Deaf-Hearing family life

  • Donna West

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis is a document which tells a story of a narrative inquiry into DEAF-HEARING family life. The story involves me and a group of people who have, for the past four years, taught me about their lives growing up, living with DEAF and HEARING parents, children, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, great-grandparents, step-relations, and negotiating DEAF and HEARING worlds. The inquiry was embarked on as a political counter-narrative to common mainstream assumptions on, and hegemonic discourses of, deafness, of family-life experience, of sign language and of DEAF lives. In doing so, spaces were created that respect human beings, adults, children, DEAF and HEARING, as storytelling beings and recognise narratives as political and performative resistance to oppression, marginalisation and ignorance. With a grounding in Deafhood and Deaf Theory and a culturally sensitive methodology which acknowledges appropriate ways of collaborating with participants as equal, agentic and creative, this inquiry re-presents stories of DEAF-HEARING family life as resistance narratives. Deafhood addresses the power of discursive systems in which DEAF people are viewed as broken, in need of cure and normalisation and draws parallels with post-colonial theory and minority cultural studies in order to counter the dismissal of DEAF lives as lacking, impoverished and pitiable. Deafhood also celebrates DEAF people?s cultural strategies of collective, political resistance and demand for equality in light of the never-ending medical campaign to eliminate deafness. Deaf Theory casts a philosophical lens over the DEAF body to acknowledge sign languages as textual, and the DEAF person as a visual, tactile being, with an alternative sensory orientation to the world. Narrative inquiry opens up dynamic spaces for people to tell stories and to construct meanings woven from their biographies, histories and cultures. A narrative inquiry with DEAF-HEARING families, infused with ideas and philosophies of Deafhood and Deaf Theory, as well as from postmodern/poststructural feminist theory, draws together the threads of DEAF histories and family lives, and makes way for a space in which narratives of DEAF and HEARING people who live/have lived together and are committed through blood and/or relationships of care, love, affection and cultural transmission, can be told, re-told, recorded, crafted and re-presented, to other families, to DEAF communities and to those authorities and organisations who concern themselves with the welfare and well-being of DEAF and HEARING adults and children. The narratives at the heart of this thesis reveal not only the ways in which damaging and hurtful definitions of, and discrimination towards, DEAF people and signing families is troubled, destabilised and resisted, but also how pride in, and celebration of, DEAF lives and sign language are affirming and essential for family life, together with the desire for this intimate, cultural and political re-visioning of DEAF/DEAF-HEARING life to be properly heard.
Date of Award2009
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMartin Hughes (Supervisor)

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