In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Disability and Deaf Studies and Anthropology

  • Introduction
  • Memoirs
  • Science, Ethics, and Eugenics

Anthropology Disability and Deaf Studies and Anthropology
Leila Monaghan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 February 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 February 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199766567-0205


This article presents works on Deaf culture and language and disability topics of interest to anthropologists, particularly sociocultural and linguistic anthropologists. While some of the work here comes directly out of the field of anthropology, including work in anthropology on disability and medical anthropology, other works are from interdisciplinary fields such as Deaf studies and disability studies. This review includes Literature Reviews and Encyclopedias, Theory, Anthologies, Ethnographies, and Memoirs and then two sections focusing on topics of particular interest to disability and Deaf studies scholars: Education, and Science, Ethics, and Eugenics. Finally, Journals and Web Resources are also listed. While disability studies and Deaf studies are closely related, they have different emphases, something reflected in the different categories of this article. Disability studies work often looks at the relationship between society and individuals. British disability work has a particularly strong societal emphasis including government policies and institutional practices around issues such as infrastructure and the environment. American disability studies emphasize more cultural issues including attitudes and artistic endeavors but still at a society-wide level. Concurrent with this focus on larger social structures are the individual stories of people living within societies. These individual stories are reflected in the numerous memoirs in the discipline. What British and American approaches share is a view of the social construction of disability, that society disables people by creating contexts where people cannot function or are excluded. The most obvious social constraints are physical issues such as sidewalks with no curb cuts that impede wheelchair users’ mobility but can range from issues of stigma connected to disability to the rejection of neurodiversity. There is a great deal of interest in the field in intersectionality, and the cross-cutting currents of disability, gender, race, sexuality, and class, all of which manifest at both the social and individual level. Part of this interest is a growing awareness of disability in the Global South. While disability studies often focuses on individuals and institutions, Deaf studies frequently centers around language and community issues. Seminal works in Deaf studies were linguistic descriptions of American Sign Language and other sign languages around the world. Each sign language was seen as a core part of the culture of what are often tight-knit communities brought together by common schooling, common experiences of discrimination, and a strong sense of history. There is interest in the field in both intracultural variation and intercultural variation, looking at Deaf cultures around the world. More recently, authors have also begun to focus on phenomenology and ontological issues. Note: Language within both disability studies and Deaf studies is contentious and differs according to scholarly community and author. This article uses the singular term “disability” when referring to disability studies or the concept of disability but the plural when referring to “people with disabilities.” This article also uses the capital version “Deaf” as a default, but some authors use other forms including “deaf” generally or distinguishing between “deaf individuals with hearing loss” and “Deaf culture.” Another form sometimes used is d/Deaf, which refers to both hearing loss and culture. Usage in all bibliographic entries attempts to follow that of the authors.

Literature Reviews and Encyclopedias

There is some overlap between disability studies overviews and Deaf studies overviews, but most are distinct, so they are presented separately here.

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