Accepted paper:

Lives told through leprosy in India


James Staples (Brunel University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores how intensive biographical interviews with a single informant, a leprosy-affected man I have known and worked with for nearly 25 years, might be used to offer more nuanced accounts of the experience of leprosy than conventional forms of anthropological participant observation.

Paper long abstract:

Synoptic life history accounts of people with leprosy tend to follow conventionalised narrative forms, with the onset of leprosy causing a violent rupture in otherwise positively construed life courses. My informants - well-practiced in telling their stories to donor agencies - were also well aware of the power of such narratives to obtain access to funding. While these stories are in themselves informative about the politics of representation, they often obscured more than they revealed about the experiences of those I worked with. In this paper, I explore how more nuanced accounts might be achieved through intensive biographical interviews carried out over time, and - in documenting how I conducted a series of such interviews with one person, a leprosy-affected man I have known and worked with for nearly 25 years - explore both the distinctiveness of such a research methodology, and its fit with conventional forms of participant observation.

panel P07
Biography and the ethnographic interview