In the Face of Blindness: Negotiating Relationship and Identity in Blind/Sighted Interaction
Everts, Elisa L.
This dissertation contributes to an interactional sociolinguistic understanding of the dynamics of interability discourse, specifically between blind and sighted interlocutors, focusing on the challenges that blindness poses for the construction of independence and involvement for the visually impaired participant and the discourse strategies she employs to surmount them. The data consist of video recordings of a 78 minute multiparty conversation between a once sighted blind woman and seven sighted friends and family members, as well as a total of 341 minutes of nine triadic blind/sighted conversational interviews. Building on the foundation of face work (Goffman 1967, Brown & Levinson 1978), framing theory (e.g. Bateson 1972, Goffman 1974, Gumperz 1982b, Tannen 1993), and conversational style (Tannen 1984), this work follows Hamilton (1994a) in analyzing not only the discourse of the participant with a disability, but that of the abled interlocutors as well and the interactional dynamic that emerges collaboratively among them. Moreover, the blind participant's performance is assessed in terms of her interactional goals, and not merely structural aspects.Three important challenges are examined: 1) procedural elements, 2) attributions of epistemological powerlessness, and 3) attributions of helplessness. Three types of addressivity emerge in multiparty interaction, including a marked third person strategy, which compensates for the missing mode of gaze. The blind participant also employs an array of alternate modes to successfully claim a turn that had at first failed because of visual miscues. I then show how she counters attributions of epistemological powerlessness by using displays of knowledge of the visual world to construct a powerful identity for herself and to create connection with her sighted companions and overcome her outsider status by requesting, offering, and even evaluating visual information. Finally, I show how she resists attributions of helplessness by taking powerful affective stances at the outset, and by reframing her blindness, herself, and her sighted "helpers," to construct a more powerful identity for herself. In sum, Dixie uses language and her knowledge of the visual world to build connection and community with her sighted associates, while simultaneously establishing an agentive, independent identity, even in the face of blindness.
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