Incursions from the epicentre: Southern theory, social science, and the global HIV research domain

Afr J AIDS Res. 2018 Mar;17(1):22-31. doi: 10.2989/16085906.2017.1377267. Epub 2018 Feb 22.


Research about HIV constitutes a global domain of academic knowledge. The patterns that structure this domain reflect inequalities in the production and dissemination of knowledge, as well as broader inequalities in geopolitics. Conventional metrics for assessing the value and impact of academic research reveal that "Northern" research remains dominant, while "Southern" research remains peripheral. Southern theory provides a framework for greater critical engagement with knowledge produced by researchers within the global South. With a focus on HIV social science, we show that investigators working in and from Africa have produced and disseminated knowledge fundamental to the global domain of HIV research, and argue that their epistemological contribution may be understood within the framework of Southern theory. Through repurposing a bibliometrical measure of citation count, we constitute a new archive of highly cited social science research. With a focus on South Africa, we situate this archive within changing historical contexts, connecting research findings to developments in medicine, health sciences and politics. We focus on two key themes in the evolution of HIV knowledge: (1) the significance of context and locality - the "setting" of HIV research; and (2) sex, race and risk - changing ideas about the social determinants of HIV transmission.

Keywords: South Africa; Southern theory; global HIV domain; knowledge production; social science.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • HIV Infections / epidemiology*
  • HIV Infections / transmission
  • Humans
  • Knowledge*
  • Male
  • Population Groups
  • Research* / organization & administration
  • Research* / statistics & numerical data
  • Risk
  • Social Sciences*
  • South Africa
  • Workforce