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Overcoming the "backward" body: How state institutions, language, and embodiment shape deaf education in contemporary southern Vie&dotbelow;t Nam

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posted on 2023-09-06, 03:41 authored by Audrey C. Cooper

The state and the body make early appearances in the history of social science theorizing. Both have been abandoned and taken up again, or subsumed into other theoretical projects. However, they are rarely considered in relation to one another, particularly at the level of everyday experience. Because state interest is fundamentally concerned with the production of certain kinds of ability (i.e., self-conduct and collective action), citizenship and sovereignty locate productive ability in the bodies of citizens as discretely learnable and uniformly reproducible practices. State interest is also embedded within a normative logic. Accordingly, those not conforming to the norm confront both the state and other citizen-subjects with questions of social participation and reproduction. In the late 1980s the Vietnamese state initiated political and economic reform (doi moi) toward national development and modernization. In the same period, the state established a national system of primary-level "special schools" for the education of Deaf students. According to their "speech only" mandate, these schools use spoken and written Vietnamese for instruction. Along with these requirements, Deaf special school students encounter ideas about the nature of sign language and Deaf social capacity as a particular subject category. Chief among these is that Vietnamese Sign Languages and their users are la&dotbelow;c hâ&dotbelow;u (backward). Deaf students also respond to such classification, both within and without the special schools, and organize for Deaf self-determination as Vietnamese citizens and cultural members who also use a Vietnamese Sign Language. The circumstances of Deaf education in Vie&dotbelow;t Nam make Deaf students an unusually good group to study how relationships between embodiment and the state authorize and transform institutional practices. Focusing on sites where Deaf and hearing people routinely interact in southern Vie&dotbelow;t Nam, I conducted research in five southern Vietnamese special schools, one sign language-based Deaf adult education program, and one Deaf community organization. The question that propels this research is: What forces facilitate the historic emergence of dominant forms of embodiment, their reproduction and transformation, through institutions of the state in contemporary, southern Vie&dotbelow;t Nam?. Contra classic understandings of the state, my dissertation argues that changing articulations of state institutions and market capitalism in the contemporary period facilitate opportunities for marginalized embodiment to reconfigure normative regimes of institutional practice. Drawing from more than 40 formal interviews, three surveys, meetings with various Ministry officials, and hundreds of hours of participant observation in the research sites and other community locations, I demonstrate the following: (1) that the advancement of a hearing form of embodiment in Vie&dotbelow;t Nam is both historical and related to economic and political reorganization in the do´i moi period ("renovation"; 1986--present); (2) that state agents (e.g., teachers) practice a hearing form of territorial embodiment within institutions of the state, asserting norms of hearing/speaking over seeing/signing, and at the same time, modify these practices to promote sign language use to varying degrees; and (3) that regulation and disciplining of Deaf subjects facilitates the formation of hearing and Deaf subject positions and contestation between these modes with implications for citizenship and sovereignty. Ultimately, I argue that contemporary forms of educational "inclusion" are built of a kind of political exception aimed at containing Deaf sign language use and embodiment practices. Moreover, I argue that such exclusionary forms of inclusion contribute, in the Vietnamese context, to an emergent Deaf narrative of "vuo&dotbelow;t qua rao can xa ho&dotbelow;i" (overcoming social barriers); this narrative reconfigures state mandated social integration via instruction in Vietnamese to one best accomplished through Vietnamese Sign Languages as a legitimate variety of Vietnamese language and Deaf citizens as legitimate contributors to Vietnamese national development.







Thesis (Ph.D.)--American University, 2011.


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