Accepted Paper:

Deaf bodies: toward a holistic ethnography of deaf people in Japan  


Steven Fedorowicz (Kansai Gaidai University)

Paper short abstract:

Deafness viewed in terms of a deficient physical body perpetuates social limitations. This paper presents a holistic view of the deaf body - biological, ecological, phenomenological, social and cultural - to move beyond impairment and explore the body as a media to interpret and express meaning and worldview.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is an ethnographic exploration of deaf people in Japan organized around Mark Johnson's philosophy of embodied meaning (2007). Meaning and worldview are created, interpreted and expressed through the body and bodily interactions. For Johnson, the body is not limited to a single essence. The application of this holistic approach to the body treats deafness as a condition that affects human behavior rather than a deficiency/impairment. For the deaf person as a living organism, the body is a whole, its parts coordinating in terms of shape, space, movement and directionality to discern and express qualities. The interaction of the deaf person with her environment creates visual images and clarifies her reality. The sensation, perception and experience felt in the body generates meaning and emotion that are expressed in facial expression and body posture. The body is key in social interactions (family, friends, education, employment, etc.) and the manipulation of cultural artifacts sometimes vastly different from those of hearing people. How do deaf people in Japan deal with limits - or challenges - of communication with hearing people and among themselves? For deaf people the body is a media they use to create text and discourse through the performance of sign language. These ideas will be illustrated through real-life ethnographic observations and examinations of Japanese Sign Language, Signed Japanese, issues of sign language interpretation and advances in technology (extensions of the body) that assist in the transmission and recording of body generated text in non-face-to-face-settings.

Panel P059
Anthropology through the experience of the physical body