Malicious Whites, Greedy Women, and Virtuous Volunteers

Negotiating Social Relations through Clinical Trial Narratives in South Africa



As clinical trial research increasingly permeates sub-Saharan Africa, tales of purposeful HIV infection, blood theft, and other harmful outcomes are widely reported by participants and community members. Examining responses to the Microbicide Development Programme 301—a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled microbicide trial—we investigate the ways in which these accounts embed medical research within postcolonial contexts. We explore three popular narratives circulating around the Johannesburg trial site: malicious whites killing participants and selling their blood, greedy women enrolling in the trial solely for financial gain, and virtuous volunteers attempting to ensure their health and aid others through trial participation. We argue that trial participants and community members transform medical research into a meaningful tool that alternately affirms, debates, and challenges contemporary social relations.