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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 a long time, “calibrating” their signing towards each other. We are interested in how these connections work, and in barriers and inequalities people experience in these contexts. We explore whether deaf people’s international interactions can be regarded as examples of cosmopolitanism while also exploring the limits of deaf cosmopolitanism. We cover a spectrum of international deaf mobilities in four sub-projects, as deaf people from all over the world have been mobile in a variety of ways: migrating, seeking refuge, attending conferences, camps, travelling, and so on.
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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 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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Our research team consist of 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, videos, maps and artwork created by participants and researchers. On top of this, we engage in the creation of ethnographic films in collaboration with deaf filmmakers.
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We structure our analysis following four common key themes that emerged from our data: belonging, languaging, networks and immobility. “Belonging” captures experiences of inclusion and exclusion in different types of deaf spaces. It captures 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. We explore how differences in power and resources lead to inequality and oppression while also investigating what contexts lead to opportunity and empowerment.
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“Languaging” covers how internationally mobile deaf people communicate in order to align with their deaf or hearing interlocutors. This can include language learning and the use of conventional forms of International Sign, but also more flexible translanguaging practices involving the use of different sign languages, gestures, writing and fingerspelling in different languages and scripts, mouthings, speech, drawing, and so on. We also focus on language ideologies regarding these language practices.
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“Networks” refers to the ways deaf people find or produce deaf spaces abroad, such as deaf family homes, schools, clubs, organisations, businesses. These spaces do not exist in isolation but are networked, as such forming a current and historical “deaf mental map”. Our focus on “immobility” foregrounds barriers in mobility, such as due to failures to obtain a visa, being a refugee, and limits in relation to eg. gender or disability. Spaces of international deaf mobility are thus also spaces of exclusion, as well as spaces of encounters between less mobile and more mobile deaf people as and mobile deaf people are guided by deaf hosts who themselves may be internationally immobile.