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Alternative Explanations: Literary Representations of Disability in sub-Saharan Africa

Research output: Contribution in Book/Report/Proceedings - With ISBN/ISSNChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Publication date29/03/2024
Host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Postcolonial Disabilities Studies
EditorsTsitsi Chataika, Dan Goodley
Place of PublicationLondon
ISBN (electronic)9781003310709
ISBN (print)9781032316499
<mark>Original language</mark>English


‘Alternative explanations’ for disability in sub-Saharan Africa stem from assumptions and misconceptions, traditional, religious, medical determinist or supernatural beliefs. However, these often-competing discourses, and their literary representation, have largely been overlooked. As Barker and Murray remark, ‘Disability Studies problematically transports theories and methodologies developed within the Western academy to other global locations, paying only nominal attention to local formations and understandings of disability’ (2010: 219). Equally, scholars seldom treat explanations for disabilities comparatively, and the field rarely takes African fiction as material for analysis (Lipenga 2015). Here, we take Leila Aboulela’s Lyrics Alley (2011), Libar Fofana’s L'étrange rêve d'une femme inachevée (2012), Petina Gappah’s The Book of Memory (2015), Unathi Magubeni’s Nwelezelanga (2016) and Helon Habila’s Waiting for An Angel (2003) as examples of 21st century African literary engagements with disability. We consider how these texts invite consideration of a cultural model of disability, which offers an alternative to medical and social models, and points towards the need to appreciate cultural and contextual readings of disability. We trace ‘crossover points’ with postcolonial concerns (Parekh 2008) to illuminate their potential to articulate and critique the impact of the various explanations attached to disability in African contexts.