Made to Hear: Deafness in the Age of Cochlear Implants

Quadrant: Health and Society

Over the last few decades, a medical technology called the cochlear implant (CI) has transformed how deafness, especially in children, is identified and treated. But this has not been without controversy; many in the Deaf community are opposed to the use of CIs. This study, drawing on critical sociological studies of medicine, science/technology studies, feminist theory, and disability studies, looked at the social life of pediatric cochlear implantation. How are CIs framed by professionals and what happens when parents adopt the CI for their child? Do CIs "cure" deafness or create a new social category? Through ethnographic study, I found that the organization of institutions involved in the identification of deaf children produces a particular therapeutic culture. Since the arrival of the CI, well-organized inter-institutional cooperation between healthcare, social services, and schools have developed. These social relations surrounding the use of CIs in children can be primarily characterized by attempts to cultivate values around hearing and listening in parents, values that are played out in the language of the brain and neurological development. This has also emerged in a social context where parents' choices regarding medical treatment, disability, and child rearing are also rife with highly contentious, moral judgments of motherhood. In this project, I describe the community and cultural production occurring as a result of the CI, as well as examine the social and ethical implications of these changes given the backdrop of the disability rights movement and Deaf cultural movement.

University of Minnesota