Telling families, telling AIDS: Narratives of crisis in Botswana

Koreen M. Reece*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines how families tell crisis, how non-governmental organisations tell it, and what a comparison offers for ethnographers of crisis. In Botswana’s time of AIDS, families tell the stories of those they’ve lost in collaborative, fragmented, and mediated ways. Where words have risky intersubjective effects–especially among kin–family stories both produce and contain their danger, thereby generating selves and relationships. Tales told by orphan care NGOs draw on different language ideologies, to different ends: they focus on the crisis of AIDS, its causes and effects, to generate solutions and legitimacy–potentially disrupting family tellings. I argue that ethnographies of crisis deploy a similar, EuroAmerican, narrative logic: they focus on crisis in order to generate change. But this approach may obscure the lived experience of crisis, and foreclose creative response. I propose specific ways that anthropologists might experiment with ‘non-crisis narrations’ [Roitman, Janet. 2013. Anti-Crisis. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.] instead, taking family tales as inspiration.
Original languageEnglish
Early online date12 Aug 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 12 Aug 2021


  • Botswana
  • crisis
  • HIV and AIDS
  • kinship
  • stories


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