News from the RGS-IBG

Having just returned from the Royal Geographical Society, Institute of British Geographers conference I thought it worth putting up information here on the papers that were presented and some of the discussion that followed.The session (only one at the IBG – as opposed to the 3 planned for the AAG in Feb 2012!) was entitled “Intersecting Geographical Imaginations: Social Geography and Deaf Studies” and featured four papers:

  • Anna-Maria Slotte (University of Helsinki, Finland) – Citizenship viewed from a minority within a minority perspective. The Case of the Finland-Swedish deaf

Anna Maria’s paper described the situation of a community of fewer than 300 Deaf people using Finland Swedish sign, a language positioned on a dialect continuum between Finish and Swedish sign, and their experiences as Deaf members of the Finland Swedish community. Her paper focused on issues of identity, language sustainability and the citizenship experiences of those who belong to such a small community, within an already small community.

  • Dai O’Brien (University of Bristol) – Mainstream schools as a space of identity development for d/Deaf young people

Dai’s paper was a primarily theoretical exploration of how best to approach spaces of identity development of Deaf (often) individuals within mainstream schools – the primary situation of most Deaf children in the UK. Describing some of the assumptions of formative reports (Warnock in particular), Dai covered some of the difficulties of using Lefebvrian theory – particularly the way that it struggles to map the spaces of the individual, and laid out Bourdieu’s approach as one that was more pertinent to his research.

  • Gill Harold (University College Cork, Ireland) – ‘Hear ye! Hear ye!;’ Exploring geographies of sound and questions of Deaf citizenship

Gill’s paper described the city from a Deaf-centred perspective and considered its social reproduction in light of the phonocentric tendencies which are implicit in the design of urban spaces and the audist bias which underpins civic interactions. Highlighting how the long-standing conflation of speech with language is a misnomer which has had far-reaching implications for Sign Language communities, she described the need to see cities as multi-sensory scapes – as places that could also be ‘Deafscapes’.

  • Sarah C.E. Batterbury & Mike Gulliver (Bristol University) – Justice versus validity: debating the social geographies of DEAF/Sign Language Peoples’ emancipation

Sarah and Mike’s paper was presented as a debate between two views: a pragmatic, resource allocation based policy approach, and an idealistic, utopia-as-method approach. Each presented the core of their argument separately. Sarah’s as ‘Linguistic Justice’ – secured through the application of human rights. Mike’s as Validity – secured through a full appreciation for the foundations and equality of DEAF space. Their paper presents the tension that exists between these two approaches and questions whether either is entirely possible.

For the moment, the abstracts are available in full from the RGS conference website.

The session was chaired by Mary Beth Kitzel who also presented at the AAG in Seattle in April. Discussion after the papers was facilitated by Tracey Skelton who, along with Gill Valentine, is one of the only geographers to have written on the situation of the Deaf community.

As always, there was as much worth in meeting up and taking time to catch up as there was in the papers themselves. General feelings afterwards were that although conferences are good as landmarks in the year, we would all appreciate a forum for more ongoing contact.

So, watch this space – where we’ll be discussing some of the ideas that came up throughout the day.