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Title: Politics of disability : the body, sectarianism and social inclusion in modern Lebanon
Author: Hartley, Julie
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2009
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From war-wounded soldiers' stories of heroic sacrifice, to disability rights activists' calls to action, practices of disability defy definition. The current World Health Organization definition of disability centres on the lack of ability; but there is more to disability than that. While activists have tried to move our understandings of disability away from bodies into the social realm, I would suggest that disability is better understood as a convergence between the body and the socio-political cum religious discourses which inform 'normal' bodily presentation. Therefore this thesis examines the intersection between a plurality of disability discourses and the ways that persons with disabilities engage or disengage themselves from these discourses according to their religious and political inclinations. My research is based on two years of fieldwork in Lebanon where I conducted unstructured interviews and engaged in participant observation with individuals and groups working with disability. I worked with disability rights activists, and residents at "rehabilitation" hospitals, as well as people outside any type of group or organization who did not always define themselves as 'disabled'. Situated at the cross-roads of the Middle East and Europe, Lebanon's Muslim, secular and Christian communities identify with decidedly different ideologies. Twenty years after the civil war, many of these communities remain antagonistic. Disability in Lebanon serves as an alternative lens through which to view these competing ideologies, therefore exposing the tension between traditional versus cosmopolitan concepts of the body and individual, the fissures between different communities, and also between these communities and the state. By tracing personal narratives of disability I show how disabled men and woman actively engage with discourses of disability. I found that disabled people discarded negative beliefs about bodily deviation, and utilized more enabling discourses in order to craft themselves as good and "functioning" citizens of the state. The struggle between different disability groups showed that they are fighting for more than a place for disabled people in society, but also sought to claim the image of the nation itself. Those disability groups which were oriented toward Lebanon's structure of sectarian governance were more successful than those based on alternative structures of plurality and self-asserted non-sectarianism. By placing these competing narratives of disability within a historical frame my research bridges ethnographic analyses of the body with the social and political discourses, which imbue these bodies with meaning. Further, by examining the ways in which Lebanon's different communities negotiate their relative positions within the current "disabled" state, my research adds to an understanding of how not only people, but communities re-imagine, re-create and re-enable the nation.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available