News: Listen to the 2011 This American Life recording about the program as well read a short blurb on How Matters. This project also formerly appeared on the Invest In Knowledge website page describing the Malawian Journals Project.


The observational field journal project was motivated by the interest of the former Malawi Diffusion and Ideational Change Project (MDICP), now the Malawi Longitudinal Study of Families and Health (MLSFH) in the content of informal conversations in social networks. Each of the standard sources of data collected by the MDICP (i.e. household surveys and semi-structured interviews) either does not provide any information about the content of the conversations, or summarizes them as they are recollected later, often much later. We thus modified one of the standard tools of ethnographers, observational field journals. A small number of secondary school graduates who lived in or near one of the MDICP research sites were asked to recall and write down conversations about AIDS (and later on, religion), which they had heard or took part in during the course of their daily lives. The journal project began in 1999, and is still continuing. The journals provide a rare picture of rural Africans responding to the AIDS epidemic. Those who wish more details about the ethnographic journal project should read Introduction to the Journals, by Amy Kaler and Susan Watkins.

The journals are available for free download. Interested readers should refer to the Guidelines to the Journals for important remarks on confidentiality and editing. A glossary of terms frequently used in the journals is also available.

The journals were coded with NVivo, a qualitative analysis software. Interested readers should read Introduction to coding the journals with NVivo, by Peter Fleming.

Disclaimer: All names of people and places (other than public figures) have been changed to preserve the confidentiality of the conversations. Anonymization was made possible using the QualAnon Software.

2000: November 5 (conversations about AIDS-related sickness andcaregiving, 5pp.)
2001: June 4 (conversation about a relative sick with AIDS, 12pp.)
2002: October 25; November 1; November 8
2003: September 28; November 28
2005: July 13
2006: January 27; February 15; October 17: (includes discussion of fertilizer subsidy vouchers); November 20; December 5 (conversations about governance at the village headman level, Bakili Muluzi’s possible run for presidential office, politics and economic development, witchcraft, and antiretroviral therapy for the rich – not poor)
2007: July 30 (A woman attends her family’s church whenever she quarrels with her husband who attends a different church of a different denomination); August 3 (An elder woman in the community chastises a younger woman at the borehole for not respecting her father, going into detail the woman’s sexual history; a grandmother says her granddaughter is becoming a witch by going to chat with non-family members and the granddaughter makes a connection that the grandmother is hating her because there are many children and many grandchildren all lacking land to grow maize – and are therefore dependent on the grandmother’s land; a woman talks about her son and his family who she suspects died of AIDS, then laments that her husband doesn’t buy her things and sold her maize crop while she was away taking care of her then-very-ill son – she suspects her husband is a witch and caused the son to die).

2005: July 16 (social autopsy, conversation about price of maize, 3pp.)
2006: August 19; November 8

2006: June 11; August 25 (conversations about circumcision and transmission of HIV, bewitching, and business loans and extramarital partners)
2007: February 5 (conversations about a sero-discordant couple, a teacher-student scandal, and transmission of HIV via breastfeeding); August 9 (a man recounts the story of his sister quarreling with her husband over VCT: the husband asks the wife to get tested so he will know his own HIV status, but the wife refuses saying they must go together; story of a chief forcing sex with a mentally disturbed young girl)

2005: May 7; August 31
2006: July 1; July 15 (conversations about dropping out of school); July 23 (conversations about village perceptions of MDICP/Let’s Chat, ethnicity, and Catholics using condoms)

2001: July 14 (conversation with a woman who had many sexual partners, 5pp.)
2003: January (conversations about sex, 5pp.)

1999: August 6
2000: September 19; December 23
2001: February 18 (stories about divorce and extramarital sex, 4pp.); March 26; August 28 (conversation about faithfulness, 6pp.); September 1; October 28 (stories about commercial sex, 8pp.); November 24
2002: May 15; August 13
2003: January 1
2005: October 27; November 28

2001: March 3; June 9 (conversation with an AIDS preacher, 2pp.); December 28
2003: August 3;(conversations about using condoms with someone suspected of having AIDS, social autopsy, postnatal abstinence period, minibus with a sick passenger, testing negative for HIV, TB and AIDS, charms for luring women, 8 pp.); September 12 (conversations about condoms, knowledge about HIV/AIDS, social diagnosis, fertility and divorce); October 5 (conversations about VCT, transmissibility of HIV, circumcision, gonorrhea, court case on beer brewing, prostitutes and AIDS).

2004: July 6 (two women fighting at the trading center over a man, sick sister in hospital in need of cooking supplies, Sadaka ceremony for the dead, men who have extra money, 11 pp.)
2006: June 25 (conversation during hospital visit of injured friend, account of community AIDS awareness event for youth); December 3 (church service following World AIDS Day, student teacher scandal, knowing one’s HIV status, volunteer training with an NGO, 16 pp.)
2007: January 4 (village Home-Based Care meeting, getting ARVs, ‘kusasa fumbi’: sex after initiation ceremony, religion – story of Job from the Bible, healing by a prophet, primary school AIDS education, 20 pp.)

1999: August 19 (conversations about people dying with AIDS, 9pp.)
2001: February 28 (conversations about AIDS risk and protective behavior against AIDS, 8pp.); June 7; June 18
2002: March 11; April 18; May 3; May 6; May 21; June 5; June 10;
2003: January 19; July 7; August 12-13; August 19; September 15; September 18; September 23; September 26
2004: June 3; September 15
2006: May 9
2007: August 14 (diarist chats with men outside the bar about bar girls being safer than women in the villages because everyone uses condoms with bar girls; discussion about condoms creating disease as a conspiracy from whites to control the African population; discussion in the village about compulsory testing of pregnant women attending antenatal services); September 5 (diarist chats about and with a man who has many partners: two wives and extramarital partners; estimating a high prevalence rate in the local area following something someone heard on the radio; a movious man catches one of his extramarital partners red-handed as she is about to cheat on him with his good friend; going to Manganje dances – Yao tradition associated with initiation – to sleep with women dancers, includes brief reference to Yao girls saying circumcision during initiation prevents transmissino of HIV. 14 pp.)

2001: June 16

2005: February 6

VCT Diaries from MDICP-4 (2006)

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