Workshop in Deaf Geographies
Field School in Deaf Geographies
Queen’s University (Canada)
Bader International Study Centre
Herstmonceux Castle
12-14 July 2013


The staff and students of the Field School in Deaf Geographies would like to warmly invite you to attend the first international Workshop in Deaf Geographies, 12-14 July, 2013, hosted by Queen’s University (Canada) Bader International Study Centre at Herstmonceux Castle in Hailsham, East Sussex. The Workshop will bring together student and professional researchers who are experts in the field, and is open to all those interested in the intersections of Human Geography and Deaf culture, community, and history.

Research into the Geographies and Historical Geographies of the Deaf community has recently emerged as one of the most exciting, developing areas of Human Geography. Drawing together questions of embodiment, communication, culture and belonging, Deaf Geographies ask what these fundamental building blocks of humanness look like through the eyes of a community who perform their cultural and social geographies in the visual.

The event will be interpreted between spoken English, BSL, and ASL, and is specifically designed to provide a balance between academic discussion and social interaction.

Workshop attendees are welcome to stay in on-site accommodation or register for day attendance. Overnight accommodation, including meals, is available at the very reasonable rate of £10.50 per person/£15.30 with spouse (VAT incl), per night. Places are limited. Please register before Friday, 28 June.

Day attendance includes lunch and dinner at the day rate of £4.80 (incl. VAT). Participants will need additional funds for personal spending, insurance, and transport to/from Herstmonceux Castle. You are welcome to attend without reserving a place, but pre-registration is preferred.  Day rate fees may be paid on arrival.

For those of you too far to attend in person but would still be interested in participating, please consider joining us virtually that weekend. We are taking the conference to the web via the Blackboard Collaborate System. Pre-registration is required for that as well. If you are interested in joining us virtually, please contact us at deaf_geogs@bisc.queensu.ac.uk with the email address you would like to log-in with and we will send you an invitation. Virtual attendance registration will be available until Monday, 8 July.

The workshop schedule is below and the pre-registration form is attached. Please feel free to share this invitation with colleagues you think might be interested in participating.

We look forward to welcoming you to the Castle.

Mary Beth Kitzel


This is a terrific short video by one of the presenters at the Deaf Geographies sessions, Mr. Robert Sirvage, a PhD student at Gallaudet University.
-Austin Kocher
by Austin Kocher
Why are we devoting three sessions at the AAG to Deaf Geography?

With brevity, I want to answer that question not only for those who stumble across our work with curiosity, but for those of us who are already involved. I’ll begin with an example. In the past week, a video of a woman receiving a cochlear implant (CI) has circulated on the internet and on primetime television. The video, filmed by her husband, shows her CI being turned on for the first time. She is understandably emotional, communicating in clear, spoken English to the therapist that she can hear. The title of the video describes the woman as “Deaf from birth”, though no other information about her background is available. The video has prompted the most gushing comments on YouTube and Facebook, while also drawing heartfelt comments from Anderson Cooper, who showed the video on CNN.

There is no doubting that such a CI would be an authentically emotional experience for someone who desired one and could use it. But let’s  separate for a moment the personal experience of the young lady in the video and the way the video has functioned in public circulation. First there appears to be no question at all as to how a person who has never heard a sound could immediately, upon receiving a CI, begin to speak in crystal clear English even though she cannot see the therapist speaking to her. The ear is a brilliant organ, but it’s a trained organ. The ears are mere microphones – brilliant ones at that – attached to the head, while the brain is the motherboard that does all the work of processing sound into language and producing spoken or signed communication from thought. This unacknowledged aspect of the video in its symbolic absence produces symbolic meaning for the video: a woman trapped in silence finds subjective wholeness by hearing her own voice through the use of technology! The symbolic efficacy of the video is demonstrated in the number of comments online of readers who express their own weeping. 

The problem here is that what allows the video to function are two features which are absent: first, the absence of the woman’s history makes it appear that we are witnessing a miracle moment, when in all likelihood, the lady has trained for years to use her voice and likely her residual hearing, a project which is expensive, time-consuming, and marginally successful for the majority of completely (clinically) deaf individuals; second, the figure of the tainted deaf subject – who is symbolically incomplete through their lack of access to sound – forms the background which allows viewers to read the video emotionally as the restoration not just of physical hearing, but the restoration of a subject.

