Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 179–194 | Cite as

Local Biologies and HIV/AIDS in Highlands Papua, Indonesia

  • Leslie ButtEmail author
Original Paper


The province of Papua, Indonesia has one of the fastest growing rates of HIV infection in Asia. Within volatile political conditions, HIV has reached generalized epidemic status for indigenous Papuans. This article explores the merits of using the concept of local biologies as an analytic tool to assess the range of factors which affect a local pattern of untreated HIV and rapid onset of AIDS. A research team conducted 32 in-depth interviews with HIV-positive indigenous persons and 15 interviews with health care workers in urban and peri-urban sites in the central highlands region. The results show fear of gossip and stigmatization, regional political conditions and gaps in care interweave to create local biological conditions of evasion of care and rapid onset of AIDS. The normative emphasis in contemporary scholarship on stigma as shaping subjective responses to HIV needs to be complemented by a full assessment of the physiological impact of health services, and the ways political conditions trickle down and mediate local biological patterns. The concept of local biologies is highly effective for explaining the full scope of possible factors affecting the intersection of social and physical realms for HIV-positive persons.


Local biologies HIV/AIDS Health care Discrimination Subjectivities 



The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada provided funding for the research discussed in this article, and Cenderawasih University provided research support. The University of Victoria’s Ethics Committee approved the study. I thank Galen Joseph and the University of California San Francisco for inviting me to present an earlier version of this article, and Vincanne Adams for her insightful comments. Researchers Jack Morin, Gerdha Numbery, Ibrahim Peyon and Andreas Goo helped to bring this project to fruition.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Pacific and Asian StudiesUniversity of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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