Gallaudet University Press

Mobile filmmaking as a methodology in linguistic ethnography of deaf languaging practices results in multilayered, "thick" data that moves analysis beyond bounded sign languages. These recordings allow us to examine what people do, rather than what they say they do. Ethnographic film is not only documentation, or dissemination of research; it is also an opportunity to elicit metalinguistic data through reflective discussions with audiences about the languaging practices shown in the film. The use of film showcases the data itself, allowing for an analysis of the diversity of communicative repertoires and modalities used by people as they communicate with each other. To illustrate this, I will discuss an example from my fieldwork in Indonesia, linking to an uploaded video of an encounter between a deaf tourist and hearing worker in the Ubud Monkey Forest that shows how deaf people are able to rapidly move from strategy/modality to strategy/modality (e.g., pointing, using a smartphone to type a note or translate a word, gesturing, and mouthing). The use of filmmaking in mobile ethnography reveals the spatial, modal, and semiotic affordances and constraints in individual communicative encounters, as well as the ways in which deaf people leverage or surmount them. Finally, mobile ethnographic filmmaking draws attention to the research participants themselves and their perspectives, showing what they do as they communicate, which can later be used to elicit more data during audience reception discussions. This is especially [End Page 572] important in research with groups that may have differential access to academic discourse.

In this article, I refer to a recording made in the Monkey Forest (Monkey Forest Translanguaging [23 seconds].

In this article, I discuss the process of producing an ethnographic film as a part of a linguistic ethnography of deaf tourist encounters in Bali, Indonesia, and the affordances of film to collect multilayered, "thick" data that moves an analysis of deaf languaging practices beyond bounded sign language(s). I also discuss filmmaking as a means of making research more transparent, especially for deaf people who may not have access to academic discourse in written English, and as a strategy for dissemination. I hope to stimulate a discussion about mobile filmmaking as a methodology for linguistic ethnography with signing deaf people, as well as a part of deaf-centric practices in research and dissemination. I argue for diversification of the researcher's approaches to data collection in linguistic ethnographies with signing deaf people to include videos made with smartphones as methodology.

When they travel, deaf signers are often eager to learn some signs in other sign languages or to engage in social interactions with deaf people, primarily deaf people who live in the particular geographical location that is being touristed and who use the sign language that is territorialized to that particular touristed geographical location—this might be a national or local sign language. I use the designation of a local or national sign language to refer to the various institutionalized sign languages that may be a part of the geographical location's sign language ecology. In the case of Bali, there are two sign languages that could be included in this category: Bali BISINDO (the regional variety of Indonesian Sign Language); and Kata Kolok, the community sign language used by deaf and hearing residents of Bengkala, a so-called "deaf village" in north Bali (Palfreyman 2019).

Video recording is a crucial methodology in linguistic ethnographies dealing with signed languages (Hou and Kusters 2020). As they engage in everyday tourist activities, such as ordering a drink or meal, purchasing souvenirs, and meeting other deaf people, deaf tourists [End Page 573] draw on various multilingual, multimodal, and multisensory resources to achieve their communicative objectives. Because of the emergent and fleeting nature of communicative encounters in deaf tourism, the use of smartphones for making recordings is essential methodology in linguistic ethnographies of deaf tourists. There is nothing inherently different about the use of filmmaking in linguistic ethnographies with deaf people as opposed to hearing people; however, the use of film is especially critical in linguistic ethnographies with deaf people because of the tactile and visual nature of deaf languaging practices. Filming allows for the collection and analysis of data on deaf people's embodied languaging practices and their attendant language ideologies as they emerge during quotidian encounters.

The use of video not only advances sign language research because of its affordances for collecting spontaneous linguistic data on the move but also because disseminating a film makes the research more transparent to deaf people who otherwise may not be able to access academic discourse. For this reason, it is important to screen the film in communities where the researcher conducted the research. Finally, the film itself can become a part of an ongoing research project if it is used as a visual methodology to elicit more data via audience discussions after the screening, such as in Kusters's project, Ishaare: Sign and Gesture in India (Kusters et al. 2016). For this project, Kusters conducted film screenings and discussion groups with different stakeholders in Mumbai during which she elicited more data on ideologies regarding the differences between gestures and signing.

