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Blind People

The Private and Public Life of Sightless Israelis

Shlomo Deshen

Publication Year: 1992

Blind People approaches disability from a fresh perspective: people with an unusual body are conceived of relativistically as a variant of humanity, much the way anthropology approaches people of different culture. While deeply empathic to its subject matter, Blind People raises questions that anthropologists ask routinely, but which are commonly avoided in everyday life because they touch on sensitive matters. Based on fieldwork in Israel, the book constitutes an ethnography of blind Israelis. It starts by focusing on intimate issues of the management of the sightless body, goes on to discuss the role of the blind person in the domestic setting, and moves to issues of how the blind person strives to attain material requirements. Finally, the book relates the way blind people cope with problems of associating with both blind and sighted people in arenas of leisure activity and public affairs. Deshen’s book aims to present a truthful, dignified, fully human depiction, in the tradition of socio-cultural anthropology.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Series: SUNY series, The Body in Culture, History, and Religion (discontinued)

Front Matter

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pp. ix-x

I have invested in this monograph the major part of my research efforts in recent years. During 1983-84 I spent a sabbatical year in fieldwork, and thereafter until the summer of 1990, I read and wrote. During these years the project meandered with me to the several departments of sociology and anthropology with which I have been affiliated, ...

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1. Introduction: The Field, the Questions, and the Researcher

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pp. 1-12

Throughout much of the world in our times there has been a dramatically heightened awareness of the existence, and the due rights, of people who have been traditionally repressed. These include people of ethnic minority status, people of various sex and age categories, people of unusual physiology, and others. Anthropological and sociological ...

Part I. The Body

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2. The Use of the Senses

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pp. 15-24

Anthropologists agree that culture has a profound impact on the ways in which people govern their bodies. This thesis has been established in many studies hailing back to the school of Mauss and Hertz and particularly Hall (1966) and Montagu (1971). The pertinent literature is concerned mostly with culture referring to particular clusters ...

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3. The Use of Guide Dogs and Long Canes

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pp. 25-34

When physical disability is culturally constructed through concepts of stigma the physically impaired individual is prone to various forms of discredit. The elucidation of these social consequences constitutes a major trend in the literature on discredited people ever since Goffman.1 In addition to the consequences of stigmatization of disabled ...

Part II. The Domestic Circle

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4. Coming of Age

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pp. 37-48

The social study of disability in terms of labelling theory, and particularly in terms of the sociology of stigma as developed by Goffman (1963), remains to date the major viable approach to the field. According to this approach, disabled people are generally perceived by the able-bodied in terms of "a master status" of handicap, and not in ...

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5. Raising Sighted Children

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pp. 49-60

This chapter dwells on relationships between blind parents and their sighted children. These parents must contend with children who are exposed, like anyone else in society, to negative stereotyping of blind people. The latter (as disabled people generally) can, to a considerable extent, escape the tension of managing in a social environment ...

Part III. Reaching for Material Needs

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6. Seeking Employment

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pp. 63-72

The Israeli labor market is relatively small in terms of national economies and is characterized by heavy government regulation. This limits the scope of economic enterprise by non-government bodies. Competition between the relatively few private entrepreneurs is harsh and not many niches remain for competitors who are physically disabled. ...

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7. The Work Experience

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pp. 73-84

The category "blind people" encompasses individuals of great diversity in terms of intelligence, ability, and preferences. Due both to the innate physical disability and to the socio-cultural structuring of that disability, blind people are channelled into a very limited range of occupations, primarily at the switchboards and in the sheltered-...

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8. The Experience of Support I: The Blindness System

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pp. 85-98

Philanthropy and work related to blind people in Israel is so institutionalized as to constitute what Robert Scott, who studied the American scene, has termed "a blindness system." In Israel the blindness system comprises two main branches. One is the public welfare system, such as the Ministry of Welfare, the National Insurance Institute, ...

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9. The Experience of Support II: Living with the Blindness System

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pp. 99-112

Two important facets of the blindness system emerged in the previous chapter: one, the dynamics of organizations in general that moved managers of volunteer associations, and second, the persistence of stereotypes among operators of the system. This chapter will bring these facets to bear upon the question as to how the clients ...

Part IV. Reaching for Fulfillment: Friendship, Dignity, Integration

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10. The Dilemma of Association among Blind People

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pp. 115-128

One of the virtually universal features of culture is the conceptualizing of people into stratified categories. A common and extreme form of this is the subjection of people in inferior social categories to diffuse discredit, or stigma. The latter entails a continuum of practices, from mild discrimination to radical exclusion and persecution. ...

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11. The Alternative of Ethnicity

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pp. 129-140

Jewish ethnicity in Israel is a favorite topic for students of Israeli society, and a bibliographic review (Smooha 1987) includes over six hundred major items, full-length books and articles in scientific journals. In view of this, it is striking, as Smooha notes, how sketchy our knowledge of the topic remains. Even to such a basic question as the ...

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12. The Alternative of Citizenship

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pp. 141-152

In forging social niches and associating, people must choose between alternatives, some of which are more acceptable than others. We have observed blind Israelis selecting between alternative ways of association. Since Israel is a society of immigrants, one route readily on hand is for people to associate on the base of common ethnic ...

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13. The Dilemma of Integration Among the Sighted

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pp. 153-166

As in many other societies, blind people in Israel were in the past often relegated to passive, charity-eliciting roles. When gainfully occupied they were engaged in a small number of occupations, tended to be segregated, and subjected to considerable custodialism. Increasingly over the years this has become objectionable. With the advent of ...

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14. Conclusion: From Ethnography of Blindness to Anthropology of Disability

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pp. 167-174

We travelled along two main paths in these chapters. First, in terms of substance of the life experience of blind people, we started from the intimacy of the body, through private social domains and on to areas of public debate. Finally we focused on the major issue of the disability rights movement, integration among the able-bodied. The ...


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pp. 175-186


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pp. 196-203


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pp. 204-211

E-ISBN-13: 9781438400907
E-ISBN-10: 143840090X
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791410356
Print-ISBN-10: 0791410358

Page Count: 197
Publication Year: 1992

Series Title: SUNY series, The Body in Culture, History, and Religion (discontinued)