Bioethics Blogs

Bomb Ecologies? Inhabiting Disability in Postconflict Laos by Leah Zani

I am an anthropologist researching postwar revival and development in Lao PDR (Laos), the most cluster-bombed country in the world (Branfman 2013). Through fieldwork with development organizations and bomb clearance operators, I examine how ongoing violence, due to explosive remnants of war, is incorporated into peacetime development. Inspired by the theme of this series, Inhabitable Worlds, I take this opportunity to interrogate how war-contaminated areas are also sites of disability care and assistance. How are hazardous areas productive of certain kinds of bodies and disabilities? Is living in danger a disability? The ethnographic data I use in this paper is by no means characteristic of the entire disability sector in Laos, but is perhaps characteristic of the confluence of danger and rehabilitation in postwar zones. Here, I trace my thinking through this phenomena towards the beginnings of a theory of bomb ecologies.

I am studying a context in which people qualify for social services based on their status as disabled or as war victims/survivors; but, in practice, what qualified people as one or the other is very uncertain. I hesitate to offer definitions of disability, victimhood, or survivorship since definitions are not forthcoming from my ethnographic data. Definitions might mislead the reader into thinking that these are stable categories applied to groups of people in Laos—a mode of thought that is counter to my goal in this post. In Laos, there is no consensus among stakeholders about the definitions of disability, victimhood, or survivorship. The Convention on Cluster Munitions, for example, defines victims as “all persons who have been killed or suffered physical or psychological injury, economic loss, social marginalisation or substantial impairment of the realisation of their rights caused by the use of cluster munitions.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.