Cultural Rights andSign Language Peoples Dr Paddy Ladd Centre for Deaf Studies, University of Bristol
Structure of Paper1. Brief history of Deaf Culture concept.2. Importance of colonialism concept.3. Brief history of cultural rights.4. Recent UNESCO cultural legislation.5. Its relevance for SLPs.6. Some routes to action – and some recent failures.
The history and significance of the Deaf Culture concept. Language Rights are beginning to be acknowledged. But there is still very limited understanding of Deaf Culture concept, in both Deaf and hearing worlds. This is made worse by a major weakness of Deaf Studies – huge imbalance of resources and attention to sign linguistics compared with the study of Deaf communities themselves, their sociology, culture, history, arts etc.
Why is Studying Deaf Culture Important ? Are Deaf views really being heard ? No. Most Deaf discourses are in Sign Languages, and are not being collected and recorded in print, Thus they remain unknown to wider world. All Deaf people deserve to have their views and stories recorded – not just Deaf professionals. And even Deaf professionals’ stories and views are not in print. Thus much research – and funding – is needed.
So Deaf Culture concept is important INTERNALLY because : It offers a chance to reflect on Deaf lives and what we have created together as communities for 250+ years. Reflection and appreciation of our Deafhoods helps us to decide how to cope well with the immense changes needed now. It offers all Deaf people a chance to ‘make a difference’, feel more proud.
Concept important for hearing societies because : Most hearing authorities / people have a problem believing that Deaf communities have their own norms, values, beliefs, and traditions. Western societies think in individualist, not collective terms ; they can’t believe that peoples such as SLPs do have collectively held beliefs etc. They also see us simply as impaired individuals. They also do not see all the power and beauty in this global ‘society’ here today – because we do not show it to them ! For example - we could have a public Parade in WFD week, but we never do ! This is partly because we do not value our culture enough yet – our Deafhood is still limited.
The ‘need to prove’ that Deaf Cultures exist. Linguistic ‘proof’ that Sign Languages are bona fide languages made an immense difference to our lives. The existence of languages is easier to prove. But much harder to ‘prove’ that cultures exist – because little research into that subject generally. This is because hearing authorities mostly take for granted that hearing societies have cultures (they just argue about which ones are ‘best’ !)
So what evidence do we have ? Some Deaf cultural/sociology books : - Padden and Humphries (1988 and 2005) - Lane, Hoffmeister and Bahan (1996) - Mindess et al (2000) - Ladd (2003)But this is a ‘drop in the ocean’ of the lives of world Deaf cultures.
Is there a quick definition we can use ? It is possible to argue that : - All language groups produce their own cultures, because languages are the basis for how a people perceive their world, and how they then construct their world. Therefore all SLPs have their own cultures !
Deaf cultures – full cultures or sub-cultures ? Ladd (2003) posits that sub-cultures of a society still have the main language of their society as their first language. Or people are minority cultures living inside another society, with a different first language eg. Immigrant cultures. SLPs are thus minority cultures.
Minority Cultures : Are almost all oppressed cultures. Many of them are also colonised cultures. Ladd (2003) expands on Lane (1993) and Wrigley (1996) - states that Deaf cultures are also colonised cultures. ie. That their languages and cultures are suppressed, colonised, in order to be ‘replaced’ by the ‘hearing’ languages and cultures. Colonisation is found mostly in Deaf education systems but also elsewhere in Deaf lives.
So therefore… We need to align ourselves with other minority cultures. Seek the same protection as they themselves are fighting for. Such cultural campaigns are able to defend Deaf communities more than sign language recognition campaigns can achieve alone. Both must go hand-in-hand.
Two Examples1. SL recognition means nothing unless Deaf Heritage Resources, museums, archives etc exist and are properly funded.2. SL recognition means nothing if all Deaf children are mainstreamed or cochlear implanted - and Deaf schools then closed ! The schools are the castles, the cornerstones of our cultures. They are the major community resource of Deaf skills for our collective lives. Without what is learned from people who learn those ‘hearts’ of Deaf culture, mainstreamed Deaf would have no place to go to develop their Deafhood !
