There is much debate about researchers’ ethical obligations to their informants, especially when they study marginalised communities in serious distress. Some say researchers should contribute to interventions to ameliorate the problems they investigate. Within this context, we report on a ‘dissemination as intervention’ exercise developed to report back research findings to a South African rural community -- using a dialogical approach which sought to strengthen participants’ confidence and ability to respond more effectively to HIV/AIDS. Nine workshops were conducted with 121 participants (78 women, 41 men) including religious and traditional leaders, health volunteers, development and sewing groups, scholars, youth out-of-school, traditional healers and teachers. Workshop transcripts, fieldworker diaries and participant debriefing sessions were subjected to thematic content analysis. Workshops provided many with their first opportunity to discuss HIV/AIDS in a supportive context (in a wider climate of fear and denial) and to identify how their individual and collective responses were hampered by gender and age inequalities, stigma, resistance by local leaders and lack of outside support. Workshops alerted participants to the valuable role played by local volunteers and facilitated reflection on how they might support volunteers, assist those living with HIV/AIDS and protect their own sexual health. We highlight variations in the way different groups engaged with these topics in terms of both style of engagement and content of discussions. Workshops provided opportunities for participants to develop critical understandings of the possibilities and limitations of their responses to a pressing social problem, understandings which constitute a necessary (though not sufficient) condition for further action
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