Working with Ambivalence: Finding a Positive Identity for HIV/AIDS in South Africa.

Working Paper


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title

Centre for Social Science Research

Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

Psychoanalytic theory draws attention to the way in which a positive identity can be asserted as a defence against underlying anxieties. Focusing specifically on the South African context, this paper highlights the way in which people attempt to forge a positive self-concept in the face of a stigmatised and self threatening HIV identity. In-depth interviews were conducted with twelve women living with HIV in a black South African township. Discursive and psychoanalytic understandings were used to explore the emotional experience of HIV/AIDS and its impact on both the participants of the study and ourselves as researchers. We elucidate the process by which our interviewees vacillated between conflicting notions of health and sickness; empowerment and disempowerment; strength and weakness; purity and contagion; and death and continuity. We argue that a more resilient self can be formed through recognition of both the positive and negative implications of an HIV diagnosis. We also maintain that it is necessary to move beyond the individualizing tendencies of mainstream psychology to recognise the social context and discursive practices which exacerbate stigma and influence the experience of those living with HIV/AIDS.