The stories we tell: Qualitative research interviews, talking technologies and the 'normalisation' of life with HIV

Fadhila Mazanderani, Sara Paparini

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Since the earliest days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, talking about the virus has been a key way affected communities have challenged the fear and discrimination directed against them and pressed for urgent medical and political attention. Today, HIV/AIDS is one of the most prolifically and intimately documented of all health conditions, with entrenched infrastructures, practices and technologies – what Vinh-Kim Nguyen has dubbed ‘confessional technologies’ – aimed at encouraging those affected to share their experiences. Among these technologies, we argue, is the semi-structured interview: the principal methodology used in qualitative social science research focused on patient experiences. Taking the performative nature of the research interview as a talking technology seriously has epistemological implications not merely for how we interpret interview data, but also for how we understand the role of research interviews in the enactment of ‘life with HIV’. This paper focuses on one crucial aspect of this enactment: the contemporary ‘normalisation’ of HIV as ‘just another’ chronic condition – a process taking place at the level of individual subjectivities, social identities, clinical practices and global health policy, and of which social science research is a vital part. Through an analysis of 76 interviews conducted in London (2009–10), we examine tensions in the experiential narratives of individuals living with HIV in which life with the virus is framed as ‘normal’, yet where this ‘normality’ is beset with contradictions and ambiguities. Rather than viewing these as a reflection of resistances to or failures of the enactment of HIV as ‘normal’, we argue that, insofar as these contradictions are generated by the research interview as a distinct ‘talking technology’, they emerge as crucial to the normative (re)production of what counts as ‘living with HIV’ (in the UK) and are an inherent part of the broader performative ‘normalisation’ of the virus.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)66–73
Number of pages11
JournalSocial Science & Medicine
Early online date25 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2015


  • United Kingdom
  • HIV
  • qualitative interviews
  • illness narratives
  • normalisation
  • confessional technologies

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