"Future Life How?": The Making of Deaf Sociality and Aspiration in Urban India
- Author(s): Friedner, Michele Ilana
- Advisor(s): Cohen, Lawrence
- Kaufman, Sharon
- et al.
With the decline of the public sector in India, corporate rationalities have come to play an increasingly important role in everyday life in urban India. In analyzing this trend, this dissertation tracks what possibilities and constraints these new rationalities offer deaf young adults in the spaces that they circulate through. This dissertation argues that vocational training for deaf people is now focused on creating (immobile) workers for the Information Technology sector and that corporate social responsibility initiatives produce new aspirations and sensibilities in both deaf workers and their "normal" co-workers. These work places, however, are not considered to be stable or fulfilling. As ideas and ideals of modernity circulate, and in the absence of state support, pyramid schemes and deaf churches become spaces of aspiration and development. "Deaf development" refers to the emergence of deaf centered structures and institutions that are run according to deaf social practices and norms. This dissertation argues that new deaf worlds are emerging in which political, social, economic, and pastoral desires articulate with each other and cannot be disentangled.
The central thesis is that deaf people create unintended deaf spaces as they circulate through structures and institutions -- educational institutions, vocational training centers, churches, and pyramid scheme recruitment organizations-- that were set up for deaf people but not by them. Deaf young adults, often the majority population at these centers, create dense pedagogical and social communities, or moral worlds, of their own within these spaces in which they patiently and impatiently wait for "deaf development," pass time, share information and news, and speculate about the future. In creating spaces and socialities, deaf young adults also create deaf selves. As neither the state nor deaf peoples' families recognize Indian Sign Language, deaf people's social practices and aspirations are often illegible. Deaf people therefore become oriented towards each other and engage in "sameness work" through which differences are minimized and deaf sociality is created. And as sign language is not just a language-- deaf social practices and aspirations are embedded within its transmission and utilization-- learning sign language means becoming a specific kind of deaf person who becomes oriented towards other deaf people and deaf development.
The first work on urban deaf social formations in India, this dissertation explores both what is distinct about deaf experiences in urban India and how deaf Indians are like others. In doing so, it analyzes how the categories of "deaf" and "normal" are produced as norms that exist in relation to each other. This dissertation also considers concepts of deaf similitude and asks how desires for and imaginaries of "deaf development" arise in relation to India's political economic development and the existence of deaf worlds elsewhere. In contrast to anthropological literature that examines how the discourse of development creates new subjectivities based upon feelings of inferiority, lack, and underdevelopment, this dissertation argues that the discourse of "deaf development" creates subjectivities through cultivating aspirations for and imaginaries of a better future. An "ethnography of circulation," this work analyzes how spaces of circulation are produced in relation to each other, how circulation produces new selves and socialities, and how discourses circulate