The Rise of Cultural Rights “ In the late 1980s, ownership of knowledge and artistic creations traceable to the world’s indigenous societies, emerged, seemingly out of nowhere, as a major social issue.” ‘Who Owns Native Culture ?’ Brown (2003) p.ix
Ownership of What ? Other Minority Peoples are campaigning to assert control over elements of culture that they consider part of their patrimony. Just a few examples :- Language (many places !)- Arts (Australia)- Folklore (New Zealand)- ‘Knowledge’ (many places !)- Spiritual Beliefs (Native Americans)- Land / Landscapes (includes plants/wildlife) (Peru)- Buildings / Other sites (many places)- Medical practices (India)
Successful Battles for Collective Ownership. One long-term problem for SLPs – Human Rights are often framed or granted as individual rights, not collective rights per se. HOWEVER, some of these battles just mentioned include examples where collective cultural rights have been won (eg copyright owned by a tribe/people, not an individual)
The Development of Cultural Policies Organisations like the UN have implicitly recognised cultural diversity since 1946. But explicit recognition has come much later (triggered by concerns about globalisation). 2001 - UNESCO Declaration on Cultural Diversity. 2005 – Convention (document) on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions.
UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2005) Signed by 52 countries as of March 2007. Recommending, not binding by law. 35 Articles and 6 Annexes. Celebrates cultural diversity, recognises its value to all of humanity, recognises the need to protect cultures. Recalls that linguistic diversity is fundamental to cultural diversity, That EDUCATION systems play a key role, so that minorities can have access to their own cultures.
So how is this relevant for SLP cultures ? Some Possible Applications.1. Deaf children and their families’ rights to access to Deaf cultures traditionally denied/obstructed. Now much worse with mainstreaming.2. Deaf schools as repositories of cultural heritage, as resources, being closed.3. Deaf people being banned or obstructed from being teachers.4. Deaf Schools not teaching from Deaf-culturally centred philosophy.
5. ‘Ownership’ of Research ‘on’ SLPs“ Today native nations properly insist on their right to determine who conducts research among them, and to what end – a principle that is fully acknowledged and embraced by working anthropologists.” Brown (2003) p.xiDo we have this power ???“ Indigenous peoples now perceive themselves as more threatened by outsiders who claim to love their religion than by missionaries dedicated to its overthrow. ” Brown (2003) p.23Do we experience oppression from those who claim to love ourlanguages ???
6. ‘Ownership/Control’ of Languages and Cultures. Minority Languages as the core of minority cultures – thus minority cultures should control the means of – Teaching, training, assessing, certificating, disseminating those languages and cultures. Also fields such as education, TV / film and interpreting, where hearing people gain employment through their contact with those languages and cultures.
Relevant UNESCO Articles 1 (b) “ to create the conditions for cultures to flourish….” 2.4 “ to create and strengthen their means of cultural expression…” 2.7 “ access to the means of expression and dissemination…” 2.8 “ States should promote….openness to other cultures of the world.”
More Articles 4.7 – “Protection means….preservation, safeguarding and enhancement” of cultures. 6.2 (f) – “Establishing and supporting public institutions as appropriate.” 8.1 – to “Determine the existence of special situations where cultural expressions are at risk of extinction, under special threat…” 13 – “The creation of conditions conducive to sustainable development..” 18 - Establishing “An International Fund for Cultural Diversity.”
Routes to Action. The ‘UNESCO’ Intergovernmental Committee (established by Article 22) Governments to provide information on their reports to UNESCO “on measures taken to protect and promote the diversity of cultural expressions…” ( I recommend you look at the UNESCO website on culture. Full of fascinating information ! )
What about other UN routes ? UN Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2007.Fails to protect – Deaf schools – inclusion is still the keyword. Deaf cultures. Fails to protect against enforced Cochlear Implantation (or, for later, genetic engineering).This is a major opportunity that we have ALL failed to win ! So now we may have to fight without any ‘legal backing’. go ‘the long way round’ for the next 20 years. UN Rights of Indigenous Peoples (draft delayed by colonisers for 20 years so far !) “ have the right to practice and revitalise their cultural traditions and customs.” - BUT it would be a huge battle to gain recognition via this definition.
And so… We have to battle on to obtain collective recognition via linguistic and now minority cultural rights. First place to start globally – the UNESCO Convention.
Crucial to secure formal recognition of SLP Cultures !WFD and Deaf associations have to achieve government recognition of Deaf cultures, in order to fight for these other ‘missing’ cultural rights.WFD should be the first people knocking on the Intergovernmental Committee’s door ! They represent the largest group of cultures in the world – nearly 200 !BUT send politically experienced people who understand Deaf culture academically.BRING this paper to the attention of your Deaf organisations and start to push them along this path – from ‘ bottom upwards’ !
Gracias ! Thank you for watching ! Thanks to Nigel Howard and Christopher Stone for being partners in this presentation. Thanks to Tove Skuttnabb- Kangas for her contributions.