Broken Lives? Reflections on the Anthropology of Exile and Repair


  • David P. Lumsden York University



exile, forced displacement, medical anthropology, resilience


This article provides a rethinking of the concept of exile and promotes its utility regarding both the externally and the internally displaced. It does so from the perspective of Medical Anthropology. A number of variables affecting and shaping the morality, performance, nature and outcomes of exile are identified. Edward Said's views are discussed; but, must exiles always and forever be viewed or be felt as 'broken lives'? The article argues against a naive presumption of 'universalism' to exile's embodied experience and response; instead, the specificities of cultural meaning systems must be taken into account. Further, it argues against analysts' common presumption of pathology and 'posttraumatic stress disorder' among exiles; instead, evidence for 'agency' and 'resilience' in exile populations' health and coping through time must also, and explicitly, be recognized. Finally, where lives are 'broken', the potential of Truth Commissions and 'forgiveness' to be practices of collective repair is noted. Examples are drawn from Africa, Bosnia, Cambodia, Chile, China, Holocaust survivors, and Tibet.


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How to Cite

Lumsden, D. P. (1999). Broken Lives? Reflections on the Anthropology of Exile and Repair. Refuge: Canada’s Journal on Refugees, 18(4), 30–40.

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