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Social Understandings and Representations of Deafness In Theory and Education through Cinema

Final Report Summary - SURDITE CINEMA (Social Understandings and Representations of Deafness In Theory and Education through Cinema)

Deafness raises profound questions about language acquisition, learning, and thinking. This includes mediating experiences
of the world, the self, other people, socio-cultural identity and sense of belonging. France has an important place in the history of deaf education. In 1791, two years after the Revolution and as a result of the rights of deaf people being recognized in the constitution, France became the first country to have a national, government-funded school for deaf children, who were taught using sign language. It has taken some time for international exchanges to be generated between scholars, professionals and individuals in France and the UK on the subject of deafness. This project thus provides a bridge for the sharing and interrogation of research, experiences, practices, and policies. The originality of the project lies in using cinema to bring together and analyse social, theoretical and educational perspectives on deafness from Francophone and Anglophone spheres. The purpose of the work is: to contribute to transforming social understandings of deafness in the public domain; to construct a dispassionate theoretical and empirical framework for researchers and practitioners working in the fields of deaf studies, deaf education and disability studies; and, to critique and influence national and EU discourses and policies on deafness and disability.
The S.U.R.D.I.T.E. Cinéma project has developed new work in the representation and understanding of D/deaf people and deafness in 21st century cinema. The project aimed to analyse representations of D/deaf people in contemporary cinema, and, to use cinema to analyse social, theoretical, and educational perspectives on D/deaf people, sign languages and deafness from Francophone and Anglophone spheres. In order to do this, the project had four principle objectives: firstly, to create a catalogue of 21st century films featuring D/deaf people, and/or deafness, and/or sign languages; secondly, to analyse the evolution of understandings and perceptions of D/deaf people, deafness and sign languages between 20th and 21st centuries in the Social Sciences and Humanities; thirdly, to compare Francophone and Anglophone discourses in deaf studies, deaf education, and disability studies; fourthly, to develop a new methodological approach to using cinema as a tool to critique and understand discourses relating to D/deaf people and language, learning, and societal thinking.
Following the first objective, the Fellow is in the process of completing the cinema catalogue with the help of her Research Assistant. It will be launched in Spring 2017 at the National Institute for the Deaf (INJS). After which, it will be hosted on the website of the French cinema and disability charity organisation, Retour d’image. In response to objective two, the Fellow conducted a literature review of discourses on D/deaf people, sign languages and deafness in Social Sciences and Humanities research and co-organised, presented and participated in a two-year research seminar series on new research in Deafness and the Social Sciences. The third objective was achieved through a review of research and practices in deaf education, deaf studies and disability studies in France, the UK, and the U.S.A. and the collection of Focus Group data. The Focus Groups invited professionals, who work with D/deaf adults and young people, to share their perspectives on depictions of D/deaf people, sign languages, and education in contemporary visual media. The final objective was reached through the organisation of six-month Public Lecture and Film Screening Series. Filmmakers (or experts on the film’s theme/genre) were invited to present the film and publically debate their work with members of the public. Audience members were invited to complete questionnaires about the films. The Public Lecture data has been combined with theories in cinema studies, deaf studies, deaf education and disability studies in the development of an innovative methodological approach that demonstrates how cinema can be used as a tool to critique discourses on D/deaf people, language, learning and societal thinking.

In terms of research results and communicating this work to scholars, the project has produced: 6 publications, 3 conference papers, 4 international guest lectures and seminars; 6 seminar presentations; 3 workshops, and 1 workshop series. The project sought to have impact and relevance for the wider public by organising public presentations of the on-going work of the project and by inviting discussion, commentary and critique on cinema and project findings with members of the public and professionals working with D/deaf adults and young people. This involved the programming and presenting of 1 public lecture and film screenings series, the co-ordination of 3 public research seminar series, 3 public presentations, 4 focus groups conducted in France, UK, and U.S.A. and 2 interviews. It is hoped that the cinema catalogue that will be launched at a public presentation and film-screening event in Spring 2017, will provide a useful source of reference for both research, professionals in other sectors, and members of the public.

In terms of impact and socio-economic impact of the project outcomes, the cinema catalogue provides concrete evidence of social understandings of D/deaf people and sign languages through visual media. These data may be used to highlight the difference between current social understandings and educational practices concerning D/deaf young people, Deaf culture, sign languages and national and EU policies in Europe in order to influence educational/language policy change. The catalogue is an open access resource to be used by education, cinema, and medical professionals working with D/deaf adults or young people as well as the general public. The article for Studies in French Cinema may be useful in informing cinema professionals about errors, inaccuracies, common misperceptions and potential opportunities in depicting D/deaf people, and people with disabilities, more broadly, in the visual media. The ‘New Language Trends’ article highlights the way that Deaf people, Deaf culture, sign languages and cochlear implants are presented in contemporary cinema and television. This analysis is combined with the Focus Group data collected from professionals working with D/deaf people about their perspectives on depictions of D/deaf people and sign languages in contemporary cinema. It seeks to: put into dialogue the views of Anglophone and Francophone professionals, who work with D/deaf people; potentially, influence language policies for sign language education and inform filmmakers and their crews on the factors, which need to be taken into account in representations of D/deaf people in cinema and television. The Public Lecture and Film Screening series was hosted in collaboration with the disability and cinema charity organisation, Retour d’image. It was open to members of the public and was attended by television and cinema professionals, Deaf and hearing professionals working in education, interpreting, healthcare, as well as students and researchers. It provided the opportunity to view recent films that were not well known or easily accessible in the public domain and the opportunity for the presenters and audience members to publicly debate each film either with the filmmaker or an expert in the film’s theme/genre.

Web Page The Project Page will be updated with the project findings in Spring 2017.