The objective of my research project was to explore deaf languaging practices, as well as ideologies shaping deaf tourist practices, such as the search for local deaf people and spaces as part of the tourism experience. Based on data collected during fieldwork in Bali and Yogyakarta, Indonesia, I theorize (1) how deaf tourists and deaf hosts/guides connect with each other and experience encounters and differences, such as in educational, ethnic, and gender status, and (2) how they negotiate sameness and differences, as well as inequalities with regard to financial capital and mobility, such as the (in)ability to travel internationally and (3) communicative practices—including the use of gestures, speech, and writing, as well as international, national, and village sign languages. This project also investigated how deaf bodies, [End Page 574] deaf people, and sign languages become commodified as a result of deaf tourism.

The fluid conditions of mobility and the practices that permeate deaf tourism shaped the methodologies used in the field. This project involved several methodologies for data collection, including participant observation, field notes, video recordings, visual methods for the elicitation of data, collection of artifacts, such as Instagram photos, and so forth. After a year of online data collection, I conducted seven months of fieldwork in Indonesia. I found a smartphone to be exceptionally useful for the documentation of people, places, and language practices, especially on the move. I used film and photography to record moments in the field for later descriptive writing of the interactions and discourse I observed. Toward the end of my fieldwork, two cameramen joined me in Bali to film material that is being edited into a film to be released in 2020, viewable on the MobileDeaf website ( After the film is completed, I will use it in interviews to elicit reflections and reactions. I will elicit more data through reflective discussions with research participants and other people. In closing, I will demonstrate that the filmed data allows for some accountability through the contextualization of data and by situating the ethnography visually.

Deaf Tourist Mobility and Translanguaging in Bali

Translanguaging, a concept that emerged from the study of educational contexts involving multiple languages, is a lens for the analysis of "the complex language practices of plurilingual individuals and communities" (Garcia and Wei 2014, 20). Deaf translanguaging practices involve multilayered, embodied, and intuitive visual semiotics, such as mouthing words from spoken languages, pointing, gesturing, and the use of space and objects in the space. Other examples of deaf translanguaging practices and phenomenon include a deaf tour group's use of multiple communicative strategies in rapid succession.

Communication does not take place in isolation. People can and do often strategically make use of their environments, the objects in these contexts, or their bodies to try to communicate a concept or idea if there is a communication breakdown. In communication, people often rapidly combine and/or switch between modalities, [End Page 575] working within the constraints and possibilities of different modalities (Kress and Van Leeuwen 2001; Kusters 2017a, 2017b). Examples of this include speaking, gesturing, touching, pointing to objects, or typing on a smartphone.

In deaf translanguaging spaces, there are many instances of the accumulation of new linguistic resources and a rapid expansion of individual and group repertoires to include multimodal communication strategies, such as the flexible use of pointing, gesturing, mouthing, smartphones to show images to illustrate what is meant by a fingerspelled or signed word, or Google Translate to find a definition for a word to help them envision how to sign a concept in a more iconic way. In her study of deaf and hearing customer-vendor interactions in Mumbai, Kusters (2017b) noted that people point, gesture, handle objects, and mouth in different spoken languages. Deaf translanguaging spaces are created when signers of different social and linguistic backgrounds encounter each other, as well as in encounters with nonsigners (Kusters et al. 2016).

The deaf tourist encounters I observed during fieldwork in Bali involved translanguaging, especially as many deaf tourists engaged in the learning of and the use of new signs, as well as the strategic deployment of foreign sign languages such as Australian Sign Language (Auslan), International Sign (IS), and American Sign Language (ASL) by deaf tour guides, as well as local sign languages such as BISINDO and Kata Kolok and spoken languages—specifically, Indonesian and English. Deaf tourism involves flexible multimodal and multilingual languaging practices and the creation of translanguaging spaces, "a space for the act of translanguaging as well as a space created through translanguaging" (Wei 2011, 1223).

Film in Linguistic Ethnography as Theory and Method

Linguistic ethnography is a theoretical and methodological approach to study "the local and immediate actions of actors from their point of view and considers how these interactions are embedded in wider social contexts and structures" (Copland and Creese 2015, 13). Linguistic ethnographies are useful for gathering "in-depth descriptions and explanations which can capture complexities, contradictions, and consequences" (Heller 2008, 249). [End Page 576]

The aim is to observe how people use language in everyday contexts and to understand their "common-sense" beliefs about language, as well as why these beliefs are structured the way that they are. Heller (2008, 250) provides an especially astute description of the importance of ethnography for the study of language:

Ethnographies allow us to get at things we would otherwise never be able to discover. They allow us to see how language practices are connected to the very real conditions of people's lives, to discover how and why language matters to people on their own terms, and to watch processes unfold over time. They allow us to see complexity and connections, to understand the history and geography of language.

