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Mark Hunter wins prestigious social science award

Love in the Time of AIDS: Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa

Mark Hunter, professor of geography in the department of social science, was awarded the C. Wright Mills Award for his 2010 book Love in the Time of AIDS: Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa. The award is sponsored by the Society for the Study of Social Problems and is considered to be one of the most prestigious book awards in the social sciences. Hunter’s book was selected from a list of more than 90 nominees.

Hunter said that he wanted to examine love and intimacy in the context of South Africa’s high HIV rate and its history of racial and gender inequality.

South Africa’s high HIV rate is often attributed in part to the link between money and sex. But Hunter says that many relationships that outsiders see as prostitution are really intimate and loving ones, but that they are shaped by South Africa’s circumstances.

A history of racial discrimination and a poor economy have transformed families to the point where almost no young people get married. Instead they can form informal romantic attachments. Part of the relationship involves the man giving gifts to the woman – an economic necessity, since women tend to be even poorer than men.

Hunter argues that the gifts are not payment for sex, but instead are seen as an appropriate part of a romantic relationship. He uses love letters and personal observation to show that participants see the relationships as simultaneously material and emotional. To write the book, Hunter spent more than a year and a half living in an informal settlement in the town of Mandeni.

The book was published by the Indiana University Press and the University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.


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