Call for contributions

Alternative Explanations:

Understandings and Representations of Disability in Sub-Saharan Africa

edited by Charlotte Baker, Elvis Imafidon, Kobus Moolman and Emelda Ngufor Samba

Discourses of disability created by medical professionals, social scientists or development agencies, most often in the global north, are quite removed from the realities of people’s lives in sub-Saharan African places, with significant implications for the disabled, their families, communities, NGOs and policy makers. As Brigitte Rohwerder remarks, ‘Lack of understanding and awareness regarding the causes of disabilities and their resulting characteristics is a key factor in the stigma experienced by people with disabilities’ (2018).

We adopt the term ‘alternative explanations’ here to invite discussion of a range of beliefs and attitudes towards disability in African contexts, which may include assumptions and misconceptions, medical determinist, traditional, religious or supernatural beliefs. Many explanations and understandings are long-standing in local cultures, passed from generation to generation and deeply rooted in the fabric of community life, while others have emerged or been reshaped in response to the challenges of contemporary life. These beliefs permeate daily existence and can have real consequences for persons with disabilities, leading to stigmatisation, marginalisation, exclusion, and even violence.

African scholarship reveals the impact of alternative explanations specific to particular disabilities such as albinism (Aborisade 2021; Dapi et al. 2018; Mswela 2017), epilepsy (El-Amin, 2021; Kaddumukasaet al. 2019; Osakwe 2014) or mental illness (Kitafuna 2022; Kpobi and Swartz 2019; Opare-Henaku and Utsey 2017). However, few scholars consider the influence of alternative explanations for disability comparatively across different contexts or experiences of disability, despite its potential. Thus, in this volume, we aim to open up a morecomparative discussion of understandings of disabilities in African contexts.

The arts and cultural representation play a significant role in addressing and challenging various understandings of disability, and are a powerful tool for advocacy and education. This volume, then, is also interested in the potential of different forms of cultural representation as a means by which to reveal, interrogate or challenge alternative explanations. We therefore invite papers that examine the role of different creative forms, tools and methodologies in enhancing understandings of disability in African places. We are interested in the power of cultural representation, taking account of its real-world effects and implications inbuilding sensitivity to the issues related to disability.

We invite proposals for chapters which explore one or more of the following themes, with a focus on sub-Saharan African contexts:

  • Conceptions and representations of disability in indigenous thought, practices or art-forms;
  • Disability and indigenous health care;
  • Myths and misconceptions about disability and the disabled;
  • Disability and the consequences of medical determinism;
  • Religious or supernatural explanations;
  • Intersections or conflicts between different explanations for disability;
  • The negative impact of alternative explanations on the wellbeing and inclusion of persons with disabilities;
  • The potential of alternative explanations for the promotion of wellbeing and inclusion of disabled people;
  • The role of alternative explanations in influencing advocacy and activism for the lives, wellbeing, dignity and inclusion of persons with disabilities;
  • The potential of the arts to shape understandings of disability;
  • Conceptualizing disability in African arts and literatures;
  • Disability arts, advocacy and activism;
  • Art and the wellbeing of persons with disabilities.

Please send your essay title and abstract (250 words) to us by 10 December 2022 with a short bio (100 words). We will confirm decisions on proposed chapters by 30 January 2023. Complete draft chapters will be due for submission by 30 June 2023.

Please send your abstracts to Charlotte Baker with the email subject line: Alternative Explanations proposal

The Disability and Inclusion Africa Project is a partnership between stakeholders in Nigeria, Cameroon, Tanzania, South Africa and the UK. The project uses the perspectives of the arts and humanities to enhance understandings and to diversify the production of representations of disabled people through their own words and images. Through publications, workshops, exhibitions and a conference the project not only responds to gaps in scholarship, but the culturally-informed research that will emerge from the project will bring about a step-change in the way in which Disability Studies is approached within and beyond Africa.