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▲ Translation vs. interpretation: So a translator can do both written text and spoken language, and it’s in the same modality. In other words, one spoken language to another spoken language: that’s in the same modality. One written language to another written language is in the same modality. Interpreting from American Sign Language to a spoken language is actually moving from one modality to another. And the difference is that it’s not just the medium, because the way that language works when you’re speaking it’s linear. You know, one word comes out after another, right? You don’t know what I’m gonna say until I am at the end of my sentence, right? And everything comes out one after the other. But in signing you can actually convey lots of different information all at once simultaneously because you’re using space, you’re using your facial expressions, you’re using movement, directionality. You can do one movement with particular features and convey a whole sentence. So it’s it’s a different modality.
▲ Sociological vs. psychological views of identity: You know, identity is very much talked about from both a sociological point of view but also a psycho sociological point of view, or social psychology, we might talk about it that way. So there’s ways that people investigate identity on a very individual level, so they’re looking at how do people understand who they are as individuals in dynamic relation to the world around them … to what the world is telling them their body means, or their experience means, or the interests that they have … what kinds of significance that these things have socially. They then input that information and create identities based on that. So it’s a dynamic process between an individual and the social context where they might find themselves in. But there are different ways of approaching this. You know, the psychosocial approaches might be more concerned with some of the psychological aspects of this. I am not well versed in that at all as a sociologist, I’m more looking at how identity categories get sort of deployed for certain reasons, and they may be very much psychological reasons.
▲ Interest in disability studies vs. deaf studies: What’s interesting is that sometimes I’m very aware that I have to be a little sheepish about “Oh, I do disability studies” if I’m around deaf people. And then, you know, a lot of my work is about the deaf community, but it’s also not limited to that. And it’s really important to me that my work be situated within disability studies. My academic position was a disability studies position, that’s what I was hired to do. and it’s very much part of my identity, but so as being a sociologist.
▲ Participants without signing parents: One of them actually had parents who knew sign, so this was a really sort of interesting case right? But for the rest of the participants, their parents did not know sign, and so they sort of picked up information as best they could when they were growing up. And they did not have access to this notion of deaf culture, some of them not until college. So there are different trajectories here. One person talked about she went to a residential – a deaf residential school – starting at about age four or five. And so, at age four or five she then became exposed to deaf people and sign language. So for her, she didn’t talk about how she was quote/unquote “think hearing” because she started around four or five being surrounded with the deaf community. But there are two of the participants I’m thinking about in particular who both talked about growing up with some access to sign language but it wasn’t American Sign Language.
▲ Parents’ pathologization of deafness: My participants understood that there was something quote/unquote “wrong with them” from very early on. I remember one of them talking about how she kept being shuttled to doctor after doctor after doctor, and she couldn’t figure out why she kept having to go to the doctor. And it turns out that all of these participants talked about their parents saying “We have to do what the audiologist says we’re supposed to do.” And this took various forms. One of the participants talked about his mother sitting down and saying “We have to do this speech training now because you have to learn how to talk, and you’re not allowed to sign, and this is what we’re gonna do.” And his experience of her was very much “Oh, there’s this thing wrong with me and I have to correct it. I have to perform in some way in order to fix this, to ameliorate this problem.” And, you know, all of them talked about – from a very young age – getting the sense that they needed to be “fixed.” Another one of my participants talked about her mother taking her to church and having the pastor try to quote/unquote “heal her.” And had her on a stage, you know, trying to heal her … fix her ears. So, yes, absolutely parents were participants in the pathologizing. And this is not to say that parents are bad people, it’s that medical knowledge has such power. And the ways in which parents respond to their child’s deafness is very much shaped by medical culture, clinical culture. Which is not separate from culture at large. It’s not somehow cordoned off from the rest of all the same biases that exist in the world outside of medicine. You know, medical practitioners have the those same biases they don’t have them any less than anybody else. So, yeah, that pathologization happened very early on and they were very aware of this.
