Performing Deafness: Symbolic Power as Embodied by Deaf and Hearing Preschoolers
Published Web Locationhttps://doi.org/10.5070/L29232712
Symbolic competence, “the ability to actively manipulate and shape one’s environment on multiple scales of time and space” (Kramsch & Whiteside, 2008, p. 667), offers researchers and educators the ability to understand how learners position themselves. This positioning involves a vying for semiotic resources as a means to question established constructs and re-signify or reframe them (Kramsch, 2011). Theorizations of symbolic competence have thus far given limited attention to the multimodal dimensions of intercultural communication in action, that is, during the process of positioning. In this study, I utilize the operating principles of symbolic competence (positioning, historicity, reframing, and transgressions) to explore the embodied uses of symbolic power (Bourdieu, 1982) in multimodal interactions between deaf and hearing preschoolers. Specifically, this project asks: What understandings are we offered through an analysis of symbolic power in the multimodal dimensions (the visual, auditory, tactile, and spatial) of intercultural communication? What might this teach us about how symbolic power is distributed not just through the various languages of interaction, but also through the bodies in interaction? This fine-grained analysis, which is part of a larger ethnographic study, finds that deaf and hearing participants draw upon multimodal forms of communication to both question and play with the cultural constructs of ‘hearingness’ and ‘deafness.’ It is also through what is not spoken or signed––that is, silence, face-work, and body positions–– that the focal L2 learners position themselves in a struggle over symbolic power. This research aims to expand the theorization of symbolic competence to include a focus on the meaning-making that takes place through the embodied dimensions of language. An embodied approach could be particularly useful in research that draws attention to multimodality and the various ways in which language learners make meaning, positioning self and other in the process.