This view of deafness is prevalent in society, no less so within academia. When I mention that in addition to being a PhD student, I am also an ASL-English interpreter, I often receive that condescending yet appreciative smile saved for someone who performs an entirely marginal but undoubtably generous moral act of helping people less fortunate. That sign language or deaf studies (deaf/Deaf/deafness/deafhood/…the list grows) could prompt legitimate research questions is viewed with some skepticism. Yet by bringing together geography and Deaf studies, I believe there is a way to enrich both while also developing new ways of discussing and analyzing public misunderstanding such as the video above.

I should say up front, my research is not in deaf studies. Why then do I find these sessions worth even the modicum of time to organize? Like much academic work, it’s about creating a space where we can share our academic research and where these often marginalized conversations can flourish and spread throughout the discipline.
Having just returned from the Royal Geographical Society, Institute of British Geographers conference I thought it worth putting up information here on the papers that were presented and some of the discussion that followed.The session (only one at the IBG - as opposed to the 3 planned for the AAG in Feb 2012!) was entitled "Intersecting Geographical Imaginations: Social Geography and Deaf Studies" and featured four papers:
  • Anna-Maria Slotte (University of Helsinki, Finland) - Citizenship viewed from a minority within a minority perspective. The Case of the Finland-Swedish deaf
Anna Maria's paper described the situation of a community of fewer than 300 Deaf people using Finland Swedish sign, a language positioned on a dialect continuum between Finish and Swedish sign, and their experiences as Deaf members of the Finland Swedish community. Her paper focused on issues of identity, language sustainability and the citizenship experiences of those who belong to such a small community, within an already small community.
  • Dai O’Brien (University of Bristol) - Mainstream schools as a space of identity development for d/Deaf young people
Dai's paper was a primarily theoretical exploration of how best to approach spaces of identity development of Deaf (often) individuals within mainstream schools - the primary situation of most Deaf children in the UK. Describing some of the assumptions of formative reports (Warnock in particular), Dai covered some of the difficulties of using Lefebvrian theory - particularly the way that it struggles to map the spaces of the individual, and laid out Bourdieu's approach as one that was more pertinent to his research.
  • Gill Harold (University College Cork, Ireland) - ‘Hear ye! Hear ye!;’ Exploring geographies of sound and questions of Deaf citizenship
Gill's paper described the city from a Deaf-centred perspective and considered its social reproduction in light of the phonocentric tendencies which are implicit in the design of urban spaces and the audist bias which underpins civic interactions. Highlighting how the long-standing conflation of speech with language is a misnomer which has had far-reaching implications for Sign Language communities, she described the need to see cities as multi-sensory scapes - as places that could also be 'Deafscapes'. 
  • Sarah C.E. Batterbury & Mike Gulliver (Bristol University) - Justice versus validity: debating the social geographies of DEAF/Sign Language Peoples' emancipation
Sarah and Mike's paper was presented as a debate between two views: a pragmatic, resource allocation based policy approach, and an idealistic, utopia-as-method approach. Each presented the core of their argument separately. Sarah's as 'Linguistic Justice' - secured through the application of human rights. Mike's as Validity - secured through a full appreciation for the foundations and equality of DEAF space. Their paper presents the tension that exists between these two approaches and questions whether either is entirely possible.

For the moment, the abstracts are available in full from the RGS conference website.

The session was chaired by Mary Beth Kitzel who also presented at the AAG in Seattle in April. Discussion after the papers was facilitated by Tracey Skelton who, along with Gill Valentine, is one of the only geographers to have written on the situation of the Deaf community.

As always, there was as much worth in meeting up and taking time to catch up as there was in the papers themselves. General feelings afterwards were that although conferences are good as landmarks in the year, we would all appreciate a forum for more ongoing contact.

So, watch this space - and take a look over at the Deaf Geographies Sandbox where we'll be discussing some of the ideas that came up throughout the day.

by Mike Gulliver

It's not often that you get the opportunity to shape the entire research direction of a university department... However, that's something that's happening at the ILRT in Bristol, where a wide ranging re-deployment of staff and of mandate means that the department that I work in has begun to cast around for new avenues to explore.

