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Narratives of identity : a poststructural analysis of three deaf women’s life stories Hole, Rachelle Deanne

Abstract

This study explored the influence of hearing loss on identity. Phrased in constructionist terms, the research questions guiding this study were how do culturally Deaf women perceive the influence of hearing loss as they construct their identities? And how do they incorporate, resist, and/or reject various cultural discourses as they go about the creative act of constructing their identities? The participants were three adult women with prelingual hearing losses. All three participants were raised in hearing-oriented environments where auditory/oral communication was used and as adults identified as culturally Deaf. A collaborative narrative method was used and in-depth interviews that elicited life stories were conducted with the participants. Sign language was used during the interviews. The interviews were videotaped, then interpreted to spoken English by the researcher, and then subsequently transcribed. The research interviews provided rich, descriptive data that were used to create a narrative summary of each participant's life story. The researcher collaborated with each participant around the representation of her life story in narrative form. The narrative summaries illustrate the complex, textured, and multilayered ways in which each of the participants constructed identity in their life stories, where identities competed, co-existed, and overlapped. In addition, drawing on poststructural ideas the researcher analyzed four cultural discourses at work in the participants' narratives: discourses of normalcy, discourses of difference, discourses of passing, and Deaf cultural discourses. It was found that a binary relationship existed between discourses of normalcy and discourses of difference leading to the construction of identities based on opposites. These identities were positioned in a binary relationship where one side of the binary was privileged and the opposite was "othered", e.g., hearing/deaf, and Deaf/deaf. However, the poststructural narrative analysis demonstrated that these categories were not fixed, but rather, that hearing status was a complex, unstable identity category, reflecting shifting identities and positionalities. The findings are discussed in relation to empirical literature on deafness and identity. The study concludes with suggestions for professionals, with a discussion of methodological implications, and with a discussion of future research possibilities.

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