Development of deaf identity: an ethnographic study

J Deaf Stud Deaf Educ. Fall 2011;16(4):494-511. doi: 10.1093/deafed/enr017. Epub 2011 Jun 20.


This ethnographic study explores the identity development of 9 deaf participants through the narratives of their educational experiences in either mainstream or special schools for the Deaf. This exploration goes beyond a binary conceptualization of deaf identity that allows for only the medical and social models and proposes a bicultural "dialogue model." This postmodern theoretical framework is used to examine the diversity of identities of deaf learners. The inclusion of the researcher's own fluid cross-cultural identity as a bicultural "DeaF" participant in this study provides an auto-ethnographic gateway into exploring the lives of other deaf, Deaf, or bicultural DeaF persons. The findings suggest that deaf identity is not a static concept but a complex ongoing quest for belonging, a quest that is bound up with the acceptance of being deaf while "finding one's voice" in a hearing-dominant society. Through the use of dialogue and narrative tools, the study challenges educators, parents, and researchers to broaden their understanding of how deaf identity, and the dignity associated with being a deaf person is constructed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropology, Cultural / methods*
  • Deafness / rehabilitation*
  • Education, Special / methods*
  • Humans
  • Persons With Hearing Impairments / rehabilitation*
  • Schools
  • Self Concept*
  • Social Identification*