Graduate School
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Dr Ken Lipenga

Home country: Malawi

PANGeA partner: University of Malawi

Year of enrolment: 2011

Graduation date: April 2014

Department:  English

Supervisor: Prof Grace Musila

Co-Supervisor: Prof Annie Gagiano

Dissertation title: Narrative enablement: Constructions of disability in contemporary African imaginaries

Abstract: This thesis examines depictions of disability in selected African films, novels and memoirs. Central to the thesis is the concept of narrative enablement, which is discussed as a property that texts have for enabling the recognition of disability by the reader or viewer. In the thesis, I investigate the ways in which narrative enablement manifests in the texts. The motivation for the study comes from the recognition of several trends in current literary disability studies. Firstly, the study attempts to expand the theoretical base of current literary disability studies, which consists of ideas formed from a narrow epistemic archive. Similarly, the study also recognises that scholarship in the field mostly relies on a limited canon of texts, almost wholly drawn from the Western world. This study therefore allows a glimpse at an under-acknowledged archive of disability representation, which is then used to suggest the possibility of alternative ways of understanding disablement on the African continent and globally. The first chapter is meant as an entry point into some of the complex lives depicted in the thesis. In this chapter, I explore the intersection that the texts draw between disability and masculinity, illustrating the way this intersection evokes questions about how we understand the relationship between the two concepts. In the second chapter, I examine the way socio-political violence on the continent is represented as a cause of both disablement and disenablement. This chapter is an exploration of how disability is enmeshed with other social realities in people's lives. The term disenablement is employed in order to capture the presentation of disablement amidst various forms of violent oppression. As it is portrayed in the majority of the texts studied in the thesis, disablement is a factor of social attitudes. My third chapter examines how these texts create dis/ability zones, areas where the reader/viewer witnesses the fluidity of socially constructed disablement in particular societies. As it is portrayed in the texts, and discussed in the thesis, this zone is a space where disabled characters encounter the ableist world. It is a space that allows the destabilization of entrenched notions about disability, and consequent recognition of disabled characters. The most explicit manifestation of narrative enablement occurs through creative intervention, which is the focus in the fourth chapter. In this chapter, I examine the role of various forms of creativity as they are enacted by the characters, arguing that they are manifestations of the characters making use of narrative enablement. In the texts, the disabled characters use unique modes of storytelling – not exclusively verbal – to narrate their story, but also to assert their belonging to particular familial, cultural, as well as national worlds.

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