deafhood

Culture and Active Citizenship

It was great to see Lillian Lawson and Brenda Hamlin give strong and meaningful presentations related to citizenship at the BDA conference last weekend.

Nope, I didn’t get to fly in to Derby from Barranquilla, nor watch it streamed live – I couldn’t manage a 4am wake up, so watched them later on and got bits of the AGM.

Active citizenship is the bedrock of civil society: a passive citizenship is indicative of an apathetic nation and enables governments to get away with social injustices. As Lillian showed, active citizenship can relate to a very broad range of activities.

My thoughts were on other matters.

A regular question was the lack of young people involved. I think only 4 or 5 of the 40 people were under 25. I’m sure I’m not the only person to be tired of facing this question: for something like 30 years it’s been an issue.

This makes little sense politically given the huge success of the FDP at getting young people involved in politics, and the impact of the Spit the Dummy group: there is no lack of politically minded young Deaf people, neither is the community in decline (as BDA figures showed). It’s just that they don’t see the BDA as the place to be politically, and find pubs and social networking more appealing than a trip to the local Deaf Centre.

I have the utmost respect for those like Brenda who are working tirelessly to address these issues. I was involved with Bristol Deaf Centre for a short while, where we faced terrible problems due to government cuts and previous Centre mismanagement – it was a thankless task trying to sort out the problems.

On Sunday, however I was left asking the painful question: is the BDA the future of the Deaf community? Should it try and pave the way for a newer (non-charitable?) group or organisation, maintaining links with EUD/WFD? Is it worth shutting down and starting all over from scratch under a different, modern, up to date guise?

I somehow doubt that will happen, but whatever the possible solutions, there was one word/sign on my mind: culture. I don’t think it was once mentioned, which, given how important it is to the language and community, is surprising and worrying. Do people take it for granted nowadays? ‘Yeah we got a culture we know that blah blah’, or not think it’s the most pressing issue?

If there is one question I would have liked to ask it would have been whether there are any serious attempts to develop discussions of Deaf culture throughout the UK, with young deaf people today? Is the notion of ‘identity’ more prominent? It’s more surprising culture isn’t addressed given the Deafhood notion was born in the UK.

I have to admit that I have not paid this issue much attention in my work on citizenship, and it is only through privileged visits abroad, and my move to Colombia, that it has really hit me hard how important cultural workshops and discussions are. That could be a bridge to younger people becoming more political active: this should not be a strategy but a natural process.

When I am privileged to be part of these experiences, and I tune in to watch a national Deaf conference with so few people (young or mature) present, with little discussion on Deaf culture; I can’t help but feel that lack of in-depth, meaningful, cultural exploration is one of the most important missing links in the demise of active citizenship in the UK.

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Colombia experiencias de talleres de FENASCOL (versión en español)

Gracias de corazón a Paula Vargas, para la traducción al español (Heartfelt thanks to Paula Vargas for the translation to Spanish)

Al llegar a Bogotá (el 24 de marzo), P y yo nos dirigimos al hostal que habíamos reservado con bastante anterioridad. Al llegar al lugar nos enteramos de que nuestra habitación había sido asignada a otra persona. Desinflados, aceptamos la invitación de M, la hermana de P que vive en Bogotá y nos dirigimos a su apartamento. Éste se mantuvo como nuestra base para los seis días que estuvimos en la capital de Colombia.

Recordaré mi estadía en Bogotá por tres cosas: el viaje en tren a vapor para algunas ciudades pequeñas en las afueras de la ciudad, la experiencia de correr a gran altura, y los dos talleres realizados en FENASCOL (Federación Nacional de Sordos de Colombia), donde me reuní con varios líderes Sordos de Bogotá. Realicé dos visitas a su organización: la primera fue un breve encuentro para conocer a las personas de FENASCOL y amoldarse a la comunicación (todos usábamos lenguaje de señas, pero el LSC es muy distinto al BSL, de manera que usamos bastante del Lenguaje de Señas Internacional). En la segunda visita, dirigí un taller, aunque en realidad el objetivo era una reunión informal para compartir ideas y experiencias.

