Friday, May 13, 2016
First Entry... March 2014
So this is the first entry in what I hope will be a regularly kept, private journal of my thoughts, experiences, epiphanies, regrets, and joys relating to my postgraduate research. I’m aware I was about to write ‘my PhD research’ there, but as confident as I have been in recent months about where this is all going, the sheer volume of work and the complexity of some of the issues I’ll have to untangle make me think…. Nope, let’s wait a second before I unthinkingly say to myself. ‘A PhD is what I’m getting out of this’.
So. My research.
I guess in a way it really all started in earnest yesterday, after meeting the Director of TEaching and Learning to discuss some very brief technicalities. Upon hearing I would be expected to put in a LOT of hours a week of work, I had a little panic attack – fearing overspill of it all into work, affecting income, and personal life, affecting relationship and physical well being – and it wasn’t until I’d timetabled it all out for myself that I calmed down. Yeah, it was possible. I almost didn’t to think about giving up any work at all! Mind you, it also meant one weekend day gone, sacrifices to study. Plus, nearly every weekday evening holed up in the study (now finally becoming a ‘study’). But, it was feasible. And it wouldn’t bankrupt me, plus, my partner has been amazingly supportive.
So after that little kick, and the realization that almost every spare second I would need to be doing something, I popped into TCD library and took out six books, most relating to disability research and how to ‘do’ it. A lot of Mike Oliver, Barnes and Campbell. And I was dreading it, in a way, because I envisaged a lot of blank staring at pages as concepts failed to deliver themselves to my easily distracted brain.
Instead, I was on fire! I’d decided to look specifically at issues relating to reflexivity and research production; I decided if I was going to tout myself as carrying out ‘emancipatory research’ then I might as well know what the hell it meant. And in my readings I realized there was so, so much to draw on here, so much relevance to myself. (I haven’t quite worked out the thorny relationship between disability research and Deaf historical research – indeed, the whole social science–history overlap or opposition – but this stuff jumped out at me.)
Power, power, power. I’m so much more comfortable with that term than privilege, though of course they no doubt refer to vastly different concepts. But It was very enlightening to think, really think hard, and critically, about not just how I intend to proceed with this, but what I have done so far. I’ve tended to see the last few years as beginning with a lot of reflection and consultation followed by progress and success. But. To what extent did I consult? Or think?
There are numerous traps to be fallen into, and just because I haven’t been caught in a pit by any hunters, doesn’t mean I haven’t fallen prey. Yes, I have avoided – have gone to lengths to avoid – secrecy or hoarding of sources, I’ve tried to avoid definitive interpretations in how I present material… but don’t I still fall into the Saviour trap? ‘Hey, I’ve found out all this info that you didn’t know – now let me tell you about it all!’ There’s real power in that.
I’ve thought a good bit about ‘native’ Irish Deaf historians, their profile and the ways in which they disseminate findings, and realized that young, tech-savvy and adaptive as I am, I have huge advantages in getting my message out to the Deaf community … over Deaf historians.
And I’m an interpreter. Not just a hearing person good at sign. I’ve been privy to, and privileged to be at, countless intimate discussions, major meetings of decision makers, and occasions where Deaf people recount their memories, their experiences, their cultural selves. Nine years of that incidental but nonetheless intensive information-gathering has resulted in what I see now as being in the nature of a huge cultural resource. I know Deaf people have gone through this stuff. I know how it manifested itself, I know about the atmosphere in the schools and how it can be remembered fondly and with horror. I’ve seen stories about what it was like to be a boarder, or to arrive as a small child in the pre-oral days to be confronted by tall, strange, intimidating black-clad figures moving their hands. I’ve seen those stories, but I’ve also seen more of them by virtue of my occupation, and not only that – I’ve become those stories, empathized with them simply through voicing them. I come away from those nine years and yes, it’s contributed to a pretty good level of ISL in terms of storytelling and community networks, but it is nonetheless something I have gained through working in the Deaf community. It is a benefit that I’ve got from my job, that I cannot but utilize and exploit in my research. Again, I have that power. I have the use of resources here that other hearing researchers do not. So while few enough people would quibble with using this as a research resource in this field, the responsibility is huge. This is what I have been given, this is what I have.
Again, Oliver’s point about emancipatory research is worth bearing in mind. I cannot emancipate Deaf people. Deaf people must, by Oliver’s definition, emancipate themselves. The very best I can do is assist that process.
But, really and truly, HONESTLY – how will this thesis, this process, really help to do that?
Thankfully. Trickles of answers have begun to come from discussion with Deaf colleagues, who really need to be where I get a lot of my inspiration. My colleague Teresa Lynch’s notion, which I’ve already considered, of this research creating the potential for new cultural resources. If new narratives are uncovered, then the Deaf community can utilize them in any fashion they can – drama, poetry, writing…
I guess in a way it boils down to ‘how this will benefit the Deaf community’. What I really need to be doing is thinking, what benefits can I bring that change things so that the next big shift in Irish Deaf historiography doesn’t come from another hearing person… How can I change the system?