South African perceptions of risk and the social representations of HIV/AIDS.

Howard, Lynlee
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The mass media persistently thrusts the awareness of risk of HIV/AIDS into our lives. The question is: how do people respond to this increased awareness and how do people cope with living in what has been termed ‘the risk society’? This can only be investigated within a given social and cultural context, in order to examine how individuals make sense of a perceived imminent crisis. This research has highlighted the prominent phenomenon of a widespread sense of personal invulnerability when faced with risk: the ‘not me’ dynamic in response to the negative Social Representations that surround this disease. Social representations Theory is a useful psychological framework as it approaches the study of perceptions of HIV risk by highlighting the emotional factors which are key to the human responses of risk while at the same time concentrating on the role of cognitive processing in the development of representations of social phenomena. The results from the HIV Knowledge, Perceptions & Practices questionnaire survey in this cross-sectional study with 200 Johannesburg university students indicate that while the large majority of the participants know a great deal about HIV, this knowledge is highly impacted upon by the Social Representations that exist around this virus. It is believed that the Social Representations surrounding HIV (death, pollution, the evil perpetrator etc.) can act as a barrier between intellectual knowledge of HIV and the related behaviour to reduce the risk of infection by distorting one’s perception of susceptibility of infection through the process of ‘othering’.
Student Number : 0106135V - MA research report - School of Human and Communitiy Development - Faculty of Humanities
HIV/AIDS (Human Immunodeficiency Virus/Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome), Social Representations, Social Representations Theory, HIV Knowledge, Perceptions & Practices