A STUDY OF DEAF CULTURE IN AN AMERICAN URBAN DEAF COMMUNITY
The dissertation focuses upon the study of the major cultural characteristics of members of a Deaf Community of a large midwestern American city. Previous studies have examined the psychological, sociological and linguistic aspects of Deaf Communities, but the cultural aspects and sociocultural institutions of Deaf Communities have been explored only rarely. The data were collected in 1979 and 1983. The primary field methodology was participant observation, supplemented with open-ended questionnaire interviews with Deaf, Hard of Hearing, Deafened and Hearing Informants. Manualists and oralists were included in the sample. This research was conducted by a "native" deaf fieldworker who shared Deaf informants' feelings and thoughts and received full cooperation in helping the public understand the cultural phenomena found within the Deaf Community. A central finding of the study shows that sociocultural characteristics of Deaf Culture are qualitatively distinctive for both Deaf and Hearing informants, without focusing on sign language or the other modes of communication utilized by members of the Deaf Community. Particular cultural characteristics identified in this study are: perceptions of cultural "space," special labels to distinguish with self and others, marriage patterns, sex roles and gender divisions, club membership as means of creating and maintaining social relations, and special technological devices as a segmentation of the Deaf Community's visual repertoire. Conclusions explore the meaning of the term "Deaf Community" with the support of theories made by anthropologists and sociologists, the identification of individuals and groups as inherent in the membership of the Deaf Community, and the findings of "Deaf Culture" as evidenced in the field site. This study will help to open the door to more ethnographic studies of different Deaf Communities in the United States, as well as in other Western and non-Western countries, to identification of comparative sociocultural features, and to creation of Deaf "cultural universals.".