LINCS hosts mega-conference on Innovations in Deaf Studies

by Annelies Kusters

 

In late 2016, I got the idea to organise a small (!) book launch when I realised that I could gather at least five of the authors of “Innovations in Deaf Studies: The Role of Deaf Scholars” together at the same time and place. At that time, I could never have imagined that it would grow into an energising conference of this size, with 160 delegates from 26 countries, and 12 of the authors. The event even didn’t have a proper website, just a Facebook page, so I was amazed that it attracted so much attention! We moved the conference twice to a larger location. For me, this is a sign that people really need/enjoy these kinds of spaces.

The presenters presented the chapters they wrote for the book  “Innovations in Deaf Studies: The Role of Deaf Scholars“, all of whose editors and authors are both experts in the field and themselves deaf. I, Annelies Kusters am Assistant Professor in Sign Language and Intercultural Studies at Heriot-Watt University, Maartje de Meulder is postdoctoral fellow at the University of Namur in Belgium, and Dai O’Brien is Lecturer in BSL and Deaf Studies at York St John University.

This is the first such scholarly book to be edited and written entirely by deaf academics, most of whom have a PhD degree.

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The book authors (including Dr Paddy Ladd!)

And therefore, this conference is a major leap forward for the discipline. Not just the book authors stood in the spotlight: during six panels, experts from all over the world discussed topical themes. The contributions were offered in British Sign Language, International Sign and American Sign Language and a team of six interpreters provided excellent interpreting service.

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The conference addressed a range of issues relating to Deaf Studies, which includes the study of sign language, deaf people’s educational and employment pathways and the social life of deaf groups and individuals. Presentation themes ranged from a focus on the history, current state and future of the field of Deaf Studies, researcher positionalities, research methodologies, language ideologies as well as how current research practices relate to deaf research participants and communities.

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The conference was funded by the European Research Council, more specifically the MobileDeaf project grant. It was a challenge to organise a large conference so soon after moving to a new job and starting a major research project (http://mobiledeaf.org.uk #MobileDeaf). I couldn’t have done it without the help of my amazing colleagues at Heriot-Watt University, the volunteers, my co-editors, the enthusiastic panel organisers, and Emmy Kauling who took a lot of the practical organisation upon her.

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Times Higher Education have published an article on our conference. People came to tell me during and after the conference that they felt inspired and recharged. I think that it is so important that we invest time and energy in networking in/around the field of Deaf Studies. I also feel that Heriot-Watt University, as an increasingly important landmark in things related to sign language and Deaf Studies, was an ideal location for this conference.

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The conference organising team, with Dr Annelies Kusters in the centre (in the black dress)

I’m proud to be part of the team here, and I hope we will further grow in the years to come!

 

Being a Successful Interpreter

by Jonathan Downie

When it comes to opportunities to improve their skills, interpreters are spoilt for choice, right? We can work on simultaneous, consecutive, note-taking, er, hold on, that’s about it. Traditionally, and understandably, we tend to stop at skills training.

Skills training is good but it is becoming increasingly obvious that we need much more than good note-taking or control of synonyms. Interpreters of all stripes need to know how to sell their services, plan their career, present the right image and much more. In fact, unless you have a nice staff job, your work away from an assignment is as important as your work during it.

If your interpreting skills are poor, you won’t get more work. If your business, personal and planning skills are poor, you won’t get any work at all!

And then there is the whole question of burnout. How can we survive the ritual of research, travel, invoicing, admin, that comes inevitably with the job of being an interpreter, let alone the need to keep our family and friend relationships healthy?

Those are the kinds of questions that have been constantly in my mind as I spent 5 years of my life getting a PhD in expectations of interpreters. While my own research focus was on one small area, I have had the privilege of meeting and learning from experts in a wide variety of areas. From deliberate practice to perceptions of interpreters, from nutrition to decision-making, it has been an exciting and sometimes troubling ride.

Most of the results of that work were poured into my upcoming book: Being a Successful Interpreter: Adding Value and Delivering Excellence. Surprisingly, it turned out that the majority of the experts I was meeting were basically saying the same thing: successful interpreters add value to their clients, to their profession, and to themselves. And this was the true whether I interviewed experienced professionals like Esther Navarro-Hall and Judy & Dagmar Jenner or leading researchers like Prof Ebru Diriker and Dr Elisabet Tiselius.