Anduvimos un poco perdidos tratando de encontrar la sede de FENASCOL, pues nos guiaron en la dirección equivocada varias veces! Al final nos dimos por vencidos y tomamos un taxi, porque íbamos a llegar tarde! Al llegar, me dieron un pequeño tour por todo el edificio, me presentaron a muchas personas sordas y me dieron una breve presentación, en Seña Internacional, acerca de FENASCOL. Es una organización relativamente joven, que sólo se formó en 1984, pero su historia y la situación actual es impresionante y merece un reconocimiento más allá de Suramérica. Ellos tienen una visión clara (misión, visión, objetivos) de lo que es FENASCOL; tienen conexiones directas y vínculos con el gobierno donde están en la capacidad de influir en políticas, y una estructura clara que es liderada por varios líderes Sordos. Su enfoque en la tecnología es algo que encontré particularmente inspirador, ya que están dedicados a asegurar el acceso a través de Lengua de Señas Colombiana (LSC), el establecimiento de subtitulación en la televisión y poner en funcionamiento un servicio telefónico en LSC.

Todo lo cual me dejó en una especie de dilema, ya que FENASCOL está claramente adelantado en muchos aspectos. Así que junté unos cuantoas diapositivas de Powerpoint sobre mi trabajo en la Ciudadanía, que se remonta a la época en que empecé mi tesis doctoral (2002). También mostré algunas fotografías de los años de activismo durante el período 1997-2003 que llevó al reconocimiento del BSL. (De hecho el LSC fue reconocido por el gobierno colombiano en el año 1996 más o menos, mucho antes de que el Reino Unido). El enfoque de FENASCOL es lo que yo llamaría persuasivo, donde tienen manifestaciones culturales de Orgullo Sordo y desfiles al tiempo que tratan de convencer al gobierno de la importancia del reconocimiento del LSC y el acceso para las personas cuya primera lengua es el LSC.

Yo no estaba en condiciones de representar al BDA, la organización hermana más cercana a FENASCOL, pero expliqué un poco acerca del post-reconocimiento, donde el gobierno del Reino Unido había proporcionado £1,5 millones a proyectos para aumentar la divulgación del BSL en toda la sociedad: la mayoría de los cuales hizo no fue directamente al BDA, y mucho menos al FDP. También le expliqué la gran cantidad de organizaciones que existen en el Reino Unido, y que tratan de unirse bajo el ‘paraguas’ de UKCOD, a pesar de que la filosofía de algunas de esas organizaciones son muy diferentes.

Lo que siguió fue un debate muy intenso y vivo en torno a varios temas. Los primeros estaban relacionados a la ciudadanía: la mayor parte de esta discusión se llevó a cabo en LSC, pero un punto importante fue si las personas Sordas deben aceptar beneficios y apoyo bajo las leyes de discapacidad, o si deben tratar de alejarse de aquellas leyes para con el fin de promover su autonomía. Sin embargo, como uno de los colegas señaló, estos eran más temas políticos que temas gubernamentales, ya que es a través de la política que las personas sordas están posicionadas en la sociedad.

Me preguntadaron acerca Deafhood, tal como esperaba, e hice mi mejor esfuerzo para explicar el concepto. No fue algo sorpresivo que esto condujera a otro debate muy animado, durante la cual tuve la oportunidad de tomar asiento entre el grupo, mientras que las personas sordas discutián el tema de Deafhood desde su perspectiva. Gran parte de esta discusión se volcó hacia la educación de niños sordos y el lugar que ocupan aquellos que se han incorporado al sistema educativo estandarizado (por ejemplo, aquellas personas sordas que fueron integradas al sistema educativo estándar, desarrollar Deafhood?).

Tal fue la emoción y el ambiente emotivo generado por estos talleres que la primera noche se alargó por hora y media más, mientras que la segunda duró cinco horas de corrido, con una pausa breve de 15minutos! Personalmente, me sentí orgulloso de mí mismo por haber participado y por haber podido captar la mayoría de las cosas que se comunicaban a través de Seña Internacional – sin duda me ayudó la experiencia de tantos años en contacto con personas sordas que usan distintos idiomas.

Y no he olvidado la promesa hecha que voy a tratar de hacer realidad: enlazar por video a FENASCOL y al CDS para discutir Deafhood!

¿Y qué del viaje en tren a vapor, y de correr a gran altura?

