The central purpose of this autoethnographic study is to provide an account of my experiences as a deaf teacher teaching Irish Sign Language (ISL) to hearing students in a higher education institution. My cultural and linguistic background and personal history guided the way I interacted with students who found themselves confronted by a unique culture quite separate from what they had known before. By engaging in autoethnographic journal writing recorded over a period of three months, I reveal the complex social and historical relations manifested in the contact between deaf and hearing cultures in the classroom. More specifically, I consider how language conflict and different communication modes might affect teaching and learning in concrete situations. In particular, I advocate an understanding of Pratt’s (1991) “contact zone” theory to see deaf-hearing contacts not just as challenges but possibilities for new ways of understanding the experience of sign language teaching and learning.


Autoethnography, Deaf and Hearing Identities, Sign Language, Contact Zones

Author Bio(s)

Noel Patrick O’Connell holds a PhD in the Sociology of Education specializing in the ethnographic life worlds of deaf people. His research interests include (auto) ethnography and deaf education focusing on lived experiences of marginalization, discrimination and exclusion. He is currently Irish Research Council Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Mary Immaculate College working on a book on autoethnography and sign language. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: oconnelln_5@hotmail.com.


I am grateful to the Irish Research Council for funding the research on which this paper is based (Grant number: GOIPD/2015/73).

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