Books are great, especially when they come with guides as to how to apply what you are learning. Their only disadvantage is that they are devoured alone. Imagine what it would be like if we could take the material from the book: the strong messages on adding value, the challenges to develop our skills strategically, and yes, all the lessons I learned from wiser people than me; but could discuss, dissect and apply them in a room together.

I thought that might be a good idea and, thankfully, a few people from Heriot-Watt University thought so too. So, on June 2nd, we will have the inaugural Being a Successful Interpreter course. This is a one-day interactive event that will being interpreters of all kinds together in one room, to learn together how we can build sustainable careers that suit our own skills and lifestyles, better understand the thought-processes of our clients, develop our skills strategically and build supportive communities.

Why bother being in the same room? Why not just do a set of webinars?

Well, for one, I have stopped believing that the traditional “I talk; you listen” mode of teaching actually works. Instead, the emphasis will be on learning and discussing together. There will be places where we look in detail at specific ideas from the book but we will mostly spend time discussing together how to apply them. There will even be space to sit and reflect on your own work, your own trajectory and your own decisions.

The emphasis will be in applying what researchers, experts and leaders have been saying and doing so in a way that makes sense to each of us.

There are two tiny catches. Tickets are limited. There is only space for 20 people in the room. And tickets are only on sale until 20th May. So, if you are looking to give your career a boost, plan for the future, or adjust to the ongoing changes in our profession, this is your chance. See you on the 2nd!

Just in case you missed it, you can get more info and buy tickets by clicking the name of the course at the end of this sentence: Being a Successful Interpreter.

 

 

Sign Language in Action

by Jemina Napier

Click here to see this blog in International Sign, British Sign Language or Irish Sign Language

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Sign Language in Action is a new book just published by Palgrave as part of the Research & Practice in Applied Linguistics series.

The book is co-authored by Jemina Napier and Lorraine Leeson, who both have extensive experience as sign language researchers, educators and interpreter practitioners – Jemina in the UK and Australia, and Lorraine in Ireland, with briefer stints in Belgium, the UK and the USA.

We have both conducted research and written extensively on various topics which can be considered under the umbrella of applied linguistics, including sign linguistics, sign language discourse, sign language and identity, sign language learning and teaching, and sign language interpreting and translation.

After many conversations on our mutual research interests, we decided to collaborate on writing this book to draw together all the threads from our research into one overview.

So the book defines the notion of applied sign linguistics by drawing on data from projects that have explored sign language in action in various domains. The data sources have been drawn from various studies have been conducted by us both.

As well as defining key concepts and giving an overview of existing research, the book provides clear guidance on conducting applied sign linguistics research, with suggestions for new research topics.

The book is targeted at sign language and sign language interpreting students, sign language teachers, researchers, interpreter practitioners and educators, Deaf Studies teachers and students, educators working with deaf children, and policy makers.

It will also be of interest to other people working with minority language communities and to scholars and practitioners in applied linguistics research more generally.

Following on from an earlier blog post by Jemina that discussed the ethics of conducting sign language interpreting research without deaf people involved, we feel it necessary to position ourselves in relation to the focus of this book, as neither of us are deaf.

So here, we discuss our role as hearing people doing sign language research, and our goals in writing this book.

The involvement of non-deaf people in the deaf community has been an on-going and vexatious issue. There has been long recognition of the value that ‘hearing’ people bring to the deaf community if they embrace the values of the community and can sign fluently enough to engage with deaf people.

There have been attempts to separate the identity of hearing people that are involved in the deaf community from those ‘other’ non-deaf people who do not use sign language and who are considered as ‘outsiders’ (see Napier, 2002; Ladd, 2003).

In the USA, there is currently much debate about the notion of interpreters having ‘Deaf-HEART’.

Others have suggested that there should be no reference to audiological status, and instead we should refer to a community of ‘sign language users’ (Bahan, 1997), ‘sign language persons’ (Jokinen, 2001) or ‘sign language peoples’ (Batterbury, 2012; Batterbury, Ladd & Gulliver, 2007).

Whichever convention you prefer, we identify ourselves as hearing people; we align ourselves with deaf people and their values based on our long involvement in the community, and we bring that subjectivity to our research and our writing.

There is also much debate in the deaf community and among researchers about the potential oppression that deaf people face in having non-deaf people conduct research on their community, with emphasis on the need for research to be with deaf sign language users (Sutherland & Young, 2014; Turner & Harrington, 2000) and to adopt a ‘community participatory approach’ (Emery, 2011; Napier & Sabolcec, et al, 2013; Young & Temple, 2014).

