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9 Ethno-Nationalism and Linguistic Imperialism: The State and the Limits of Change in the Battles for Human Rights for Deaf People On 27 June 1999, four thousand people marched through London in support of British Sign Language (BSL), demanding its recognition as the language of the British Deaf community and asserting the right of deaf children to be educated in a bilingual environment with BSL as the language of instruction. They demanded “equal citizenship rights for Deaf people,” and the formal recognition of their language was of central importance . Organized by the Federation of Deaf People, the march united all sides of the British Deaf community.1 The march epitomized the atmosphere of victory and achievement of battles won as well as a confidence with respect to new battles still to be fought that now permeates gatherings of deaf people throughout the Western world. Deaf pride and a sense of Deaf identity are strong and overt in Deaf clubs; at conferences on Deaf History, Deaf Studies, and sign language; at national and international meetings of Deaf societies and federations; in Deaf schools; at colleges and universities where centers and institutes for Deaf Studies and sign language research can be found; and of course, 233 ch09_GUPress_193022 3/21/02 9:29 AM Page 233 in those rarer universities and institutes for deaf people.2 Everywhere this confidence and sense of pride is explicitly linked to the achievement of linguistic human rights, to the increasing recognition of sign languages as legitimate and primary languages for deaf people in education and in everyday life. Although the transformation of practice as distinct from policy is a slow process, the qualitative transformation of Deaf identity from the damnation to the celebration of difference gels well with current cultural environments in the West in which a sense of ethnic identity is primary. We move beyond the nation-state because the orientations and achievements of Deaf communities throughout the world are increasingly dominated by international institutions. The international bureaucracies such as the United Nations, UNESCO, and the World Federation of the Deaf as well as the European Union of the Deaf tend to guide developments at national and subnational levels. Although the nation remains the political structure within which programs are carried out, identity increasingly derives not from a sense of national pride but from membership in an ethnic group and from an assertion of cultural difference. Ethnicity, language, and new concepts of community dominate the fight against an increasingly international, individuated , and alienating world. In this final chapter of our investigation into the cultural construction of deaf people as “disabled,” we also consider these international movements as Western Deaf leaders assert a Deaf identity that focuses on cultural difference, especially on linguistic difference, but that at the same time asserts the existence of both national Deaf communities and an international Deaf community.3 After briefly reviewing the current achievements and aspirations associated with the battle for deaf people’s linguistic human rights in and through education in the West, we turn to examine a new symbolic violence associated not with the damnation of difference but with the denial of difference. Western Deaf and hearing champions of linguistic human rights for Deaf people are spreading the message of Deaf pride within and beyond the West. They assert with confidence that a Deaf identity is primary for all deaf people throughout the world, and that all deaf people are members of an international Deaf community. Beyond the violence that has characterized the relationship between hearing and deaf people for centuries is a new symbolic violence, certainly a “gentle, invisible form of violence which is never recognized as such” (Bourdieu 1977b, 192). This new development is a symbolic vio234 a sociological history of discrimination ch09_GUPress_193022 3/21/02 9:29 AM Page 234 lence of a classic imperialist kind because, as these aid workers spread the Deaf gospel throughout the world, they unwittingly are becoming agents in the creation and oppression of Deaf minorities. Linguistic Human Rights and the International Deaf Community Despite the problems experienced in even the most advanced countries with respect to the education of deaf people, Deaf communities throughout the world over the last two decades have begun, at last, to achieve recognition by national and international authorities that they are cultural minorities with distinct languages.4 Even so, many government authorities and even some deaf people themselves still regard Deaf communities as “disabled” cultural minorities. At an international level, the World Federation of...


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