Bueno, el viaje en tren fue lento y nos tomó todo el día, lo cual es intencional y relajante. P y yo pudimos ver un par de pequeños pueblos, empaparnos de la atmósfera, y disfrutar de auténtico café colombiano y tortas! Una experiencia inolvidable fue la banda que tocaba en cada uno de los vagones del tren hasta el final del viaje, y en los lugares donde paramos: Incluyo una foto aquí:

Y la corrida a gran altura! A mi llegada a Bogotá, me pregunté por qué tanta bulla acerca de ser una ciudad tan alta, pues yo podía respirar perfectamente. (Bogotá está a unos 3600 metros más cerca de las estrellas.) Qué inocente. Después de correr los primeros 200 metros de un trote planeado para 20 minutos en el Parque Country Club, estaba luchando por respirar y mis piernas se sentían como si acabaran de ser inyectadas con plomo. “Se me pasará”, pensé para mis adentros. Pero no fue así, de manera que tuve que luchar zancada a zancada. Y pensar que en Bogotá se corre una media maratón!

Después de la trotada en el Parque, P me condujo por un supuesto “atajo” que en realidad resultó ser una “vueltota”, pero no puedo ser muy duro: fue ella quien encontró el lugar ideal para trotar. Y fue también ella quien ayudó en el vínculo entre FENASCOL y yo para hacer realidad los dos talleres.

Me alegró poder trotar nuevamente, esta vez durante 40 minutos. Espero regresar a Colombia en el futuro y ver más de Bogotá. Pero una cosa es segura: no será para correr una media maratón!

Colombia experiences – FENASCOL workshops (English version)

[¡Versión en español muy pronto! Spanish version coming soon!]

On arriving at Bogotá (on 24 March), P and I headed for our pre-booked hostel only to find it had been given to another party. Miffed, we went to stay with her sister, M – that remained our base for the six days we were in the capital city of Colombia.

My time in Bogotá will be remembered for three things: the steam train ride to some small towns on the outskirts of the city; the experience of running at high altitude; and the two workshops held at FENASCOL (in Spanish: Federacion Naciónal de Sordos de Colombia; in English: The National Federation of Deaf Colombians), where I met several Deaf leaders of Bogotá.  I planned two trips to their organisation, the first, a brief time meeting Deaf people and getting used to language communication; the second, I would run a workshop: but really the purpose was an informal gathering to share experiences and ideas.

We got a bit lost trying to find the FENASCOL building because we were pointed in the wrong direction several times!  We gave up and took a taxi, so we were late arriving! I was shown around the building, introduced to many Deaf people and a short presentation was given, in International Signs, about FENASCOL. It is a relatively young organisation, having only been formed in1984, but its history and current status is impressive and deserves greater recognition beyond South America.  They have a clear vision (mission, vision, objectives) of what FENASCOL are all about, direct connections and links to government where they are able to influence policy, and a clear structure which is led by several Deaf leaders.  Their focus on technology is one I found particularly inspiring as they are dedicated to ensuring access via Colombian Sign Language (LSC), establishing subtitling on television and run a telephone relay service in LSC.

All of which left me with a bit of a dilemma as FENASCOL were clearly ahead in many respects. So I put together a few power-points about my work on Citizenship, going back to the time I began my PhD (2002), showed some pictures of the years of activism during the 1997-2003 period which had led to recognition of BSL. (In fact LSC was recognised by the Colombian government in 1996 or thereabouts, well before the UK.)  FENASCOL’s approach is one I would term persuasive, where they have cultural Deaf Pride occasions/parades along with attempting to convince government of the importance of recognition and access for first language LSC peoples.

I was not in a position to represent the BDA, the closest sister organisation to FENASCOL, but explained a little about post-recognition, where the UK government had provided £1.5 million towards project to increase awareness of BSL throughout society: most of which did not go directly to the BDA, let alone the FDP. I also explained the myriad of organisations that exist in the UK, and which try to unite under the umbrella of UKCOD, even though the philosophy of some of those organisations are vastly different.

What followed was a very intense and lively discussion around several issues. The first were citizenship related: much of this discussion was conducted in LSC but a key issue was whether Deaf people accept benefits and support under disability laws, or should seek to turn away from these so as to promote autonomy. As one guy pointed out, however, these were political rather than governmental issues, since it is through politics that deaf people are positioned in society.

I was asked about Deafhood, as expected, and did my very best to explain the concept, and, unsurprisingly, this led to another very lively discussion, during which I was able to take a seat in the group while Deaf people discussed the issue of Deafhood from their perspective. Much of this turned on the education of deaf children and the place of those who have been mainstreamed (e.g. can mainstreamed deaf people develop Deafhood?).

