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54 C H A P T E R T W O SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONS If you ask any American to describe men, you are likely to get responses such as “masculine, strong, athletic, aggressive, breadwinner” as descriptions of the “normal” male. But if you add the word gay to the question, you are likely to get answers that describe a “gay male” with words completely the opposite of the traditional perception of a man and, instead, resemble descriptions of females such as “feminine, sensitive, emotional, and non-athletic” as the “normal gay male.” If men or gay men go against the “bingo checklist” of their socially constructed identity, they are perceived as deviant (Rubington & Weinberg, 2008). If you ask any American what he or she thinks about the word deaf, you are likely to get answers such as “unable to hear,” “unable to speak,” “uses sign language as gestures,” “lives in a silent world,” and so on. Just recently, I asked my deaf students in an “Identity and Culture” course to write a few sentences on what being “deaf” meant, and almost all referred to being deaf as being unable to hear, not in a negative way, but rather as a matter of fact, thus, reverting to the medical model for these ontological definitions of deafness. More and more Americans are viewing cigarette smokers as deviant and “uncool,” but these same socially constructed labels were assigned to nonsmokers in the 1950s. What do men, gay men, deaf people, and cigarette smokers have in common? They are members of socially constructed categories that have changed throughout our history and will continue to change depending on culture as well. James Banks’s The Social Construction of Difference and the Quest for Educational Equality crafts how certain groups with labels such as race, mental retardation, and giftedness “are socially constructed categories . . . used to reinforce Chapter_2.indd 54 Chapter_2.indd 54 12/6/2012 6:42:58 PM 12/6/2012 6:42:58 PM SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONS 55 the privileged positions of powerful groups, established practices, and institutions” (Banks, 2000, p. 23). Thus, social constructions are powerful, yet critical to understanding our social world. Social constructions play an integral role in ideology by defining norms, values, ideas, and language. Many members of deaf culture have a positive emic construction of their identity, but it is the dominant etic construction that often casts them as deviant (Reagan, 2002, p. 44). These etic constructions include paternalism and deficit thinking and are driven from the medical model while emic constructions include a focus on deaf people as a part of a cultural and linguistic minority. It is this paradigm clash that continues to dominate conversations about deafness and what it means to be human. James Gee uses color as a social construction to show how something so visual such as color “in the physical world is a spectrum of continuously graded shades running into each other with no discrete boundaries . . . [yet] in every language there is a prototype (or typical instance) associated with each basic color term” and that each culture has its own ways of “cutting” off colors as an absolute based on certain social constructions of what color ought to look like (1993, p. 272). Gee uses the Dugmun Dani language in New Guinea as case in point to indicate that in their language they only have “light/bright” and “dark/dull” as their basic color terms while the English uses 11 levels as “cutoffs.” Gee’s point was that we socially construct meanings including something so fundamental as color as ideological concepts. He then uses this language construction to illustrate that language becomes an important driver toward social constructions to construct culture (languaculture), ideological assumptions, values, and in essence, what it means to be human. Social constructions permeate, maintain, and reinforce certain ideas and values about language and culture for deaf people, that is, which language ought to be the “norm” and which language is attributed to “success.” The maintenance of language, in turn, influences the type of culture within any specific group, generating what is referred to as languaculture. The notion of languaculture and its contribution to socially constructed categories of deafness is a recurring point throughout this book. The goal for this chapter is to demonstrate how language and culture are socially constructed with Chapter_2.indd 55 Chapter_2.indd 55 12/6/2012 6:42:58 PM 12/6/2012 6:42:58 PM 56 CHAPTER 2 the help of two concepts: normalcy1...


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