The cultural history of the relation between deafness and technology shows that the same scenarios are often repeated over and over again: deaf people – just like people with disabilities – invariably occupy the position of consumers or beneficiaries, while the roles of innovators are assigned to hearing (and able-bodied) engineers, inventors and producers. Telephone, cinema and cyborgs. The mutual relations between deafness and technology offers an alternative approach to this history that is written from the ‘deaf periphery’. This perspective makes it possible to consider cinema subtitles in terms of civil rights; to see the invention of the telephone as the first electric hearing aid; and to recognize the implanted deaf as cyborgs. The experience of being deaf involves everyday hacking and modification of objects and services. All people, including the hearing and able-bodied, benefit from this: for example, when using subtitles on Netflix or YouTube.

The book’s main focus is technologies related to telephony, cinema and hearing aids. These include a wide range of solutions: from those invented by the hearing world to normalize the deaf, to technologies created by deaf people themselves. When investigated with the deaf experience in mind, these technologies reveal common themes: deaf agency, and the right to use or reject technology.

For example, in the fields of medicine and rehabilitation, hearing aids are often discussed with an optimism that leaves no room for critical reflection. In turn, deaf studies and Deaf Culture show great distrust towards medical technologies, which are perceived as a means of ‘fixing’ the deaf and forcing the oral mode of communication on them. Telephone, cinema and cyborgs shows that both these perspectives are incomplete as the relationship between deafness and technology is much more nuanced. This may be seen in the Deaf community’s complex reactions to cochlear implants. Some deaf reject them as a threat to the Deaf community and sign language; however, for others, implants may be just another way of experiencing the world in a ‘deaf way’.

Telephone, cinema and cyborgs stands on the intersection of cultural studies, history of technology, deaf studies, and disability studies; it draws from the research and theoretical approaches of all these disciplines. Cultural studies focuses on individual cultural practices and values ​​that are attributed to technologies; it allows individual voices on technology to be heard, therefore both enthusiastic and dystopian views on technology are presented. The history of technology brings analysis of primary sources, of the materiality of technology, and of its social, political and economic contexts; all this makes it possible to redefine the values embedded in particular solutions and revise their history. Finally, deaf studies and disability studies bring the perspectives of marginalized groups, which are usually regarded as a subject of the social, medical and pedagogical sciences rather than as active and creative providers of new cultural texts and technological change.

Hard copy of the book may be ordered here.

The telephone, moving pictures, and cyborgs: mutual relations of technology and d/Deaf communities in the 20th and 21st century is funded by the Polish National Centre book-length project (grant number 2014/15/D/HS2/03252).

Other publications related to the project:

2020, Życie po życiu wiktoriańskiej techniki. Trąbki słuchowe w XX i XXI wieku, „Przeglad Kulturoznawczy”, no 3, pp. 153-173.

2020, Miejskie epidemie głuchoty – brzmienie nowoczesności, „Teksty Drugie”, no 1, pp. 376-398.

2020, Głuchy telefon. „Zrób to sam” jako innowacja i aktywizm, „Teksty Drugie”, no 2, pp. 30-47.

2020, „Słyszenie” implantem ślimakowym jako doświadczenie akuzmatyczne in Słuchanie medium. Doświadczenie akuzmatyczne w kulturze współczesnej ed. T. Misiak, K. Olejniczak, Państwowa Wyższa Szkoła Zawodowa w Koninie, Konin, pp. 103-117.

2019, Kultura Głuchych – kultura oporu. Rozwój amerykańskiej Kultury Głuchych i konsekwencje jej adaptacji w Polsce, „Przegląd Kulturoznawczy”, no 3, pp. 287-313.

2019, Odrzucenie protezy: performance, polityka, tożsamość, „Czas Kultury” no 4, pp. 66-72.

2018, Technologia jako narzędzie społecznej dystynkcji. Nieoczywiste relacje techniki i niepełnosprawności, „Kultura Współczesna”, no 3, pp. 13-26.

