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- Author: Martin Atherton x
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Discourses on the social and cultural aspects of deafness emphasise the vital role played by deaf clubs in nurturing and maintaining deaf communities. Despite this, there has been virtually no previous research into the social and leisure activities provided for deaf people by the deaf clubs or the specific nature of deaf communal leisure. This book, based on an extensive longitudinal study of British deaf clubs between 1945 and 1995, presents the first detailed analysis of the social lives of deaf people in the UK.
British Deaf News was the major deaf newspaper throughout the 20th century, with deaf clubs reporting their activities and those of their members in each issue, providing a vital information and dissemination service for the geographical isolated pockets of deaf people across the country. Contributors shared information that was of interest to other deaf people and thus provide contemporary historians with extensive insights into the lived deaf experience that is not available from any other written source. The book outlines the volume and variety of leisure activities deaf people engaged in and discusses the vital role this played in maintaining and sustaining the sense of shared experiences and outlooks that are represented by the term ‘deaf community’. The book sets this discussion within a wider analysis of the role of leisure and sport in wider society, to emphasise both the similarities and the unique aspects of the social lives of one of Britain’s least understood minority groups.
This chapter outlines the scope of the book, introducing historical concepts and perceptions of disability, the popular connections made between deafness and disability, and the more recent approaches of social and cultural historians to disability, minority and community histories. The Introduction also highlights the processes by which the data for this research was collected, making innovative use of deaf newspapers and the way these were produced to provide unique insights into the deaf experience in Britain. The introduction then moves on to illustrate how this information has been used to inform an analysis of deaf leisure and sport and the ways in which broader theories of leisure as a basis for community cohesion can be applied to deaf people.
Public perceptions of deafness and deaf people have been heavily influenced by medical views that deaf people suffer from a disability. For a significant proportion of the deaf population, these negative perceptions are at odds with the way they see themselves. These deaf people regard themselves as members of a vibrant deaf community, based on shared language and a common culture. This chapter clarifies what is meant by the terms ‘deaf community’ and ‘deaf culture’ by unpacking various models that attempt to determine who belongs in the deaf community, and what the cultural aspects of that community involve. A closer examination of these theoretical models indicates that certain aspects do not sit easily with the reality of deaf life. These models will therefore be challenged in the light of the evidence of deaf people’s shared leisure activities which will be presented in later chapters. A case will be made for taking a much broader view of who actually constitutes the deaf community than is suggested by these models.
The deaf community could not have come into existence without places where socially isolated deaf people could gather and develop relationships based on common experiences and characteristics. Deaf clubs provided the hub of deaf community life and emerged from a number of local voluntary organisations set up to assist deaf people in their daily lives. In this chapter, the development of the deaf welfare organisations during the nineteenth century is outlined and set within the wider context of welfare provision during the Victorian era. An argument is made that the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act was a major influence on the formation of deaf societies and independent welfare organisations. Deaf clubs developed as the social arms of these welfare societies and went on to play an integral part in bonding deaf people together as a community. Without the deaf clubs, the deaf community would have had no geographical focus and deaf people would have had nowhere to come together to socialise and enjoy a range of leisure and sporting activities.
This chapter contextualises deaf leisure within a wider understanding of the ways shared leisure activities underpin feelings of communion and community amongst groups of people. The chapter defines ‘leisure’ as it is used throughout this book, and addresses the ways in which shared leisure help define ‘insiders and outsiders’. The discussion moves on to consider the role of leisure and sport in the deaf community and investigates the ways in which these mirror and emphasise similarities and differences between mainstream leisure and the deaf community.
Deaf clubs would have remained to some extent isolated, self-contained communities without some means of maintaining contact and sharing information with each other. The main form for this communication was provided by a series of publications aimed at deaf people, the most important being British Deaf News (BDN). These newspapers and magazines allowed deaf people to keep abreast of events outside their own club and helped to maintain contact across the British deaf community, with large sections of each issue devoted to the social activities of the various deaf clubs and their members from across the United Kingdom. Because of this, BDN provides a wealth of information on the social and leisure activities of deaf people. This chapter outlines the history of deaf newspapers, emphasising their importance as historical documents and defining the unique insight they provide into the lived experience of being a deaf sign language user in post-war Britain.
This chapter provides an overview of the types and frequency of leisure activities reported by deaf clubs in British Deaf News. The chapter includes a statistical analysis of reports taken from British Deaf News to determine types and popularity of leisure activity. Regional variations are highlighted together with patterns across the research period (1945-1995) as wider social trends developed and declined. Changes in communal deaf leisure which reflected changes in the nature of the British deaf community are also explored. This chapter provides a national context for the next section of the book, which comprises a case study of north-west England.
This chapter provides a brief history of social and sporting life in north-west England, in order to illustrate the circumstances within which the specific social activities of the area’s deaf clubs were located. This history informs the detailed analysis of deaf club activities in the region which follows in the next chapter. This examination concentrates on outlining the communal nature of much of the leisure activity of working-class people in north-west England and the ways in which this changed during the research period. The range of activities found across the region and the particular local preferences for certain activities – particularly sports - over others are highlighted.
This chapter provides a detailed analysis of communal deaf social life in post-war north-west England. The most common and popular forms of leisure, entertainment and sporting activity are identified, together with local variations with north-west England and changes that occurred during the fifty years covered by this research. The chapter emphasises the centrality of deaf club activities in the life of the deaf community, with particular attention paid to shared holidays and trips and the ways in which certain sports had a communal significance that went far beyond the sporting events themselves.
This concluding chapter demonstrates the importance of communal leisure for deaf people and the way in which the exercise of choice in leisure past-times helped deaf people to affirm the positive aspects of their lives. This serves as a counter-argument to the perception of deaf people as disabled and needing help. This chapter reinforces the argument that the evidence of deaf leisure activities demonstrates that deaf people have been able to enjoy precisely the same types of social lives as their hearing contemporaries. The centrality of shared leisure provides ample evidence that deaf people actively sought the company of those with similar outlooks and life experiences as a way of celebrating their shared deafness, community and culture, rather than being drawn together because of notions of shared disability.