Consequently there is an emerging body of work that explores the need for ethical approaches to conducting sign language research in order to ensure that there is involvement from deaf sign language users in conducting the research; that deaf people’s views are taken into consideration; and that the research is ‘deaf-led’ (see Harris, Holmes & Mertens, 2009; Hochgesang , Villanueva, Mathur, Lillo-Martin, 2010; Mertens, 2010; Singleton, Jones & Hanumantha, 2012; Singleton, Martin & Morgan, 2015)

We do not see ourselves as positioned only in Deaf Studies. As linguists and interpreting studies researchers we see our work within a broader context of applied linguistics and intercultural communication, and the languages that we work with happen to include signed languages.

Thus our focus in our book is on sign language use, and not deafness.

We acknowledge though that although we are allies of the deaf community, we are not deaf, and therefore do not have shared life experience with deaf people. We are guests in the deaf community (as suggested by O’Brien & Emery, 2013), but we do have a strong philosophy of collaboration with the deaf community collectively and individually in all our research and practice.

We believe that it is important for deaf and hearing researchers to work together for the best interests of the worldwide deaf community, but we recognise the power we have as hearing people in the community and the historical backdrop of hearing researchers dominating the field.

We have ‘hearing privilege’, but privilege does not always have to occupy a negative position. We would assert that we accept the responsibility of having hearing privilege (Storme, 2014), and we use our hearing privilege positively to broker engagement and educate inside and outside the community.

 Because of our hearing privilege we get invited to do things like write a book, but we believe that we act in a way that is congruent with deaf cultural norms and values, and one of those values is reciprocity.

Adam (2015) talks about the importance of disseminating information about sign language research in sign language, and you will notice that the majority of blog posts about sign language research on the LifeinLINCS page have links to signed versions (including this one).

We would like to take this one step further – all the royalties from this book will be donated to the World Federation of the Deaf to support their on-going work with deaf sign language users throughout the world. So we are using our hearing privilege to give back to the deaf community.

This book focuses on sign language in action; where and how it is used, who by, and how we can research sign language in action in order to better understand the relationship between sign language use, culture and identity. For us, we have deliberately focussed our discussion on how deaf and hearing people use sign language, and the implications for learning and teaching and professional practice, in the hope that the information in the book will benefit all sign language users and the values of the deaf community worldwide.

Heritage research and practice

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Last week saw the launch of A Companion to Heritage Studiesa major reference work for Heritage research and practice, co-edited by Prof Máiréad Nic Craith and Prof Ulli Kockel from the IRC as well as Prof William Logan of Deakin University, Melbourne.

A Companion to Heritage Studies is a comprehensive, state-of-the-art interdisciplinary reference work for the study of cultural heritage, published in Wiley-Blackwell’s prestigious Companion series. It covers the key themes of research and practice, including cultural preservation, environmental protection, world heritage and tourism, ethics, and human rights. Accessibly organized into a substantial framework-setting essay by the editors followed by three sections on expanding, using and abusing, and recasting heritage, it provides a cutting-edge guide to emerging trends in the field that is global in scope, cross-cultural in focus and critical in approach.

The Companion features 37 contributions written by 44 leading scholars from five continents, including some with extensive experience in heritage practice through UNESCO World Heritage Centre, ICOMOS, and national heritage systems.

The book was launched in the course of ‘Our National Future: Creativity & Creative Industries’, an event organised by the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) Fellows’ Media, Creative Industries, Culture & Heritage Network on Friday 23 October.

Launching the Companion, RSA Scotland and MCICH Network Founder  Ann Packard, said: “This book is global, diverse in content, easily accessible chapter by chapter, deals with both the tangible and intangible and above all is interdisciplinary, interdisciplinarity being at the heart of the RSA. It should be a welcome resource for all who value culture and heritage, irrespective of their discipline and whether a politician, a policy maker or a planner. It is for the lay reader as much as the heritage professional.”

Speakers at the event included Vikki Heywood CBE, Chairperson of the RSA and the Warwick Commission on the Future of Cultural Value, who spoke on the Commission’s 2015 Report Enriching Britain: Culture, Creativity and Growth; Professor Barbara Townley, Chair of Management and Director, Institute for Capitalising on Creativity (ICC), University of St Andrews School of Management, who discussed the ICC’s ESRC project Creative Industries Scotland: Capitalising on Creativity; and Janet Archer, Chief Executive, Creative Scotland, who presented on the Creative Scotland Creative Industries Draft Strategy, issued for consultation on Friday 16 September.