Outsiders Within: Cochlear Implants, Oralism, and the Politics of Life In Between the Deaf and Hearing Worlds
Rush, Carly Ann
What happens when established social classifications are challenged? In this dissertation, I investigate the classification of “Deafness” as it has been disrupted by advancements in medical technologies and corresponding ideologies about communication. I ask: how do communities negotiate space for those who fit some, but not all, of the necessary criteria for membership in their communities? I focus on the experiences of individuals I call “Outsiders Within,” those who possess some, but not all, biological and social characteristics of the Deafness (e.g., hearing loss and/or fluency in American Sign Language) while simultaneously embodying aspects that are antithetical to established Deaf identities (e.g., oral communication and/or cochlear implants). I draw upon data collected from a multiyear ethnography at Gallaudet University to understand how the increasing diversity of the student body aids in the redefinition of what it means to be Deaf in America. Through an analysis of cultural symbols including voice, technology, and language, I find that the Deaf community responds to Outsiders Within by constructing complex social hierarchies to simultaneously include and exclude Outsiders Within. Through this analysis, I demonstrate how blurred boundaries of the Deaf community begin to shift as the community accommodates the biological and social diversity they once admonished.