"No ears allowed?" An Anthropological Exploration of the International Symbol of Deafness


  • Robyn Swannack
  • Helen Macdonald




Symbols shape how social actors experience, feel and make meaning of their everyday life and social interactions. When we see a symbol, our brain processes it and denotes its meaning. Some symbols have obvious and clear meaning; others are vague, unclear and ambiguous. In this paper, I interrogate the international symbol of deafness / hard of hearing.  On one level, the international symbol of deafness/hard of hearing acts as a key summarising symbol.  Here it intends to represent the deaf community.  However, through interviews with the Deaf community, their friends, parents, interpreters and CODA (Children of Deaf Adults) I show that the symbol operates more as an elaborating symbol, by fitting complex and possibly indistinguishable beliefs, practices, concepts and emotions into a workable framework. 


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