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STUDYING DEAF CULTURE: AN INTRODUCTION TO ETHNOGRAPHIC WORK IN DEAF COMMUNITIES Simon J. Carmel Leila F. Monaghan Introduction As the late James Spradley pointed out, "Deafness isfar more than a loss of hearing. Deafness is a social and cultural condition" (1981:x). The four ethnographic studies that follow focus on the social and cultural sides of deafness. One of the key strengths of a cultural perspective isthat it allows one to see how dramatically deaf people's lives vary. We are particularly pleased, therefore, at the breadth of the papers presented here. Two papers are on American Deaf communities, and two are on foreign communities with deaf people. Stephanie Hall explores Deaf culture as found in a Deaf Club ina large American city, while Leila Monaghan discusses the interplay between Deaf and Christian identities intwo Deaf Churches inthe suburbs of Washington, D.C. Robert E.Johnson observes the deaf inhabitants of a rural Mayan village in Mexico, while Jill Jepson discusses different levels of acceptance and rejection of deafness inurban and rural India. The first drafts of these papers were originally part of asession on the ethnographies of Deaf communities at the 1990 American Anthropological Association meeting inNew Orleans. As an introduction to these papers, we discuss what ethnographic work involves; outline how the papers presented here are ethnographies, and discuss the kind of information they offer about deaf people that other studies don't; finally, we will make some suggestions about doing ethnographic research and writing ethnographies about deaf people and Deaf communities inthe future. What is ethnographic research? Ethnography is the task of describing a particular culture. As John Tyler Bonner (1980:10) points out, "There are probably few words that have as many definitions as culture." It can mean anything from the colonies of "fungi and slime molds" grown in nutrient media to "a refinement of tastes and artistic judgments." The earliest definition recognized by anthropologists was Edward 0 1991 by Linstok Press, Inc. See note inside front cover ISSN 0302-1475 Carmel &Monaghan Tylor's 1871 description of culture as a "complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society." Franz Boas, the father of American anthropology was the first to talk of different "cultures" (see Stocking 1968, Langness & Frank 1980). The definitions by no means stopped there. In a classic exercise, Kroeber and Kluckhohn listed over one hundred different definitions for culture (1952; see also Kaplan & Manners 1972, Keesing 1974; and Spradley 1972, 1979). Tylor's original definition points to why there are so many other definitions, and occasionally great confusion arises-culture is an immense concept. Stokoe, Casterline and Croneberg were the first to use the concept of culture in connection with Deaf people. In the introduction to their Dictionary of American Sign Languageon Linguistic Principles,Stokoe points out that "sign language[s], like all human languages, are cultural systems" (1976 [1965]:xxxii). In an appendix, "The Linguistic Community," Croneberg describes "cultural characteristics" and "cultural differentia." In her ground-breaking article, "The Deaf Community and the Culture of Deaf People," Carol Padden cites the dictionary as introducing ideas about the "social" and "cultural" characteristics of Deaf people, and provides her own definition of culture: Aculture isa set of learned behaviors of a group of people who have their own language, values, rules for behavior, and traditions. A person may be born into a culture.... Or, a person may grow up inone culture and later learn the language, values and practices of a different culture and become "enculturated" into that culture (Padden 1980:92). Simon Carmel (1987) discusses the need for a cultural approach to Deafness in "The Need for Ethnographers of Deaf Communities in Western & Non-Western Societies," and Padden and Humphries (1988) discuss more aspects of Deaf culture in Deafin America: Voices from a Culture. One particularly salient characteristic of Deaf culture is that language was the first part of the culture to be recognized. Where there is a language as rich and distinctive as American Sign Language, logic inferred that there must be a culture as well. The SLS 73 Deaf ethnography first comments on culture were a small...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6263
Print ISSN
0302-1475
Pages
pp. 411-420
Launched on MUSE
2013-10-02
Open Access
No
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