Voilà... up goes my hand (metaphorically) with the proposal that a Special Interest Group be set up to look at the way that humans interact with technologies... Not very exciting or innovative (or relevant to DEAF space) you might think until you consider that things like the Internet are not just 'there'... they have been designed with preconceived ideas in mind about how humans behave, and the skills that they have.

For example, have you ever noticed just how much of the Internet is 'text' based... and that 'text' is assumed to mean words... like the ones I'm writing now... and then wondered how much of that 'text' is inaccessible to those who (in the UK at least) have been failed by the education system?

... that's the content... and then there's the medium. What would the Internet look like if it had been invented and pursued by DEAF people?

OK... the SIG's not even off the ground yet, but there is already a feeling that it offers DEAF space yet another way to fundamentally challenge some of the taken-for-granteds of the hearing-authored world.

Watch this space...
by Austin Kocher

I was reminded last night of an important reason why I believe this Deaf geography group is important.

I went to a Deaf mingle last night here in Columbus, Ohio for the first time in a few months. It was satisfying to catch up with old friends and to be social again. I am always amazed by the ability of such a simple event to create a Deaf space on a Friday night in the middle of an otherwise hearing pub. Beginning signers huddled together at tables hoping someone would come by ask them their name. (YOUR NAME, WHAT?) Eager interpreting students flock to fluent signers for a much-needed immersion experience. Deaf teachers and professionals enjoy a beer and full-on conversation after a week of working in hearing offices. Many people will live their whole lives in Columbus and overlook the rich spaces of Deaf cultural that coalesce and dissolve rhythmically each week across the city.

At the mingle, I met an interpreting student who was both excited and concerned about becoming an interpreter. She was excited about learning a specialized, socially relevant, cognitively demanding skill that provided communication access to Deaf and hearing relationships. But she was understandably concerned about being in a position where, as a communication facilitator, she would always be re-presenting other people's ideas and not her own. Being an interpreter entails both empowering others through communication and losing one's own ability to be recognized as a full and valued participant. It is a contradiction that interpreters regularly acknowledge and do their best to mitigate in their careers. Some interpreters move on to coordinator positions or find opportunities to teach or present workshops, while others mix interpreting with another hobby or professional skill. It can even be the source of vicarious trauma when interpreting in crisis-oriented environments or when witnessing repeated discrimination. Some leave the field completely and never look back.

Brenda Brueggemann at The Ohio State University writes about "inbetweenity" as a way of navigating the boundaries of identity which are practically fraught with everyday feelings of un-belonging. This can also happen to geography graduate students - like several of us on this site - who regularly have to give an account to our peers that, yes, sign language is a real language and, no, we are not spending our time 'volunteering for the disabled'. On the other hand, we must also give an account to fellow interpreters, Deaf friends and family members, and former workmates about what geography is, the relevance of geography to Deaf studies, and to somehow argue for ourselves that what we do is valuable for interpreting and the Deaf community.

When I was at the AAG in Seattle with the presenters (listed here), I was enormously pleased - as indeed we all were - to not have to start from scratch with each other. We mostly all knew sign language and had years of experience with the Deaf community, albeit in different capacities. We were, therefore, able to make real progress in thinking through the concept of Deaf/DEAF/deaf space and Deaf geographies. One reason (among many) that makes this project important to me, is that it provides us with a community of colleagues who can engage in real discussion about important questions. For me, it gives me an opportunity that I don't have as an interpreter: to make a contribution to the fields of interpreting and Deaf studies through my own signs/voice.

As this grows, there will always be a need to carefully and respectfully articulate the diverse experience of people who are deaf, Deaf, DEAF, or any other identity we wish to claim for ourselves. We must be willing to address the basic misconceptions that people have about geography and about what it means to be Deaf - just as many of us once held those misconceptions, too. It is nonetheless important to have a place where we can do the work we seek to do in a community of colleagues. I hope that we can create such a place through this project, and that more will join us and challenge us through meaningful discussion in coming years.


    Austin Kocher
    Deaf Geography
    Deaf Space


    March 2012
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    September 2011
    May 2011