Such was the excitement and lively atmosphere generated by these workshops that the first evening went on one and a half hours overtime, while the second went on for five hours non-stop with a brief 15 minute break! Personally I was proud of myself that I participated and was able to grasp most things being communicated via International Sign – no doubt helped by many years of spending time with deaf people of different languages.

And I have not forgotten a promise made that I will try to see happen: a video link-up with FENASCOL and CDS to discuss Deafhood!

What of the steam train ride and the running?

Well, the train ride was slow and took all day, which is intentional and relaxing.  P and I were able to see a couple of little villages, soak up the atmosphere, and take in real Colombian coffee and cakes! One memorable experience was the band that played on each of the train carriages all the way through the journey, and at the places where we stopped: I include pictures here:

And the running! On arriving in Bogotá I wondered what the fuss was about being up so high, as I could breathe ok. (Bogotá is some 3600 metres closer to the stars.) Silly me. After 200 metres of a planned 20 minute run I was already struggling to breathe and my legs felt like they had just been injected with lead.  ‘It’ll pass,’ I thought to myself. Huh, it never did so during a single stride so I had to battle it through. And to think: they have a half-marathon in Bogotá!

After the run P took me on a possible ‘short cut’, which turned into a ‘very long cut’, but I can’t be too harsh: it was she who found the ideal running place. And it was, also, she who had provided the link up between me and FENASCOL to make the two workshops happen.

I was pleased to be able to do another run, this time of 40 mins. I do hope to return to Colombia in future and to see more of Bogotá. But one thing is for sure: it won’t be to run a half marathon!

The growing power of the Deaf professional-managerial class

It seems absurdly ironic that the Deaf Professional-Managerial Class (PMC) in the UK are emerging in times when people are expected to tighten their belts in times of assumed austerity and when revolution lights up the middle east.  It is possible, however, for the Deaf PMC to be pushed into taking actions of its own – let me explain what I mean here.

The triggers for this blog entry are the Sorenson VRS campaign in the UK, and the Deaf Managers course being set up at Heriot Watt University, but the ideas contained within it are ones that I first wrote about 20 years ago. It was possible to see what could happen, but it was not inevitable that it would. Plus I felt clouded by my own political ideology and philosophy back in those days. I wrote about Deaf nationalism and equality in a mini-dissertation for my BA in Cultural Studies in 1991, but had only a tentative understanding of the nature or state of the Deaf world back then. [1]

I’ve been meaning to re-visit these thoughts for a last few years, but the timing seems right to do so now.  Any constructive views and thoughts are welcome; this blog entry is a hypothesis, a philosophy that has empirical reasoning.  It is also written with the coming of the eighth anniversary of the UK government’s acknowledgment of British Sign Language (BSL), and the key tenets are as follows:

1. The Deaf PMC has grown and strengthened in the last 8 years, but remains restricted to further growth due to societal barriers;

2. This class is dominated by political ideologies that reflect its material interests, and the emergence of a Deaf intelligentsia reflects its growing development and influence; [2]

3. The main beneficiaries of BSL recognition have been the Deaf PMC, and any further campaigns and protests for ‘rights’ will mostly benefit that class, unless these are specifically campaigns for social equality.

The concept of a ‘Deaf middle class’ is not new: historical studies pre-Milan 1880 have consistently referred to Deaf people working in professional managerial occupations and holding an above average education, although the notion that the majority of deaf children who went to deaf schools ended up in manual and labouring occupations tends to receive less recognition. The strengthening and developing of the modern PMC has been simmering ever since BSL acknowledgment, and doesn’t begin there, but goes further back. Paul Redfern, for example, draws attention to a growing ‘professional class’ as far back as 1996[3], while Paddy Ladd[4] addresses class issues in his 2003 Deafhood publication.

Before continuing, I want to clarify that I use the ‘professional-managerial class’ rather than ‘middle class’ as the later term tends to be far too stretched, referring to everyone who owns a home (or two), possess a lot of cars and takes several holidays a year: I much prefer to use the term ‘professional-managerial class’, since it is easier to associate this with people who have a bit, however small, of power, control and independence within the system. They are a person who typically sits between the working and upper classes and was first coined in the 1970’s by Barbara and John Ehrenreich. [Hopefully, also the use of that term will inspire the creation of an appropriate sign in BSL!] Critically, they are best understood as a class, albeit a sometimes contradictory one, and not amalgamated isolated individuals who add up to make up a whole. Deaf people of all classes regularly come together, with class differences holding little sway amongst those who are keen to express their thoughts, views and feelings in sign language, and gather collectively to celebrate Deaf culture in a myriad number of spaces.

