What does it mean to be a deaf scholar working within the field of Deaf Studies, and how might the field itself incorporate more deaf-led research? At a moment in which more conversations in the academy are considering how lived experiences inform the production of knowledge and scholarship, the new collected volume Innovations in Deaf Studies: The Role of Deaf Scholars brings a welcome contribution to Deaf Studies that will also appeal to scholars in Disability Studies who are mulling over related questions. Edited by Annelies Kusters, Maartje De Meulder, and Dai O'Brien, all of whom work at British and European institutions, this volume adds a cross-cultural and global perspective to Deaf Studies to emphasize the field's diversity and growing international reach. The book places focus on the central position of deaf scholars in producing knowledge, and it nicely draws attention to the next generation of deaf scholars whose work builds on the legacy of such predecessors as Tom Humphries and Carol Padden, who write the foreword to this volume.
One of the most notable features of Innovations in Deaf Studies is that all its contributors are deaf scholars working within the field of Deaf Studies. The book aspires to foreground deaf ontologies, or "deaf ways of being," and to consider how the lived experience of being deaf is central not only for research participants or research materials but also for the researchers themselves: for their "ontologies, positionalities, and theoretical framings" (p.1). Coming at a time when more deaf scholars are taking leadership within Deaf Studies and shaping the field in different ways than their hearing colleagues, this discussion is an essential one for both the content and the context of Deaf Studies scholarship in the future.
Innovations in Deaf Studies joins a substantial lineup of other academic books from Oxford University Press's Perspectives on Deafness series; other selected titles in this series currently include Marc Marschark and Peter C. Hauser's Deaf Cognition (2008), Irene W. Leigh's A Lens on Deaf Identities (2009), and Stephanie Cawthon and Carrie Lou Garberoglio's Research in Deaf Education (2017). Unlike some other volumes from the series that focus on specific disciplinary corners of Deaf Studies, Innovations in Deaf Studies is sweeping in its scope – and deliberately so, as it aspires to be a touchstone for a range of academics to think about Deaf Studies as a whole and to consider its potential intersections with other disciplines. The book thus builds on an already-existing impulse in Deaf Studies to trace points of relevance to the academy at large. Earlier collected volumes such as Open Your Eyes: Deaf Studies Talking (University of Minnesota Press, 2007) and Deaf Gain: Raising the Stakes for Human Diversity (University of Minnesota Press, 2014), for instance, cast Deaf Studies-informed insights as unique tools for adding deaf epistemologies to other existing disciplines. Innovations in Deaf Studies joins these predecessors and stages a thoughtful and nuanced discussion of what Deaf Studies is doing and where it is going, while placing the contributions of deaf scholars at the forefront of these considerations about the field.
The book's investment in exploring the impacts, nuances, and implications of these deaf scholars' research positionalities and embodied knowledges makes it notable, as does its emphasis on more multilayered, global, and cross-cultural notions of being deaf. Rather than following the sometimes static and monolithic ideas of Deaf community and Deaf culture, the volume's editors recognize the historical significance of these frameworks while pointing to a more dynamic contemporary concept of deaf cultures that engages a need for more diversity and more intersectional perspectives in the field. In the introduction, the editors stage a conversation about how we can understand deaf identities as multilayered, complex, and also irreducible to a single "essentialist" concept of Deafness. They contextualize some contemporary critical conversations about the uses and limits of such identity-based labels and continue to a thoughtful discussion about using "deaf" versus "Deaf" to achieve maximal inclusiveness and accuracy but also maximal cultural/political effectiveness. (The reader of this review will note that I have opted to follow the editors of this volume in using "deaf" as an umbrella term to describe all types of deaf people, although some individual contributors to the volume also draw valuable attention to the benefits associated with capitalizing "Deaf" in their respective chapters.) Furthermore, this book illustrates its investment in exploring more dynamic deaf communities and more diverse scholarship by including contributions from current deaf scholars who explore Deaf Studies approaches to and intersections with other social and cultural issues such as class and professional status, race, indigenous peoples, queer/crip theory, intergenerational perspectives, and international communities like the global South.
Readers who are curious about the current state of the field of Deaf Studies, or who need an introduction (or a refresher) to its history and its ongoing debates, will find the introduction to be particularly informative reading. Kusters, De Meulder, and O'Brien write a comprehensive, thoughtful, and nuanced map of the field, in which they trace its historical origins, its recent turn toward deaf epistemologies and toward more bottom-up (rather than top-down) ways of creating communal knowledge, and its current theoretical trends. The current trends in Deaf Studies include: deaf spaces and networks; languaging and language ideologies (particularly those related to sign languages); citizenship and rights; value and deaf gain; and deaf futures and sustainable development.
