Disabled lives: understanding disability through ethnographic biography
The research developed my expanding interest in biography as a complement to fine-grained ethnographic research by applying it to my ongoing work with people affected by leprosy and other disabling conditions in South India. In particular, it built on life history interviews already begun with my long-standing research assistant, conducted across a range of locations, to create the first in-depth and anthropologically-informed account of a man whose life has been profoundly affected by leprosy. Conventional case study accounts of people’s experiences of the disease fail to account for why so many leprosy programmes fail in terms of their own objectives of rehabilitation. Nuanced biographical accounts, however, have the potential not only to throw light on topics of wider interest to scholars of South Asia – such as caste, understandings of illness and disease, and social mobility – but also to inform better decisions on the part of policy makers.