2017, Męskość – niepełnosprawność – proteza w Odzyskiwanie obecności. Niepełnosprawność w teatrze i performansie pod red. Ewelina Godlewska-Byliniak, Justyna Lipko-Konieczna, Fundacja Teatr 21, Warszawa, pp. 245-260.

2017, Ukrywać, maskować, kamuflować: kłopotliwa widzialność instrumentów amplifikujących dźwięk, „Przegląd Kulturoznawczy”, nr 1(31), pp. 35-51.

2017, W kostiumie niepełnosprawności, „Fragile. Pismo Kulturalne„, no 1(35), pp. 76-82.

2016, Między aktywizmem a akademią. Studia nad niepełnosprawnością, “Teksty Drugie”, nr 5, pp. 384-403.

2016, Alternatywna sfera publiczna g/Głuchych, “Autoportret. Pismo o dobrej przestrzeni”, no. 1(52), pp. 88-92.

Conference presentations related to the project

2019, The troubling visibility of sound amplification instruments; Exploring the Interface between Technology Art, and Design, The Society for the History of Technology SHOT Annual Meeting; Milan, Italy

2019, Reusing and repairing as inventing. Adoption of teletypewriters (TTY) by the American deaf community; Technology&Power International Committee for the History of Technology ICOHTEC 46th Symposium; Poland

2019, Deaf/Disability protests in present-day Poland and the 1980s-era US: the convergence of strategies and differences in demands; Criptic Identities. Historicizing the identity formation of persons with disabilities across the globe; LEiden, Holland

2018, The Noise and the City; Central European Society for Soundscape Ecology; Budapest, Hungary

2018, Ear trumpets: the obsolete, the nostalgic, the protective; Technological Drive from Past to Future? 50 Years of ICOHTEC The 45th International Committee for the History of Technology ICOHTEC Symposium, St. Etienne, France

2018, Polish d/Deaf community after communism fall: accepting and opposing local deaf tradition; Histories of Disability: local, global and colonial stories, Sheffield, United Kingdom

2018, Teletypewriters for the deaf (TTY) – building the niche telecommunication network in USA; Network(ed) Histories, ICA Pre-conference, The Czech Republic

2018, Ethnography, oral history, Deaf Culture and the idea of emancipatory research; 1st International Seminar on Educational Ethnography and Disability Studies (ISEEDS), Poland

2017, Technology as an identity border within deaf communities; The 8th Tensions of Europe Conference: Borders and Technology, Greece

2017, Cochlear Implants: between prosthetic and sound technology, NECS – Senses & Sensibility, France

2016, Sound amplifying instruments for the deaf: between assistive and emancipatory technologies; Periods and Waves. A Conference on Sound and History, United States

2016, Electronic media and the dynamics of the Polish deaf community; Communities – MeCCSA conference, Great Britain

2015, (in Polish) Legally cyborgized: Cochlear implants  and the Deaf perspective; Assistive technology to support human development, Poland

2019, Odrzucenie protezy: emancypacja, polityka, tożsamość; 3rd Symposium of the Polish Film and Media Research Association (III Zjazd Filmoznawców i Medioznawców, Poland

2019, Cyborgization and the myth of “miracles of modern medicine”; Between theory and practice: philosophical and bioethical aspects of the body and its audiovisual representations (Między teorią a sztuką: filozoficzno-bioetyczna problematyka cielesności i jej audiowizualne reprezentacje), Poland

2018, Cochlear implants: between prosthesis and sound reprodution. CI „Hearing” as an acousmatic experience; Listening to the medium. The acousmatic experience in the contemporary culture (Słuchanie medium. Doświadczenie akuzmatyczne w kulturze współczesnej), Poland

2017, Deafness, Disability, technology: the medicalisation in the 19th and 20th century; On the Philosophy of Disability („Wstań, weź swoje łoże i idź do domu!” W stronę filozofii niepełnosprawności), Poland

2016, Amplifying instruments: between effectiveness and aesthetics; 2nd Symposium of the Polish Film and Media Research Association (II Zjazd Filmoznawców i Medioznawców „Dyskursy widzialności”), Poland



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