The remainder of the introduction enacts a discussion on the positions of deaf and hearing scholars in the field, including the considerations hearing scholars can bring to their often-hegemonic role in Deaf Studies and also the complex "insider" positionality that deaf scholars contribute to their research and interactions with other deaf research subjects or community members. Notably, the editors also reflect on the impact of creating an academic "deaf space in print" as part of the process of developing this book. Each chapter in the book, in addition to being written by a deaf scholar, has been reviewed by at least four deaf scholars, and the introduction itself has been produced through a process of discussion and review from a network of deaf academics. As the editors put it, "There is something 'deaf' about the process, which goes beyond everyone involved being deaf": that is, the "deaf" practice involved in the creation of this volume includes a deeper methodological (re)thinking about academic collaboration and the productive use of "deaf capital," or a network of deaf peers (p.3). This level of reflection about how to shape academic methodology to match the ontologies of a particular community is an especially welcome contribution to Deaf Studies and may also impact other fields like disability studies where research positions and community membership are also topics of ongoing discussion.
Following the introduction, the volume organizes its chapters across three main sections, Developments and Directions in Deaf Studies, Deaf Ontologies, and Ethnographic Methodologies, which in their respective ways consider the state of the field as well as the role that deaf ontologies play in informing research practices. I will now briefly snapshot some (although not all) of the pieces in each of the three sections to give readers an idea of the overall depth and breadth of material in the volume.
Opening the "Developments and Deaf Studies" section is Dai O'Brien's "Deaf-led Deaf Studies: Using Kaupapa Māori Principles to Guide the Development of Deaf Research Practices." O'Brien begins with a reflection on how deaf-centric approaches to Deaf studies can borrow from other research frameworks to offer more coherency and advocacy power to the field. O'Brien considers the Kupapa Māori research framework, which has been developed by and for the community of Māori people in New Zealand, as one way to promote shared communal factors such as self-determination, social justice, language, and connectedness as the basis for a Deaf studies research framework. Joseph J. Murray's "Academic and Community Interactions in the Formation of Deaf Studies in the United States" continues the volume's discussion of the foundations of community and culture by giving a useful history of how deaf ontologies arose with the beginning of the field of Deaf Studies in the United States. Murray's chapter helps us to understand how the idea of "Deaf culture" at its inception was defined in a historically specific context, which now helps us to move beyond "talking culture" to address other ways "in which deaf lives are lived in a continuous conversation with the world" (p.96). Maartje De Meulder's chapter offers its own nuanced community-based considerations by studying the complex relationship between deaf professionals and the local deaf community in Britain, and Michele Friedner brings important attention to non-Western contributions to Deaf Studies and deaf communities through her chapter "Doing Deaf Studies in the Global South." Friedner considers the situated knowledge of Deaf Studies and turns to the existing scholarship on disability in the global South (in particular, the work of Shaun Grech and Karen Soldatic, 2014) to suggest how Deaf Studies could take up different vocabularies and local naming practices to study more deaf experiences and worlds within their specific locations and contexts.
Finally, Rebecca Sanchez's "Rejecting the Talkies: Charlie Chaplin's Language Politics and the Future of Deaf Studies in the Humanities" provides an intriguing reading of Charlie Chaplin's 1940 film The Great Dictator through the lens of "deaf insight," which gives us a new way to understand the film's dual critiques – of fascism and of normative verbal communication – not as separate facts but as interconnected components of the regulation of bodies and of languages. Sanchez's considerations of how to draw on deaf insight to engage in more unexpected thematic readings of literary and cultural texts bear great promise for the humanities, in particular.
The second section, "Deaf Ontologies," opens with Hannah Lewis and Kirk VanGilder's chapter, "A Dialogue on Deaf Theology: Deaf Ontologies Seeking Theology," which offers a dialectical conversation on how to ground deaf theology in deaf experiences, including the gains of expressing theology in signed languages and in transnational deaf contexts and communities. Deaf ontologies figure into Rachel Mazique and Rezenet Moges's chapters on deaf literatures, which respectively engage with bioethics and queer interpretations of literary texts, and Marieke Kusters explores how deaf ontologies can influence the pedagogical choices of deaf teachers of deaf children. Kusters's chapter focuses on active and former Flemish deaf teachers' feelings of intergenerational responsibility and ontological "sameness" that informs their incentive to teach at deaf schools; notably, this piece also moves toward recognizing the positionality of the researcher, or how being deaf can impact researching deaf-related issues. To cite one example, Kusters reports that shared deaf ontologies were experienced as stimulating by research participants in this study, but were perhaps limiting to the research project when the participant did not elaborate on certain themes (perhaps by deeming them obvious or unnecessary to explain to another deaf person).
