Noemi Steuer: „ La bouche des autres“ – Social recognition and HIV in urban Mali

PhD-thesis, Institute of Social Anthropology, 2011

This dissertation project grew out of a long-term fieldwork focusing on the experiences of the first generation with free access to antiretroviral therapies. Working with the analytical concepts of “vulnerability” and “resilience” it contributes to a deeper understanding of the complex interplays between HIV, agency and social honor.


With the new therapy the physical aspects of HIV/AIDS are losing visibility. Patients are no longer confronted with an agonizing death, but instead they live with a carefully guarded secret. Any rumor related to the disease can have damaging implications for their symbolic capital, can cause loss of honor and lead to social isolation.

Specific Objectives /Research Questions

My main interest was to take a closer look at the social effects of this medical intervention – how does the new landscape of risk people are confronted with in their everyday life look like? Although it would be the best to keep the secret fro oneself, the choices to disclose or to hide are not free of constrains. They are social processes framed by medical advices, legal regulations and organizational reasons, but also by social and moral standards. How do people navigate these critical situations without damaging their social recognition?


This research project is based on an inductive approach with a strong emphasis on Grounded Theory. Information was gained in repeated talks with the same persons, in systematic observations and in focus group discussions. Over the course of six research stays I could continually accompany and engage with 27 persons (17f/10m).


By far most activities are oriented towards the preservation of one’s good name (tògò nyuman), a local concept of honor. As a good lent by the society it is deeply linked with questions of belonging, social identity and trustworthiness. Three relevant dimensions of action related to social health and recognition could be identified: economic, communicative and performative.


Noemi Steuer: Krankheit und Ehre. Über HIV und soziale Anerkennung in Mali. Transcript Verlag. Bielefeld 2012.


Supervisors: Prof. Dr. Brigit Obrist, Prof. Dr. Till Förster

Collaboration: Université des Lettres et des Sciences Humaines de Bamako, Point Sud (Bamako)

Funding: IAMANEH

Duration: 2003-2008

Download Poster: Social recognition and HIV in urban Mali (2012)

Keywords: HIV/AIDS, Resilience, Social Recognition, Secrecy