Juxtaposing deafness in society

Is the word ‘deaf’ a label? How does it denote a person? Today, in this post-structural age, labels are everything. We use labels everyday, speak in labels, and we encounter labels everywhere. Sometimes we use labels for convenience, as shorthand for complicated concepts. Other times labels are used in technical vocabulary, to marginalize error. So, we identify ourselves with labels. Hence, the word “deaf” is a label that connotes a particular characteristic of a person. The dictionary explicitly signifies a person who is not physically able to hear, and that definition is derived from the norm of a society of peers who can. The identification of a person as deaf is a discursive product, because it is relevant only within a set of classification that is established by a particular discourse of deafness.

In the Norma Groce’s book Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language, a description of an independent community isolated on the small island Martha’s Vineyard, which was rife with a genetic predisposition to hearing loss, serves as an example where “deafness” was not a label of disability. Disability in this sense doesn’t necessarily result from a handicap, but rather is manifested through a society that devalues and segregates people who deviate from the physical norms. Consequently, any label that connotes disability is a socioeconomic passport for institutionalization.

However, this marginalization as a disability is a negative concept and does not satisfactorily answer the question – what is ‘deafness?’ Is there an alternative, more positive, definition?

One possible candidate is a social explanation, which is a departure from biological or existential explanations. As a label, deafness functions as a discursive formation that is socially constructed by discourse. The phrase ‘social construct’ is a celebrated description those radical freethinkers use to question the ideological beliefs of a modernist (that reality is a homogeneous entity, that knowledge is the sole result of a pure, sincere will to truth, and the meaning of anything is disinterestedly given).

Discursive formations are derivatives of discourse, which is the semiotic structuring of all social phenomena as codes and rules. This is practiced by a unity of discourse, by consensual agreement. Discourse defines identity and describes what characteristics are possible for a person. A discursive formation constitutes its object and generates knowledge about these objects. That means our knowledge is discursively determined, and the world is constituted in this way by discourse. However, nobody writes a discursive formation. There are no authors of discursive formations because they are constituted by archives, or anonymous collections of text.

These archives is the sustained recording of the history of the individual, and in doing so, the person has a place, a name, a number, a task, a credit history, etc., and never stray from the steady observation of authorities. This constant observation of behavior leads to a certain discipline: the person behaves as if they were under sustained surveillance. In the deaf person’s situation, especially in the USA, his life is observed, recorded, and probed under a microscope by a collaborative and cooperative effort of specialists (deaf teachers, guidance officers, speech language pathologists, interpreters or notetakers, and audiologists): a continuum of psychological profiles, aptitude test placements, audiograms, educational performance, objectives and other documented efforts.

The increasingly complex and technical serialization of the disabled person is an ongoing process of a biographical production. The biographical sketch of the individual, chronicled to a greater detail than ever, results in the ‘real,’ tangible and physical snapshot of the self! Panopticism is a disciplined, rational, detailed and bureaucratic surveillance, which signifies how behavior is directed by the machinery of society- an ‘automatization’ and ‘disindividualization’ of power.

The individual actively construct their social world, as opposed to having it imposed upon them. Therefore, it seems that the concept of deafness does not necessarily signify a disability, but is contingent upon what context the individual chooses to define himself. If labels are constructs, and language is the limit of thought, then I am nothing more than a social construct, that ‘deaf guy.’ However, I do not identify myself as a deaf person because of my existential nature as a free human being. To act otherwise would be bad faith.

(Originally published by the 49er, the CSULB newspaper, February 6, 2003)

Human Nature: True, False, or merely a construct?

Do you think there must be a human nature? If such a thing exists, at least a relatively fixed one, then true scientific understanding is possible. Because people, with a very limited amount or set of experiences, are capable of learning their own language, as well as use it creatively, then there must be some sort of “bio-physical structure” within the mind that enables individuals to deduce a unified language from the multiplicity of individual experiences. Continue reading Human Nature: True, False, or merely a construct?

Boredom is not boring in itself.

Tony Hancock

I first encountered philosophical boredom in Nietzsche and Sartre during my early years, and didn’t really grasp the significance or magnitude until I read American Psycho. While vacationing in Italy, I read the majority of the Fritzean corpus and came across two important aphorisms regarding boredom: (paraphrased from memory) if the highest creatures are susceptible to boredom, then the infinitely perfect being is also susceptible to infinite boredom. Therefore when god “rested” on the 7th day he was bored with his creation so he sank to the grass and became a snake…. Continue reading Boredom is not boring in itself.

Camus and Kirilov

I will discuss Kirilov’s dilemma within the context of Albert Camus’ attempt to solve the problem of suicide.


The Myth of Sisyphus was Camus’ philosophical attempt at a solution for suicide. We all already know the un-philosophical refutation of suicide – that is to keep on living, keep on kickin’ n breathin.’ Death will come for us all, eventually. Well, like a good existentialist, Camus notes that people get in the habit of living before they acquire the habit of thinking. Continue reading Camus and Kirilov

Sartrean atheism

Sartre walking away
Sartre walking away

Some comments on Jean-Paul Sartre’s stance on God (or lack of). Sartre never meets the problem of God’s existence. Nowhere does he discuss the traditional arguments from religious epistemology. Interestingly, Sartre does not arrive at atheism after undergoing a philosophical expedition, in the rationalist fashion of the thinker who presumes every position he holds must be the solution to a philosophical problem. Continue reading Sartrean atheism

Analysis of Philosophy#1: Sartrean phenomenology

On a thread at the Internet Infidels about Jean-Paul Sartre, I thought it was best to explain his philosophy before attempting a criticism. Moreover, I will not assume my audience is naïve enough to require spoon feeding from the popular work, so I will start with several summaries from the actual work of philosophy, Being and Nothingness. (BN hereafter) Continue reading Analysis of Philosophy#1: Sartrean phenomenology

Theoretical weakness of Freudian psychoanalysis

Freud by David Levine
Freud by David Levine

This is a brief summary of existential psychoanalysis. Admittedly, Sigmund Freud was ahead of the times, and quite possibly the greatest psychologist of all time (discounting Nietzsche). However, since he was a philosopher of sorts, its only fair to rip his theory philosophically and attempt to demonstrate its absurdity without invoking a strawman. Continue reading Theoretical weakness of Freudian psychoanalysis

Brief exposition of existential psychoanalysis

by Sutton
by Sutton

The essential goal of existential psychoanalysis (EPA) is its emphasis on a person’s fundamental project. This project is not to be confused with Sigmund Freud‘s libidinal cathexis, nor is it Martin Heidegger‘s sein zum tode. Nonetheless, the method of EPA is quite similar to Freud’s, where there is an attempt to look past the complementary or secondary aspects of the person’s personality, and towards the primary project. Continue reading Brief exposition of existential psychoanalysis