Working Misunderstandings:Donors, Brokers and Villagers in Africa’s AIDS Industry

Why do development projects, and AIDS projects in particular, take the forms they do? In this essay we argue that it is because the conflicting interests and world views of the key actors involved—donors, brokers, and villagers—leave only a narrow range of themes and practices that can “work” on the ground.

By “work” we do not mean, in the AIDS case, that they help prevent HIV transmission; indeed, the non-medical approaches to HIV prevention are largely ineffectual. What needs to be explained is why such approaches are nonetheless repeated so consistently.

We show that these themes and practices work in the sense that they satisfy the varied agendas of the major actors sufficiently to sustain their day-to-day cooperation. Understanding these actors and their varying interests and world views is key to understanding why development projects rely on such a narrow repertoire of approaches, particularly the arcane and ubiquitous practice of training. HIV prevention projects are our case in point.


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Susan Cotts Watkins and Ann Swidler