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Sign Language Studies

American Annals of the Deaf

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Deaf Identities in the Making: Local Lives, Transnational Connections

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PERIPHERAL VISIONS AND MARGINAL POWER

However, Anita and Hilde are not representative, and by using their stories, I have certainly not captured any typical features of deaf identity management. However, they both offer good side-stage views of what it might mean to be deaf, Norwegian, and a world citizen. One could also argue that the “peripheral vision” (Cohen 2000) these deaf people exhibit illuminates focal values and metaphors that contribute to a better understanding of the social life of deaf people around the globe. Their different kinds of marginality contribute to a heightened awareness of key topics and the taken-for-granted aspects of life within the hearing and Deaf worlds and also the messy space in between. The concepts of periphery and center are not clear-cut or easily defined. In the “established” understanding of the process nature of group identities, Barth (1969) and others highlight both the cross-boundary interaction and internal conflicts within groups as determinants of the provisional outcome of identity. One problematic assumption underpinning such approaches is that the power of the periphery is misinterpreted and rendered of less importance. Besides, modern changes can also blur the whole distinction between margins and cores, centers and peripheries:

It is also arguable that the globalizing process, with its intense inter-communication in virtually boundless cyberspace, will effectively abolish centres and peripheries, replacing that dynamic with the difference between being in the loop or out of it. But that of course is itself a centre/periphery phenomenon, although taking place in a less geographic medium. I will argue that the centre/periphery phenomenon is perpetual in human experience, if only because it is an inevitable projection of crucial corporeal experiences of vital centres of the body and useful but less vital appendages, a corporeal experience which is then projected into spatial concomitants of greater or lesser vitality—or greater or lesser power. (Fernandez 2000, 118)

In this chapter, we had a few glimpses into the meaning of the new communication technologies for deaf people, especially in Anita’s narrative. Her engagement with the world through the Internet has broadened the scope of her social world and made it easier to enter into relationships with hearing people. The sharp division between hearing people and deaf people is thus under attack, and the problem of boundaries and identity thus becomes messy. Furthermore, the messiness is of a multiple nature, because there are both rewards and confusing strings attached. The fear of being subjected to relations that are biased in favor of sound and hearing is still present for many and thus limits the scope of such relations. There is, however, a growing segment of the Deaf community that has acquired both sufficient self-confidence and practice to both expect and demand equality of status. The fear is thus weakening, even if the reasons to be alert are all but vanishing.

Granted that the concept of center/periphery is an inevitable trait of human cognition and understanding and is connected to corporeal experiences, most deaf people will benefit from the established social centrality of vision. The visual language that embodies their thoughts and ways of acting in and on the world is thus of prime importance. In the next chapter, this will be explored from the perspectives of three deafened people. The actual loss of hearing is central in each of the stories, as an aspect of important turning points in life. Becoming deaf in adult life is a challenge both to those facing this as a loss and to the Deaf communities that, with great ambiguity, welcome them.


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