“The Story of My Life”: AIDS and ‘Autobiographical Occasions’
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Talk and ‘telling’ have assumed prominent roles in preventing HIV and promoting life with the disease at the start of the twenty-first century. Our concern in this paper is to show how social structures and circumstances shape the narrative productions of HIV positive patients whose lives are institutionally managed. We consider what ‘telling’ means when young women with few economic resources are encouraged or mandated to talk about themselves by case managers, researchers, therapists, welfare workers, and clinic staff. We organize our analysis around three such ‘autobiographical occasions’: disclosures to intimate partners prompted by agents of the state; employment opportunities in which women are hired to tell others about living with HIV as peer educators or outreach health workers; and research interviews. We argue that storylines about living with HIV have been laid down by powerful social actors whose illness experiences do not reflect those of many poor patients. These formulations constitute an ‘archive’ which organizes institutional practices and discourses. These matter not only because they provide patients with a language through which to render their actions meaningful, but because they shape the everyday experience of HIV outside the clinic, the welfare office, and the therapy session.