Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Outsiders in a Hearing World: A Book Still Relevant Today

Academic journal article American Annals of the Deaf

Outsiders in a Hearing World: A Book Still Relevant Today

Article excerpt

Outsiders in a Hearing World: A Book Still Relevant Today Outsiders in a Hearing World: A Sociology of Deafness. Paul C. Higgins. Sage, 1980. 208 pages. $82.00 (paperback).

In Outsiders in a Hearing World: A Sociology of Deafness (1980), Paul Higgins was among the first to explore the sociology of the Deaf1 from the Deaf perspective. He drew on his personal experiences as a child of Deaf adults (CODA), a teacher in a school for the Deaf, and the spouse of a teacher of deaf children, as well interviews with D/deaf persons. As a child, Higgins had been immersed in the Deaf world and its culture; his first language was American Sign Language (ASL); English was his second. One of his key observations was that deaf persons are outsiders (deviants) in a hearing world. Many authors have corroborated his findings and added detail to his descriptions (e.g., Bauman, 2008; Horejes, 2012; Ladd, 2003, Lane, 1992).

Higgins adopted the term "outsider" from the work of the sociologist Howard Becker (1963), who used it to describe a minority group that is somehow different from and stigmatized by the larger society in which it exists. He made several observations as to why deaf people were considered outsiders. In this book review, a description of two of Higgins's observations will be presented. First, he noted that deaf people live in a world dominated by sounds (e.g., traffic, weather, conversation), and that those who can hear depend on sounds to participate in that world. He argued that because deaf people cannot hear, they literally live in a world of their own, in silence; thus, they are outsiders. Second, the "outsider" concept explained that while society at large makes assumptions and even creates realities about various minority groups, especially those with disabilities, the process is a complex one, as society's perceptions of the deaf continue to be developed and promulgated by those who can hear. Yet often, hearing people are unaware of the experiences, culture, and language of Deaf people, or how they navigate the hearing world. This ignorance and lack of empathy enables hearing people to treat deaf persons as outsiders.

In order to reveal how little has changed for deaf people, a sizeable and nearly invisible segment of American society, this book review will examine Higgins's findings and connect them with more recent literature about deafness. Specifically, the review will illuminate some misconceptions held by hearing people, and how those misconceptions contribute to the "deviant" or outsider status of deaf persons. And the review will show the relevance of Higgins's contribution, 36 years later.

Outsiders in a Hearing World

Higgins provided a compelling analogy describing how we are all "outsiders" in some way. He argued that "the poor have had to deal with a world run by those who are not poor. The disabled are outsiders in a nondisabled world.... [and] blacks are outsiders in a world where color matters" (p. 28). Adam (1978, cited by Higgins) described blacks, Jews, and gays as "inferiorized" people. This term, when applied to Deaf people and the Deaf community, does not mean that Deaf people are inherently inferior to the hearing society; it portrays how Deaf people have been relegated to an inferior position within the hearing society. For some Deaf people, inclusion in the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) perpetuated the inferiorization of Deaf people, sup- porting the disability model of deafness while excluding the cultural model. The disability identification denied Deaf people the cultural perspective (Fleischer & Zames, 2011). Yet Deaf people realized that if they were to have access (ASL interpreters, closed and open captioning, etc.), they would have to accept the ADA framework (Baynton, Gannon, & Bergey, 2007; Christiansen & Barnartt, 1995).

One of the key points Higgins (1980) made was that often hearing people consider Deaf people as "outsiders"; similarly, Deaf people view the larger hearing world as strange or different. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.