A Question about Questions

One of the side effects of being a deaf philosopher is that the start-up costs of working with signed language interpreters* means I’m still figuring out some things that most philosophers started figuring out when they were still graduate students.

For example, I didn’t realize until after I defended my dissertation that it was a disciplinary norm to “talk philosophy” or that one should circulate drafts to colleagues for feedback before presenting one’s ideas in more public venues. (This should not be taken as a reflection on the quality of my graduate program, but simply as an observation about the general lack of access deaf people have to doxa – that stuff that everybody knows or finds out through informal conversations.)

In my case, I was so exhausted from building interpreter and other accessibility infrastructure that I didn’t have the time or energy for informal conversations. (Plus, speechreading is tiring, too!) I didn’t realize how much information I had missed about philosophical and academic practices until I was able to access these kinds of conversations (first through the Deaf-Academics listserve, and in recent years through accessible informal social media like Facebook and philosophy blogs like Feminist Philosophers and New APPS).

This is one reason I think the academic blogosphere is an important service – it provides an opportunity for those of us on the margins to acquire informal information by removing the worrying of ‘discrediting’ your group by revealing your ignorance.

But I digress…

When I go to colloquia or conferences, I’m always impressed by people who follow the paper well enough to offer questions and comments on the spot! I’m usually too busy dealing with the cognitive load of working with my interpreters (see here for an example) to do this.

Now that I’ve started working on my Deaf philosophy project, I’ve been paying close attention to the way that Hearing philosophers do philosophy. Some of this is so that I can convey these practices to my (mostly) deaf and hard of hearing students; some of this is self-interest, so that I can better participate in disciplinary and professional practices on my own; some of this is so that I can provide more comprehensive information to my signed language interpreters during our prep sessions.

But I also figure this: in order to get clear about what Deaf philosophy involves, I should develop a better understanding of how Hearing philosophers do philosophy.**

I’m currently thinking about the process of formulating questions for Q&A discussion following paper presentations. (This is in part because I’m inexperienced at doing this, and one of my New Year’s resolutions is to get better at it.) Over the years I’ve noticed some patterns and behaviors that I’m not keen on emulating, (e.g. dismissiveness, self-aggrandizement, tangential takeovers that steer the discussion from the paper at hand to discussing one’s own work). I’ve also noted some Q&A strategies that I think are probably helpful to the presenter. (I take it that the point of participating in Q&A is to provide helpful feedback, but I realize that there may also be other motivations running alongside this.)

My very incomplete list for generating helpful comments and questions includes the following:

  • questions of clarification
  • questions that offer alternative conclusions using the paper’s stated/implied premises
  • offering objections
  • questions based on alternative interpretations
  • requests for arguments for assumed or asserted claims
  • requests to expand on a point that was skipped over in the interests of time
  • references to other people working on similar or related projects

Here’s my question about questions: what are some other useful strategies for generating questions and comments to offer during Q&A sessions?

* By this I mean stuff like creating a philosophical lexicon in ASL, interpreter prep for conferences (I read through papers thrice – once to get the gist of the paper, once to flag stuff for interpreters, and once to formulate questions /comments), distilling background information for interpreters, figuring out what kind of background information interpreters need to be effective when working with me in professional settings (this includes political and professional information, e.g. to let the interpreter know if the interpreter overhears someone talking about, say, Obama’s B.R.A.I.N. initiative, I am interested in learning who made this reference so that I can follow up), making requests for (legally mandated in the U.S.) interpreter accommodations, engaging in back-and-forth with entities over interpreter services when said request is denied, locating appropriate interpreters in geographic areas away from home(s), filing Protection and Advocacy complaints when entities are unwilling to provide interpreters, filing and tracking U.S. Department of Justice ADA complaints…

**In Deaf Studies there is a convention that marks a distinction between the audiological/medical status of being deaf (note the lower case ‘d’), and the cultural aspects of being Deaf (note the upper case ‘D’). In my forthcoming paper, “Armchairs and Stares”, I make the argument that this convention should be extended to distinguishing the audiological status of being hearing and the sociocultural practices of being Hearing.


About Teresa Blankmeyer Burke

Just another deaf academic/advocate/activist blogging about life.
This entry was posted in Deaf philosophy, Philosophical practices and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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