Ethnography is traditionally considered as a situated research practice, meaning that ethnographers immerse themselves in a particular community in a specific location for an extended period. However, today's fluid and interconnected world has led to a "new mobilities" paradigm that emphasizes that people and places are a part of networks of connections that extend beyond them; in other words, never isolated (Sheller and Urry 2006). Methodology has evolved as researchers have become more interested in mobile techniques, such as the use of small cameras, such as GoPro, attached to people and objects in motion and the various ways of understanding, as well as representing, mobilities. The emergence of "mobile ethnography," which involves "participation in patterns of movement while conducting ethnographic research" (Sheller and Urry 2006, 217) has expanded ethnography beyond the study of bounded locations and fixed people (Spinney 2011). Mobile ethnography using film makes it possible to document the diversity of deaf communicative repertoires and modalities in multiple and transient contexts.

Ethnographic filmmaking in itself is not new, and the use of film as a method for linguistic ethnography has become more common as technology and storage capacities have become more affordable (Dimmendaal 2010; Heider 2006); however, the use of mobile methodology is relatively novel in linguistic ethnographies of sign languages. Linguistic ethnographers have long used video recordings to study language use in the sociocultural context in which it occurs (e.g., Duranti 1997; Goodwin 1993). The use of film captures people's deployment of [End Page 577] diverse visual and tactile resources, and other linguistic ethnographers have used video for this reason. Recording deaf people's interactions with other people and their surroundings expands the scope of linguistic analysis to include spatial, embodied, and multimodal practices.

Ethnographic filmmaking should be understood as a complement of textual ethnography (Heider 2006); it is a different way of engaging with theory and the data. Filmmaking allows for movement away from "lingual bias," which I define here as the predisposition to treat signing as primary in deaf communication and the exclusive analytical focus on the production of signs and the structure of sign languages. Ethnographic film is a visual representation of the research; the film is entwined with theory, which drives the editing, pacing, and choices of interviews (Chio 2014, 2018).

Kusters et al. (2016, 9) observed, "Deaf signers are often studied and represented in ways that ultimately obscure the visual, embodied nature of their languages, including their expertise, subjective experiences and participation." In the instance of linguistics ethnography with sign languages, there is potential to engage more with the corporeality of sign languages in terms of the use of the body, space, and objects to communicate. Film can convey so much more than still photos and textual descriptions.

The use of mobile ethnographic filmmaking has potential to invoke the sensory experience of movement through the world as a visual deaf person. With film, the viewer can experience the immediacy of deaf communicative encounters. Mobile filmmaking also allows for intimacy with data from everyday communicative encounters in naturalistic settings, especially because of the proliferation of mobile camera phones, pocket cameras, and smartphones.

Additionally, film allows for increased transparency in data collection, analysis, and dissemination. Showing the data itself, such as the video that I link to in this article, allows for insight into the researcher's analysis and interpretation of the data, especially in multimodal translanguaging spaces where there are sometimes several linguistic resources being deployed at the same time. It enables insight into the researcher's competence in a sign language, which is not often openly discussed in sign language and Deaf Studies research (or in ethnography, for that matter. See Gibb and Danero Iglesias 2017 for a discussion [End Page 578] of language fluency in ethnographic research). It is vital to be familiar with the language(s) being used in a translanguaging space in order to identify the different resources being deployed (e.g., the concurrent mouthing in English and signing in Deutsche Gebärdensprache, German Sign Language). Familiarity with linguistic resources, such as the ability to recognize words or signs from different languages, also helps identify practices and themes for further analysis and explain why these themes/practices are important.

