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Res Theory Nurs Pract. 2012;26(3):167-81.

Health inequities, HIV, and public health practice: examining the role of qualitative research.

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Faculty of Health Science, School of Nursing, University of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


Although communicable disease public health practice has traditionally been based on numbers (e.g., incidence, prevalence), in the domain of HIV prevention and control qualitative research has recently become a more commonly employed data collection strategy. Of particular benefit, this approach can supplement the numbers which typically underpin public health strategies by generating in-depth understandings about how specific populations define, describe, and perceive their health and the factors that affect it. However, the use of qualitative research in public health must be explored; it cannot simply be accepted without reflection or analysis. To guide such an investigation, the work of Michel Foucault and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri is used to examine two previous research projects that were undertaken by the author. The outcome of this analysis is the somewhat paradoxical conclusion that although qualitative research can enhance public health work, it may also be a strategy that generates the information that can be used for capturing and normalizing marginalized populations. Qualitative research, in other words, may be a technique that can be used to achieve biopolitical goals.

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