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Deaf mobilities across international borders: Visualising intersectionality and translanguaging

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - MobileDeaf (Deaf mobilities across international borders: Visualising intersectionality and translanguaging)

Reporting period: 2018-10-01 to 2020-03-31

Being skilled in sign language creates unique potential with regard to transnationalism, as it creates particular possibilities and opportunities for communication across language and national borders.

The MobileDeaf research project focuses on the social and creative process of deaf transnationalism in place-bound everyday movements and communicative processes. We cover a range of distinct modes of being mobile such as migration of different types, international professional travel, as well as tourism. This spectrum of mobilities includes temporary and circular forms of mobility, short-term stays, and settlement for longer periods of time. Contexts covered in this project include refugee camps, deaf schools, workplaces, courses, conferences, sports events, cultural festivals, cafes and restaurants, camps, tour groups, and tourist destinations.

The project investigates how and where internationally mobile deaf people engage in institutional deaf spaces, in (semi-)public spaces and in virtual deaf spaces (such as social media). Central in the study of those spatial practices is the investigation of how being deaf intersects with nationality, ethnicity, level of education and gender, a process in which discriminatory processes are amplified or attenuated. Using the lens of intersectionality, we focus on power, inequality and oppression and on how intersections produce opportunities and/or empowerment. Because we are locating intersectionality in concrete spatial and social patterns, we yield broader insights into how diversity is encountered.

Whilst the lens of intersectionality is instrumental in exploring deaf-deaf and deaf-hearing social encounters and spatial practices in diverse contexts, the lens of translanguaging helps analyse how these differences are negotiated. Translanguaging means that people select features from multimodal linguistic repertoires (from socially constructed different “languages”), to communicate effectively. In translanguaging spaces, deaf signers make use of resources and strategies such as communicating through gesture and through International Sign, and through rapid learning of previously unknown sign languages, whether or not in combination with writing, mouthing and/or speaking in spoken language(s). The project investigates the strategic use of multimodal and multilingual linguistic repertoires in everyday language practices with both deaf and hearing interlocutors; language ideologies in relation to these practices; and how translanguaging is experienced.
Amandine le Maire undertook research on forced migration in Kakuma Refugee camp in Kenya. She identified deaf meeting spaces in the camp (such as deaf units in some schools, a deaf church group, and a deaf woman’s shop), and found that deaf people of different nationalities and of different ethnic groups engage with each other. Their signing practices are fluid: Kenyan Sign Language and American Sign Language are used in official settings in the camp; but some refugees also use sign languages and local gestures of their countries of origins; and there also has emerged a translingual signing variant that’s specific to the camp, which Amandine calls “Kakuma signs”. With hearing camp residents from their own ethnic groups, deaf people use gestures and spoken language specific to these groups. Deaf people encounter barriers such as lack of linguistic access to information and services.

Steve Emery and Sanchayeeta Iyer do research on labour migration in London. While Steve’s research is cross-sectional and broad, Sanchayeeta zooms in on a particular intersectional group: young female deaf South-Asian migrants. They made field visits and did interviews all over the city to observe how deaf migrants took part in different kinds of deaf spaces, and to interact with deaf migrants; examples include deaf gatherings in places of worship, pubs, cafes, cinema’s, community centres, colleges and Deaf clubs. Steve mapped these spaces as a deaf (migrant) overlay of London. Steve and Sanchayeeta came to the realization that deaf migrants insert themselves in the deaf networks that are already there in London, and there does not exist a single central place where deaf migrants usually meet and share experiences related to migration. Some participants “found” their deaf identity and became a deaf signer only after moving to London, others were already signers and did, or did not acquire British Sign Language in addition to the other sign language(s) they knew. Some deaf people came out as gay/lesbian after moving to London and did or did not participate in hearing LGBTQIA networks.

Annelies Kusters does multisited research on professional mobility in sites around the world. Between September 2017 and December 2019 she has done research at the SIGN8 conference in Brazil, the Frontrunners course in Denmark, an international Bible translation centre in Kenya called DOOR, the Clin d’Oeil festival in Reims, the WASLI and WFD conferences, and the Winter Deaflympics in Italy. Annelies organized focus groups and interviews about International Sign with teachers, presenters, performers, athletes, leaders, participants, interpreters, event organisers, and students. Annelies identified diverging attitudes towards the use of International Sign, a flexible translingual practice. Annelies has also investigated the factors that presenters and event organisers consider when considering language of presentation/performance, languages of interpreter provision, and conference/event language policies.

Erin Moriarty investigates tourist mobility in Bali, Indonesia. She stayed there for seven months, encountering tourists from Australia, France, New Zealand, the US and Europe, and observed their interactions with two deaf tourist guides and deaf Balinese people. Erin observed deaf tour group dynamics as well as their flexible language use, and that of the guides. Erin also interviewed deaf travelers to Bali she had not met at any tour but found through strategic use of the deaf information network on Facebook. Erin not only focused on interactions between guides and internationally mobile deaf travelers, but also on deaf Indonesians who may be immobile themselves in the sense of not traveling outside of Bali but are visited by deaf tourists, such as deaf schools and a tourist village with a high number of deaf residents.
The most important milestones in the second half of the project will be the release of ethnographic films. We will also release a “making of”, covering the process of creating the ethnographic films and addressing what it means to produce deaf ethnographic films. The films are not the endpoint of our project in the sense of disseminating findings, but will be used to study audience reception.

The process of analyzing and publishing data is central during the second half of the MobileDeaf project. In addition to publications based on individual subprojects, we are working on a book. In this book, we bring key findings of the separate subprojects together, exploring convergences and divergences in our data, based on the different contexts of international deaf mobilities covered by the four subprojects. We use our common theoretical framework (mobilities and immobilities; translanguaging and intersectionality) as guide throughout the construction of this book.
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