MobileDeaf: Planning a Deaf Ethnographic Film

In this section, I will discuss my experience of working within a research team of five deaf researchers, all focused on different forms of deaf mobilities, and our process of preparing for our individual fieldwork as a team, as well as our work with filmmakers. As part of our team approach, we also work with VisualBox, a Belgian company of deaf documentary filmmakers. VisualBox provided training to the Indian cameramen who Kusters worked with on an eighty-minute ethnographic film, Ishaare: Gestures and Signs in Mumbai. The Ishaare film project was an inspiration for the MobileDeaf team as methodology and also as a strategy for dissemination of our research (Kusters et al. 2016).

In May 2017, I became a research fellow with MobileDeaf (, a European Research Council-funded research team based at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. From the outset, MobileDeaf centered the use of visual methodology to resist hegemonic linguistic and modality structures in research and dissemination. MobileDeaf will produce an ethnographic film for each of four subprojects and a fifth film that will show the "making-of" of the four films. The intent is to show the process of making deaf ethnographic films as they unfold across each of the subprojects.

To prepare for fieldwork, two of my colleagues and I attended Filmmaking for Fieldwork (F4F), a program affiliated with the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology in Manchester, United Kingdom, to train in audio-visual research and documentary filmmaking. We learned technical aspects of filmmaking in the context of fieldwork, combining methodology with cinematography. Additional preparation included the review of the various theoretical and practical issues [End Page 579] involved in ethnographic filmmaking as a part of MobileDeaf reading groups.

We surveyed various styles of ethnographic films and literature on ethnographic filmmaking and the various ways we could involve participants in the decision-making process about the research and its applications from the very beginning. In observational filming, the camera is treated as if it is in the background, unobtrusively recording the ordinary details of everyday lives. However, power is inherent in the decision-making process about locations, who to film, and when to film.

Planning the Project: Foregrounding Deaf Visucentric Perspectives

From the beginning, I had the explicit objective for this film to be an entirely deaf-led process. I planned this project with the intent to involve participants in the process of making the film. I considered providing training in filmmaking to deaf people in Bali and hiring them as cameramen; however, this was not achievable because most of the deaf people I met in Bali already had employment or other commitments. I had to compromise in this regard, as the theoretical approach of bottom-up participatory filmmaking did not match the realities of my fieldsite. In the end, I decided to work with Jorn Rijckaert of VisualBox, an experienced deaf documentary filmmaker from Belgium who has worked on deaf ethnographic filmmaking in India.

Our approach to filmmaking foregrounds deaf visucentric perspectives and practices. Examples of deaf, visucentric perspectives include considerations of the best angles for filming the communicative encounter in its totality—meaning, using a wide frame to capture the communicative space, which can include the whole body. Other considerations in deaf ethnographic filmmaking include explicit decisions about the framing; how to best frame different types of embodied, multimodal interactions, as well as interviews with signing deaf participants.

Mobile Ethnographic Filmmaking

I planned the project's timeline to include in-depth participant observation before filming. For the first four months of fieldwork, I developed relationships with two deaf tourist guides working in Bali [End Page 580] to build trust and develop rapport. I communicated my commitment to a fair and ethical treatment of the information they shared with me. I was very aware of how my presence could affect their business, as well as the experiences they provide to tourists on holiday in Bali.

An initial challenge with making this film was the temporal, transitory nature of tourism. Most of the participants were visiting Bali for a few days or weeks. It was difficult to predict who would be traveling in Bali while I was there. After about two months in Bali, I realized that my initial strategy of identifying participants through referrals from one of my primary interlocutors, an Indonesian deaf tour guide based in Bali, was not fruitful. This was mostly because he was simply too busy working, scheduling, and responding to the sheer volume of messages that he receives per week requesting his services. The lack of a central place where deaf tourists gather, with the exception of Bengkala, also proved to be a significant factor, as I could not identify the best place to base myself.

To surmount this, I made a two-minute video explaining who I was, my project, and its objectives, and then I posted it on Facebook, asking people to contact me if they were interested in participating in the project. This resulted in over fifty people reposting this video on their news feeds, hundreds of referrals through the tagging of people's names in the comments section, and personal messages via WhatsApp volunteering to participate. The sheer density and strength of the deaf network made it possible for me to interview people from Australia, France, Germany, India, the United Kingdom, among others, and identify tours to observe (both group and individual).