To be more specific, here are a section of the various people who I would deem to constitute the Deaf PMC:

1.      the managers of services and charities, be they independent or part of the voluntary or public sector;

2.      those who run a business, which are mostly quite small scale at the moment, but may aspire to become something a lot larger and more profitable;

3.      growing numbers of tutors and lecturers within the field of further and higher education, including the growing ‘Deaf intelligentsia’, linguists, psychologists, social scientists, anthropologists, etc.[5];

4.      ‘professionals’ who work within a whole range of services such as mental health, community development work, social services, the legal profession, and so on;

5.      celebrities and artists from the world of t.v., theatre, drama, etc, especially those engaged in free expression of the culture.

My personal observation of this ‘class’ is that it is working and acting for the collective good and interest of Deaf people and the Deaf community. Those who teach sign language, for example, are people who are tutoring the future generation of sign language interpreters, raising deaf awareness amongst the hearing community, teaching effective means of communication between hearing and deaf people.

Businesses are invariably focused on promoting effective services to hearing and deaf people: be it telecommunications, translation services, video relay services, etc. One could, in fact argue that they have very little option but to work as a profit/loss service, since they rely on the formulation of business plans, and so on.

But even a momentary analysis of the Deaf community from a this class perspective can begin to recognise that Deaf political issues on Deaf / deaf / hearing / Coda / Interpreter / culture / disability, etc. lines, is invariably far more complex when there is the recognition of a class of Deaf people who do have some form of power in the world of work.

The class perspective cannot really be understood without recognition of other classes. An unemployed working-class Deaf person on benefits, for example, or Deaf people who work by selling their labour, be it to work in a supermarket, in post offices, office work, nurseries, cleaning, printing, child-minding, interior design, hairdressing, etc., have different material interests to the Deaf PMC. They may all share the experience of day to day language and cultural oppression, but there are also differences; ones that come to the fore when there is a crisis in the system.

The vast majority of Deaf people feel a bitter sense of injustice that they continue to miss out on day to day services hearing citizens take for granted, such as telecommunications and interpreting, and they suffer exclusion from citizenship due to lack of access to the justice system, politics, and a whole range of social services.[6] The Deaf PMC are more likely to have access to sign language interpreting services, since they are well versed in knowledge of their rights, and of making use of legislation such as Access to Work (which could change pretty soon, however). [7]

But these two classes also need to be considered in relationship to those who have real wealth and power in society: the huge banks who control vast amounts of money, large and profitable businesses who have an annual turnover of millions, the massive telecommunications and media industries, governments and civil servants who frame the law and decide under which discourses Deaf people are placed and, of course, the even vaster medical apparatus which produces technology and research on hearing aids, cochlear implants and genetics.  There is practically no Deaf-control that comes anywhere near matching the power and wealth of these corporations: but there are people who no doubt aspire to do so.

This theory is a simplistic one, and the situation is far more complex, but I defy anyone to suggest such a theory based on class is ‘outdated’, as critics of Marxism (especially postmodernists – and there are many lovers of this theory within Deaf studies) tend to do. There are real differences, for example, amongst businesses, some of which will aspire to capitalist and profitable greatness, others who will certainly not have any interest in doing so but hold a very strong not-for-profit ethos. Deaf political differences amongst professionals will also be evident, with the liberal-minded Deaf wanting to drive forward and reward individual developments, opening up choices for all, while the socialist-minded Deaf will seek to stress the importance of staying true to the communitarian roots of the Deaf community.

Artists are also a mixed-bag, with individuals no doubt dreaming of worldwide individual recognition (whether it be amongst Deaf or the mainstream) in order to demonstrate ‘yes we can’; while yet others will be far more keen to reflect the tensions within and between the communities, or who desire to create works that simply celebrate the beauty of sign language and Deaf culture. In between there are those with nationalist tendencies, for whom ‘all things Deaf are beautiful’, and it cares not what class they are from, or how they develop their Deafhood. [8] Many of us are probably a mix of all three at various times.

