Disability Studies · Media

Articulating Betweenity

I had to follow up Deaf Subjects with “Articulating Betweenity” because it has been so crucial to my thinking since I read it in my last semester of coursework for a literacy class. If you want to check out the webtext, this is the link.


Though only briefly mentioned in this article, I’m drawn to Brueggemann’s articulation of the “coming over” narrative: “a narrative of the deaf girl learning how to make connections between herself and others (her audiences) by turning what might have been construed as a loss (her deaf mispronunciation) into performative gains.” This narrative flips the traditional narrative that positions disability as something that must be overcome in order for an individual to succeed. Here, the movement from disabled to “normal” is reimagined as a movement from disabled to differently or dis/abled. Integral to this movement is the crux of the article: betweenity.

Betweenity, for Brueggemann, is the construction of an identity that toggles—for example, between deaf and hearing, personal and academic. To be between is to be relational—that is, constructing an idea that is in relation to something or someone else. To describe this relation, Brueggemann calls on Bamberg and “relational positioning,” wherein narratives are constructed based on how the narrator positions herself in relation to “others” in the literacy narrative. In terms of the flipped overcoming narrative, this critical self-awareness is important because Brueggemann doesn’t position herself in relation to a hearing audience in order to pass.

Instead, she argues for the benefits of deafness (e.g., increased awareness of how to communicate and the three-dimensional aspect of language that ASL offers) in relation to normative literate practices, ultimately arguing that hearing and captioning are themselves literate practices. After interviewing her son who captions videos for her, Brueggemann concludes that spoken words are “mere words and there is so much more that comes along with communication and ‘language’ that a captioner might consider.’” In calling for thinking of captioning as a literacy, she argues, “Captioning is a skill that we can apply our creative liberty to.”

This has been incredibly useful for me in thinking about how to incorporate accessible literate practices into our classrooms as critical, rhetorical acts. And Brueggemann’s article has raised a number of questions for me that have guided my dissertation project and recent conference presentations:

  • How can we avoid reinscribing overcoming narratives in our classrooms? How do we place value on particular kinds of writing and composing processes without also placing value on the particular bodies who produce them?
  • How can we incorporate practices that have traditionally only been positioned as accommodating (transcribing, captioning) as rhetorical, literate acts?


Brueggemann, Brenda Jo. “Articulating Betweenity: Literacy, Language, Identity, and Technology in the Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing Collection.” Stories That Speak to Us: Exhibits from the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives. Ed. H. Lewis Ulman, Scott Lloyd DeWitt, & Cynthia L. Selfe. Logan, UT: Computers and Composition Digital Press, 2012. Web.


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