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Deaf mobilities across international borders: Visualising intersectionality and translanguaging

Deaf people have been connecting with each other in international contexts since at least the 18th century, initially mostly in Europe, gathering for example for conferences and banquets. In these contexts, they often communicate in International Sign, which is a form of contact signing which led to the emergence of a lingua franca and has no real equivalent in spoken languages. Deaf people’s networks can be regarded as early examples of cosmopolitanism.
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In recent years, deaf international encounters have intensified due to innovations in technology and transport. They have diversified and complexified, since deaf people from all over the world have been mobile: migrating, seeking refuge, attending conferences, camps, travelling, and so on. This project aims to cover a spectrum of international deaf mobilities in four sub-projects.
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The sub-project on forced migration takes place in Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya where a large number of deaf refugees from several African countries live. The sub-project on labour migration takes place in London where deaf people moved from all over the world. The sub-project on professional mobility takes place at various international deaf conferences, sports events and courses and consists of multi-sited field work. The sub-project on tourist mobility takes place in Bali where deaf tourists mostly from Europe, Australia and the US visit and make use of tourist services catered specifically to deaf people.
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This continuum of four different kind of mobilities as such encompasses different aspirations leading to professional, social and personal mobility. It includes different temporalities: short time stays, temporary forms of mobility, and settlement for long periods of time. It also focuses on mobilities of divergent socio-economic nature; on difficult ways and luxurious ways of navigating the world. As such, we aim to investigate how complex diversity works within the context of international deaf encounters.
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We use a theoretical frame that is adaptable to the four different contexts, and yet can offer us the potential to identify patterns across the subprojects. We use two key concepts, the first of which is intersectionality, capturing how deaf people of various backgrounds are never only deaf: being deaf intersects with race, ethnicity, nationality, gender, sexual orientation, age, educational level, religion, and so on. The concept enables us to focus on how differences in power and resources lead to inequality and oppression while also investigating contexts that lead to opportunity and empowerment.
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People negotiate intersectionality in their daily encounters through communicative interactions, hence the centrality of the second concept, that of translanguaging. The concept covers how deaf people make use of diverse linguistic resources, which are always multimodal. This can include International Sign, the use of different sign languages, gestures, writing and fingerspelling in different languages and scripts, mouthings, speech, drawing, and so on. As such we investigate how internationally mobile deaf people are using diverse communicative resources to align with their deaf or hearing interlocutors. We also focus on language ideologies regarding the use of International Sign in particular and translanguaging in general.
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Our research team consist of four deaf multilingual signers, as to maximise access to various sign languages, access to distinct deaf networks, and insights into deaf ways of living. Our methodology consists of ethnography, in particular participant observation, informal conversations, semi-structured interviews and focus groups. We make use of visual methods, including photographs and videos created by participants and researchers. On top of this, within the four sub-projects, four ethnographic films will be created by teams consisting of the project researchers and deaf filmmakers. As such, data will be gathered, elicited and disseminated in ways that visualize intersectionality and translanguaging, bringing insights to Deaf Studies, visual anthropology, applied linguistics, and the anthropology of diversity, mobility and globalisation.