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Marquette University

Publication Date

Fall 2007

Program Name

Nepal: Culture and Development

Abstract

People of all different cultures use identity as a way of mediating with surrounding institutional structures and personal communities. Identity however, is not a concrete idea but a multidimensional and dynamic condition. For communities of so called "marginalized people" an identity perceived or created from the outside and imposed can have drastic implications on a person's capacity to act as an agent. Stefen Ecks argues for the value of ethnographic study from the point of view of the marginal people, going on to say that "this is of critical importance since marginality puts health most under stress when it is clearly and steadily perceived in everyday life" (199). I have studied the dynamic of illness and identity in populations of people living with leprosy in the Kathmandu Valley. By using case study, participant observation, textual research, visual documentation as well as formal and informal interview I have attempted to investigate Nepali people's (both living with and not living with leprosy) perceptions of leprosy and asked "Do people living with leprosy discard ethnic and caste identities and instead create a new sense of belonging based on their physical condition?” and if so "Does this lead to a new culture surrounding leprosy"? I have gained some understanding of the complexity in identifying with illness, from a population generally classified as "marginalized" and how that identity affects one's capability to cope with disease, interact with broader communities of people, and assert for personal needs.

Disciplines

Anthropology | Inequality and Stratification | Social and Cultural Anthropology

 

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