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An Expanded Istifada: Cochlear Implants and the Regulation of Communication for Deaf Jordanians
Drawing on six months of ethnographic fieldwork at an audiology department in Amman between 2019 and 2022, I examine the provision of hearing technologies, like hearing aids and cochlear implants, to deaf Jordanians as part of a larger project on assistive technologies for deaf people in Jordan. The department is the implementing partner of a state-affiliated initiative in the Hashemite Kingdom that has given out more than 1,170 cochlear implants to eligible deaf citizens, primarily children, since 2010. These technologies seem to promise normative personhood for deaf Jordanians and were couched in the language of "benefit" (istifada): some children would benefit (yistafidu), while others would not (ma yistafidu). However, what “benefits” they accrued with such technologies was understood narrowly, primarily in terms of access to spoken language. For example, in speech therapy sessions, therapists would tell parents that their deaf children had to learn to depend entirely upon their (prosthetic) hearing, and not to “take the easy way out” (bistashilu) by using lipreading or “sign language” (understood here in a diminished way, often referring to just pointing or using gestures). The cultivation of such unisensory subjects—a form of body politics—is not unique to Jordan but is part of a broader therapeutic approach associated with cochlear implantation, which has also been documented elsewhere, like in India and the United States (Friedner 2022; Mauldin 2016). This is despite the fact that, as recent work in semiotic anthropology has been showing (cf. Irvine 2022), communication, even between hearing people, does not rely solely upon explicit discourse but also upon nonverbal signs of communication, and translanguaging is already a natural part of most people’s linguistic repertoires (Garcia and Li 2018), and this is especially true of deaf people (Kusters et al. 2017). Taking a view from Jordan, this project sheds light on how the regulation of language and communication feeds into broader political projects to govern the body and to produce modern subjectivities.
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