Future agency versus the inertia of the inevitable. Or, what do we want ‘human’ to be: a case study from the Deaf community

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A key tenet of the Posthuman project is a belief in its potential to eradicate disability. Hugh Herr, a bilateral amputee and activist for bionic augmentation states in a TED talk viewed over 4 million times “… we the people need not accept our limitations, but can transcend disability through technological innovation. Indeed, through fundamental advances in bionics in this century, we will set the technological foundation for an enhanced human experience, and we will end disability.”
Herr’s vision is avowedly futuristic. However, for some of those considered disabled, the coming reality that he describes already bleeds into the present. Deaf people are a good example. With a huge range of audiological augmentations (hearing aids and cochlear implants) already available to circumvent hearing loss, and future technologies in development to either fully restore damaged hearing and/or prevent damage from occurring in the first place, commentators in disability and Deaf studies are debating whether we are already entering a ‘post-deaf’ reality.
A post-deaf world would be celebrated by many of those affected by hearing loss. However, for a significant number of deaf people; those who use sign language, and view their deafness as part of their identity, the idea that humanity is progressively ‘engineering them out’, is profoundly disturbing. With, at stake, the future of the world’s 200+ natural sign languages and the preservation of a unique, rich, transnational culture with its own visual traditions, folklore and sign language literature, those signing deaf people wonder whether striving to eradicate deafness represents progress, or rather a gradual narrowing of humanity towards a less diverse, less creative, and less culturally rich future.
However, even as deaf people begin to query the taken-for-grantedness of the ‘hope’ represented by the idea that we can ‘make everyone hear’, the inevitability of ‘post-deafness’ is already being anticipated and acted upon by present-day policy. As deaf services are cut, and deaf people are forced to cope by adopting the very technologies they previously resisted, a ‘post-deaf’ reality becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy and alternatives to it become more and more difficult to imagine.
This paper unpacks the anticipated eradication of deafness, to explore the construction of anticipation and its mediation of possible futures to shape the present. Taking the very real situation described above, but also creatively exploring what alternative visions for the future of humanity might produce in anticipation, it highlights both the agency that we have to keep the future open, and the pressures of inertia against which we must press to seize that agency, and to move our future away from the apparently ‘inevitable’.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 1 Jan 2017
EventThe 2nd International Conference on Anticipation 2017 - Senate House, University of London, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 8 Nov 201710 Nov 2017


ConferenceThe 2nd International Conference on Anticipation 2017
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • disability
  • posthuman
  • progress
  • future
  • diversity
  • deaf


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