Deafness, its representation and misrepresentation after 1990 in Australian and Persian picturebooks, written for children
Throughout history, children have been born unhearing and we have left them unheard. Across the globe, deaf children have been enculturated in relation to the sphere of ‘Hearing-ness’, constructed in terms of their non-hearing otherness to mainstream culture. In recent history, however, as part of an increasingly visible and vibrant disability culture, Deaf Culture has emerged as a prominent social force and deaf activists have claimed their own voices and underscored identities via the success of movements such as ‘Deaf President Now’. In many ways, they have succeeded in generating new discursive possibilities for the representation of deafness and in transforming the linguistic and semantic possibilities for exploring the lived experience of deaf subjects. Since the late-twentieth century, literary works – especially texts written for children – have played a prominent transformational role and Disability Studies scholars have started to debate literature’s cultural intervention and managed to insert their own lexicon and theoretical frameworks to the field of children’s literature. Children’s writers have engaged in practices of intervention, looking to improve the lives of unhearing children by exploring new representational possibilities that reflect a new range of cultural and subjective roles. These processes of representation are, however, varied and texts appearing in different cultural spheres reflect a complex network of cultural and historical perceptions that frame experiences of deafness and hearing disability, inviting scholarly reflection upon the differences in representational practice that emerge in the global field of children’s literature and of disability scholarship. In response to such an invitation, this thesis undertakes a comparative study of the representation of deafness and of deaf subjects in Persian and Australian picturebooks produced since 1990. It explores how deafness has been thematized in a limited corpus of works that are representative of the wider context of each cultural frame and offers a comparative study of the underlying schemas, mental models and ideological patterns that have been embedded through narrative conventions. In conversation with broader interdisciplinary contexts of disability studies and the cultural norms of representation in each tradition, the study also explores whether dominant social discourses that traditionally used to pity and exclude Deaf Culture and deny deaf characters’ agency, are perpetuated or challenged in contemporary children’s picturebooks. Further, employing key concepts from the field of cognitive narratology to delve into how textually modified cognitive instruments add to specific qualities of literary texts and affect cognitive engagement between the child-reader and the picturebooks to which they are exposed.