The growing Deaf PMC is, arguably, an inevitable consequence of the development of the Deaf community within capitalism, a system based on competition for profits and the reliance on the labour power of working people to create these profits. The same kinds of developments are evident, for example, within many other oppressed groups, the growth of Black businesses for example. What I am putting forward is a theory that is very common, and in some cases very well developed, in other academic studies, but has been badly neglected in Deaf studies. Theories of culture, for example (which celebrate resistance from below and sub-cultures), or Black studies, Womens studies, and so on, have debated class and Marxist theory for years; as has Disability studies. Deaf studies, with few exceptions, largely shuns it, or deals with it superficially, but this type of perspective can surely do nobody any harm other than to those who aspire to be oppressors or part of a powerful Deaf elite.

We might even find it strangely empowering to feel that the Deaf community is an amalgam of such a mighty group, one which does have some form of power collectively, and hence is able to assert its strength at times when it would be of great benefit politically. It may also assist us with understanding that the decline of Deaf schools, Deaf clubs and the near-virtual mainstreaming of deaf children does not equate a weaker and less significant of less powerful Deaf community. That is not to suggest nobody should worry about the fate of deaf children in mainstream schools – it is a strong feature of the culture to care and campaign for natural justice for its children[9] – or fears of what genetic technology will create.

The community has simply shifted and changed, and it also exposes as premature those academics who have decried the decline of the community[10], in very much the same way as mainstream academics never tire of suggesting the working class is dead (until it rises up, yet again), that postmodernism denies there are any more ‘grand narratives’ possible in history (even while they spring up everywhere in new forms), or Fukuyama champions the victory of liberal democracy (even while the citizens of the world take to the streets to fight for real peoples’ democracy).

Understanding this power, however, is also recognition of its potential dangers, and of recognising whose interests’ Deaf political activism can end up benefiting in the long run.  Hence the courageous fight for the human rights of Deaf people and the recognition of sign language, that many are engaged in worldwide may well give some protections to the Deaf community as a whole, but it is invariably the Deaf PMC who will be the key benefactors, as their material situation improves through the opening up of political opportunities.[11]

It is also recognition that without self-awareness and consciousness of the ‘Deaf PMC as a class’, Deaf people themselves can end up becoming oppressors. Indeed, Deaf people have been recognised as promoting linguistic genocide in the developing nations, not necessarily consciously, but simply by failing to understand the effects and impacts of their power. [12]

What does it mean and what should or shouldn’t happen? I do not think it is possible to stop or curtail these developments at the present time. They may even be necessary for the advance of Deaf self-determination, and therefore celebrated. But I do think there are some important questions they raise.

What we have not yet witnessed (in the UK at least) is the development of wealthy businesses, Deaf owned, controlled and run, being set up and gaining profits, so that they can enter the top echelons and champions of capitalist society. Definitely nowhere near the company ‘Cochlear’, for example, lauded by an ex- Australian PM as an embodiment of Australian values, never mind that of extreme-oralists! Most businesses of the Deaf PMC are much lower level and lower key (what Marx would have termed petite bourgeoisie) of which Remark! is just one, and others are those such as Significant or DeafWorks. Is this what the Deaf community should aspire to, having control of vast amounts of capital in order to achieve the kind of control those such as Sorenson have in the telecommunications industry? It is only a matter of time that this is what we will indeed see happen if the UK Deaf community continues to pursue reformist and liberal politics in order to advance the betterment of Deaf people.[13]

In order to be a ‘capitalist’, it is necessary to embrace fraud, competition, the undermining of rivals, to fall in love with having power and control, ‘loads-a-money’, all the worst aspects of humanity.  Intentions might be genuine, but ultimately they play to the system, to compete with rivals and make profit, to put it bluntly, to ensure they try and get from their workers (Deaf or hearing) as much profit as they can. Capitalism then becomes part of the problem, not the solution.

This brings me, briefly, to the Deaf Managers course, being run in May by Heriot Watt University[14]. From an impartial perspective, it’s certainly welcome. The numbers of Deaf Managers are growing, and they face challenges, as I have seen at first hand on many occasions over the years. [I would certainly never take on their tasks!] The system under which they are operating places on them difficult demands, not least because of the institutional audist nature of their environment; so how do they work within these worlds? [15] Some questions they might ask is: can Deaf managers avoid being oppressive in the workplace to their workers, Deaf or hearing? If so, how will they address potential oppressive practices and behaviour?

Research to explore class issues would be very welcome, particularly in political philosophical areas such as Marxism, or in disciplines such as economics.  Thinkers, who can flex their minds on how to change the world, rather than endlessly seeking to interpret it and reinterpret it in a comfort zone that builds a postmodern cul-de-sac, would also be a welcome addition to Deaf epistemology.[16]

I hope this blog entry will make a small contribution to encouraging that process.

