population Studies Center, University of Pennsylvania.
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This article provides a perspective on rural Malawi during the unsettled times following the recognition by village residents that AIDS is a profound danger. The primary data are observational field journals in which local ethnographers wrote their recollections of conversations about AIDS that they overheard or participated in during the course of their daily lives. In their networks of friends, relatives, and neighbors, rural Malawians are publicly discussing a range of strategies of prevention. These strategies range from the abstinence, fidelity, and consistent condom use prescribed by international and national experts to innovative strategies of partner selection, divorce, and renewed religious commitment. The article also considers the effectiveness of these strategies and speculates about the applicability of the findings to other populations.