Organized Panel Session
Drawing upon long-term ethnographic research carried out in Japan, this paper examines the concepts of selfhood and “spaces of belonging” (ibasho) among young deaf and hard-of-hearing Japanese. It focuses on self-identified “inte” (short for “integration”): (18- to 24-year old) DHH youth who were educated in mainstream schools.
Schools for the deaf have historically played an important role in transmitting language and culture as well as providing valuable spaces of belonging. However, Japan is part of a global trend in which enrollment in schools for the deaf is in rapid decline as mainstreaming is quickly becoming the preferred educational practice. As a result, inte’s educational experiences are increasingly the norm in Japan. In mainstream classrooms, inte struggled to communicate with classmates and teachers and employed “covering” strategies to conceal marked differences. In particular, junior and senior high school is described as a period of social isolation in which “jibun rashisha” (being oneself) cannot be actualized. Upon graduating from senior high school, many inte in this study began to encounter signing DHH peers, which initiated interlinking processes of self-searching and searching for belongingness. As they move between the hearing, spoken language world in which they were raised and a new deaf world with an unknown visual-spatial language, they work to reconcile their biases against signing DHH people with a desire to create social bonds. This paper explores how contemporary inte youth negotiate belonging in the in-between as they uncover “true” or “new” selves.