Constructing Life Stories of Gendered-Disability Experiences Through Agency and Structure: Case Studies from Post-Armed Conflict Sri Lanka

Dr Niro  Kandasamy3

3University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia

This paper theorises the life stories of women with a disability in post-armed conflict Sri Lanka in terms of agency-structure theory. I examine the life stories of women of Muslim, Tamil and Sinhala backgrounds who have a disability and what agentive action means to them in highly vulnerable social and political contexts. By comparing the women’s experiences, the paper highlights the ways shared experiences of being a disabled woman generates forms of solidarity and trust that override historical tensions, and the continuing challenges facing women who have incurred a disability by the ‘ethnic other’ during the armed conflict and continue to experience forms of discrimination as the ‘ethnic other’. I interpret the gendered-disability life stories in terms of the iterative, projective and practical-evaluative components of agency within the historical, political and geographical conditions in which the women are enmeshed and navigate socially structured relationships that differently define their strategies of survival. I also highlight the significance of the body in understandings of agentive and structural aspects of gendered-disability experiences over the life course.


Niro Kandasamy completed her doctoral thesis at the University of Melbourne in 2019. Her thesis examines the role of memory in the life stories of young Tamil forced migrants resettled in Australia in the 1980s and 1990s. Her research interests are in forced migration, disability in the Global South, and welfare service delivery. She is currently a Senior Research Officer at the Brotherhood of St Laurence and teaches in the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. She is the co-editor of a forthcoming book, A Sense of Viidu: The (Re)creation of Home by the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora in Australia.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd