Signature special with Professor Annelies Kusters

Annelies Kusters Blog:

 This week, Signature share more about Annelies Kusters, a Deaf scholar who has been promoted to full professor in deaf studies in UK first. In this blog, Professor Kusters shares more about her experiences of deafness and more about her role within the University.

  1. How important is it that there are more deaf scholars in teaching roles, especially in deaf studies?

It’s crucial to have more deaf academics in teaching roles, especially for Deaf studies subjects. From my experience of teaching hearing students both in Deaf Studies courses and in other subjects, I have seen how sharing stories and our research can profoundly impact their understanding. These students are introduced to Deaf Studies by someone who lives it. We are not just talking about theories; we are sharing real-life experiences that shape new theories and deepen understanding.

When it comes to teaching deaf students, the dynamic shifts. It’s about equipping them with theories and concepts that help articulate their own experiences. It’s a powerful moment when a student finds a new language to describe their life experiences. Moreover, by exposing them to a variety of deaf experiences, we encourage them to think more broadly about what it means to be deaf as there are many ways to be deaf. The understanding of diversity can expand their understanding and sense of the community.

In both contexts, authenticity in teaching doesn’t just transfer knowledge; it inspires new ways of thinking and fosters a richer, more nuanced understanding of the world.

  1. What did you find more interesting during your PhD?

During my PhD, the time I spent in Adamorobe, a village in Ghana known for its high incidence of hereditary deafness and its local sign language, was truly eye-opening. Living there for nine months, I immersed myself in the community and observed and engaged with the ways deaf people communicate and lead their lives.

It was fascinating to see the social dynamics at play- how deaf individuals interact with each other and with hearing residents, creating social paths crisscrossing in the village. Rather than there being a “separate” deaf community, the integration of deaf stories, local gossip, and the village’s rich history with other cultural elements shared with hearing villagers painted a complex and vibrant picture of life in this village. At the same time, some experiences of deaf people in Adamorobe, of oppression and marginalization, strongly resonate with experiences of deaf people over the world.

This experience offered me profound insights into the interplay between deaf and hearing sociality that have deeply influences my perspective in and on Deaf Studies.

  1. Can you tell us a bit more about MobileDeaf?

MobileDeaf is a project that’s particularly close to my heart. It’s been an incredible journey from 2017 to 2023, where an all-deaf research team of five researchers, including myself, dove into how deaf people traverse the globe. Our focus was on the various socialization patterns and communication methods deaf individuals engage in when they cross the international borders, encompassing the experiences of deaf tourists, professionals, migrants, or refugees, and those who encounter them.

Throughout this period, we have been able to produce a series of eight ethnographic films, each providing a window into different facets of deaf mobility and international communication. Plus, we have a ninth film that takes you behind the scenes of our filmmaking journey, offering a glimpse into how we, as deaf researchers working with deaf filmmakers and protagonists navigated and negotiated the process.

Within a few months, our forthcoming book, “Deaf Mobility Studies”, is set to be released by Gallaudet University Press. This book is an accumulation of our years of research, capturing the complexities of deaf mobility.

Our findings, insights and stories are shared on our dedicated MobileDeaf website, which serves as a repository of our journey and our work. It’s a space where you can find a collection of blogs and presentation videos. It’s a resource we are proud of and hope it serves as a valuable tool for anyone interested in the intersection of deafness, communication, and mobility in a global context.

  1. What is your favourite part of the role?

Being a Professor is definitely not a one-track job; it’s a whole web of roles and responsibilities. I have been in academia for over two decades, starting from my undergraduate days. Right now, my work is incredibly diverse. I teach BS, MA and MSc students, guide MA and PhD candidates through their theses, and mentor postdocs and early-career colleagues.

I also organise various activities such as presentations and workshops for the SIGNS@HWU team (, a group of deaf and hearing researchers in our university. As the School of Social Sciences’ co-director of engagements, I also am involved in the administration and planning.

My schedule is packed, but the variety keeps things interesting. When one task becomes monotonous, I have the flexibility to switch gears and dive into something totally different.

Crucially though, I manage to carve out time for research and writing, which are my most favourite activities and my first and foremost reason to be in academia.

  1. What do you hope for the future of Deaf Studies?

For the future of Deaf Studies, I am really hoping that it keeps evolving into a field that’s not just about deaf people but is shaped by us, including deaf scholars and community members. I envision a Deaf Studies that puts deaf communities in the spotlights and celebrates our languages and cultural practices.

But there’s also a need for greater diversity. We have got to recognise that ‘deaf’ isn’t the only part of our identity; we also have race, gender, sexual orientation, class, disability, and other aspects that thoroughly shape our experiences and interactions in addition to deafness. The name ‘Deaf Studies’ might make it seem like ‘deaf’ is the most important identity. But Deaf Studies should draw together a wide range of studies on deaf people, studying how “being deaf” exists in a wide variety of identity constellations and social contexts.

Interdisciplinarity is key, for this. We benefit so much from scholars who are very strongly grounded in other disciplines bringing their expertise into Deaf Studies and vice versa- this has led to an acceleration in theoretical innovations in Deaf Studies in the past decade.

I also hope Deaf Studies will start to include a higher number of projects that are practical, which emerge from engagements with deaf people and organisations instead of from gaps in academic literature. I would like to see more project that have collaborations with organisations from the start of a project, not just as an afterthought.

There is also this divide between Deaf Studies and sign language interpreting studies that we need to bridge. Interpreting students learn about Deaf Studies, but researchers in sign language interpreting often overlook it.

In the meantime, while interpreters often have basic Deaf Studies knowledge, most deaf themselves don’t get the chance to learn about Deaf Studies, which is a gap that I’m eager to address. I am hoping to see an expansion of outreach and an increase of opportunities for various audiences who are interested in Deaf Studies. This means developing resources, workshop formats and programs that are tailored to different learning styles and needs, ensuring that Deaf Studies isn’t confined to academic circles but is available to all who have an interest in learning from it or about it.

We have got our work cut out for us, but I am excited about the possibilities.

Thank you to Professor Kusters for sharing more about the importance of Deaf Studies. Through having Kusters as a Professor at the University, students will receive a more nuanced approach to the subject, an approach that holds personal experience. We hope that more people will pursue Deaf Studies and learn more about its rich history.

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