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The Politics of Deafness

Owen Wrigley

Publication Year: 1997

The Politics of Deafness embarks upon a post-modern examination of the search for identity in deafness and its relationship to the prevalent hearing culture that has marginalized Deaf people. Author Owen Wrigley plainly states his intention to disrupt “normal” thought about the popularly considered condition of deafness as a physical deficiency. From his decade of experience working and living in the Deaf community in Thailand, he uses wide-ranging examples to go beyond disputing conventional theorists for their interpretation of deafness as the lack of a sensory function. By calling attention to the different lingual potential created by the instant visual expression of cyberspace, he explodes orthodox conceptualization of the nature of language as serially ordered and dependent upon sound. In bold style, this provocative work poses the relationship of the bodies physical and mental of Deaf people as subject to a form of "colonialism" by the dominant Hearing culture. It proceeds to expose and attack presumptions and practices that derive from and descend upon deaf bodies. Related analysis also addresses tensions little noted in the current literature on deafness and on the popular move to reconstitute Deafness as a global culture. Through displacement of logistical anchors, ironic stances, and disconcerting perspectives, The Politics of Deafness practices a form of de-naturalization to demand space within and between the normalizing frames of daily lives. By doing so, it offers an insightful and intriguing perspective on the meanings of Deafness, the politics of Deaf identity, and what it costs to be “unusual.”

Published by: Gallaudet University Press


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pp. v

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pp. vii-xvii

As a project in late modern, if not postmodern, explorations of identity formation, I suspect first-person representations of ethnographic authority. However, the personal backdrop of how I, a Hearing American, came to be living and working among a group of Deaf Thais is pertinent to the writing that follows....

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pp. 1-12

The common leaves referred to by the Scarecrow of Oz1 are never so passive as the literal leaves of a tree. Human leaves are a dynamic aspect of the trees that produce and are products of the social forest. They further define what is usual and unusual. By so doing, the common...

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1 : Deafness Is a Big Country …

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pp. 13-42

How best to greet readers bringing divergent backgrounds to a text about new terrain, a place in which identities are either forged or forgotten? A work on the politics of Thailand, for example, would begin with a basic overview of the country, even if some readers might be experts on Thailand....

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2 : Hearing Deaf History

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pp. 43-71

The reason I chose to call this chapter "Hearing Deaf History," 1 is that much of what is being pawned off as "Deaf history" sounds remarkably like narrative forms of Hearing history in which only the names and details of auditory status have changed. Painting psychohistories of great men struggling to attain a place in the history of hearing civilizations has little or nothing to do with portraying the historical circumstances of Deaf people living on the margins ....

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3 : A Curious Place for a Colony

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pp. 72-116

Eliot Ness was seemingly able to accept a fundamental shift in worldview in midstride. Few of us are as poised or willing to make such shifts so readily. The shift from Prohibition, at least for a revenue enforcement officer, might suggest the old line, "Everything you know is wrong." Yet his loyalty to the judicial order itself provided a sufficient anchor in a sea of turbulent change....

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4 : Merit Accounting in a Karmic Economy

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pp. 117-164

This chapter, while discussing aspects of life in Thailand, is not an ethnography in the traditional sense; rather, it presents the available ways to "be" a Deaf Thai, what might be called the condition of possibility. There is no essence of "the Deaf Thai" to be unveiled or discovered, but only particular practices that constitute options available to Thai children and adults who are deaf....

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5 : Meat Puppetry

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pp. 165-219

This chapter is a departure from the others in this book, yet both its anchors and its linkages have been long in place. I examine issues emerging from SF (science fiction or speculative fiction), most particularly its Romanticist fascination with pure technology. There is a direct relationship between the tropes of this SF terrain and the discursive placement of those who are deaf....

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6 : Differences That Matter

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pp. 220-270

Deafness is part of the biopoltics of nature; it involves the politics of being "normal," the politics of difference and deviance, the politics of identity. The politics of difference centers on issues of inclusion and cohesion. Mainstreaming, as a technique of inclusion, is only one of the programmatic responses in the ever-evolving attempt to abolish difference and reach the goal of a ...


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pp. 271-284


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pp. 285-289

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pp. 291-292

As is usual in such circumstances, it is not possible to fully thank all who have helped me in this effort, I can, however, completely exonerate them from any responsibility for positions I take. The friends and colleagues in Thailand to whom I owe thanks are legion. In particular, I will forever remember my Deaf research colleague Manfa Suwanarat, who died tragically in 1989 at the age of thirty-six. The Thai Sign Language Dictionary, the production of which partly inspired this work, is dedicated to Manfa....

E-ISBN-13: 9781563682537
E-ISBN-10: 1563682532
Print-ISBN-13: 9781563680649
Print-ISBN-10: 1563680645

Page Count: 310
Illustrations: 1 photo, 5 line illustrations
Publication Year: 1997