In the months before the cameramen arrived in Bali, I had discussions with various people, such as deaf tourists, deaf guides, and a few members of the Bali deaf community about the theoretical framework of the research project and the rationale for filmmaking as methodology and dissemination. I accompanied tourists on one-day and multiday tours in Bali and Yogyakarta. I also conducted over twenty-five interviews and reviewed my preliminary findings to identify themes to guide the cameramen. These interviews and experiences helped clarify which narrative details should be in the film. These conversations also triangulated the various contexts and communicative encounters that should be featured in the film. This guided the planning of the film, [End Page 581] identification of who should be involved, and the overarching themes that structure the film itself.

Choosing Equipment for Highly Mobile Research Contexts

Deaf tourist experiences in Bali often involve the emergence of temporal translanguaging spaces during bursts of intense mobility, such as chatting in sign language in a car driven by a deaf guide, signing with other deaf people in a minibus as it navigates sharp curves on a steep mountain road, and/or a bumpy boat ride to another island in Indonesia. The forms of tourist experiences, temporal deaf spaces, and mobilities I observed over my first four months in the field shaped my decisions about methodology and equipment. These decisions were made in consultation with Jorn. Based on my preliminary fieldwork, Jorn and another deaf cameraman, Jente Laurijssen, arrived in Bali with specialized equipment for the diverse tourist situations I had observed in the preceding months.

The primary equipment used to make my ethnographic film was a smartphone and a lightweight handheld device with built-in sensors to ensure stability for better film quality. Smartphones were less intrusive, especially in tight spaces such as a seafood market or a car. In many of these situations, we looked like tourists ourselves, attracting less attention from the public (people not involved in the film), and we blended in more than we would have with larger cameras. Handheld devices and applications enable the filming and editing of high-quality material with a smartphone.

Technological advances have made the smartphone a powerful, sophisticated tool for data collection. Smartphones now have increased lens quality and memory capacity, and the ease of functionality and ubiquity make smartphones easy to use as research equipment. Smartphones can also track movement, documenting where the material was filmed or photographed if its GPS capacities are enabled, which can be helpful for later organization of the material and mapping of locations.

Other equipment that was brought to Bali for this project included a larger camera, a drone, and a GoPro; however we were unable to use the GoPro very much, as it became inoperable midway through filming. We used the larger camera, along with the smartphone, for [End Page 582] crossfilming—meaning two cameras trained on the same scene from different angles in order to film the communicative encounter from different angles. The drone was used to film the setting for cutaways in the ethnographic film editing process later. The cameras used in this setting were different than the cameras used in other MobileDeaf projects, as they were smaller and more nimble, due to the intensive nature of deaf tourist mobility in Bali.

However, there were some drawbacks with the use of a smartphone for filming. It had a tendency to overheat in the tropical climate of Bali. The smartphone became blistering hot, so we had to take breaks from filming to allow it to cool off. Battery life was also a concern with the smartphone and handheld device. We carried portable battery packs to recharge the smartphone whenever possible, usually in the car. The car also became a mobile office as Jorn sat in the back, uploading footage from the smartphone to a laptop and then backing it up on two external hard drives. Uploading and backing up the material required significant time, especially because cloud backup/storage was not always available due to the weakness of available WiFi networks.

Planning the Film

Prior to VisualBox's arrival for six weeks of filming in Bali, I provided them with a schedule and a list of the themes that I had identified thus far from participant observation and the interviews I conducted thus far. I also included a list of key deaf tourism sites, such as the deaf village, deaf schools in Jimbaran and Denspasar, and other locations of interest to deaf tourists. I also listed interesting landscapes, objects, and images that I wanted filmed for later use in cutaways and for pacing during the editing process. Other examples on this list were images that establish time and place, such as a visitor's log book that contained pages of the names and nationalities of the tourists who had visited the two deaf schools. There are some images that, in retrospect, I wish I had filmed, such as a drone shot of the daily traffic jams on a road through rice terraces in Canggu. Often, after time away from the field and reflection, certain images take on a significance that was not apparent in the field. It was only later that I realized that immobility was a key theme, especially in terms of traffic gridlock or waiting to board an airplane or boat. [End Page 583]

This material provided an overarching framework for the filming process; we did not develop a script. We worked without a script or storyboard because the purpose of this ethnographic film was to record deaf languaging and tourism practices as they naturally unfolded in various contexts. The cameramen were prepared to shoot at any time and to move themselves as people shifted their bodies or moved to a different location. I was present for the filming, observing the scene, taking photographs, and taking notes in my notebook. These notes included the flagging of specific phenomena that I observed being filmed so I could find it later when we started editing the film. I also made notes on themes connecting the encounter with previous encounters I had observed.

