A Deaf Economy: Deaf Businesses in Europe and USA (Deaf Academics 2015)

A Deaf Economy: Deaf Businesses in Europe and USA (Deaf Academics 2015)

Presentation by Sheila Xu at the 7th International Deaf Academics and Researchers Conference, Leuven (BE) 5-7 February 2015

My presentation attempts to answer the following questions: What is the “deaf economy”? What are its characteristics in both the United States and Europe? Is the “deaf economy” an “ethnic economic enclave” as that of Chinese businesses in a Chinatown would be? The term “ethnic economic enclave” comes from the works of minority economists Alejandro Portes and Leif Jensen. Rather than focusing on the financial aspects, the research looks at the socio-cultural aspects of the “deaf economy.”

There is very little literature on deaf businesses, and virtually none on the “deaf economy.” Qualitative, ethnographic methodologies were used for my case studies of deaf businesses in the United States and Europe (mostly in the United Kingdom). Those businesses were found and surveyed via local deaf social events and the Internet.

The United States and Europe were selected to analyze the significance of geographical regions and proximity in the “deaf economy”. In those regions, participant observation and semi- structured interviews were used to understand the economic networks of deaf entrepreneurs, employees, and consumers (or the “deaf community”). A few themes emerged from the research:

  1. Capitalizing on deaf identity, in businesses where the informants within a “deaf economy” had extensively used their social relationships within the deaf community to hire employees and promote their businesses. Here, the concept of “deaf universalism”, coined by Michele Friedner and Annelies Kusters, is used.
  2. Physical, liminal (temporary), and virtual geographical spaces were important for building the market and network between participants of “deaf economy.” Hilde Haualand’s concept of “Deaf Space” is applied here.
  3. Social/economic programs and geography in a country can make a difference in establishing businesses or relationships.

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