Being and Hearing

Making Intelligible Worlds in Deaf Kathmandu

By Peter Graif

How do deaf people in different societies perceive and conceive the world around them? Drawing on four years of anthropological fieldwork in Nepali deaf communities, Being and Hearing shows how questions of cultural difference are profoundly shaped by local habits of perception. Beginning with the premise that philosophy and cultural intuition are separated only by genre and pedigree, Peter Graif argues that Nepali deaf communities—in their social sensibilities, political projects, and aesthetics of expression—present innovative answers to the very old question of what it means to be different.

From pranks and protests, to diverse acts of love and resistance, to renewed distinctions between material and immaterial, deaf communities in Nepal have crafted ways to foreground the habits of perception that shape both their own experiences and how they are experienced by the hearing people around them. By exploring these often overlooked strategies, Being and Hearing makes a unique contribution to ethnography and comparative philosophy.


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Review Quotes

This beautifully-written book is a path-breaking investigation in the anthropology of the senses and the politics of communication. Peter Graif ’s fascinating account of Nepali deaf worlds weaves a uniquely subtle and powerful appreciation of how communication, culture, language, creativity, even thought and the senses are produced, deployed, and reconfigured by everyone, not only those who live with deafness. The deaf world in Nepal is both populous and diverse, showing a great many experimental and witty strategies for getting by and (sometimes) living well together in an inhospitable sensorial social environment. Being and hearing teaches us, through the experience and tactics of the hearing impaired, and through their struggle for “intelligibility,” that communication and cultural common ground cannot be taken for granted or considered simply natural. Rather, intelligibility must be a project for all of us.

—Judith Farquhar, author of Ten thousand things: Nurturing life in contemporary Beijing

Being and hearing is a fascinating and surprising look at sense-making through the lens of deafness. Graif shows us much about the way that deafness is understood in Nepal, but he shows us at least as much about the way humans in general experience sense and meaning.

—Tanya Luhrmann, author of When God talks back: Understanding the American evangelical relationship with God

In graceful and intimate prose, Graif delivers a searching ethnography of deaf lives in Nepal, following them from everyday interactions to organized street protests and exploring just how observant and reflective the deaf are toward the perceptual (in)capacities of the hearing.

—Michael Lempert, coeditor of Scale: Discourse and dimensions of social life

Published 2018
234 pages
ISBN: 9780999157039
Price: $35.00

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Table of Contents
List of Figures

Chapter One: Arjun: The sense of things


Not knowing Arjun

Linguistic dilemmas

Making sense

The presence of Arjun

Chapter Two: Intelligible worlds

Necessary words

Finding the deaf

Deaf geographies

The world is not as we think it is

Raghav: being two things

Chapter Three: Being transparent

A history of names

Language as a thing seen

The intelligibility of words

Chapter Four: Seeing politics

Intelligibility play

The deafness of mothers and buildings

Lorem Ipsum

Intelligibility replay

Chapter Five: Citing signs

The iconic and the arbitrary…

…the long and the short

Deaf linguistic theory

Bakery mandates

Chapter Six: Laxmi: The properties of people

The deaf mute speaks!

Being Laxmi, here and there


After words