Before arriving in Bali, the cameramen had done some filming for the MobileDeaf subproject on professional mobility and were familiar with the themes important to MobileDeaf in general, which gave us an advantage when working together in Bali. However, my objectives were not exactly the same as those in the professional mobility subproject, so it was not a completely smooth process. I had to train the cameramen on the themes of particular interest for my own research. In the beginning, I would often direct the cameramen to start recording a spontaneous interaction or conversation about themes related to deaf tourism. Over time, the process became more intuitive and smoother.

Most of the recordings were made with two cameras at different angles, resulting in different perspectives of the languaging taking place. Depending on the context, one cameraman went ahead of the group to film their arrival at a preplanned destination and the other cameraman filmed the group from behind. In other situations, the cameraman started filming the interactions that unfolded as we waited for a bus, plane, or boat to depart. In other situations, one of the cameramen walked next to the group, at a short distance, filming. During filming, I followed as closely as possible without appearing in the frame in order to observe the communicative encounters taking place. I stayed out of the frame as much as I could, as to not insert myself into the film, but in some situations it became necessary for me to be in the frame, interviewing participants because they had a difficult time signing naturally to the camera, such as in a tour of a house one of the families in Bengkala had built to cater to tourists. [End Page 584]

Figure 1. A cameraman with a handheld device is filming an interaction in a narrow passage.
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Figure 1.

A cameraman with a handheld device is filming an interaction in a narrow passage.

Filming was sometimes difficult because of the site itself, such as a fish market with narrow passageways and narrow alleys leading to homes in Bengkala (see figure 1). There were several situational constraints that we had to contend with, such as filming interactions in a car, a speedboat where I had to sit at the very back and crane my neck to see what was happening, and a grueling itinerary with a group that was perpetually behind schedule, leaving little time for individual interviews. These situational constraints were resolved with choice of equipment, and sometimes the cameraman with the handheld device was responsible for the bulk of filming in that particular situation if the second cameraman was unable to achieve cross-filming; however, these situations did not happen often.

Responses to Filming

Responses to filming varied throughout Bali. The people in Bengkala seemed more comfortable with cameras, most likely because they were used to tourists and researchers coming to the village to photograph and film them. This is in contrast to some of the members of [End Page 585] the ten-day tour group, which consisted of mostly white people in their twenties and thirties from Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States.

This ten-day group tour included three days on a boat, a flight to another island, and movement through Bali in a minibus, as well as moving from hotel to hotel every two days. This tour consisted of twelve- to fourteen-hour days with the group with little time (and/or space) to elaborate on my scribblings in the evenings, as is the norm during fieldwork. This group had agreed to be filmed and to participate in the ethnographic film and signed informed consent forms, but we had to use our judgment regarding filming, as sometimes one of the women in the group would say to the cameramen, "Stop filming! Join our conversation!" Many people did not fully understand what ethnographic filming of communicative encounters meant, asking us, "Why do you need to film so much?" Often, people would perform for the camera, mugging or looking directly at the camera and deliberately winking.

Building relationships with participants was vital for later interviews and to develop trust. Eventually, participants felt comfortable enough that when we started filming, they would carry on as usual, allowing us to document impromptu data. In this instance, sharing meals and eating with the tour group and not filming was pivotal in terms of increasing the participants' comfort level with our presence, especially in terms of trusting us to know when to put down the cameras, such as when someone started discussing a personal situation that we knew they would not want broadcast in a film.

Another way to solidify relationships was to loan some of our filming equipment. This tour group in particular was very interested in capturing "Instagram-worthy" moments. This group consisted of appearance-conscious people in their twenties and thirties and many of the men in this group had brought sophisticated equipment, such as GoPro, small drones, and underwater cameras. In an especially memorable moment at the beach, some of the men started comparing the size of their drones, from small to medium to very large (the largest of which belonged to the VisualBox team). The loaning of equipment was important in terms of developing camaraderie, but it was not always successful, as the GoPro camera broke after one of the tourists [End Page 586] borrowed it to film himself at an underwater tourist site, rendering it useless for our film project.

