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August 26, 2011

Gossip

This week, Sarah Koenig hosts, as we tackle the thing we all hate to love: Gossip. That's right; we've got rumor, we've got innuendo, and we've got a story of gossipers gone pro. Sarah even makes a compelling case that in some places, gossip could very well be saving lives. But you didn't hear it from us.

Prologue

Senior producer Julie Snyder and her husband Jeff talk to guest host Sarah Koenig about gossip that takes place—where else?—in a beauty salon. (8 minutes)

Act One

In Malawi, in southeast Africa, not gossiping can be worse than gossiping. Sarah interviews a young Malawian woman named Hazel Namandingo, who explains that because so many people have HIV and AIDS in Malawi, they often rely on gossip to figure out who's safe to date or marry. It turns out this kind of gossip is the basis for a huge research project about AIDS in Malawi. For 10 years, a sociologist named Susan Watkins has been collecting journals filled with gossip about AIDS. Watkins hired local people to write the journals—to just listen to what people were saying in their communities about the virus, and then write it down. What Watkins learned from reading them bucked much of the conventional wisdom about how rural Africans were dealing with the epidemic. (Plus, they're really entertaining.)

There's a U Penn website that explains the Malawi Journals Project. And an NGO in Malawi called Invest in Knowledge has catalogued the journals. (30 minutes)

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