First Advisor

Maura Kelly

Term of Graduation

Fall 2021

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Sociology






Deafness -- Public opinion, Medicalization -- United States, Cochlear implants, Deafness -- Social aspects, Deaf -- United States



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 198 pages)


How deafness is perceived as a problem by society dictates what types of technologies are leveraged to address the problem, and, conversely, available technologies shape how deafness is perceived. In this dissertation, I draw on multiple methods to explore the meanings of deafness in the US since the early 18th century to the present, examine how the meanings of deafness in those eras shaped deaf technology, and assess how available technologies shaped how deafness was understood. Using primary and secondary historical sources, I identify that every era identifies a different "problem of being deaf" and it is that problem that technologies are crafted to address. These technologies aim to "make normal" the deaf person, but by doing so, medicalize the condition of deafness, which both increases and decreases stigma surrounding the condition. Content analysis of advertisements for hearing aids from approximately 1910-to the present day, and present-day cochlear implant websites highlight these "problems of being deaf" and demonstrate how the particular technology advertised can achieve normality for the buyer. Through interviews with 33 parents, I find that goals of making their deaf children "normal" and improving communication are at the forefront of parents' decision-making process for cochlear implants.


© 2021 Kathryn Elizabeth Burrows

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