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Keywords:

  • social movements;
  • AIDS;
  • citizenship;
  • ritual

In this article, I investigate how the moral politics of HIV/AIDS activism in South Africa is contributing toward new forms of citizenship that are concerned with both rights-based struggles and with creating collectively shared meanings of the extreme experiences of illness and stigmatization of individual HIV/AIDS sufferers. I argue that it is precisely the extremity of the “near death” experiences of full-blown AIDS, and the profound stigma and “social death” associated with the later stages of the disease, that produce the conditions for HIV/AIDS survivors' commitment to “new life” and social activism. It is the activist mediation and retelling of these traumatic experiences that facilitates HIV/AIDS activist commitment and grassroots mobilization. It is also the profound negativity of stigma and social death that animates the activist's construction of a new positive HIV-positive identity and understanding of what it means to be a citizen–activist and member of a social movement.