Bodies Built for Care: From Indigenous Technologies in South Africa to Social Robotics Open Access

Meintjes, Ingrid (Spring 2019)

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This dissertation explores the imbrication of globalization, political economy, gender, race, and global HIV/AIDS interventions during South Africa’s democratic transition. The locus of my research is the highly feminized domain of unpaid, community-based HIV/AIDS care work in the informal settlements of South Africa. My research posits different questions about care though the interdisciplinary, transnational, and social justice perspectives of feminist and decolonial Science and Technology Studies (STS). ‘Asking different questions’ is a key methodology of feminist STS and appropriate for a scholar interested in re-visiting over a decade’s experience as a public health researcher and activist in South Africa’s grassroots AIDS movement. This dissertation demonstrates the co-constitution of South Africa’s transitional democracy and the world’s largest AIDS epidemic through global health interventions in order to argue that sites of care work emerge as a hinge between certain raced and gendered populations and biopolitical governance. By examining under-theorized indigenous practices of care, my project decenters how we think about the ‘care crisis’ as well as ‘ethics’ in relation to care. In turn, I operationalize this analysis to interrogate how colonial legacies inform the social construction – via building, designing, coding, and programming – of ‘care’ in robotic form to address the following social justice concerns: the environmental, political, and social impacts of mining coltan and vanadium for health and medical technologies (these are cited as major drivers of the ongoing conflict in the Congo); the tension between indigenous epistemologies and access to commodified health technologies in the global South; and, how local communities resist, reconfigure, or adapt technoscientific interventions to better suit their local needs. In sum, I show that care – that inevitable necessity of the human condition increasing exponentially during times of radical uncertainty, epidemic, civil unrest, mass migration, and climate change – evinces the paradoxically deadly valence of Western health interventions in developing countries while positing novel sites for transformative health interventions. 

Table of Contents

INTRODUCTION: AIDS is everything 1-31

1. Context-building: The Specificity of AIDS in South Africa 1

2. A care-ful journey 7

3. A Feminist/Decolonial Approach 14

4. South Africa’s History: Fertile Fault-lines 16

4.1 From Colonialism to Apartheid 19

4.2 The End of Apartheid and the Transition to Democracy 23

4.3 The Mandela Administration 23

4.4 The Mbeki Administration 26

4.5 The Zuma Administration 28

5. A Note on Methodology 32

6. Chapter Outline 36

CHAPTER 1: Everything needs care 38-64

1. Feminist Theories of Care 41

1.1 The Feminization of Care Work  42

1.2 ‘Slaves, servants and women’ 46

2. Critical Public Health 48

3. Political Economy & Neoliberalism 52

4. Social Reproduction Theory 54

5. Decolonial Feminist Science & Technology Studies 58

CHAPTER 2: Care Theory: A Decolonial Feminist STS response to Joan Tronto’s Democratic Theory of Care 65-106

1. The ‘Problem of Care’ 66

2. ‘A Problem for Democracy’ 67 

3. A Problemof Democracy 73

3.1 Neoliberal Political Economy & South Africa’s Democratic Transition 76

3.2 AIDS & South Africa’s Democratic Transition 80

3.3 A “fuzzy domain”: HIV/AIDS Care Work in South Africa 86

CHAPTER 3: Care Policy: ‘It’s like they don’t want us to care properly’ 107-133

1. Task-shifting 108

2. Debility, or, This Bridge Called My Back 119

CHAPTER 4: Care Technology: ‘Bodies Built for Care’ 134-164

1. Robots are here! 137

2. Thinking with Robots 146

3. Re-mining the Post-colony 153

4. But, Ain’t I a Cyborg? 158

CONCLUSION: In “the Teeth of the System” 165-178


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