Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2021
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Assistive Technologies for the Deaf in Jordan: Language, Religion, and the Question of Disability

This dissertation project explores the production of disability in contemporary Jordan by examining deaf Jordanians’ engagements with new assistive technologies that have emerged there in the last two decades. These include medical-rehabilitative devices such as cochlear implants (medical devices implanted via surgery that provide some electronic access to sound), which the state provides to some eligible deaf citizens, and non-medical technologies, such as sign language-centered mobile applications, designed by young Jordanian entrepreneurs. The production and proliferation of these technologies reveal competing perceptions of what it means to be a deaf person in Jordan today. In this proposed project, I bring together medical anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and the anthropology of religion to explore the social lives of these assistive technologies as well as how and why deaf Jordanians are or are not engaging with these technological innovations. Over the course of 12 months, I will conduct a multi-sited ethnography of three fieldsites in Amman: a state-affiliated cochlear implantation initiative and the audiology department with which it partners (and which also provides hearing aids); a start-up producing assistive technology for the deaf that makes use of sign language as a communicative medium; and a deaf club where deaf Jordanians who use sign language gather and socialize. In these spaces, I will use participant-observation and qualitative interviews to ask how deaf Jordanians’ varied engagements with assistive technologies are shaped by biomedical approaches to deafness and disability, by language ideologies about the nature of spoken versus signed languages, and by religious beliefs about the nature of the body and the permissibility of technological interventions. This project thinks with the Jordanian deaf community to explore the future of disability in the Anthropocene, when biomedical technological advancements that posit a world without disability push up against liberal claims to disability as a valuable form of diversity.