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Narrating Oral Histories of Struggle: Ascension through Class, Oral Histories, and Disjunctive Stories
The paper is based on a re-reading of ethnographic fieldwork that includes many interviews I conducted with Palestinian midwives between 2002 and 2004 as well as longitudinal research with them over fifteen years of visits. It analyzes their struggles in the workplace, community, and family, as well as with the Israeli military and Palestinian Authority bureaucracy. I find that the experience of work, work relationships, and the stakes of the work change over the long term as midwives gain experience, save money and accumulate cultural capital. Midwives come from poor rural and refugee backgrounds, move to urban centers and develop new relationships with colleagues and new relationships to their villages and camps of origin. While midwives’ salaries are modest, they always have work because there is a market and need for it in hospitals. Thus, over the long term, midwives ascend through class structures of the occupied territories. I observe this ascension as some of them move to neighborhoods outside the refugee camp, buy property in their villages and send their children to private universities. Living in multiple worlds across classed communities is also audible in the language they develop and the genres of speech they use and those they avoid. Indeed, midwives were well versed in the genre of oral histories and pushed me to collect them. These were narratives with a realist narrative arc, that began with a life of poverty, went through a middle of struggle and ended with an uncertain future. They punctuated their narratives with dates important to the struggle for Palestinian liberation and situated their lives in clearly demarcated spaces. While the narratives flowed and worked, at specific moments, they were disjunctive. These moments of disjuncture reflect their attempt to narrate moments of pain due to abusive divorcees or unsupportive families. Thus, the paper will analyze the forms of capital midwives gained over the years, the ways they narrated their lives and the ways their work over the long term changed their sense of self.
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