Enduring metaphors and the persistence of stigma: The case of prelingual deaf children with cochlear implants

April Robillos, Purdue University


This study was an examination of the contribution of metaphors in Deaf culture rhetoric to the stigmatization of prelingual deaf children with cochlear implants---surgically implanted devices that circumvent damaged receptor cells in the cochlea and apply direct electrical stimulation to the auditory nerve to provide a deaf person with the sensation of hearing. In 1990, the FDA approved cochlear implants for prelingual deaf children at least 2 years old. While the medical community and a majority of hearing parents with deaf children welcomed the move, people who were members of or identified with Deaf culture objected strongly to implanting young children. They offered credible reasons for rejecting cochlear implants in very young children, but proponents of cochlear implants also had rational grounds for advocating early implantation. Stigmatization through metaphors was perhaps less logical, but potentially as effective in bolstering Deaf culture's argumentative position. The objectives of this study were to identify the metaphors and metaphoric themes in the statements of Deaf culture leaders between 1990 and 1994, to hypothesize how these metaphors could have directed public attitudes and motivations toward cochlear implants, and to draw some conclusions about the role of metaphors in the perpetuation of stigma. Applying metaphoric analysis to Deaf culture rhetoric yielded four metaphoric themes: journey, machine, disease, and war. These metaphoric themes could lead to a stigmatizing response through denial of a group's claim to social legitimacy, obfuscation of other relevant aspects of an issue, establishing false realities, and giving credence to unhealthy prejudices. The extent to which metaphors seem to endure and sustain a stigma response appeared to be influenced by three factors: the existing power relationship among the protagonists, the metaphor's prescription for action, and the consistency between the images the metaphors depict and reality as perceived by the general public.




Webb, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Communication|Social psychology|Audiology

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