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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!