EUGENICS AND UTOPIA: SOCIAL IMAGINARIES OF TECHNOLOGIES FOR DEAFNESS

Alana Best, Corinna Howland, Jenny Snapp, Julie K Park

Abstract


A community where everyone speaks Sign? A society where familial deafness condemns people to sterilisation or death? A world where sign languages are suppressed? All have been historically documented: Martha’s Vineyard from 17th-20th centuries; Germany in the 1930s-40s; internationally, for a century from 1880. These and other images comprise divergent social imaginaries which are a context for current and future technologies for deafness. These technologies include postnatal genetic and aural testing for deafness, and may in future include prenatal testing. Cochlear implants can enable profoundly deaf people to hear and newborn hearing screening has recently been introduced in New Zealand. Sign language is another technology whereby deaf people can communicate, create poetry and drama and tell jokes; yet its fortunes have fluctuated over time with oralism’s dominance. Our article draws on two small ethnographic studies in Auckland: one with two families with hereditary deafness; the other with two families and one young adult who had recently chosen cochlear implants, to suggest that individual and societal moral reasoning on the contested issues of technologies for deafness is embedded in different social imaginaries of normalcy.

Keywords


imaginaries, predicament; deaf, anthropology

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.11157/sites-vol10iss2id233