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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 8: Reflections


Chapter 8 Reflections … we live life forwards but understand it backwards — Kierkegaard (cited in Josselson 1995, p. 35) October 2012: I push my way through a throng of people, guests and staff of Deaf Village Ireland mixing together; many well-known faces, some vaguely familiar and the rest completion unknown. I stick out my thumb, saying “hi”, and wave to the left and right. I make my way past the recep- tion and reach the lounge door where people are constantly going in and out. Hands fluttering, stirring and flailing and people laughing, smiling and watching in the main room. Someone called Michael taps me on the shoulder. “Hello! What are you doing here? Haven’t seen you in a long time”. “Yes, but I’ve been around a few times”. “Looking for someone?” “Yes. Yvonne. Have you seen her?” “She’s inside the room”. “Good. Thanks”. “No problem. See you around”. I step into the lounge area without thinking as if on autopilot and search for “Yvonne” (pseudonym) in the crowd. I had interviewed her as part of my PhD research project that I completed in October 2013, almost two years to this day. The project is based on an ethnographic study of deaf people’s experiences of education. We had arranged to meet to catch up and I wanted to thank her in person for participating in my research. I had known her since my school days and was grateful she shared stories about her experience of school during the 1950s. 168 Chapter...

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