Deaf Culture: the constant threat of extinction

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Deaf Culture has been under threat for centuries. In Ancient Rome, deaf poor children were thrown at birth into the Tiber river. Deaf couples were not allowed to marry until the twelfth century. In 1880, a meeting of educational professionals - the Milan Congress -, enforced a set of resolutions upon the deaf which intended to ban sign language completely, causing oppression and trauma all over Europe and becoming forever known as the Deaf Holocaust. Coincidentally, then and there, eugenicists were plotting to eradicate the “deaf variety of human race” and such power display was predominantly exerted through harsh physical punishment upon the use of signed languages in schools. In addition, the medical discourse was disseminating a conception of deafness as a pathology; scientists were so resolute in finding its cure that deaf children were put through a variety of painful experimental treatments, arduous therapies and rehabilitation processes, often culminating in their death. More recently, in the last three decades, geneticists found data on deaf genes and the wish to eliminate hereditary deafness awoke the eugenics terror once again. Despite facing social difficulties and constantly communicating through translation with the hearing - in a permanent mediation between vocal and signed languages - the Deaf intelligentsia has grown stronger education-wise, becoming aware of the colonization process on Deaf communities and deconstructing it in a deliberate and conscious way.
This paper aims to explore the fear of extermination experienced by Deaf communities and the consequent Deaf resurgence that has arisen despite social asymmetries. Furthermore, it wishes to demonstrate the importance of valuing and respecting difference, of learning how to live together, with our idiosyncrasies, irrespective of cultural differences. It is relevant to look upon the progressing upheaval processes undertaken by the Deaf communities against such historical oppressive dynamics, in the light of Deaf Studies and Cultural Studies. All in all, Deaf communities and Deaf Culture are no longer a passive bystander on the brink of extermination and are fiercely fighting back.
Keywords: Deaf Studies; Eugenics; Milan Congress; linguistic minority; signed languages
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 18 Aug 2017
EventEuropean Summer School in Cultural Studies : Living Together - Bergen, Norway , Bergen, Norway
Duration: 14 Aug 201718 Aug 2018


ConferenceEuropean Summer School in Cultural Studies
Abbreviated titleESSCS


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