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Date: Mon, 13 Oct 2003 03:13:19 +0900 From: Mike Morgan Subject: Understanding Deaf Culture
Ladd, Paddy (2003) Understanding Deaf Culture: In Search of Deafhood, Multilingual Matters Ltd.
Michael W. Morgan, Kobe City University of Foreign Studies
OVERVIEW Over the past forty years, ever since American Sign Language (and mutatis mutandis, other sign languages) was acknowledged to be a true language, Deaf culture has been the focus of numerous works. This is particularly true of North America (for example, Stokoe, et al. 1976 ; Benderly 1980; Padden & Humphries 1988). Similar studies have also been undertaken for other countries, for example, Japan (Gendai- Sisou 1996). The work being reviewed undertakes the study of Deaf culture in the U.K., and is intended for anyone, Deaf or hearing, undertaking or planning research of the Deaf and Deaf culture. The approach taken is Post-colonialist, and it is asserted that Deaf culture Studies can make a contribution to related academic disciplines, such as Multi-Cultural Studies, Minority Studies, Women's Studies, Black Studies, Post-Colonial Studies, etc., and to human life in general, especially the life of the lay person (as has arguably been the case in the pre-Oralist past).The present work is the first in a series of projected volumes, including a volume focusing on presenting the interviews upon which the present work is based, and a DVD in Sign Language, for Deaf researchers and potential researchers for whom English is a second language.
SUMMARY In addition to emphasizing the importance of Deaf Cultural Studies and outlining the contents of the chapters, Ladd also uses the Introduction to introduce seven key concepts which he uses in his study: 1) Lay people, their position in society and in Deaf issues, and the importance of Deaf Cultural Studies to diverse audiences 2) Deafhood, as opposed to deafness (mere hearing loss), as a potential, or state of becoming culturally Deaf 3) Culturo-linguistic model, as opposed to the medical or disability model 4) Colonialism, especially Linguistic Colonialism, as a prime factor in Deaf community experiences 5) Minority cultures, and their experiences as opposed to those of members of the majority cultures 6) Deaf epistemologies, or the existence of a 'Deaf Way' or ways of viewing the world 7) Subaltern and subaltern researcher, with his/her position as a Deaf culture grass-roots insider.
Chapter 1 presents an overview of Deaf communities, from an insider perspective. Such an overview moves beyond the medical and disability- related criteria of deafness (loss of hearing, 'need' for various forms of rehabilitation, etc.) to a cultural definition of the community as made up of Deaf with their own language (sign language), their own membership criteria (endogamous marriage, socialization in special residential schools, etc), their own community practices (further socialization in Deaf clubs, Deaf sports, etc.). Ladd then goes on to discuss such complications of the overview as the participation of minority Deaf in the majority culture (at work, in higher education, etc.), the presence of Deaf minority groups, and Deaf organization and political activities. In closing the Introduction Ladd once again emphasizes that the features of Deaf communities resemble most closely the colonial situation.
Chapters 2 and 3 focus on Deaf and Hearing Discourses about d/Deaf in history (Chapter 2) and in the twentieth century (Chapter 3). "The beauty of discourse theory," writes Ladd, "is not only that it renders power relationships visible and identifies cultural patterns behind supposed social 'givens', but that in itself it is an egalitarian term. All sets of dialogue ... are of equal intrinsic merit" (77). Examination of the majority, ruling discourses must be seen in terms of hegemony and colonialism. These are opposed to the discourses of the subalterns, those denied access to 'hegemonic' power. Ladd identifies a series of majority cultural discourses about the d/Deaf that have taken place throughout Western history, ranging from surdophobic to surdophilic. He shows that surdophobic discourse tends to originate in a view of d/Deaf as individual, cut off from the majority culture, while surdophilic discourse tends to originate in a view of d/Deaf as part of a collectivity, characterized most notably by the common possession of sign language. Ladd gives special prominence to the positive aspects of lay discourse on d/Deaf, and lay valuation of Deaf gesture, d/Deaf artists, societies like Martha's Vineyard where 'Everybody here spoke sign language,' etc. In modern times, however, surdophobic discourse won out: Oralist discourses within the colonial educational community, various medical discourses aiming to 'cure' deafness with the rise of scientism, social welfare and charity discourses resulting in created dependency. Only in the last twenty years of the twentieth century has a Deaf resurgence, with an emerging prestige of sign language users and Deaf families, the rise of subaltern Deaf professionals, etc. has the colonialist model been threatened.
In Chapter 4 Ladd introduces various traditional, sociological, anthropological definitions of culture: culture as totality, culture as adaptive system, culture as ideational construct, culture as competence and performance, etc. He also examines the fields Cultural Studies, Post-Modernist Studies, Post-Colonialist Studies, Diaspora theories, Minority Studies, Sub-cultural, Bicultural and Multicultural theories, Ethnicity Studies, etc. for their relevance to the study of Deaf Culture.