Taking Advantage of MobileDeaf Immobility in Bali

Most tourists base themselves in Kuta, Seminyak, or Canggu, which are popular beach towns on the south coast of Bali, or in Ubud, known for its spirituality and yoga retreats. We moved from site to site, accompanying the tourists as they participated in tours with the two deaf guides in Bali.

Bali is not a large island, but it is severely gridlocked. We spent a significant amount of time in the car, especially if we were in Kuta and Seminyak, leading to dark humor about the immobility of MobileDeaf. I was often in a car for several hours, which afforded long, in-depth conversations as the car inched forward. Taking advantage of our immobility, I conducted some interviews in the car, which was possible because of the small size of our filming equipment. Using a handheld smartphone gimbal helped with image stability. There were some constraints for filming, such as traveling along a bumpy dirt road, which made smooth filming difficult, and physical barriers such as car seats and the smallness of the space inside of the car. However, the small size of our equipment and some extreme adaptions, such as the cameraman holding the handheld device closely to his face and leaning backward to allow for wider framing, allowed us to adjust to those constraints.

Regardless of aesthetic quality or filming technique, video recording allows researchers to document multimodal and multisensorial ways of experiencing various kinds of movements and spaces. Filming interviews in the car (or on a boat) affords the evocation of a sensorial experience of being stuck or moving slowly. The use of film was an effective way of capturing tourists' embodied experiences as they moved throughout the island of Bali or traveled to other islands in the Indonesian archipelago. The sensuousness of deaf tourism experiences would be difficult to describe in a field note, so I used my smartphone to record the sensation of riding in a fast boat to another island over bumpy waves during a period of unusual weather patterns in Bali that resulted in extraordinarily high waves. This turned out to be useful as at a later point, the tour group paused at a natural site [End Page 587] to discuss how an enormous wave had swept tourists to their deaths the day before.

Many sensory researchers use video recordings as a memory aid for writing; rewatching the video can help provide contextualization for the data during the writing process, as well as serve as data for later analysis (Pink 2009). I relied on video recording, which became invaluable as a memory aid when it was not possible to expand on my scribblings on a laptop when we were on a boat with limited electricity.

Tourist in the Monkey Forest: An Example of Translanguaging

Showing multiple signers at the same time is visually difficult, but multiple cameras positioned at different angles have the potential to capture the rich complexity of translanguaging practices. Framing the shot is an inherently visual way of focusing on the composition of the frame and forces one to concentrate on the immediate activity or phenomenon taking place. The use of film in combination with fieldnotes reveals the spatial, modal, and semiotic affordances and constraints in individual communicative encounters, as well as the ways in which deaf people leverage or surmount them. Filmmaking affords a thick(er) description of the unfolding event or behavior—such as in the case of a recording of tourist communicative behavior in the Monkey Forest—especially if there are two or more cameras "crossfilming." Using two cameras allowed for the capture of more modal and semiotic detail to show the rich complexity of translanguaging practices in their situated context.

Through multiple viewing of a single filmed encounter, the data became thicker as I noticed more and more detail, such as the mouthing of a word in English by a deaf tourist as she mimed the opening of a small container in the aftermath of an encounter with a cheeky monkey. In this video (, a monkey had just unzipped a tourist's backpack and scampered away with her hand cream, a brand only available in Germany. She is trying to explain to a worker at Monkey Forest what the monkey had taken. The worker is engaged with the tourist, trying to help recover the item from the monkey; however, he does not quite understand what [End Page 588] the item is because, usually, these monkeys abscond with expensive sunglasses, smartphones, or a camera. He thinks that the monkey stole this woman's smartphone, but it does not match what she is gesturing, which is an example of how a different knowledge of context can hinder understanding. Rewatching the video, I understood the woman was describing a container with hand cream because I was there myself and I had seen her sign "cream."

Watching and rewatching this video clip led to the insight that in some communicative situations, deaf people move rapidly, almost unconsciously, through a hierarchy of linguistic resources and sometimes within a simultaneous combination of resources in order to accommodate the person they are trying to communicate with. For example, in this particular situation, the deaf tourist started by gesturing, then realized that the worker did not understand her gestures (figure 2). She then tried to call her friends over so she could use their smartphone to assist in communication, but they were too far away with their backs turned (figure 3). She finally mouthed "yellow" in English as a last-ditch effort to make herself understood, to no avail (figure 4). The video recording ends at this point.

