Exceptional Suffering? Enumeration and Vernacular Accounting in the HIV-Positive Experience

Adia Benton*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Drawing on 17 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Freetown, Sierra Leone, I highlight the recursive relationship between Sierra Leone as an exemplary setting and HIV as an exceptional disease. Through this relationship, I examine how HIV-positive individuals rely on both enumerative knowledge (seroprevalence rates) and vernacular accounting (NGO narratives of vulnerability) to communicate the uniqueness of their experience as HIV sufferers and to demarcate the boundaries of their status. Various observers' enumerative and vernacular accounts of Sierra Leone's decade-long civil conflict, coupled with global health accounts of HIV as exceptional, reveal the calculus of power through which global health projects operate. The contradictions between the exemplary and the exceptional-and the accompanying tension between quantitative and qualitative facts-are mutually constituted in performances and claims made by HIV-positive individuals themselves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)310-328
Number of pages19
JournalMedical Anthropology: Cross Cultural Studies in Health and Illness
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • HIV exceptionalism
  • Sierra Leone
  • identity
  • statistics
  • suffering

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Anthropology


Dive into the research topics of 'Exceptional Suffering? Enumeration and Vernacular Accounting in the HIV-Positive Experience'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this