Bridging the Gap, but how many gaps?

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Today I had the pleasure of meeting some great people, some of whom I only knew through Twitter before I met the real ‘them!’ But I also had to consider a few tricky concepts which merit a bit of reflection…

The idea of today’s conference was “Bridging the Gap:” looking at methods of community engagement. Given the fact I’ve just started my Ph.D, I thought this would be a great opportunity to network and learn a bit more about the community that I’m researching. Don’t get me wrong; it was and I did, but I left the conference feeling a little weird.

Perhaps it was due to learning a lot in one day, perhaps it was my brain trying to understand the BSL being produced and not having it conflict with the voice-over, or perhaps it was due to some of the things I drew from the day (if anyone from the conference today happens to be reading this, of if you have any comment on this at all, please feel free to add your point of view below!)

  • When studying something in the realms of the Deaf community, it should be “BSL First,” for communication and dissemination. I can understand this, but on a personal note it made me quite nervous: I’m doing the study of sign linguistics, and yet I couldn’t stand up in front of a conference and sign my proposal. How does this reflect on my abilities? Does it mean that if I use English, I’m not representing the community I’m researching?
  • There’s a key difference between ownership and stewardship, and the concept of privilege is becoming more and more common in daily rhetoric, particularly within research. To whom does research and data belong, particularly when research involves a minority community? Does a University really have the best interests of the research performed, or just its own?
  • Tension exists between the Deaf community and the hearing world, and a number of factors (historical and current) contribute to this. The unity between these two is tricky, but from what I gleaned today, there are also tensions within the Deaf world itself. Of course, splinters occur in any community, but with one so small, how can these bigger bridges be built when smaller ones needs to appear first?

So here I am: a male, white, hearing researcher of the Deaf community. In terms of ‘privilege,’ I’m pretty high up the scale and, coming from a hearing family and having no Deaf relatives, I paradoxically find myself feeling isolated. On the one hand, I’ve been meeting some great people, but on the other, I’m starting to feel that my research may be viewed in the wrong light no matter how I slice it, due to my background, my skills, and the tensions that exist.

Couple this with my post from yesterday and some comments I’ve received on it, my final question is this: am I going somewhere, or am I wasting my time?

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