Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, University of Toronto

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Great Expectations: Humanitarianism and the Invention of AIDS Orphans in Botswana

With one in four adults infected with HIV and one in five children orphaned, it is no surprise that talk of “crisis” frames Botswana’s epidemic. As Tswana politicians and villagers alike lament what they see as failings of their culture amidst dramatic demographic changes, scholarship tends to replicate the disaster rhetoric without examining the terms of its production. This book probes beyond an uncritical notion of crisis to understand the actual effects of AIDS – and the aid industry it has generated – on everyday social life. Pushing past the emphasis on illness and treatment that dominates the social science literature on AIDS, Great Expectations foregrounds the most symbolically significant group in Botswana today – orphans – as a pivotal population through whom the wider changes related to AIDS can be understood.. By demonstrating precisely how foreign-funded orphan-care charities create new relations of inequality, affect kinship, and transform the emotional lives of orphans, this ethnography disentangles components of “crisis” and its consequences at multiple social levels. Drawing on 38 months of ethnography, I argue that the emotional and material economies circulating through aid organizations are not only revealing entry points into understanding social processes underpinning the “crisis,” but also have become mechanisms of social change themselves.