Notes

[1] When I first attempted to campaign for better resources for Deaf and hard of hearing students at university (induction loops for hard of hearing people, interpreters for Deaf people), I was responsible for making some scathing comments about support services.  They didn’t, I argued, provide enough. I was met with some very harsh observations on my actions from other Deaf people at the university. Looking back, I think some of those criticisms of me were fair.

[2] I have used the term ‘Deaf intelligentsia’ in my PhD and elsewhere, but my current thinking owes much to Dr Sarah Batterbury using the term in a recent article.

[3] Redfern, P. (1996) Deaf Professionals: a growing stream. In C. Laurenzi and S. Ridgeway, Progress Through Equality, BSMHD Publications.

[4] Ladd, P. (2003) Understanding Deafhood: In search of Deaf culture. Multilingual Matters:  Clevedon.

[5] I include myself, with some reluctance, as part of the Deaf PMC. In spite of my fondness and pride at stating that my upbringing is solidly working-class, I hold a PhD, work within academia, and have a pretty comfortable material life: this is not something I state with pride by the way, and I am certainly not rich (nor do I want to be), and I experience oppression every day. Even if, politically, I want to see wealth sharing and a celebration of diversity in our society, I have some degree of power in relative terms, and, once again, I state this as a matter of observation, and not self-satisfaction.

[6] My PhD addresses this subject, providing empirical evidence of Deaf people’s concerns.

[7] Access to Work payments have enabled Deaf people to enjoy Interpreting services for the past 20 years; Disability Support Allowance has given the means for Deaf students to become educated, and hence more empowered and assertive. ATW state that half their budget is spent on service provision to Deaf people, since Interpreters are an on-going requirement. The cutting or loss of payments, therefore, would be utterly devastating to the Deaf PMC who will have very little option but to resist any deep cuts, or face a far greater degree of unemployment and already far disproportionate underemployment.

[8] At the 2011 ‘Supporting Deaf People Online’ conference I wrote about these three political tendencies – liberal, nationalist, and liberationist – in more detail.

[9] The term ‘natural justice’ should be credited to Rachel O’Neil during the ‘supporting Deaf people online conference’, February 2011. Once again, my PhD provides empirical evidence, as does my follow up to the PhD on group rights, where most of these rights are deemed necessary to ensure the protection of deaf children as well as Deaf culture. I will be publishing on the findings from the research as soon as possible.

[10] The ‘deaf decline’ theory was first addressed in Australian by Trevor Johnson in ‘Sign Language Studies’, and has since been applied to the UK by Graham Turner in the Journal ‘Current Issues in Language Planning’. Even if they were correct, most Deaf people are resident in the developing nations, where not only technology, but Deafhood philosophy has yet to permeate.

[11] It is not necessarily a conscious act. Marx famously wrote: ‘Men [sic] make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past.’ And then went on to write one of the best phrases ever: ‘The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living.’ See: “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” Karl Marx 1852.

[12] I first came across empirical evidence of these developments from a presentation given by Tove Skutnabb-Kangas at the 2003 World Federation of the Deaf Congress in Montreal, Canada. A presentation was given on this subject at the 2006 Deaf Academics conference, in Stockholm, Sweden, by Hilde Haualand.

[13] The granting of minority group rights is partly suggested as a theory to ensure spheres of telecommunications, for example, are genuinely Deaf-led and Deaf-focussed, as opposed to being at the mercy of the market. It appears to me that one of the possible reasons Deaf communities have demanded human rights rather than, say, minority group rights, is because Deaf studies academics worldwide haven’t yet brought to conscious awareness the potential power of the professional-managerial elements of its class.

[14] For more information see: http://www.sml.hw.ac.uk/business/cpd/deaf-managers-facing-the-challenge.htm

[15] The concept of audism has become so disputed, and so stretched nowadays that it is depressingly almost meaningless.  I blame those intellectuals or philosophers who love to indulge themselves in the meanings of words or signs, only to end up confusing everybody even further, probably even themselves. I therefore use the term ‘institutional audism’, first coined by Graham Turner, but I use it partly in order to try and rescue its original meaning: i.e. social policy is not determined or decided by Deaf people; the Deaf community has never historically been recognised as a cultural linguistic minority group, and is absolutely nowhere near doing so, in social policy. Until it has collective self-determination, the original meaning of audism seems the best one.

