Conversations Across Borders: A Workshop in Transnational Studies


Monday, April 17, 2017, 4:00pm to 6:00pm


William James Hall, 33 Kirkland Street, Room 1550

“Theorizing Transnationality in AIDS Programs and Activism”


Gowri Vijayakumar, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Brandeis University. 


John Arroyo


Peggy Levitt, Associate. Chair; Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Wellesley College.

Jocelyn Viterna, Faculty Associate. Associate Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Harvard University.


This paper focuses on the travel and translation of program and policy approaches to HIV/AIDS— approaches that emphasize disease prevention among groups most at risk, particularly female sex workers and men who have sex with men—from India to Kenya. Sociologists studying transnational circulation have often relied on the concept of “diffusion,” both in studying how states adopt norms diffused through global institutions and in studying the diffusion of social movement tactics. In both of these strands of the literature, diffusion is a horizontal process among actors of similar symbolic and economic status. Building on this literature, I use the insights of ethnographic research to examine the meanings development experts associate with the process of diffusion. I argue that, in the case of HIV/AIDS programs in India and Kenya, these meanings cannot be understood outside the context of the colonial and postcolonial histories of the relationship between the two. Specifically, I show that the symbolic hierarchies of British colonization, which positioned India as more “advanced” in relation to less “mature” African countries that must follow in India’s footsteps—shaped the racialized and gendered understandings through which public health experts approached “South-South partnerships” in HIV/AIDS programs. Using ethnographic data in India and Kenya, I examine how both Kenyan and Indian experts evoked racialized and gendered hierarchies between India and Kenya in explaining the difficulties of “South-South partnership.” By placing this process in a postcolonial context, I show how the “diffusion” of Indian programs to Kenya was not simply a horizontal, but also a vertical process (Burton 2016). Indian experts positioned India in a global hierarchy with colonial roots, as a country to be emulated by Africans, but still subject to North American expertise.