Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Deaf Sociality and the Deaf Lutheran Church in Adamorobe, Ghana

Academic journal article Sign Language Studies

Deaf Sociality and the Deaf Lutheran Church in Adamorobe, Ghana

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article provides an ethnographic analysis of "deaf sociality" in Adamorobe, a village in Ghana, where the relatively high prevalence of hereditary deafness has led to dense social and spatial connections. Deaf people are part of their hearing environment particularly through family networks, and produce deaf sociality through many informal interactive practices which take place in "deaf spaces". In this context, efforts by the Deaf Lutheran Church to institute deaf-only signed worship services and (development) projects have been unsuccessful. Deaf community members are a priori socialized into practices of deaf sociality through deaf spaces and see litde or no need for this set of practices which bring them few benefits. Furthermore, collective structuring, social security, social work, interpreting and leadership rather happen in the context of lineages and extended families-where sign language is used-rather than in deaf-based support networks.

In the shared signing community of Adamorobe, a village in southern Ghana, where forty-one deaf people live among thirty-five hundred hearing villagers, values preached and enacted by the Deaf Lutheran Church differ from Adamorobean deaf perspectives. This difference has led to a clash between diverging ways of understanding the world and, more specifically, understanding what it means to be deaf.

"Shared signing communities" (Kisch 2008) are villages, towns, or groups in which a hereditary form of deafness is passed along, often through endogamous marriages. As a result, a relatively high number of deaf people have lived together in these communities with hearing people for decades or even centuries. Over the years, the need to communicate with each other in the dense sociocultural networks of these communities has led to the emergence of local sign languages used by both deaf and hearing people; hence the term "shared signing communities." Since deaf people in shared signing communities are typically well connected within their hearing families, they may resist the creation of formal deaf-based support networks for financial assistance, income generation, and social security. This is one of the key arguments of this article.

Related to this, it also appears that spaces in which a large number of deaf individuals assemble as a group (such as the Deaf Lutheran Church in Adamorobe) are less attractive or less important within the confines of shared signing communities than they are in places where deaf people are geographically dispersed and are members of (oppressed) language minorities. I argue that the reason for this is not deaf people's inclusion in hearing society. It is rather that deaf social interactions and relationships are part of the everyday life of deaf people in shared signing communities. Deaf people in such communities live in proximity to each other and are not geographically dispersed like the majority of deaf people in most parts of the world (Allen 2008). Spaces in which deaf people gather together as a large group and/or are organized as support networks are thus generally less likely to be successful in these communities.

I use the term "deaf sociality," a term coined by Friedner (2014), to frame social relationships between deaf people. "Deaf sociality" refers to deaf people interacting with and having social relationships with each other. "Deaf sociality" is broader and more inclusive than the founding concepts of Deaf studies such as "Deaf identity," "Deaf world," "Deaf community," and "Deaf culture."The growth and spread of oral rhetoric has claimed that "sign language and Deaf people who used it could never be assimilated into national societies" (Murray 2007, 29). As such, deaf people should use only spoken language and "integrate" into hearing societies. According to Murray (ibid.), this ideology has (ironically) given a push to the understanding of a "Deaf world," that is, a culture or community as a closed sphere, especially in the twentieth century. …

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