Communication and culture: signing deaf people online in Europe
Date of this Version
Having been shut out of use of the telephone, the major means of communication for personal, social and vocational purposes for over one hundred years, deaf people have enthusiastically welcomed the advent of text and other visual modes of communication via the Internet.
Deaf people are using the Internet for the usual purposes hearing people do: socialising, entertainment, learning, business, etc. Evidence is emerging that they too are using the Internet to forge new links and alliances both nationally and internationally. From these links may be emerging a new sense of "Deafhood" (Ladd, 2003), with common experiences of being Deaf in a hearing-speaking world uniting signing Deaf people from all around the world into a "Deaf-World" (Lane, Hoffmeister & Bahan, 1996) which transcends national and geographic barriers.
A theoretical analysis of such activities in the Deaf-World will be informed by an extension of Granovetter's (1983) notion of "the strength of weak ties" which posits that in social networks "weak ties" among acquaintances and more distant contacts will provide more new knowledge and information (in this case about innovative communication technologies) than "strong ties" like family and close friends will do. It is considered that the contacts made on the Internet are examples of weak ties which will help expedite the development of new ideas and wider contacts among Deaf people and the development of a more outward looking Deaf World that incorporates broader international perspectives.
Following up on previous research in Australia, Germany and Norway (Power, Power & Horstmanshof, 2007; Power, Power & Rehling, 2007; Bakken, 2005) this paper reports a study of the online links and activities of Deaf sites and individuals on the Internet in Europe. It examines Deaf-related blogs, vlogs, Second Life and other social networking sites to determine themes of Deafhood and evidence of the development of more contacts that are weakly tied to the Internet user that emerge in the online communications and activities of Deaf people.