UNITED OR DIVIDED? A sociocultural study of conflict among British Sign Language users in the workplace

Nunn, Nicola Jayne orcid iconORCID: 0000-0001-5071-0543 (2017) UNITED OR DIVIDED? A sociocultural study of conflict among British Sign Language users in the workplace. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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The concept of conflict theory is applied to the dynamics of everyday interaction among British Sign Language (BSL) users in the workplace in this study. This research aims to explore Deaf and hearing BSL users’ experiences of working together, and to consider the causes of conflict among this group. The research identifies BSL users’ experiences in relation to interaction in the workplace and the causes of conflict are explored through Mayer’s (2000) ‘wheel of conflict’. The study is carried out in line with the sociocultural model of Deafhood (Ladd, 2003). This theoretical backdrop provides an opportunity to view and understand Deaf BSL users as a cultural and linguistic minority, a perspective that stands in contrast to the persistent medical view of sign language users. This perspective aims at redefining approaches to Deaf people from a dominated, pathological position to an alternative visuality paradigm (Kannapell, 1993). This includes paying attention to the shared experiences surrounding Deaf people’s lives and attempting to understand the control and inequalities, and the language and cultural differences at play, that is, a sociocultural approach.
The research comprises a small-scale study of qualitative group discussion and individual self-testimony activities. These research activities enable the study to explore the circumstances that underlie workplace conflicts, leading to identification of the various experiences. The participants in the study were BSL users who work in predominantly deaf workplaces. A thematic analysis identifies recurring experiences that demonstrate power and control, and instance of inequality, examined through a hermeneutic phenomenological methodology (Gadamer, 2004) that provides a basis for qualitative research. The analysis reveals six nomothetic themes (Atkinson, 2007) of audism, attitude, paternalism, transition, resolution and empathy, which expose previous and current experiences related to aspects of employment among Deaf and hearing BSL users. Discussion of the likely causes of workplace conflict and the potential for resolution brings the research findings to a conclusion, before noting that future research into the experiences of a mixed Deaf and hearing working environment is required in order to expand the findings of this phenomenological study. It is important for us to understand Deaf people’s work experiences; it is also important that we understand hearing people’s experiences. The author of this study acknowledges that, as Gournaris and Aubrecht (2013: 70) advise, “this process of self-examination may be uncomfortable for the reader”.

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