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seminar: Dr Claire Shaw (Warwick): 'Just Like it is at Home! Deafness and Socialist Internationalism during the Cold War'

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Location: R0.14 Ramphal building, University of Warwick

Presentation, refreshments, discussion. All are welcome.


The years following the Second World War saw increased links between the Soviet deaf community and their Eastern European ‘brothers’. On one level, these links were institutional, with the All-Russian Society of the Deaf reaching out to equivalent deaf societies across the Eastern Bloc, culminating in the creation of an International Socialist Union of Deaf Mutes in the tumultuous year of 1968. At the same time, they were informal, familial, and grassroots, as groups of deaf people travelled across the socialist bloc and encountered people and institutions – both deaf and socialist – just like their own. This paper will explore these contacts as part of a concerted attempt by the USSR to define and shape the ‘socialist deaf person’. In the context of a broader project to foster ‘socialist internationalism’ during the Cold War, the socialist deaf community was seen as a success story worth celebrating: a group of people who had overcome the physical obstacle of deafness to become full-blooded, independent workers through the transformative power of socialism. Yet these contacts also revealed tensions, differences and misunderstandings and posited uncomfortable hierarchies between the ‘big brother’ USSR and the ‘little brother’ countries of Eastern Europe. As such, the transnational links of the late Soviet era reveal both commonalities and differences of deaf experience, adding an important layer to our understanding of global deaf culture in the 20th century.

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