Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

Deaf-led research… a (very small, somewhat apologetic) starting point?

Yesterday evening, I posted a comment on Heriot Watt’s life in LINCS blog… the subject was Deaf-led research. The original post, and other comments are well worth reading, and cover the question of what Deaf-led research means in theory and practice and how to encourage it.

Writing the comment, I was reminded of conversations about the subject with Paddy Ladd a few years ago, and I included a quote (tweaked here) that more or less sums up the definition that we ended up with:

Deaf led research… will be done from a place that is so Deaf rooted that Deaf people trust the researchers, and know what is going on, and can approve it, shape it, advise it, learn from it, express fears and be reassured about it, build on it, grow from it, and ultimately ‘own’ it as their own.

I now find myself, somewhat by accident, in a position where I can actually do something with this thinking.

A few months ago, a bid was submitted by the Arts Faculty at the University of Bristol to the AHRC (Government funding body for the Arts in the UK) for a large project based in Bristol. The project is to revamp, upgrade and improve an existing tool, entitled ‘Know Your Place’.


You’ll see, if you follow that last link (and if it works – I know some people have struggled to view it, hence the image), that in its present form it’s a mapping tool that lets you attach photos, audio, comments etc. to places in Bristol. You can then filter them in a number of ways, and view them by subject, and contributing community, and overlay them with different historical maps.

Image          Image

The new tool builds on the same platform, but this time focuses on specific communities in Bristol.

One of those communities, with its own project strand, is the Deaf community.

Why include the Deaf community?

As with many things academic (this is part of the difficulty with the notion of ‘Deaf led’ research… where does the Deaf leadership cut in?) this bid was put together without any real thought for the Deaf community.

Deaf people were included because the council were thinking about all the communities in Bristol, and they have already done some work to celebrate the 125th anniversary of Bristol Deaf Club, and to secure heritage school status for Elmfield Deaf school.

… actually, it’s probably not quite as random as that, the council do, apparently, have a real interest in what Deaf people in Bristol can tell them about their lives, and about their history. In the words of the chap from Bristol City Council:

“At the moment, Deaf people in Bristol are largely invisible. We want them to be able to put themselves on the map… to share their history, to tell their stories, to describe their Bristol.”

But the bid itself certainly wasn’t ‘made for’ the Deaf community.

But, at this point in time… post-CDS’ demise, post-Deaf club sale, and with Elmfield achieving survival and heritage school status, it’s a great opportunity that I think the Deaf community could hijack to great effect.

Imagine, for example, a rich bank of data that we can use to describe what ‘Deaf Bristol’ looks like… that celebrates the history, the culture, and Deaf spaces of Bristol that no-one currently knows about.

Getting Deaf data into the Know Your Place tool means that it’s there… it’s in the public gaze, and it then has to be acknowledged by the council.

So what next?

I was, (although I work in the dept that are building the technical tools), an accidental addition to the project team – one of the only researchers left in Bristol still working in the field of Deaf Studies added to bolster the ‘Deaf strand’… a hearing person, I know… it’s kinda sick.

But, I’ve now got 18 months (to about March 2015), and a small budget of about £4500… and a remit that runs something like this:

  1. Fulfill the basic requirements of the project – that is a) add to the body of material that’s already held by the council in the ‘Know Your Place’ archive. b) produce some kind of ‘heritage trail’ or other output.
  2. Beyond 1, find out what the Deaf community want to do, and then find ways to help them do it – using the tools available.

As far as tools, we’ll have:

  1. The Know Your Place site, reworked to run on mobile and other platforms and augmented with better mapping tools to (possibly) allow capture of journeys and GPS location.
  2. Ability to capture new forms of data, including video.
  3. The resources and availability of a film maker, the Bristol Records Office and the University (to an extent) to help with digitisation.
  4. Resources for at least 2/3 community ‘events’ – with, if useful, support from the University’s Public Engagement office.
  5. (Possibly) support from a student.

So what’s the point of this post?

I could run this strand myself… but I don’t want to. The ideal scenario for me would be that the Deaf community ‘own’ this, and that they direct it with the project team.

And, I have some resources to make this happen.

So, in the spirit of the Deaf-led quote at the top, here’s what (I think I’m currently) looking for:

  1. Some volunteers from the Deaf community (call this an advisory group if you like, but I’m keen for it to be a group that gets involved in shaping and guiding?) to help me root the strand in the community, and stay on track… it would be great if you were in Bristol, but you don’t have to be. But you probably need to know the Bristol Deaf community enough so that you can help develop Deaf ownership of the project practically.
  2. A Deaf researcher who will be employed (ie. paid… with real money!) to put some time into the project. To think about it, plan it with me, work on it for a few days, and be a part of the whole. I’ll admit, I don’t have much money, but I have a bit… and you’d get the opportunity to experience project work, organise data capture, think about some community/theory stuff and write and publish, and contribute to increasing the visibility of Deaf people’s presence in Bristol.
  3. A Bristol university student to work on the project who’s either (ideally) Deaf, and into the study of Deaf culture — CDS, where are you now :*( — or who is hearing but known to either be involved in, or friendly with, or would like to be involved in, the Bristol Deaf community. (There would be the opportunity for them to learn some BSL).

Contact me if you’re interested in any of these roles, or know anyone who might be… my details are on the contact page, or you can DM me on twitter @mikegulliver and I’ll happily tell you more.

Most importantly – what I need is accountability to the ideal of Deaf-led research that I quoted at the top… so I’ll continue to post on this and hold myself up to public and community scrutiny.

Do, please, let me know if you think I’m drifting.


This entry was posted on October 9, 2013 by in Musings and tagged , , .
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