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An Autoethnography of a Life in Sign Language

Noel O'Connell

This book weaves intensely personal and evocative stories into a layered autoethnographic text about the author’s experience of childhood deafness, sign language and education. Interwoven with the performative narrative are powerful stories of stigma, trauma, friendships, relationships, love, isolation and displacement. Using interpretative and reflective analysis, the author explores the storied experience of self and belonging in family and school contexts, providing both personal and theoretical perspectives on language and culture. He traces the pathways he has taken in pursuit of a true sense of belonging in society, community and place.

This is an important contribution to the study of sign language, deaf education, disability and deaf health and well-being. It will be of interest to professionals and practitioners working with deaf children and parents and to students and researchers within social policy, social medicine, psychology, sociology, early childhood studies and special education.


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Chapter 7: Behind the Teacher’s Back: Stories of Cultural Encounters


Chapter 7 Behind the Teacher’s Back: Stories of Cultural Encounters Autoethnography shows people in the process of using communication to achieve an understanding of their lives and their circumstances. — Bochner and Ellis (2006, p. 111) Cultural Space In the stories that follow, the classroom is portrayed as a “cultural space” where acts of oppression and resistance are played out through teacher- student performance. The performance itself and the social space of the classroom establishes the difference between the “hearing world” and the deaf world of sign language and deaf culture. The idea of performance, is predicated on the belief that the classroom world is a stage involving actors, scripts, stories, stages and interactions (Conquergood 2003). This theatri- cal model is manifested in the stories in the way the teacher appears to be taking on different roles shifting from “playwright” to “actor”, “director” and “audience” in response to class dynamic. In Chapter 4, for example, my teacher is directing (director) the articulation drills and makes plans (class scripts) for the children (performers) to perform for a group of stu- dent teachers (audience). The focus of the stories in this chapter is on how identity is mediated by the students and is shaped and moulded by the cul- tural identity of the teacher. I present these identity processes through the construction of “resisting stories of lived experience” (Moreira, 2012, p. 152) that illustrate the various coping mechanisms employed in the classroom in response to difficult challenges. Russell’s concept of overt/covert forms of...

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