Under the supervision of Dr. Carolyn Sargent, anthropology graduate student Peggy Varghese will examine the intersection of HIV/AIDS stigma with other, historically pervasive forms of stigma in India. Throughout the world, foundational systems of hierarchy such as caste, class, race, and gender, all carry elements of stigma. Currently, studies of the cultural framing and understanding of HIV/AIDS stigma are concentrated in Africa. The epicenter of the disease is quickly shifting to the Asia Pacific region. Therefore, it is now necessary to study the social and cultural dynamics of the epidemic in this region, as well.
The researcher will use a variety of social science research methods. She will interview 200 medical professionals, religious leaders, family members of patients, patients , and a control group. She will select a sub-sample for more intensive interviews, including psychosocial scales and cognitive tests. Her goals is to produce an in-depth account of the origins and specific forms that stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS exhibits in this region.
The research will contribute to theoretical understanding how disease is mediated by cultural and social context. Because stigma deters testing and treatment, development of effective strategies to understand and counteract stigma must be at the heart of efforts to contain the epidemic. These strategies, will inevitably fail without a thorough understanding of the social and symbolic bases of HIV stigma in the particular local environment. The research also will contribute significantly to the education of a social scientist.