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Author:       Silla, Eric 
Title:        "`People are not the Same':  Leprosy, Community, and
              Identity in Colonial and Post-Colonial Mali."

Date:         1995
Institution:  Northwestern University
Advisor:      John Hunwick
Degree:       Ph.D.

The dissertation explains how, in colonial and post-colonial Mali, leprosy (Hansen's Disease) became the basis of a collective identity as a result of historical developments related to the disease itself as well as to broader political life. It first examines the stigmatizing effects of local attitudes and medical practices on the identities of rural leprosy patients before the intrusion of European public health programs. Changes resulting from French leprosy policies and the growth of towns then altered patient experiences.

In essence, officials sought to control perceived social problems, such as begging and migration, and not simply the disease. As doctors became increasingly preoccupied with biological solutions, however, they lost sight of the larger social and political factors impeding the actual delivery of medicines to patients. New collective "leper" identities emerged in the patient communities which formed around government treatment centers. Though once ostracized in their villages, many lepers used these communities to secure greater control over their own lives.

On a theoretical level, the dissertation serves as a model for thinking more critically about social identity and the struggle between humans and nature in contexts outside Mali and French West Africa. Sources include Arabic manuscripts, colonial archives, mission records, and interviews with over 190 former leprosy patients, health professionals, and healers.


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