Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Daniel H. Lende, Ph.D.

Co-Major Professor

Karla Davis-Salazar, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Heide Castañeda, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Barbara LeMaster, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Adam Schwartz, Ph.D.


Deaf education, Deafness, Mexico, Photovoice, Sign Language


This dissertation research investigates the experience of deafness among deaf youth, adults, and their families in Mexico City, Mexico. Deaf children cannot fully access the spoken languages of their hearing families and mainstream society. Hence, participating families embarked upon extensive treatment-seeking pilgrimages, encountering myths about deaf lifeways and the promise of miracle cures that formed Mexico City's cultural system for coping with childhood deafness. This ethnography uncovers persistent misconceptions in medical and mainstream discourse, including strong recommendations against exposure to sign language, which directly impacted participants' access to relevant communities of practice, the social networks that proved most significant to these families.

I used visual data collection methods, including photovoice and personal history timelines, to examine deaf identity. I contrast participants' lived experiences with the effects of the medicalization of deafness to empirically demonstrate the value of sign-based communities of practice for language socialization and the impact of restricted information and stigma. My research outlines the limitations of therapeutic approaches to language and challenges the notion that all children predictably acquire language. My contribution of "treatment-seeking pilgrimages" provides a new concept for examining therapy management as a social practice and I use "ad hoc communities of practice" to illustrate how participants formed social groupings in response to the unanticipated discovery of deafness in their families. Applied outcomes include recommendations suitable for educating medical personnel, public policy actors, educators, and families in early stages of treatment seeking.