Deafness/Disability – problematising notions of identity, culture and structure
The aim of this chapter is to examine the tension-ridden relationships between Deaf and disabled people, linking them to theoretical analyses of identity, structure and culture. On a surface level, this tension is evidenced not only by the marginalisation of Deaf people from disability politics, and vice versa, but also by the separate evolution of Deaf studies and disability studies. However, this chapter will examine the divisions at the deeper level of theory, taking as its basis Margaret Archer’s (1996) view that the structural (‘parts’) and cultural (‘people’) domains are substantively different, as well as being relatively independent of each other. Thus theories developed about the relationship between structures and social agents and between cultures and cultural actors have to recognise the autonomy of structure and culture. The chapter argues that different theories are used in Deaf studies and disability studies to conceptualise and explain the same phenomena – identity, culture and structure. This has led to the conflation of these phenomena that has two main effects when we begin to consider the relationship between them. First, somewhat crude unilateral accounts are produced in which one of the phenomena is elided or rendered inert. Second, the phenomena are assumed to be tightly constitutive of each other, with the result that all of them disappear, and so any examination of their interconnections is
precluded. Nevertheless ‘parts’ and ‘people’ are always interpenetrative, and this becomes particularly visible when their relationship is performed in the battleground of cultural politics. In this respect the structural penetration of culture in Deaf politics and the cultural penetration of structure in disability politics marks Deaf and disabled people as always already divided. In the light of this the chapter asks whether Archer’s theory has limitations and concludes with a brief look at what the future might hold for political relationships between Deaf and disabled people.