Constructions of the Self and Reflexivity. Week 9.

March 3, 2008 at 2:33 pm (autobiography, cultural research, feminism, person centred research, reflexivity)

For this session, we read three pieces of researcher’s writing about their experiences in research and how their identity interacts with the research that they do or have done.

Hennegan, A (1988 ) On Becoming a Lesbian Reader. In Radstone, S (ed) (1988 ) Sweet Dreams: Sexuality and Popular Fiction. London: Lawrence and Wishart.

Taylor, Verta and Rupp, L (2005) When the Girls are Men: Negotiating Gender and Sexual Dynamics in a Study of Drag Queens. Signs 30 (4): 2115-2140.

Ward Jouve, N (1991) Criticism as Autobiography. In Ward Jouve, N (1991) White Woman Speaks with Forked Tongue: Criticism as Autobiography. London, New York: Routledge.

My Research Autobiography: A Deaf Feminist Perspective.

As a deaf feminist researcher, I am aware of how aspects of my identity and events in my life impact upon the research I choose to do and the research I have already done (for example, my sociology BA research project/dissertation was on deafness, access, and inclusivity).

As Nicole Ward Jouve (1991) mentions, I do not think it is enough to just ‘state’ your identity – it is important to reflect on how our complex interactions with the world shape what we bring to research and how we interpret the ‘findings’. My statement of identity would locate me as being in my early 20’s, white, deaf (oral with knowledge of BSL), heterosexual, English, a self-identified woman, and a feminist, erring on the side of radical feminism and second wave feminism (although this has some of my own ‘modifications’). However, I feel that my deafness and my identification as a feminist and self identified woman have predominantly affected the course of my life and my choice of research.

I was diagnosed deaf at the age of six, and up until then either managed to cover this up or was not obviously deaf until then. Since then, my identity has always been centred around ‘fighting’ for  equal access to such things as education, entertainment and social situations, trying to change ignorance of deaf awareness and also trying to change preconceptions of what it means to be a deaf person. I grew up as a member of Chickenshed theatre company in London, since seven years old until I began my A Levels (age 17-18), participating in many productions. The inclusive atmosphere and appreciation of everyone’s skills and talents (regardless of race, gender, background, ‘ability’, sexuality or age) gave me the privilege of seeing what an inclusive society that appreciates difference and diversity could look like and be like.

My secondary education at Hendon School in London also fostered my tolerance and ideas of inclusion as it was an international atmosphere with people of all backgrounds. I suppose I took this diversity for granted, but I still had difficulties getting the support I needed from the hearing impaired unit as there was not enough staff to support all of the deaf students in every lesson. I sometimes feel mystified about how I somehow caught up on things I missed by reading or other means, in comparison with the full time support I received at University. I realised that deaf people often share the same experiences being ‘mainstreamed’ because there is a lack of understanding about what a deaf person needs in way of individual support; deaf people are not all the same and support needs to reflect their own individuality. Being deaf has become an assimilated part of my interaction with the world and I have always felt that it was a positive part of my identity, despite finding life quite trying at times.

I have revised my idea about what “inclusion” means to the government and as an ideal concept. For me, inclusion means everyone is different and everyone needs their own individual support in order to have equal access. However, I feel that the idea that deaf people need to ‘talk’ (become ‘oral’) in order to ‘assimilate’ into society is wrong on many levels; I believe instead that society needs to adapt to deaf people’s needs instead.

I did sociology at GCSE level and A Level and it seemed to be a good choice for doing a degree. I did my sociology BA also at York, which was my first real introduction to feminism. In my last year at University, I took a module entitled ‘Gender and Society’ taught by Celia Kitzinger, which introduced me to radical feminist thought, which sparked my interest in learning about feminism in general. My Sociology BA research project/final dissertation was about deafness and inclusion and the social and educational/work barriers that need to be addressed in order that deaf people can gain equal access on a par with hearing people. Although much headway has been made in recent years, there is still much that needs to be done and campaigned for. If I were not deaf, I doubt I would have considered this as a research subject. I feel that my research has been, and is, grounded in the idea of initiating social change and changing social perceptions.

I took a year out after my sociology BA degree and began blogging as a feminist, fostering connections with other feminist bloggers. I went to my first ‘reclaim the night’ march in November 2006, and since then I have felt it important to undertake research grounded in the reality of the ‘outside’ world – to ensure that theory and analysis have relevancy to the everyday experiences of women. Undertaking this Women’s Studies MA has also taught me the importance of listening to marginalised voices. The dissertation I am going to be doing will be about the autobiographical experiences of deaf women and whether they find their lives – both professional and personal – fulfilling and whether they feel that certain things in society need to change in order for other deaf women to lead the lives they want. As a deaf feminist, I feel that there should be respect and celebration of difference but also that there needs to be a push towards change in those negative aspects of society that create barriers and foster inequality and, therefore, need to be challenged.

It is my particular interest to combine disability studies and feminism as I feel they can complement and add to one another – this is something that I seek to address in my forthcoming, and perhaps, future research.

Questions – Reflection

Which different kinds of researcher-self did you wish to write into your own text?

I found it difficult to start this task because I could not seem to put into words how I have come to the present, studying women’s studies and being interested in my dissertation topic beyond my personal interests. However, I began thinking about where my life has taken me and what has influenced my thinking and ideas as a whole. So therefore I wrote about my past, both my academic self and my deaf self. My deaf self is an inextricable part of my identity and has shaped most everything in my life, and I had not realised to what extent it had until I embarked upon this autobiographical task. I wished to link my experiences with my ideas now, and was surprised to see how much my past has apparently influenced my present.

What were the specific challenges you faced when reading and writing these subjective texts?

Like Amy (http://nearlytheory.blogspot.com) I found that my previous reading of Hennegan (1988 ) meant that going back to her writing, I had a different understanding of her compared to the other two writers. For this reason, I felt that I had more of a preference for her piece of writing as her style and the way she intersects her past and present had an influence on my piece of writing. I found it interesting to step back and see her writing in a different context. However, perhaps I did not learn as much from the other two pieces of writing for this reason, as I did not feel as inspired by them as I did by Hennegan’s (1988 ) piece. This raises questions of how much our first reading and understanding of something influences our second and third readings.

Reflections on Session

I found this session useful as it made me realise how much my subjective ‘researcher self’ influences my research and ideas. My experiences and knowledge are very much in evidence in my research and it will be interesting to see how this affects or enhances my dissertation about deaf women. I am wary of using my deaf self in my research because although I have many experiences in common with other deaf women, there are many differences because I was ‘mainstreamed’ and am oral, as opposed to going to a school for deaf people and using BSL (British Sign Language) or Total Communication (both methods combined).

My own ideas about inclusion/exclusion, mainstreaming and education may be useful or a hindrance, according to the views of the participants, and the way that I interpret or analyse their ideas/texts. However, I am determined to ensure that I stay true to the participants texts and ideas and analyse them without forcing any kind of ‘meaning’ on them that is not there (which can sometimes be a problem within sociology and other research subjects).

Despite doing my stage 1 BSL exam, I am not as fluent in sign language as I would like to be. This may be more of a hindrance in my research, especially where the participants may be using BSL, although I may be using text based methods anyway (internet research such as email and instant message services, or written).

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