Accepted paper:

Looking to listen: how do deaf people contend with concepts of normality through both everyday and onstage performances?


Kelly Fagan Robinson (University of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper challenges accepted ideas of ‘aural as normal', presenting instead alternate value that visual-centric people possess and how this is revealed through performances of 'Deafness'.

Paper long abstract:

Discourse around Deafness in the UK has typically been relegated to three tracts as highlighted by Young and Hunt (2011) - conditional/medical deficiency, cultural difference and societal disability, coloured in large part by 135 years of oralist and interventionist policies. Because visuality has been regularly overlooked by the majority in favour of deafness as a lack of access to sound, Deaf people have often conformed to majority-recognised attributes, capital and values in their everyday lives in order to 'get-on'. This has often placed onus on proving Deafness as a culture through its similarities to Hearingness, rather than using Deaf vocabulary and value-systems. Paddy Ladd's concept of 'Deafhood' has sought to lay bare the approaches that Deaf people take to mediate the boundaries between these majority ideas of what Deafness can mean while also exploring potential, Deaf-centric alternatives, namely visuality and its empowering value. During observations of one Deaf theatre, aural-centric strictures seemed to be stripped back revealing an additional realm of 'Deafness.' Theatrical praxis offered not only the stage as a site of multiplicity, a heterotopia (Foucault, 1984:6), but also revealed the Deaf body's own multiplicity: its condition, history, society and culture. During the performance process, Deaf bodies became sites of convergence and potential subversion, heterotopias themselves, acknowledging the accepted societal frameworks, but also controverting the expected norms. Deaf bodies were re-constituted in the theatrical space enabling understanding of how Deaf actors mediated or 'converted' (Becther,2009) between these constructs, challenging what both 'deafness' and 'normal' can mean.

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