A Fraught Embrace: The Romance and Reality of AIDS Altruism in Africa


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Dec 4, 2018
6.12 x 9.25 in.
17 b/w illus., 2 tables
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In the wake of the AIDS pandemic, legions of organizations and compassionate individuals from faraway places descended on Africa to offer help and save lives. Ann Swidler and Susan Cotts Watkins vividly describe the often mismatched expectations and fantasies of altruists who dream of transforming lives, of the villagers who desperately seek help, and of the brokers on whom both Western altruists and impoverished villagers must rely. Based on years of fieldwork in the heavily AIDS-affected country of Malawi, this incisive, irreverent book digs into the sprawling AIDS enterprise and unravels the paradoxes of policy and practice. All who want to do good—from idealistic volunteers to world-weary development professionals—depend on brokers as guides, fixers, and cultural translators. The mutual misunderstandings among these players create all the drama of a romance: longing, exhilaration, disappointment, heartache, and sometimes an enduring connection. A Fraught Embrace unveils the tangled relations of those involved in the collective struggle to contain an epidemic.

Awards and Recognition

  • One of Foreign Affairs Best of Books 2017 – Africa / Malawi
  • Winner of the 2018 Best Scholarly Book Award, Global and Transnational Section of the American Sociological Association
  • Honorable Mention for the 2018 Outstanding Published Book Award, Altruism, Morality and Social Solidarity Section of the American Sociological Association
  • Finalist for the 2018 Melville J. Herskovits Prize, African Studies Association