In Chapter 5 Ladd examines discourses and definitions of Deaf culture. These include English-generated definitions ('Deaf Culture,' appearing in British Sign Language only in the mid 1980s) and sign language- generated definitions ('DEAF WORLD,' probably going back over a century). He examines a series of perspectives on Deaf culture: membership perspectives, normative perspectives, symbolist perspectives, linguistic perspectives, structuralist perspectives, ethnicity perspectives, biological perspectives, political perspectives, and anthropological perspectives. Of particular interest to this reviewer are the introduction here (and use elsewhere in the book) of the contrasts: individualist vs. collectivist cultures, low context vs. high context cultures, monochronic vs. polychronic cultures, all Hall's cultural clusters (Hall 1976 & 1983). In each case Deaf culture fits into the latter of each pair. Ladd then addresses reactions to the Deaf culture trope in semi-academic and academic discourse, as well as re-evaluating certain problematic aspects of Deaf culture (e.g. ethnicity issues, cultural geography, etc.). Such re- assessment of the discourse strands from Chapters 1 and 2 is used to indicate the direction the study should take. Ladd chooses a 'bricolage' approach, including methodologies which affirm introspection as a member of subaltern Deaf culture, with 'thick description' to give the reader a better sense of the community.
Chapter 6 discusses the problems of subaltern researcher methodologies. Ladd argues for critical ethnography, respondent validation, triangulation, reflexive subjectivity and transparency, typicality, judgement sampling, and catalytic validity (where "the praxis and results of the research study ... have positive effects for the group studied." (274). Ladd proceeds to situate himself as subaltern researcher within the study, in order to fulfill needs of maximal transparency. He then describes the various stages and strategies used in the study: participant-observer involvement of the author, open- ended interviews with members of the Deaf community, discussion forums to examine typicality of the views elicited in the interviews, further interviews of older Deaf to gain a historical perspective and of Deaf with 'strong Deaf' views (a group whose views had never been recorded before), and finally testing the emerging data by facilitating discussions of the data to be fed back into the study. He then discusses some of the issues that arose in the course of the study.
Chapters 7 examines the roots of Deaf Culture as manifest in residential Deaf schools. The Deaf school was the domain, prior to Oralism, where the community language was learned, where aspects of socialization into the Deaf community occurred, and where instruction in how to conduct oneself in the larger majority society by adult Deaf models took place. With Oralism, at best these occurred covertly; with the elimination of Deaf teachers, the latter ceased entirely. Still, even under Oralism the Deaf school remained an active force in Deaf life: a source of community and identity, a primary family, etc. Ladd provides detailed accounts from his interviewees of experiences under Oralism. Prominent in this and the next chapter is the idea of '1001 small victories': finding situations and ways to resist (and survive) the Oralist strictures: devising strategies and situations to sign to each other, humor, resistance and rebellion, etc. Even under Oralism, deaf children had access to Deaf influences: in the form of Deaf visitors to the Deaf school, Deaf children with Deaf families, etc. Despite Oralism, d/Deaf managed to develop a Deaf identity. Still Oralism at Deaf schools had a manifest negative effect on Deaf culture: it created a sense of fear and submission, a sense of fatalism and a lack of self-confidence, possibly neurological damage, retardation of opinion formation, horizontal violence, damage to sign language expressiveness, enforced impotence, self-division.
Chapter 8 continues the examination of the roots of Deaf culture in Deaf Clubs. In the UK this meant the Missionary tradition, where the Deaf were 'ministered' to by the 'Missions to the Deaf', which took over control of existing Deaf clubs and established others. Deaf clubs were (and are) dominated by 'class' differences: a 'middle' class making up perhaps 25% of the club and the remaining working class. Ladd uses the data of his interviews to describe the inter-group characteristics of Deaf clubs. The first he deals with is speech ability, a talent which could be used to benefit the entire community. Next he deals with class patterns, class attitudes (towards the missioner, towards the other class in the Deaf club, and towards lay people). In these attitudes, Deaf culture had absorbed colonialist values which were internalized as Deaf cultural values. In Deaf clubs the result was usually submission (to the missioner, to the middle class Deaf), learned helplessness (reliance on the missioner or those with greater access to majority culture, namely the middle class Deaf), etc.. However, in addition to class which serves to divide the community, there are activities which serve for cultural unity: Deaf sports, club outings, national Deaf consciousness, sign language, and humor.
Chapter 9 deals with the phenomenon of subaltern Deaf rebels and the emerging concept of Deafhood. In many cases these rebels were influenced by Deaf elders -- particularly those who had been educated prior to the complete domination of Oralism in the schools. The 'culture shock' of seeing these elders' impressive signing AND fingerspelling (i.e., English) skills, impressed on these mostly young (generation of the 1960s) the failures of Oralism. This led many of them to rebel not only against Oralism, but against the culture of Oralism which also pervaded the Deaf clubs. This rebellion led to exclusion from some Deaf clubs, and a flight to the pubs. Here not only were they able to commune with like minds, but they were able to relink with the hearing lay people, which Ladd posits has always had a much more positive discourse attitude towards d/Deaf. The rebellion also led to the formation of a new Deaf national political culture.
