Group Rights and Deaf Communities

I want to take the opportunity here to update where I am currently with the new research project with which I’m involved at the Centre for Deaf Studies, Bristol University.  Having revised and taught a Unit on ‘Deaf People in Politics and the Media’ at the Centre, I’m now in a position to move ahead with the research.

In a nutshell, it’s a two-year research project, part funded by the Leverhulme Trust, on the group rights of Deaf Communities.

Human Rights legislation is typically focussed on the rights of individuals, with little backing to the rights of linguistic and cultural minority groups (to self-determination, for example).  The research being undertaken, however, will explore the concept of group rights in relation to Deaf communities, something that has only been tentatively explored by scholars (such as Will Kymlicka or Jan-Kare Breivik, for example).

The research includes an empirical approach, using interviews and group and community meetings (currently being planned).  Some Human Rights laws do enable the claiming of rights as a member of a people (as opposed to an individual claiming rights as a member of a minority group), and there will be an attempt to explore the possibilities of Deaf people making claims under such laws.

Group rights are also about the protection of a minority group from harm; with fears that sign language is under threat from medical interventions such as cochlear implants and developments in genetics, the research will explore the possibility of Deaf people claiming rights as a group to ensure protection and development of Sign Language and Deaf culture.

Since education marks the point at which many deaf children come together to interact and develop their language and culture, there will be a particular focus on this field.

The research findings will be published in a suitable journal at the end of 2010.

Personally, I have high hopes that this study will also contribute to developments in Deafhood theory, and I am proud to add that one of the key project mentors is Dr Paddy Ladd, the other being Professor Rachel Murray from the Law Department at the University of Bristol.



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