Representing Disability and Development in the Global South

by Leslie Swartz

Disability studies scholars have long been interested in accessible and alternative ways of communicating through diverse media including memoir, dance, photography and film. In some ways, these media may helpfully talk back to oppressive forms of representation and provide the space for an authentic self-representation. It is not, however, without problems, and this is particularly evident in cultural transmission. In this short article, Leslie Swartz reflects on how to engage with different media in disability work in southern Africa, a practice he described as somewhat more complex than in the ‘global north.’  He identifies key questions of infantilisation and paternalism, that is, people from privileged backgrounds may wish to package their activist work on disability in ways that ultimately reinforce the image of the African, and the disabled African in particular, as unable to engage with sophisticated forms of knowledge. What can we learn about the struggle over voice and positioning?

In the accompanying clip, Leslie Swartz discusses his work on disability in the global south and the tensions between different ways of seeing and performing disability. He suggests that these performances are important to understand in the context of international thinking about, and aid for, disability work in low-resource contexts.

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