The third section of this volume, on "Ethnographic Methodologies," emphasizes more questions about the position the deaf researcher occupies while working with deaf communities, or how to take more deaf-oriented research methodologies into account. Dai O'Brien and Annelies Kusters discuss the potential of using more visually-centered research methods in "Visual Methods in Deaf Studies: Using Photography and Filmmaking in Research with Deaf People." They point to how academic work could make more use of images or video materials as ways to elicit data from participants during research, to document information or answer research questions, or to communicate research findings, and they provide a thoughtful discussion (with examples from their own research) of how to experiment with the richness of visual methods to expand other approaches to deaf-centered research. In a piece that may be of particular cross-disciplinary interest to Disability Studies scholars, Hilde Haualand (in "When Inclusion Excludes") considers how social and cultural ideas about disability inclusion can create epistemological and ontological crisis for deaf researchers, in situations where being deaf and/or being a researcher influences one's relationship with the field and with a particular research project. Haualand describes her experiences and her constructed identity as a Norwegian deaf researcher working in various research and academic situations that either grant or deny access and inclusion, or sometimes simultaneously do both at the same time, even within larger contexts of Disability Studies research, and reflects on her dynamic ability to "study across" levels of power and provide unique insight to these situations.
Also in the book's third section, Lynn Y-S Hou, in "Negotiating Language Practices and Language Ideologies in Fieldwork," continues discussions on the deaf researcher's unique position within the academy by detailing some discursive shifts in research methods, ethics, and collaboration in sign language linguistics research that have arisen as a result of more deaf-led research about signing deaf communities. Hou highlights the contrasting positionalities and research experiences that deaf and hearing researchers can have when interacting with local communities in linguistics research and emphasizes these different positions as one core consideration for future design of research methodology. And finally, Erin Moriarty Harrelson, in "Authenticating Ownership: Claims to Deaf Ontologies in the Global South," wraps up the international reach of this book by discussing some struggles and conflicts over the representation of deaf people in the global South by other deaf people located in other geospatial places like the United States, when assumed shared deaf ontologies come into collision with different levels of privilege.
On the whole, Innovations in Deaf Studies opens up new and long-overdue discussions about what it means for deaf researchers to take leadership in their respective academic disciplines and to make new Deaf Studies-centered interventions – either through new kinds of theoretical considerations or through deaf-oriented approaches to research methodology. The breadth of the book is refreshing, but several recurring threads through different chapters raise intriguing questions about what further possibilities could arise in future Deaf studies-focused research and publishing. For instance, several of the contributors to this volume mention the benefits of visually-oriented methodologies or discuss the reasons why communicating academic arguments or research findings in signed languages is still uncommon (and less respected) in academia. Yet incorporating more visual or signed materials, perhaps via an alternative digital publishing platform, is an exciting possible area of development for Deaf Studies to take leadership within the academy at large. Experimenting with less traditional visual or multimedia publishing formats, especially during a time in which many academics are already discussing electronic academic publishing, could help open up fresh possibilities for foregrounding deaf community ontologies at the core of Deaf Studies research, and could also create a larger communal "deaf space" beyond the one forged in the publication of this book.
Readers in Disability Studies or in other fields will appreciate this book's deliberately intersectional and interdisciplinary reach and will find moments of productive discussion about what it means to incorporate more Deaf Studies perspectives into the core assumptions of their own fields. Since Disability Studies has similarly wide and interdisciplinary goals as Deaf Studies, academics working in Disability Studies may also find some exciting ideas about how to apply their own research lens to unexpected new places, questions, or methods within other disciplines. The book's consideration of how these different academic methods, ethical considerations, and community-based concerns arise from including deaf scholars at the core of academic research practices will be edifying for any other members of the academy who also identify as members of a minority community, or who are similarly considering how to shape their research contributions after their or their community's own ontologies. Innovations in Deaf Studies emphasizes the fresh perspectives and challenges that can arise when a group of scholars claim broader academic ownership within their field, which contains fruitful lessons and ongoing questions for all of us.
- Grech, S., & Soldatic, K.M. (2014). Introducing Disability and the global South (DGS): We are critical, we are open access! Disability and the Global South, 1(1), 1-4.