Being and Hearing

Making Intelligible Worlds in Deaf Kathmandu

Peter Graif

Being and Hearing

Peter Graif

Distributed for HAU

160 pages | 11 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2018
Paper $35.00 ISBN: 9780999157039 Published August 2018
E-book $23.95 ISBN: 9781912808533 Published August 2018
How do deaf people in different societies perceive and conceive the world around them?  Drawing on three years of anthropological fieldwork in Nepali deaf communities, Being and Hearing shows how questions of cultural difference are profoundly shaped by local habits of perception. Beginning with the premise that philosophy and cultural intuition are separated only by genre and pedigree, Peter Graif argues that Nepali deaf communities—in their social sensibilities, political projects, and aesthetics of expression—present innovative answers to the very old question of what it means to be different.
 
From pranks and protests, to diverse acts of love and resistance, to renewed distinctions between material and immaterial, deaf communities in Nepal have crafted ways to foreground the habits of perception that shape both their own experiences and how they are experienced by the hearing people around them. By exploring these often overlooked strategies, Being and Hearing makes a unique contribution to ethnography and comparative philosophy.
Review Quotes
American Ethnologist
"In this innovative ethnography of deafness and sign language in Nepal, Peter Graif manages to combine meticulous empirical detail with reflections that could guide reconsiderations of the nature of language in different cultures. He takes the reader on this trip by using rich ethnographic cases that make his book extremely  accessible. . . . Graif has written an important book that also sets the stage for a significant inquiry into the nature of anthropological work and its concepts and intuitions."
Ethnos
"In a rich and poignant ethnography, Peter Graif explores the perpetual 'discovery' of deaf people within the landscape of what he calls 'hearing Nepal'. . . . This account will be of interest to students and scholars of linguistic anthropology, deaf studies, disability studies, and communication studies. Being and Hearing contributes to our understanding of how all people, deaf and hearing, engage the ethical commitment of communicating with and making sense of each other."
Anthropos
"In addition to contributing to anthropology, philosophy, and the study of language, the book is a delight to read. Much of the book focuses on humorous vignettes and practical jokes deaf people play on the hearing, lending a readability to what otherwise could be dense analysis. . . . One of the strengths of the book is its genre-defying nature, at once anthropology and philosophy, allowing it to examine questions of subjectivity, perception, and language in new light. Graif turns Western notions of intelligence on their head, showing that in Nepal intelligence is not about being able to make yourself understood, but the production of opacity that points to a deeper unknowable self. His analysis reminds us that intelligibility and being are deeply local constructs and asks us to consider the way these constructs can elide the intelligence and personhood of non-normative groups like deaf people. Graif asks us to consider how these patterns of notice point back to the noticer—telling us more about how they perceive the world than about the thing they are perceiving. This book will be of interest to a wide variety of audiences:  linguistic anthropologists, philosophers, scholars of South Asia, deaf studies, disability studies, and anyone interested in how we perceive others."
Journal of the Anthropological Society of Oxford
"Does what excellent anthropological analysis should do—give us a window into a community and make sense of experiences that are typically obfuscated. Peter Graif’s analysis of the ontologies of deaf people in Nepal is simultaneously compelling, depressing and extremely heart-warming. Using a narrative structure heavily reminiscent of Geertzian thick description—which, incidentally, is an extremely helpful tool with which to discuss sensory experiences that exist beyond the visual—Graif expertly weaves a brilliant volume of ethnographic narrative and insightful analysis. . . . What Being and Hearing brings to the discussion is an expert example of how to experience and write about these worlds and of what the repercussions may be of not understanding them. Graif’s ground-breaking method for doing ‘deaf ethnography’ combines visual imagery and written description to give readers both (1) a comprehensible concept of the experience of being deaf in Nepal and (2) an understanding of where this experience fits into the larger scale of ontologies. He explains a reality, a world that exists for the deaf community of Kathmandu that is experientially and sensorially unique. Furthermore, the wit and incredible intelligence of his informants highlights what many ethnographic narratives have striven to show—the inescapable irony that those in minority communities are often very much more perceptually aware than they are perceived to be. Graif expertly unpacks the relationship between sensorial worlds and ‘making sense’ of things. . . . An amazingly rich and diverse ethnographic account of what may otherwise be seen as a homogenously ‘disabled’ community. Each chapter is carefully considered, following one or two main ‘protagonists,’ or ethnographic informants, whose stories Graif analyses as part of a larger sociopolitical narrative of navigating invisibility and intelligibility within a world dominated by sacred sound. . . . His analyses are ground-breaking in providing a new way of thinking about sensorial engagement that is both inclusive and empowering to the ‘disabled’—a term Graif questions—whose voices are not always heard. In Being and Hearing, Graif reminds us that we cannot be complicit in our lack of understanding(s) and that ‘intelligibility’ is a worthy goal for all."
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