Living in a Rural Community and Researching HIV and AIDS: Positionality and Ethics

  • Jacqueline AkhurstEmail author
  • Mary van der Riet
  • Dumisa Sofika


The emotional impact of researching sensitive topics is under-reported. This chapter explores researcher positionality in a study of people’s management of risk in sexual activity where there is a high prevalence of HIV infection. Living in a rural community raised insider/outsider issues as the researchers participated in broader social life, adding relational and emotional dimensions to the process. Exploring the sensitive topic of HIV and AIDS in a resource-constrained context led to blurred boundaries as researchers also became confidante, counsellor or development worker. They were challenged by the emotional intensity of the research and related responsibilities, illustrating the need for enhanced ethical awareness that could not be pre-determined and highlighting the need for ongoing risk assessment for both participants and researchers.


Resource-constrained Contexts communityCommunity Members Ethics Committeesethics Committee harmHarm Good Health Behaviors 
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We appreciate the commitment of the community members, without whom this work would not have been possible. We are grateful for the support of funding by the National Research Foundation (NRF)-Thuthuka mechanism which enabled many of the costs of this research to be covered.


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacqueline Akhurst
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mary van der Riet
    • 2
  • Dumisa Sofika
    • 2
  1. 1.Rhodes UniversityGrahamstownSouth Africa
  2. 2.University of KwaZulu-NatalPietermaritzburgSouth Africa

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