Bioethics Blogs

A polygraphic casebook by Susan Reynolds Whyte

There was a small glitch when our book Second Chances was almost ready to go to press. It was a layout problem. The Table of Contents was congested with too many chapters, too many vignettes, and too many authors[1]. We had to drop the authors’ names and in the end, for technical reasons, the good people at Duke set the vignettes instead of the chapter titles in bold. The Table of Contents that went to press gives the impression that we have made a casebook—a set of descriptive instances of individual people who survived AIDS when antiretroviral medicines became widely accessible. The problem that remained was not a layout problem but an authorial problem: the cases were highlighted and we who had authored them were in shadow.

‘We’ is a definitely plural pronoun. We were eight people[2], four from Denmark and four from Uganda, who did a study and wrote a book about it. All eight of us were authors, but our book is neither a monograph nor an edited volume in the conventional sense. We call it a polygraph. It resembles a lie detector—not because it reports a singular truth or discerns untruths, but because it marks vital processes simultaneously at different points in a social body. And it is based on polygraphy in the old sense of copious writing—piles of handwritten fieldnotes transcribed to electronic text.

We had worked together for years before we decided to systematically document a dramatic turn in Ugandan history: the ‘rollout’ of free antiretroviral medicines.

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