Assistive Technologies for Deaf People in Jordan: Entanglements of Language, Religion, and Disability
Yui Leh Timothy Loh

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Primary Discipline

What is the relationship between assistive technologies, disability, and education? This dissertation project draws upon 15 months of anthropological research in Jordan to argue for the importance of situating scientific and technological advancements in their sociocultural contexts. In particular, I examine how deaf Jordanians are engaging with new assistive technologies that have emerged in Amman in the last few decades, including cochlear implants (medical devices that provide their users with some electronic access to sound), provided through a state-affiliated initiative, and a sign language-centered mobile application, produced by a Jordanian-Syrian educational technology start-up. While previous studies have examined these kinds of technologies and their effects on education for disabled students separately (e.g. Valente 2011, Alper 2017), few have done so ethnographically, with an eye to examining their everyday impacts on a granular level, and even fewer have thought about these technologies for deaf people in the same frame, which on the surface seem diametrically opposed. Focusing on three central nodes of biomedical imaginaries, language ideologies, and religious commitments, I use participant observation and qualitative interviews across several sites?the aforementioned start-up, an audiology department and cochlear implantation unit, a deaf cultural center, and a government advocacy body for disabled Jordanians?to examine the cultural politics that undergird the use and production of these different assistive technologies for deaf people in Jordan today. Ultimately, my dissertation aims to shed light on how to meaningfully integrate assistive technologies into education for deaf people, resisting simplistic binaries about whether such technologies are ?good? or ?bad.?
About Yui Leh Timothy Loh
Timothy Y. Loh is an anthropologist of science and technology and a PhD candidate in History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society (HASTS) at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, MA. Drawing upon theories and methods from medical anthropology, linguistic anthropology, and the social study of science, his ethnographic research examines sociality, language, and religion in deaf and signing worlds spanning Jordan, Singapore, and the United States. His dissertation elucidates the impact of various ?assistive? technologies?medical-rehabilitative and non-medical alike?targeted at deaf people in Jordan, and is supported by fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, the Royal Anthropological Institute, the American Center of Research (ACOR) Jordan, and the MIT Center for International Studies. In other research, he has looked at sign language in Singapore, and in particular deaf Singaporeans? relationships to the official ?Mother Tongues? under the government?s bilingual education policy. His research and writing have appeared in Medical Anthropology, SAPIENS, and Somatosphere, among other outlets. Born and raised in Singapore, he holds a Bachelor of Science in Foreign Service (Culture and Politics) and a Master of Arts in Arab Studies, earned in an accelerated degree program at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, as well as a Master of Science in HASTS from MIT. Before returning to academia, he worked at a grassroots non-profit organization focused on refugee assistance and taught history and Chinese at a boarding school, both in Jordan, and coordinated a summer English remedial program for Palestinian refugee youth in Lebanon.

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