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Hard of hearing since early childhood, John Christiansen spent the first 30 years of his life trying to fit in to a hearing world that did little to accommodate his communication needs. Although he excelled in academics, Christiansen found social situations stressful at every level, until he obtained a position as a professor of sociology at Gallaudet University. There he learned sign language and joined a new community. Reflections: My Life in the Deaf and Hearing Worlds grew out of his personal experiences inhabiting these two worlds.
As a sociologist, Christiansen could identify the toll that trying to communicate with hearing people took on his psyche, the classic looking-glass self in action: I am what I think you think I am. He saw that people with hearing loss frequently blame themselves for social awkwardness and gaffs, even though the responsibility for clear communication should be shared. Still, after living in the hearing world for most of his life, he opted to undergo a cochlear implantation to try to improve interaction with his hearing friends, wife, and children.
His description of adjusting to his cochlear implant brings fresh reality to the implant process. As he puts it, he was not a superstar. After ten years, though, he feels positive enough about his experience to endorse it. As a denouement to his affecting memoir, he describes the disruptive 2006 protest at Gallaudet over the choice of a new president from his vantage point as a member of the search committee. Reflections stands as a remarkable account of one person’s navigation through the intricacies of two different and occasionally opposing worlds.
John B. Christiansen is Professor Emeritus, Sociology, Gallaudet University, Washington, DC.
ISBN 978-1-56368-477-7, 5½ x 8½ trade paperback, 240 pages, photographs, figures
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