(1998) 'Method in a Photographic Enquiry of being Deaf'
Sociological Research Online, vol. 3, no. 2, <http://www.socresonline.org.uk/3/2/2.html>
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Received: 29/4/98 Accepted: 12/6/98 Published: 30/6/98
To this end, I have opted for two parallel texts, a photographic one as well as a written one, cross-referenced by hyperlinks. The photographs form the core, or the 'evidence' of the method outlined in the text. The photographs portray a number of pertinent visual characteristics and strategies found where Deaf people congregate into clearly defined communities, for example Deaf clubs, d/Deaf colleges, and in the pages of magazines aimed at d/Deaf audiences; yet the photographs bear witness to the commonplace, portraying regular Deaf club and Deaf college activities.
In the process of discussing the reasons for taking the photographs and having photographs taken, I set out to describe what is meant by a 'Deaf visuality', and to suggest its relevance to research into deafness and being d/Deaf.
Being Deaf usually means the person has some degree of hearing loss. However, the type or degree of hearing loss is not a criterion for being Deaf. Rather, the criterion is whether a person identifies with other Deaf people, and behaves as a Deaf person. [...] But the most striking characteristic of the culture of Deaf people is their cultural values - these values shape how Deaf people behave and what they believe in. (Padden and Humphries 1988: p. 95)
Photographs 3 - 6
Adequate statements of what the deaf community consists of have proved to be notably elusive for students of the literature. The term 'community' to some extent identifies a separateness of existence and mode of operation which people have found difficult to use to describe deaf people. (Kyle and Woll, 1989: p. 5)
Photographs 7 - 9
Photographs 10 - 12
A phenomenon falls under the interest of the cultural sciences because it is defined by reference to a meaning that is related to certain values. (Oakes, 1988: p. 26)
...signing is not just the manipulation of symbols according to grammatical rules, but, irreducibly, the voice of the signer - a voice given a special force, because it utters itself, so immediately, with the body. One can have or imagine disembodied speech, but one cannot have disembodied Sign. The body and soul of the signer, his unique human identity, are continually expressed in the act of signing. (Sacks, 1991: pp. 121 - 2)
...'body' and 'culture' are metaphorically identical - so much so, that an awareness of bodily pollution, and the awareness of mental illness in particular, is contingent upon what we take 'culture' to be [...] the body as culture - as a locus for what we are, and as a stage for identifying all the strangers that we insist we are not... (Napier, 1992: p. 142)
In questions about the nature of those who attend the deaf club there is general rejection of the view that they are somehow handicapped. Statements which imply acceptance of deaf community life ('are proud to be deaf' or 'are treated normally there') are readily agreed with... (Kyle and Woll, 1989: p. 20)
...deaf people through their language negotiate and agree on a construction of reality. This reality need not be identical with hearing people's views. We have frequently had the experience that deaf people questioned about such and such a happening will simply shake their head and say 'it's the deaf way'. They are very clear in the division between what deaf people accept and what a hearing person will understand. (Kyle and Woll, 1989: p. 9)
One can have a dozen, or a dozen-and-a-half, grammatical modifications, done simultaneously, one on top of the other, and when this came home to me, the neurologist in me was aroused. I thought: 'that's impossible. How the hell can the brain analyse eighteen simultaneous visual patterns?' I was filled with a sort of neurological awe. The answer to this, briefly, is that the normal brain can't make such a visual analysis, but it can learn to do so. (Sacks, 1990:16.72. Author's transcript from video recording)
...rather large parts of the brain are involved in the processing of a visual language. All sorts of visual power become heightened, and sometimes to an extraordinary degree... (Sacks, 1990:17.40. Author's transcript from video recording)
Photograph 14 - 15
Because a deaf person requires as much information as a hearing person, a basic goal for deaf people is to acquire information and to communicate with others in the most effective way possible, both to avoid visual fatigue and to free their visual attention for the next activity or demand. This goal is not peripheral; rather, it is a central organising principle for their lives. Success in achieving it is necessary in a world in which effective information processing and management are keys to survival. (Erting, 1987: p. 131)
Photograph 16 - 17
Photograph 18 - 19
What the human nature of males and females really consists of, then, is a capacity to learn to provide and to read depictions of masculinity and femininity and a willingness to adhere to a schedule for presenting these pictures, and this capacity they have by virtue of being persons, not females or males. One might just as well say there is no gender identity. There is only a schedule for the portrayal of gender. (Goffman, 1979: p. 8)
...disintellectualises the message because it seems to found in nature the signs of culture. [...] the more technology develops the diffusion of information (and notably of images), the more it provides the means of masking the constructed meaning under the appearance of the given meaning. (Barthes, 1977: p. 46)
...include both manual and non-manual features in their citation form. Thus multi-channel signs always involve some action of the hands and some other bodily action(s). The particular non-manual component of a specific sign may be quite complex, involving several different non-manual features... (Brennan 1992: p. 128)
...perhaps the entire field of social behaviour which constitutes the culture might in fact also represent an act of 'encoding' on the model of language. In fact, it might itself be a language. (Hawkes, 1989: p. 32)
2 'Narrative expression' here stands for the ability of a photograph to communicate informative statements upon which viewers will be expected to agree; the criteria of analysis have been drawn mainly from pragmatic linguistic theory.
3 Using fingerspelling a signer can describe a period in life during which a social move occurred, from being a person who cannot hear and who associates with hearing people to being a Deaf person who identifies with other Deaf people and has become a member of the Deaf community, by a simple sliding movement of an index finger. To emulate the sign: make a 'ring' between index finger and thumb, and place this ring against the base of the extended index finger of the opposing hand (this is the lowercase 'd'). Now slide the bent index finger upwards along the extended index finger of the opposing hand until the tips of the index fingers touch while the thumb keeps in touch with the base (this is the capital 'D'). This sign is an iconic representation of a lower case 'd' growing into a capital 'D'. Linguistically, this sign is a verb which symbolises the social move from being deaf to being Deaf.
4 It is 'related' in the sense that it is the direct result of the genuine need of many Deaf people to remain up to date with community matters in the relatively short spate of the single evening in the week during which many Deaf clubs are open. It is necessary to understand that Deaf clubs are central social spaces where community interaction can take place, and that knowledge circulating within Deaf clubs and conveyed in BSL is the main information source of many Deaf people who frequent these Deaf clubs.
5 An estimated 90 per cent of the children of Deaf parents are hearing.
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