Bioethics Blogs

Michele Friedner’s “Valuing Deaf Worlds in Urban India” by Cassandra Hartblay

Valuing Deaf Worlds in Urban India

by Michele Friedner

Rutgers University Press, 2015, 216 pages


An Indian coffee shop franchise advertises their practice of hiring deaf baristas – “silent brewmasters” – to work their espresso machines. A Bangalore tech company boasts that it hires “physically challenged” workers only (118-121). Meanwhile, deaf adults in Bangalore complain that adult education at several non-profits is insufficient to really make a difference given disability stigma and the communication barriers that deaf adults face. What course of global events brought about a situation in which employing deaf workers constitutes a kind of value-making project for corporate entities? In the multilingual world of 21st century Bangalore, what does it mean – socially, relationally, vocationally, personally – to be a deaf adult who signs to communicate?

Recent years have brought a new surge of ethnographic attention to disability as a global category, and to the social configurations and lived experiences of disability and disability stigma across global cultural contexts (for example, recent posts on this blog, including those by Elizabeth Lewis and Seth Messinger). Medical anthropology has hung its hat on the capacity of illness, disease, and practices of health and healing to at once illuminate and describe the broader social and political context, and, to center the voices of populations whose perspectives are rarely the focus of public discourse. Meanwhile, sensory ethnography and neuroanthropology have observed that bodily ways of knowing and coming to know are not nearly as stable as previous generations of social and behavioral science may have let on.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.