Media and Communication Ph.D. Dissertations

Examining the Meaning-Making of Hiv/Aids Media Campaign Messages: A Feminist Ethnography in Ghana

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Communication Studies

First Advisor

Radhika Gajjala (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Ewart Skinner (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Lynda Dixon (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Michael Butterworth (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Jane Rosser (Committee Member)


This dissertation is an ethnographic study that theorizes the processes and mechanisms through which HIV/AIDS meanings originate in the Ghanaian setting. Whereas AIDS media discourses exemplify dominant representations, I argue that there are other meanings co-constructed by various members of a society. To support this assertion, I provide a fresh focus for mapping how particular individuals in the society symbolically structure their own HIV/AIDS meanings. I do this by applying postcolonial theories and feminist methodologies. I examine how dominant HIV/AIDS communication messages are received within everyday contexts. I used HIV/AIDS communication materials developed and circulated in Ghana for the past nine years. I used 26 communication materials including posters, television, and radio commercials. These communication materials are a part of two-phase HIV/AIDS National Strategic Framework implemented in Ghana. I engaged different qualitative inquiry approaches such as interviewing, participant observation, direct observation, as well as document review. A total of 39 participants living in the city of Accra were involved in this study.

I used this study to demonstrate that, in the Ghanaian postcolonial context, HIV/AIDS campaign messages interact with particular beliefs and past experiences to become ideas in everyday practices. I also conclude that disciplinary measures such as abstinence, faithfulness, and condom use, that individuals subject themselves to, are enabled by a web of discourses contained in HIV/AIDS media campaign messages. Also, considering unique colonial experiences and development practices that inform participants understanding of AIDS, I conclude that meaning-making is context specific. Therefore, it is important for HIV/AIDS communication practitioners to acknowledge specific struggles, experiences, and stories that alternative disease interpretations in a particular context suggest.