Figure 2. A visitor to the Ubud Monkey Forest gestures to a staff member, describing the shape of the stolen item.
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Figure 2.

A visitor to the Ubud Monkey Forest gestures to a staff member, describing the shape of the stolen item.

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Figure 3. The visitor is trying to find a smartphone to assist with communication.
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Figure 3.

The visitor is trying to find a smartphone to assist with communication.

Filmmaking records the momentary assemblages of communicative resources at a particular site at a given moment. This filmed interaction also illustrates the rapid succession of communicative strategies and how deaf people rapidly move from modality to modality, working within the constraints and affordances of the situation (e.g., gesturing, using hands in an effort to show what the object is, asking for a smartphone, then gesturing and mouthing when it turned out the person holding the smartphone was not looking and could not be called back). This recording and the representations in the images were far more evocative, immediate, and in-depth than describing the interaction in text could ever be.

Recording video successfully captured the rapidity of the succession between modalities. It would have been very difficult for me to write up the details of this communicative event in my field notebook. Using a camera to take a photograph would not be very effective, either. Filming this data also allows some accountability for the analysis, enhancing the descriptive, textual evidence that often comprises ethnography. However, I acknowledge that recorded data is not infallible and has its own representational issues that emerge during the planning and editing process. [End Page 590]

Figure 4. The visitor is mouthing the word "yellow" in English while simultaneously using her hands to depict the container's shape and size.
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Figure 4.

The visitor is mouthing the word "yellow" in English while simultaneously using her hands to depict the container's shape and size.

Next Steps in the Filmmaking Process

To disseminate research in a more accessible way, papers written with this data will include text that is descriptive and contextual writing accompanied by short videos and possibly video screenshots. These videos will be posted online illustrating the phenomenon being discussed in the article. The purpose of disseminating research in this way is to make it more accessible and relevant to a nonspecialist audience. It is also a way of ensuring transparency as the data becomes visible; however, it is important to be aware of the distinction between [End Page 591] footage made in the field and films that have been edited for public presentation.


The use of photography and video was effective as a mobile ethnographic method. Filmmaking as a method is invaluable for the evocation of embodied movement, some sensory experiences, and especially because of its affordance for research participants to become visible in the research instead of disembodied text in an academic article, inaccessible behind a firewall. Film can capture some of the sensorial qualities inherent in tourist experiences to facilitate a sense of immediacy that is more difficult to achieve through textual descriptions. It, however, has its own limitations. Film cannot convey the acrid smell of burning trash mixed with the sea, the heaviness of tropical heat, the sensation of sweat cooling on the skin from a breeze, and so forth. The film itself is also inaccessible for deafblind people. There were also conceptual and interpretive challenges, especially as some of the participants had different ideas about what should be filmed.

The value of these video recordings is that we can see what people do, rather than what they say they do. I made recordings of languaging practices in enclosed spaces such as a car or a boat, as well as on walking tours of natural sites, such as a hike on a volcano or a walk through the Monkey Forest in Ubud. Deaf Studies and sign language research methodologies can include the use of multiple methodologies for data collection, especially the use of smartphones to gather diverse sets of data (e.g., GPS to track movement, mapping of deaf spaces, and filming of communication).

In closing, the filming of interactions in fieldwork can lead to a further appreciation of the various resources people deploy during situate communicative encounters. It has also opened up possibilities for analysis and presentation of the data. Researching deaf people's languaging practices is not a simple matter of recording and transcribing signing or other languaging practices, especially if these communicative contexts involve deaf people who use different sign languages and/or international sign. In these contexts, it is important to study the different ways deaf people's semiotic assemblages—the complex assemblage of linguistic, spatial, historical and artifactual resources [End Page 592] (Pennycook 2017)—come together and the ways in which deaf people deploy different linguistic resources, often in a cooperative way, in order to achieve understanding with their interlocutor.

Erin Moriarty

Erin Moriarty Harrelson is an assistant professor in the department of Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University and an honorary research fellow working within the MobileDeaf research team at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, United Kingdom.


Thank you to all of the generous people in Bali, residents and visitors, who participated in this research project. This research was made possible by the European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant, MobileDeaf, Project ID 714615).


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