▲ Interview with participant who signed early: I recall her interview being very … less dramatic, shall we say. She talked about “Oh yeah, I always felt good about myself! I always felt great! I was deaf! I signed! It’s awesome!” Like it was just this, you know, unsullied kind of thinking about who she was. There was no sense of pathology at all. And her discussion of quote/unquote “becoming deaf” was more centered around a deepening of the affiliation with the Deaf world. So she talked about being surrounded by deaf people and knowing sign language and this was, you know, this was part of who she was, no problem. And then as a young adult beginning to investigate further into the history of oppression of deaf people, the politics of deafness, and then working in a more … uh, more of an advocacy role, to advocate for deaf people, and so this was where she talked about, I guess you could say, “I was becoming deaf” in this sense, where it was more politicized. So her kind of level that she was talking about was a little bit different from other people’s. And it was a much less of a dramatic shift.
▲ On sampling from Gallaudet community: You know, I can’t empirically say that it, you know, makes a significant difference. But I’d be willing to bet that it does. And I say this because in my experience it’s not that deaf people outside of Gallaudet don’t have a sense of deaf culture community, because they absolutely do. But the outsized role of Gallaudet on the world deaf stage: I mean, it is the place that people go to from all over the world. And so I can’t imagine that that kind of context is not shaping these experiences in a way that makes it a bit different from the Deaf community in Los Angeles or New York, etc, you know. But I’m sure that each has its own particular characteristics. And just as a student there I know that for me it was like … I’d been around the Deaf community in Austin but the Deaf community in DC it was so big and really fierce in a way that I had never experienced before. And it’s really invigorating. And I think that there’s something about that.
▲ On generalizability vs. importance of findings: One of the arguments I always make for this is that just because something may not be able to be generalizable it doesn’t mean it’s also not important. And I think capturing these stories is extremely important, particularly because it is so rare that deaf people are included in research. They’re simply not included in research because researchers don’t typically know American Sign Language, or they don’t purposefully recruit deaf people, and interviews are usually done in spoken language. And so being able to offer interviews in ASL was, for me, something really important in terms of inclusion of people in sociological research. And I also think it’s really important that sociology reflect back on itself because there isn’t a whole lot of work out there that takes seriously the Deaf community or Deaf identity as a category that’s worth investigating. So, you know, in some ways it’s very exploratory, because there’s just not a whole lot of work out there.
▲ Use of member checks: I did talk to all but one of my participants and translated their interviews, and so I wanted to make sure I had those translations right. And so I supplied the transcripts and any corrections they sent back. So that was really important for me to make sure if I was going to be quoting their stories and putting their voice in the paper I wanted to make sure it was done correctly. So that was a really important process for me. And then I did talk with other deaf people that I knew about some of the things that I found and said “I’m sort of framing it like this. What do you think about that?” and I remember one person saying “Oh my gosh, I never thought about that but that’s true!” You know, so a really interesting sort of collaboration in the sense of sometimes we are involved in something and it takes somebody else to look at it and go, “Hey, you’re doing this thing!”
▲ Protecting personally identifiable information: I have anonymized them and removed any, like, city or town names or anything like that because the Deaf community is so small, I wanted to make sure that it was as anonymized as possible. And I have a graduate student who did some work around … in the trans community, and it was … we had to be extremely careful about the ways that she wrote up the sort of participant demographics and profiles. Because, again, the trans community is very small as well. And this was a very local site, and it was very easy I think for people to be able to figure out who was who if she included certain information. So it’s something I’m very sensitive to in terms of protecting people’s identity in smaller communities.
▲ History of disability rights: Within the disability rights movement there is a long history of very organized and tightly coalesced groups that were around a particular disability. So, like, the blind community for example. A lot of the initial disability rights movement organizing was done by people who have physical disabilities, primarily wheelchair users, which was part of the reason why the wheelchair became this universal symbol of disability. So a lot of it is because of the grassroots efforts that were started in the US and the UK by people that were primarily physically disabled and using wheelchairs. So there’s definitely these threads within the larger disability rights movement that coalesce around a specific disability type. So I think this question of “How do we honor the specifics of a experience whilst not losing the whole?” And I think that’s a great sort of broad social movements question that I’m sure that sociologists of social movements would know a lot more about than I do, and I’d be interested to be in conversation about that.