Making Sense of HIV in Southeastern Nigeria: Fictional Narratives, Cultural Meanings, and Methodologies in Medical Anthropology

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Abstract

Fictional narratives have rarely been used in medical anthropological research. This article illustrates the value of such narratives by examining how young people in southeastern Nigeria navigate the cultural resources available to them to make sense of HIV in their creative writing. Using thematic data analysis and narrative-based methodologies, it analyzes a sample (N = 120) from 1,849 narratives submitted by Nigerian youth to the 2005 Scenarios from Africa scriptwriting contest on the theme of HIV. The narratives are characterized by five salient themes: tragedy arising from the incompatibility of sex outside marriage and kinship obligations; female vulnerability and blame; peer pressure and moral ambivalence; conservative Christian sexual morality; and the social and family consequences of HIV. We consider the strengths and limitations of this narrative approach from a theoretical perspective and by juxtaposing our findings with those generated by Daniel Jordan Smith using standard ethnographic research methods with a similar Igbo youth population.