Deaf geographies, and other worlds.

Co-production – what if Deaf people say ‘no’

No… this is not about the Scottish Referendum.



In a post a few days ago, I described a current move in the more ‘human’ side of academia away from projects that are run ‘by academics’, to those that are ‘co-produced’ between a university and a community. In that post, I wondered about some of the underlying structural issues around ‘co-production’, and asked whether the relationship is still very much one-sided, with academics leading… to the extent that they sometimes assume that a co-production project will be possible, without even asking the community in advance.

Now, my thinking turns to what might happen if the community (particularly thinking about the Deaf community here) simply said ‘no’.

(The reason I’m thinking about this is that this kind of response is exactly what has been served on at least one North American university by the First Nation community that it was working with).

My initial thoughts suggest two outcomes:

  • The researcher would be confused, and perhaps slightly offended. Although by no means universal, there seems to be some kind of expectation that Deaf people should be ‘grateful’ to a university for wanting to research (with) them. If Deaf people said ‘no’, then I’m pretty sure that the response would be – at least behind Deaf people’s backs – “well, we tried, but they were very unwelcoming”.
  • The refusal may well spell the end of offers of co-production, but probably not research on the Deaf community. The likely outcome is that research on the community (note, ‘on’ and not ‘with’) would shift away from co-production to a more traditional format where the academic sets and asks the questions, and where the Deaf community’s involvement is as a research subject.

It’s easy to see how – in a situation where it’s assumed that the leadership of co-production still sits with the university – both of these outcomes end up in a negative for the Deaf community. In the same way that Deaf people were once (still are) blamed for ‘failing to learn to speak’ as if it was something that was their fault, refusal to take part in a co-production project, even if it’s not really co-production might be seen as a refusal to cooperate. If anything, this underlines my previous suggestion that the balance of the status quo is firmly in academics’ favour.

There is, of course a third possible outcome (I’m sure there are more but…), which consists in either the Deaf community saying ‘no… and here’s why’, or the research saying ‘oh… why not?’ Then the Deaf community and the researcher start to have a real discussion about co-production as a method, and about the current positioning of Deaf community and academic.

That kind of discussion is a form of co-production in itself – except that the knowledge produced isn’t the kind of neat ‘output’ that we often expect from a research project. Instead, it’s knowledge about knowledge. A complex exploration of the kind of dynamics that we’ve been talking about above.

The thing is, though, that that kind of response from either the Deaf community or the academic relies on them being aware that the co-production relationship isn’t just a ‘yes/no’ thing. It relies on the Deaf community being ready to extend their patience to institutions who have perhaps treated them badly in the past… and it relies on academics being ready to see past their neat ethics processes and quick win outputs, and really engage with the legacy of our past.

It is a discussion, though, that births real change.

I wonder if the Deaf community should just say ‘no’ more often.


Since the Limping Chicken has picked up the first blog post, and there will be more exposure for it, it’s probably worth me underlining what I’m not saying:

I’m not saying that co-production is a bad thing. In that first post, I made the point that all projects that use information from the Deaf community are, to an extent, co-produced. The challenge is how to do co-production well.

Nor am I saying that all co-production projects run like this – many of those involved in co-production are utterly convinced by the need to make our research systems better, and are thinking deeply about these issues.

And I’m not saying, either, that it was better in the ‘old days’ before co-production became a ‘thing’ (although a future post will outline the kind of projects that we do, and think about where best to do them).

I’m not really saying anything firm… I’m simply thinking out loud 😉




This entry was posted on September 12, 2014 by in Academic, Musings.
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