Chapter 10 contains conclusions and implications of the study. First and foremost is the validation of the 'Deaf culture' concept. Deaf culture thus can be expected to have its own world-views which are internally coherent and valid. Again, a central position is occupied by the Deaf language, sign language, whose status thus must be recognized. The pathological model of deafness which centered on individualism must give way to a new 'Deafhood' model acknowledging the collectivity of Deaf Culture, as exemplified in the data chapters. The recognition of Deaf culture also has implications for Deaf education, other colonized domains like social and political policies Deaf community domains, Deaf television, Deaf Studies itself as an academic discipline, Deaf-related government agencies, etc. All these spheres must experience a return to Deaf-centeredness and Deaf control. The concept of Deafhood proposed also has implications for Deaf Cultural Theory and the study of Deaf communities. Among other things it provides for a new conceptual 'space,' an alternative to the deafness trope, and a space within which Deaf cultural beliefs and values can be discussed. Ladd then goes on to discuss a variety of other implications of the study for wider cultural theory ... and for the field of Deaf Cultural Studies itself.
In the Afterword, Chapter 11, Ladd presents a set of 'imagined futures' in which the harms and damages of the colonialist past are rectified. These involve a thorough reconstructing of Deaf life and the structures and organizations which regulate Deaf Culture. In the area of Deaf education the imagined future is one where Oralism is defined as institutionalized child abuse and reparations are to alleviate the ills caused by more than a century of Oralism. Other areas where reconstructing is envisaged include the medical (and medical research) profession, psychiatry, Deaf communities and Deaf clubs themselves, the training, administration and funding of sign language interpreters, the media, academia. In all cases it should be a system of the Deaf, for the Deaf and by the Deaf.
CRITICAL EVALUATION In this critical evaluation I will limit myself to four issues. The first involves the 'bricolage' approach that Ladd takes to setting up the theoretical framework for his study. Chapters 4 and 5 contain more theories and models than can be easily enumerated. While Ladd's exposition of each does provide future Deaf culture research with possible directions and methods, he himself takes almost exclusively a post-colonialist tact in his analysis of data. Thus it might provide for a more coherent work if he had restricted himself to only those theories and models he himself uses in the current work, or else incorporate the various elements he uses from the other theories and models into a unified framework. (Since the present work claims to be the first of a series of studies, the current criticism may be premature; perhaps in subsequent volumes Ladd will make more use of the models and theories introduced).
The second criticism has to do with Ladd's drawing attention on several occasions in the work to the conflict between British (mutatis mutandis, American) hearing culture and values and British Deaf culture and values, based on the cultural clusters of high context vs. low context, and individual vs. collective presented in Hall (1976 & 1983). While we might well place British (or American) hearing and Deaf cultures at opposite extremes of each of the cultural cluster, the same cannot be said of Japanese hearing culture and Japanese Deaf culture. Both are high context and emphasizing collectivist as opposed to individualist. However, despite the similar cultural patterns, most of the problems that exist in British (or American) also exist in Japan. Thus Ladd's argument does not hold up as well under cross-cultural scrutiny.
Thirdly, as a scholarly work, Understanding Deaf Culture contains a copious bibliography of works, including all the major works in the field. The work also contains an index of Authors Cited, which helps to track down the major works cited. However, when it comes to the Index much is left to be desired. In a 500-page book, the Index is just barely over two pages in length, and lacks many important entries. For example, there is no entry for sign language, or British Sign Language. The entries that are present are often less than useful, for example, the entry for 'Oralism and Deaf Culture' lists over forty page references, with no sub-headings to guide the reader.
Finally, being a linguist, this reviewer would have liked to see more explicit discussion of sign language as a manifestation of Deaf culture. As central to the culture-LINGUISTIC model presented for defining Deaf culture, once would hope that space could be given to the linguistic as well as the cultural aspects of the question.
All in all, because of the new perspective it presents on Deaf culture, Understanding Deaf Culture can be heartily recommended to anyone involved in, or contemplating involvement in the study of the Deaf, their language, and their culture.
REFERENCES Benderly, Berryl Lieff (1980). Dancing Without Music: Deafness in America. Washington, D.C.: Gallaudet University Press.
Gendai-Sisou. Soutokushuu: Rou-Bunka [Modern Thought: General Special Issue: Deaf Culture] 1996: 24/05.
Hall, Edward T. (1976). Beyond Culture. New York: Anchor Books.
Hall, Edward T. (1983). The Dance of Life: The Other Dimension of Time. New York: Anchor Books.
Padden, Carol & Tom Humphries (1988). Deaf in America: Voices from a Culture. Cambridge, MA & London: Harvard University Press.
Stokoe, William C., Dorothy C. Casterline & Carl G. Croneberg (1976). A Dictionary of American Sign Language on Linguistic Principles. Silver Springs, MD: Linstok Press.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Michael W. Morgan has a doctorate in Slavic Linguistics, and currently teaches at Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, Kobe, Japan. An Indo-Europeanist by training, he has been involved in sign language research for the past ten years, but continues to research Indo- European languages as well.