The Unseen Things

The Unseen Things

Women, Secrecy, and HIV in Northern Nigeria
Kathryn A. Rhine
Distribution: Global
Publication date: 04/04/2016
Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-0-253-02143-4
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What do HIV-positive women in Nigeria face as they seek meaningful lives with a deeply discrediting disease? Kathryn A. Rhine uncovers the skillful ways women defuse concerns about their wellbeing and the ability to maintain their households. Rhine shows how this ethic of concealment involves masking their diagnosis, unfaithful husbands, and unsupportive families while displaying their beauty, generosity, and vitality. As Rhine observes, collusion with counselors and support group leaders to deflect stigma, secure respectability, and find love features prominently in the lives of ordinary women who hope for a brighter future as the HIV epidemic continues to expand.

Author Bio

Kathryn A. Rhine is a medical anthropologist and associate professor at the University of Kansas. She is editor (with John M. Janzen, Glenn Adams and Heather Aldersey) of Medical Anthropology in Global Africa and her work has appeared in Anthropological Quarterly, Africa Today, and Ethnos.


“The Unseen Things is a collection of poignant narratives documenting how HIV positive women in northern Nigeria maintain hope and assert agency while living with a highly stigmatized disease. This is an ethnographic masterpiece, detailing how women embody normalcy, particularly as they seek marriage partners in the aftermath of their diagnosis. The book is especially innovative in its rich detail about desire, pleasure and love, and the strategies men and women use to reconstitute relationships after testing positive for HIV. Among the provocative themes embedded in women’s accounts is the currency of secrets in the moral economy of gender and kin relations. Rhine identifies the creative ways women attempt to carry out social goals using silence, lies, and indirect speech. The voices of these women speak to the centrality of hope in their pursuit of health, love, marriage, children, and prosperity, often against barriers of structural inequality.”
 — Carolyn Sargent , Washington University in St. Louis

“Rhine's exceptionally clear writing and sensitivity to her interlocutors' views of themselves, their own actions, and their world lend themselves to a text that can readily serve as a gateway for the discipline. Readers more familiar with Rhine's objects of study, on the other hand, will find she provides a more nuanced and sustained engagement with the key elements of her argument and relevant anthropological literature in the notes.”
 — American Anthropologist

The Unseen Things offers a host of fascinating and touching insights into the intimate lives of women living with HIV in Northern Nigeria. Rhine uses women’s own words to convey their yearning for mutually supportive relationships, children and respectability. Her graceful theoretical interventions are nuanced without overpowering the ethnographic material. Because of its accessible style, this affordable text should be of interest not only to anthropologists and historians of medicine, but also to health practitioners and students.”
 — Africa

The Unseen Things is a carefully researched and beautifully presented account of personal experiences which are oft en hidden. As such, beyond a general anthropology readership, it is a helpful resource for HIV and other professionals working in the Nigerian or West African context.”
 — Anthropology in Action

“This book is highly recommended to help understand the cultural, economic, social, and religious factors that interfere with the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS globally.”
 — Choice

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Table of Contents

Introduction: Things Unseen
1. First Loves
2. Twice Married
3. Dilemmas of Disclosure
4. Intimate Ethics
5. Hope
Conclusion: Evidence and Substance

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