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The Deaf History of Cinema. The technological and cultural relations between cinema and non-hearing

Grant funded by the Polish National Science Center for 2020-2024
Principal Investigator: Magdalena Zdrodowska

Deaf people are usually considered passive, recipient-only elements of cultural circulation, rather than creative actors in it. They are perceived to have special needs, requiring assistive technologies, such as captions and audio descriptions, to access the work of other people. In contrast to these considerations, the proposed project investigates deaf people as active partners in the cultural exchange; as creators themselves.

The main area of interest in this project is the cinema, which history merges with the history of deafness surprisingly often. The main objective is to investigate historical sources (including official and private documents, patent letters and technical descriptions, personal autobiographical narratives, and films) in order to present and investigate the mutual relations and influences between film and deaf communities and individuals. They are far more wide-ranging than commonly recognized – both in film studies and in deaf, and disability studies. Many deaf actors worked in American silent movies, but had to leave the film industry with the introduction of sound because of their speech. The interesting thing is that the sound revolution that ended up excluding deaf viewers from participating in cinema is largely due to deafness-related sound amplification technologies. This is also an element of the research involved in the proposed project.

The deaf were and still are film creators, and their productions constitute a large part of the project. Two amateur filmmaking movements, the American and the Polish, will be investigated and compared in greater detail. The production, distribution, and reception of deaf films were shaped by historical, social, political, and cultural factors. Research on American deaf film projects will be carried out using the archival, historical, and film studies paradigms. In the case of Polish deaf films, an ethnographic approach is used.

The telephone, moving pictures, and cyborgs: mutual relations of the technology and d/Deaf communities in 20th and 21st century

Grant funded by the Polish National Science Center for 2015-2020
Principal Investigator: Magdalena Zdrodowska

The aim of the project was to investigate the relations between technology and to deafness and present deaf people as innovators, not only users of technological solutions. Deaf people and, more broadly people with disabilities are often perceived as merely the passive recipients of technologies designed for them by hearing and able-bodied engineers. However, the history of technology shows that this stereotype needs to be challenged and that the entanglement of the deaf and technology is reciprocal. The deaf happen to subversively use the technical systems designed for them, and turn it to their advantage in a different way than it was planned. They also hack, reuse, and repurpose the mainstream technologies, adapting them to their needs, and sometimes propose solutions that set new paths for technology in general. Researchers in the field of deaf studies call it 'deaf gain'.

Within the project, three technologies were investigated. Firstly, the sound amplifying technologies, that were prepared for deaf people as a ’fix’ to their ‘problem’ of not hearing. Their history is analysed from Victorian acoustic tubes to contemporary cochlear implants with a focus on cyborgisation of deaf people as a historical process and as an identity choice. Second, technologies invented by deaf creators were analysed. These were the solutions that aimed to make cinema and telephony accessible to deaf users. They were investigated with a focus on DIY, reuse, and repair practices of the deaf communities.

The main result of the project is a book Telephone, cinema, and cyborgs. Mutual relations between technology and deafness (2021, published in Polish).

Disability, motherhood, care. Reproductive autonomy and motherhood experiences of women with disabilities in Poland.

Grant funded by the the National Science Centre under grant Preludium 2015/19/N/ HS6/00789.
Principal Investigator: Agnieszka Król

The study aims to analyze the experiences of women with disabilities in Poland with regard to reproduction. The research is situated within the field of critical disability studies, which goes beyond the social model of disability, incorporating such concepts as ableism, embodiment, locality, and intersectionality. The latter provides a theoretical framework for the feminist analysis of intersecting social positionality, in this case: gender and disability. The research employs the concepts of reproductive autonomy, stratified reproduction, and reproductive justice to explore complex practices of negotiating autonomy and subversion of ableist norms by women with disabilities. By doing so, it engages with questions on who can be a parent and who decides upon that.

The research questions address how women with disabilities practice motherhood, experience childlessness, what challenges they face in the reproductive realm, and how they cope with them. Thus, the study engages with the understanding of the relationship between reproductive decisions and disability, construction of norms in the parenthood of persons with disabilities, and the role of social, cultural, and structural factors in shaping these experiences.The research is based on the qualitative analysis of individual in-depth interviews and three group interviews with fifty women with physical or sensory disabilities. The study applies feminist and enabling methodologies. The results situate the motherhood of women with disabilities in relation to the organizing concepts: accessibility, family practices, impairment effects, surveillance, and institutionalized ableism. Articulations of mothers with disabilities' experiences that revolve around these categories, pointing out tensions between accessibility and agency, autonomy and interdependence, privacy, and relations with institutions are being analyzed. The reproductive experiences of women with disabilities are discussed in the context of their position on the labor market, housing situation, and freedom from violence as key elements for reproductive justice and independent living, which allows to show the structural factors and their relation to the social transformations around gender and disability.