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Between daya and doctor: A history of the impact of modern nation-state building on health east and west of the Jordan River

Elise G Young, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is a historical analysis of politics of state building and health in Palestine and in Jordan. The study contributes to contextual studies of constructions of gender and health as a central aspect of modern nation-state building in the twentieth century. Processes of modern state building in the region of Bilad al Sham brought about significant transformations in definitions of health, development of health care systems, and medical practices. The study examines three aspects of these changes. First is a gender analysis of ways in which science and medicine contributed to colonialist processes of state building. Second is an exploration of particular effects of war, displacement and expulsion, and changing socioeconomic political conditions, on Palestinian women's health. Third, the study looks at the significance for Palestinian women healers, midwives, and others, of changes introduced in the health system by the British in Palestine and in Transjordan and by UNRWA in refugee camps in Jordan. A study of women and health requires a shift in dominant historiographical approaches. This dissertation develops an analytic framework that takes as its starting point questions raised by feminist epistemology. In the period addressed, the struggle for control of health systems is also a struggle for control of knowledge making. Aspects of this struggle disadvantage and invalidate knowledge bases of women healers. A central question of the study is: how do specific Palestinian refugee women construct meaning and authorize knowledge? This dissertation examines the particular relationship of Palestinian women to historical processes of war, citizenship in the modern nation-state, refugee status, relief efforts, and development processes. In addition to archival research, findings are based on oral histories with Palestinian women refugees in Jordan in order to understand how they interpret history and construct health. Findings show that Palestinian women represented in this study construct health as a socio-political phenomenon, rather than in purely biological terms, and that health is a metaphor for homecoming. Health concerns are central to Palestinian women's resistance: nationalist struggle is a historical reality informing their struggle for self definition, a struggle central to defining health. Oral histories represented in this study clarify the need to address Palestinian women's health in the context of gender, race, class politics dominating the region.

Subject Area

Middle Eastern history|Womens studies|Public health

Recommended Citation

Young, Elise G, "Between daya and doctor: A history of the impact of modern nation-state building on health east and west of the Jordan River" (1997). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9809414.