Welcome bridge-building

Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education
May 21, 1999

People in Britain familiar with the fields of deaf education or deaf studies might be surprised by the idea of a Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education . While some people claim that deaf studies is essentially deaf education, there are others who would see these as two separate but overlapping fields, and others still who see them as two separate areas. Indeed, those people in deaf studies and deaf education who have not always seen eye to eye might perhaps as soon expect a " Journal of Car Manufacturing and Cycle Campaigning ".

Whatever the definitions of deaf studies and deaf education and their perceived inter-relationship, the journal has deliberately brought together the two fields with a stated aim to "integrate(s) basic and applied research relating to individuals who are deaf. Topics include ... Cultural, Cognitive, Developmental, Linguistic and Educational". Such integration should be applauded and supported by everyone in both fields.

The journal should provide a forum to increase understanding and knowledge of disciplines that might otherwise go unnoticed by researchers and practitioners in two fields frequently divided by misunderstanding and political issues. Indeed, one of the journal's aims is "encouraging interdisciplinary discussion" and there is something for most disciplines here.

Each issue contains articles in two categories. First, there are theoretical and review articles. Then there are empirically based articles. Each issue has a brief "End note" designed to stimulate thought on topics as diverse as American Sign Language poetry and the early identification of hearing loss.

The international nature of the journal works well, although the contributors are predominantly based in North America. In seven issues sampled for this review, nearly 70 per cent of articles were by researchers based in the United States and Canada. A further 17 per cent were British (one with an Australian) and the rest from France, Italy, Sweden and Germany. This North American bias might cause unease to those who are aware of the problems that arise from trying to apply research on American Sign Language and American deaf culture to the rest of the world. In fact, the research reported here is frequently readily applicable to many countries.

Deaf education naturally focuses upon deaf children, especially younger deaf children, although the education of deaf people at tertiary level is also an increasing area of activity and research. Deaf education has undergone great changes over the last 30 years, with the increasing acceptance of the importance of sign language in the classroom. However, deaf children's competence in English is still a major issue and much of the research in the journal focuses on the importance of the acquisition of skills in spoken and written English, with the accompanying cognitive, psychological and psycholinguistic considerations.

Deaf studies is traditionally defined as "the study of deaf people, their language and culture". In some cases, "service provision to deaf people" comes into the definition (especially encompassing education and interpreting, but also social services). Others would add that it implies "the study of deaf people by deaf people or by hearing people working with deaf people". Certainly in Britain, deaf studies works from a cultural model of deafness, seeing it as a social, linguistic and cultural construction, rather than from a medical model or any other in which deafness is seen as a deficiency. Much of the work in deaf studies concerns adults.

The overall approach to deafness in this journal is not one of deficiency, per se . That said, some of the research reported does address the differences in skills between deaf and hearing people, often with the aim of providing remedial input. It is also more frequently concerned with deaf children and rather less with deaf adults.

Topics covered in the issues so far have been wide ranging, and many are easily seen as a core part of deaf studies. There have been articles on sign linguistics, historical sign linguistics, interpreting services, social aspects of mainstream education and sign-language acquisition. The sign-language acquisition research covers deaf and hearing children, deaf and hearing parents and some atypical signers such as Down's syndrome signers. Many more papers, however, concern literacy and matters pertaining to cognition and deafness in deaf children. The majority of empirically based papers use data gathered from deaf children. This might be seen as the "deaf education" focus of this twin-aimed journal.

The journal's title may not immediately cause a reader to look here for research on psychology, psycholinguistics and cognition. In fact, these disciplines are very well represented. Neural processing, abstraction and categorisation, working memory and theory of mind are all matters discussed in relation to deaf people, often presenting detailed empirically based studies.

Sign language is usually considered a central feature of deaf studies. Sign languages (particularly ASL) are central to much of the research reported here, particularly from the psychological angle. However, there are also papers on spoken English (especially concerning speech reading) and written English, as well as cued speech.

In general, there are more articles in the journal from deaf education than there are from the rest of deaf studies (apart from the psychology articles). I would hazard that this is more to do with fewer submissions from researchers engaged in deaf studies than with any editorial policy. It is a shame that there is so little research in many areas of deaf studies published in reviewed journals, and researchers perhaps should be encouraged to consider this forum for their work.

The journal "promises a forum that is timely, of high quality, and accessible to researchers, educators and lay audiences". It is certainly timely, reporting research in many areas seen as important by those in deaf studies and in deaf education, such as cochlear implants and mainstreaming. The papers are of high quality, with an editorial board and a list of contributors of some of the best-known and respected names in the fields, on both sides of the Atlantic.

Deaf studies is an inter-disciplinary subject and frequently researchers must trawl unfamiliar fields of psychology, sociology or linguistics to find a few articles on these issues. This journal provides easy access to research on deaf-related issues in a single publication. Educators unfamiliar with deaf issues may find that this is equally beneficial to them.

My one concern is accessibility to "lay audiences". It is possible that I malign lay audiences the world over or that I do not understand what is meant here by a "lay audience". My understanding is that the "lay person" might include a member of the deaf community without a university background or the parent of a deaf child. The articles written here do not immediately leap out at the reader as being readily understandable to such people. The language is technical and the background to many of the ideas is not always a part of everyday knowledge.

People who consider themselves members of the lay audience might want to see a few back copies for themselves before committing to a subscription. Researchers and educators in deaf studies and deaf education, on the other hand, should find the journal a valuable addition to their libraries and an important bridge between two fields that are frequently further apart than they should be.

Rachel Sutton-Spence is lecturer in deaf studies, University of Bristol.

Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education: four times a year

Editor - Marc Marschark
ISBN - ISSN 1081 4159
Publisher - Oxford University Press
Price - £32.00 (indivs); £18.00 (students); £94.00 (instits)
Pages - -

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