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Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana

Julie Livingston

Publication Year: 2005

In the rush to development in Botswana, and Africa more generally, changes in work, diet, and medical care have resulted in escalating experiences of chronic illness, debilitating disease, and accident. Debility and the Moral Imagination in Botswana documents how transformations wrought by colonialism, independence, industrialization, and development have effected changes in bodily life and perceptions of health, illness, and debility. In this intimate and powerful book, Julie Livingston explores the lives of debilitated persons, their caregivers, the medical and social networks of caring, and methods that communities have adopted for promoting well-being. Livingston traces how Tswana medical thought and practice have become intertwined with Western bio-medical ideas and techniques. By focusing on experiences and meanings of illness and bodily misfortune, Livingston sheds light on the complexities of the current HIV/AIDS epidemic and places it in context with a long and complex history of impairment and debility. This book presents practical and thoughtful responses to physical misfortune and offers an understanding of the complex dynamic between social change and suffering.

Published by: Indiana University Press

Series: African Systems of Thought

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pp. ix-xii

I am indebted to many people and institutions that made this book possible. There is not space to thank everyone who helped me, but some individuals deserve particular mention. During my senior year in college, Randy Packard’s teaching transformed me from a very disengaged undergraduate into someone with a deep interest in Africa, history, and scholarship. Over the many years ...

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pp. 1-25

In Botswana, a crisis of debility is unfolding that has been in the making for a century. Botswana is by no means alone in this regard. Debility is one of the most fundamental human experiences. This book explores practical concerns that arise in the face of debility and related epistemological and moral questions that emerge when bodily norms are profoundly disrupted. It considers ...

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1. Family Matters and Money Matters

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pp. 26-63

The village of Diphaleng is located less than twenty kilometers from Botswana’s rapidly expanding capital of Gaborone.1 The tarred road that links Diphaleng with the city was not built until the early 1990s. Before then, the village was oriented more toward its sister village, Medupe, which is clearly distinguished on the horizon by its rocky hills. But now Diphaleng and Medupe are on separate ...

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2. Public Health and Developing Persons

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pp. 64-106

Upon entering any of the six early-twentieth-century Tswana chiefdoms (merafe; sing. morafe) which British colonial rule had amalgamated into the southern districts of the Bechuanaland Protectorate during the dry season, one would first be struck by the dust.1 It gathered in clouds swirling over the veldt; it entered eyes, noses, ears, blankets; it covered cattle; and if you were not careful to ...

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3. Male Migration and the Pluralization of Medicine

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pp. 107-141

This chapter describes two historical processes that transformed the experiences and meanings of debility in southeastern Tswana society from the late 1920s through the beginning of World War II: labor migration and the pluralization of medicine. Both processes had their roots in earlier decades, but in this period they intensified and came together to reinforce one another. Through ...

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4. Increasing Autonomy, Entangled therapeutics, and Hidden Wombs

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pp. 142-195

From the late 1940s until Independence in 1966, people in southeastern Bechuanaland struggled to manage the effects of colonization, Christian conversion, and labor migration on family and community institutions in the context of widespread experiences of bodily misfortune. The end of the war brought economic advancement for a few but a further decline for most. Some aristocratic ...

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5. Postcolonial Development and Constrained Care

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pp. 196-233

The end of colonial rule in 1966 meant a decline in the power of local chiefs and a corresponding increase in the centralization and bureaucratization of authority and welfare at the national level. International aid agencies soon combined with a very liberal-minded postcolonial state to provide new mechanisms for charity and health care, and the rhetoric and impact of internationally ...

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pp. 234-242

This history of debility has drawn together changes in human bodies with shifting ideas and practices of care and personhood. Debility illuminates how fundamental social, moral, and biological dynamics are grounded in experience as people struggle to marshal care and rework meanings and lives within and around bodies that are somehow impaired or different. The relationships ...

Gossary of Setswana Terms

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pp. 243-246


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pp. 247-284


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pp. 285-300


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pp. 301-310

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111494
E-ISBN-10: 0253111498
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253346377

Page Count: 328
Illustrations: 12 b&w photos, 1 maps, 1 bibliog., 1 index
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: African Systems of Thought