‘We Are Mothers First’: Localocentric Articulation of Sex Worker Identity as a Key in HIV/AIDS Communication

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sex work, HIV/AIDS, health, communication, culture, mothers

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The connection between identity and health communication has been amply documented in communication research. How an individual frames oneself with respect to and in conjunction with one's interpersonal relationships and material and communicative structures shapes one's identity. This in turn shapes how one enacts the self, given the relationships and available contexts one is embedded in, all of which have a significant influence on how one communicates about and negotiates health and illness. This study reports the results of an ethnographic field study conducted during two periods—June and August 2007 and July and August 2009, which examined, chiefly through interviews of 46 participants, how members of a community of sex workers in Kalighat, in the city of Kolkata in India, communicatively constructed their selves with respect to their prevalent cultural indices and available structures, and how enunciations and enactments of sex worker selves as “mothers first” influenced localized patterns of HIV/AIDS communication and related work practices. Sex worker narratives suggested that mainstream assumptions and identity labels that depict sex workers as incapable mothers and the concurrent HIV/AIDS practices sex workers are asked to adopt need to be questioned and transformed to effect positive changes in health and HIV/AIDS negotiation practices among members of this marginalized community.

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Women & Health, v. 51, issue 2, p. 106-123