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Research study to examine genetics, power and Deafhood

Dr Paddy Ladd

Press release issued: 15 November 2010

A new research study by the University of Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies will look at Deaf people's concerns about the advances of genetic technology.

A new research study will look at Deaf people's concerns about the advances of genetic technology. It is thought to be the UK's first ever Deaf-designed and led social sciences research project.

The grant of nearly £140,000 by the Leverhulme Trust has been awarded to the University of Bristol’s Centre for Deaf Studies (CDS).

Adopting both 'insider researcher' and 'studying up' methodologies, the two-year project will examine the hegemonic medical model discussion of 'deafness' through the new 'Deafhood' concept pioneered by CDS.

Researchers will examine evidence concerning both Deaf and hearing people's fears that, if left unchecked, genetic technology could speed up liberal eugenicist social policies, as shown in the debates surrounding the passing of the recent Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, approved by the UK Parliament in 2008.

Dr Paddy Ladd said: “The findings will be of great value, not only to sign language using communities, but also to other sectors of society involved in or concerned about genetic discourses.”

Application of the Deafhood lens to this crucial contemporary development will also enable the special cultural perspectives and contributions to human knowledge offered by these visuo-gestural-tactile peoples to be more widely appreciated.

The project began last month [October 2010] and will be led by Dr Paddy Ladd, Senior Lecturer in the Centre for Deaf Studies, with Dr Steven Emery as Research Associate and Clive Mason as Researcher.


Further information

The Leverhulme Trust was established in 1925 under the Will of the first Viscount Leverhulme. It is one of the largest all-subject providers of research funding in the UK, distributing funds of some £50 million every year.

The Centre for Deaf Studies at the University of Bristol opened in 1978 and was Europe’s first academic institution to concentrate solely on research and education that aims to benefit the Deaf community. The majority of teaching staff on the programme are Deaf and all tutors sign. Students at the Centre for Deaf Studies in Bristol will study within a bilingual environment, with an emphasis on acquiring fluency in British Sign Language (BSL).

The first research work began at CDS in 1978 with a study of how people learn and use BSL and was then broadened by further work in the Deaf community.

Since then CDS have expanded their work in five main areas:
• The study of sign language and sign linguistics;
• The study of sign language acquisition;
• Deaf community, Deaf culture and Deafhood;
• Cognition, mental health, education;
• Video telecommunications, video information and e-learning.

Please contact Joanne Fryer for further information.
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