[16] A brief discussion I had with Dai O’Brien recently raised the issue of the economic purpose and benefits of Deaf people as a cultural linguistic minority group. This perspective might appear a bit determinist, and there is, in my view, no material benefit to capitalism in keeping Deaf and hearing people divided in the way racism and sexism does, for example. Geneticists seem to think it would make economic sense to wipe out deafness. One scientist equated the costs of deafness to be akin to building three motorways around Germany! [See ‘Genes, Hearing, and Deafness’ by Martini et al eds. 2007] These kinds of debates were happening in Disability studies 20 years ago. In Deaf studies they have had little, if any, attention, but I would expect a new wave of Deaf and hard of hearing scholars to be keen to address such questions.

a personal perspective on paddy’s deafhood class on genetics

Before heading to the SIGN4 conference in India I took part in Paddy Ladd’s Deafhood class, where the topic was on genetics.  The key of the lecture was to explore the discourses around genetics and Deaf people with the events over the HFE Bill still quite recent.

The discussion ranged from how the discourse of genetics is generated and formulated by the media and the ways in which agencies and politicians percieve and construct Deaf people in relation to genetics issues.  The influences of past discourse is also evident, for example in the case of the couple in the USA who sought a Deaf donor to improve their chances of conceiving a deaf baby. Their impact on lay people was also explored. Critically, any discourse that challenges or contradicts the dominant was sought and found. Such discourse is a minority view, but nevertheless these represent critical evidence of how the hegemonic view is challenged. Where does that arise from, or how does it come about? There is particular interest in the way it happens and how it is communicated and to what audience.

Discussion moved on to the genetics campaign itself – specifically stop eugenics – the people involved, their political campaign, the approach they took and whether it had any impact or success. The impact was massive: the media coverage by radio, newspapers, journals, television, is probably the most widepsread coverage of any ‘Deaf issue’ in the UK.

In respect of the sense it obtained such coverage, success is probably not the correct word because it didn’t lead the scrapping of the clause although the explanatory clause was changed to remove references to deaf donors, but impact would appear a more appropriate one. It momentarily entered the consciousness of a wide range of laypeople who, had they read or heard the debates on radio, considered their own emotions and beliefs as well as those of Deaf people.

One of the most important debates from my point of view was the political nature of the campaign itself.  Stop Eugenics was meant to be non-hieracrhical; although a small group of people took the initiative in starting up the website, the media and political campaign, there was no formal committee as such, the activists did not seek to create a committee or organisation, but was very much a ‘do it yourself’ group.  People were constantly encouraged to become involved in ways that catered for what they could contribute to such a campaign: creative video’s, posters, taking part in media interviews. A separate group set up a march. Stop Eugenics wasn’t a formal organisation, but it was set up to campaign for the scrapping of Clause 14/4/9.

Yes, it could have become a formal organisation, but did not crystalise into one for a various number of reasons: that is a shame, but the ‘do it yourself’ nature of the organisation didn’t, nevertheless, stop identified individuals becoming identified with the campaign as it’s spokespeople. 

In single issues campaigns such as that of Stop Eugenics where a small number of people are active, a momentum is created, and if they use intense energy and effort to sustain they will eventually burn out. Some did suggest it became an organisational type of movement so it could have become, for example, a kind of FDP; however, there were some very positive things that did come from it, such as the national and international attention and cyber-gathering.

Here is where Deafhood could explore wider political activist movements, since it will find that all radical political movements that react and are formed largely in defence are ultimately limited: i.e. it isn’t unique to Deaf activism. All active campaigns rely on small cadres to keep the momentum going.

If you have a much larger number of active people (I mean thousands, not scores as in, for example, the FDP) what you will get is not reform, but revolution.  People are freed up to be active on a wide range of front’s that will test the established order to breaking point. You can see the parallels with so many different movements.

It was an extremely interesting class, and the debate continues. In a small way, I thought the Stop Eugenics movement brought to life Deafhood in very real sense: i.e. that Deaf people are not going to be guinea pigs in any legislation that wishes to bring small steps to their eradication. Politicians and the media may well have assumed they had quite a straightforward argument, but Deaf people who became involved indicated that isn’t quite the case. There are a large group of Deaf citizens who are happy to be Deaf and not dead.

The message made was that it is positive to be Deaf; Deaf people have much to offer and contribute to humanity; and the future of the Deaf world through sign language and Deaf culture has positive benefits to bring to humankind.

More Deafhood classes please! 🙂