An Epidemic of Uncertainty: Navigating HIV and Young Adulthood in Malawi (Paperback)

An Epidemic of Uncertainty: Navigating HIV and Young Adulthood in Malawi By Jenny Trinitapoli Cover Image

An Epidemic of Uncertainty: Navigating HIV and Young Adulthood in Malawi (Paperback)


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A decade-long study of young adulthood in Malawi that demonstrates the impact of widespread HIV status uncertainty, laying bare the sociological implications of what is not known.

An Epidemic of Uncertainty advances a new framework for studying social life by emphasizing something social scientists routinely omit from their theories, models, and measures–what people know they don’t know. Taking Malawi’s ongoing AIDS epidemic as an entry point, Jenny Trinitapoli shows that despite admirable declines in new HIV infections and AIDS-related mortality, an epidemic of uncertainty persists; at any given point in time, fully half of Malawian young adults don’t know their HIV status. Reckoning with the impact of this uncertainty within the bustling trading town of Balaka, Trinitapoli argues that HIV-related uncertainty is measurable, pervasive, and impervious to biomedical solutions, with consequences that expand into multiple domains of life, including relationship stability, fertility, and health. Over the duration of a groundbreaking decade-long longitudinal study, rich survey data and poignant ethnographic vignettes vividly depict how individual lives and population patterns unfold against the backdrop of an ever-evolving epidemic. Even as HIV is transformed from a progressive, fatal disease to a chronic and manageable condition, the accompanying epidemic of uncertainty remains fundamental to understanding social life in this part of the world.

Insisting that known unknowns can and should be integrated into social-scientific models of human behavior, An Epidemic of Uncertainty treats uncertainty as an enduring aspect, a central feature, and a powerful force in everyday life.
Jenny Trinitapoli is associate professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. She is co-author of Religion and AIDS in Africa.
Product Details ISBN: 9780226825717
ISBN-10: 022682571X
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication Date: August 3rd, 2023
Pages: 272
"An Epidemic of Uncertainty is dense and thorough in its engagement with the TLT study, interspersed with detailed ethnographic vignettes that give stories, names, and weight to the vast data collected and examined."
— The Lancet

"The philosophy and history of mathematical probability and its applications have recently, and very evocatively, described it as ‘the taming of chance’. Trinitapoli reminds us that this is certainly not the case. The calculus of risk, however impressive its achievements, cannot dispel the uncertainty of life events as people actually experience them. In the course of her analysis, she builds a simple and powerful explanatory framework attentive not only to the findings of her own superb ethnography, but to other demographers’, anthropologists’, and sociologists’, contributions."
— Philip Kreager, Somerville College, Oxford University

"Trinitapoli, with her storytelling, has successfully opened a window for the reader to look into village life in Balaka district in Malawi, and she has at the same time, addressed demographic phenomena of fertility, migration, and mortality in a context of rapidly changing local HIV epidemic. The sensitive and accurate portrayal of village life and its chatter, interwoven with uncertainty in decision-making over partnerships, parenthood, and divorce has given me a fresh perspective on how I will read HIV and demographic statistics in the future."
— Nyovani Madise, Director of Research and Sustainable Development Policies and Head of the Malawi office of the African Institute for Development Policy

"An Epidemic of Uncertainty is a multicourse gourmet meal for demographers. It is a book to settle into, chew on, and ruminate over with good friends. Empirically dense, theoretically rich, and analytically smart, the book moves the reader effortlessly between sophisticated quantitative analyses and everyday village and town life in and around Balaka, Malawi. And it brings demography, in all its interdisciplinary and conceptual splendor, to bear on the new subfield, Jenny Trinitapoli, the book's author, wants to usher in: Uncertainty Demography."
— Sanyu A. Mojola