Ethnographic Film as Cosmopolitan Product

While deaf filmmaking as a profession has grown exponentially in the previous two decades, deaf ethnographic filmmaking led by deaf researchers and rooted in anthropological fieldwork is new. Most existing ethnographic films involving deaf people are made by hearing filmmakers (often showing presumptions about deaf people and often relying on, or involving, hearing narrators and interpreters). In this presentation, we reflect on deaf ethnographic filmmaking as an inherently collaborative and polyphonic process. We will discuss two case studies. The first, “Ishaare: Gestures and Signs in Mumbai,” is an ethnographic film about deaf-hearing communication in an urban setting. The second, “#deaftravel: Deaf tourism in Bali,” was created within the MobileDeaf project on international deaf mobilities ( The researcher and the camera crew involved in both films are deaf signers from various countries, leading to a unique moment where the precepts of deaf ethnographic filmmaking are emerging in multilingual and transnational contexts. The encounters between deaf protagonists, researchers and filmmakers with diverse privileges and lack thereof resulted in approaches to ethnographic filmmaking that explore but also critically interrogate deaf cosmopolitanism.  

Prof. Dr. Annelies Kuster

Dr. Annelies Kusters is Associate Professor in Sign Language and Intercultural Research at Heriot-Watt University. She leads a research group undertaking the project ‘Deaf mobilities across international borders: visualising intersectionality and translanguaging (’ (2017-2023), funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant. Annelies’ current work focuses on the study of multilingualism, language ideologies, and international mobility. Annelies currently investigates International Sign and sign multilingualism in the context of professional mobility. She also is involved in three other reserach projects: on family language policy in multilingual signing and speaking families; on linguistically diverse signing in a sitcom; and on deaf people’s TV-watching habits in the UK. Kusters has degrees in philosophy, anthropology and Deaf Studies. Since 2004, Annelies has engaged in ethnographic research in South-America, Europe, Asia and Africa. For her film “Ishaare: gestures and signs in Mumbai” she received the Jean Rouch award in 2016.

Dr. Erin Moriarty

Dr. Erin Moriarty is Assistant Professor of Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University. She is also an honorary Research Fellow at Heriot-Watt University with the transnational, ERC-funded project, “Deaf mobilities across international borders: Visualising intersectionality and translanguaging,” led by Dr. Annelies Kusters, PI. Moriarty’s work is situated at the intersection of ethnography and applied linguistics. She studies multilingual, multimodal languaging practices, language ideologies, and deaf encounters using visual methods. She has conducted ethnographic research in Southeast Asia since 2009; her current research project focuses on deaf tourist mobilities in Indonesia. Moriarty has a PhD in Anthropology from American University in Washington, DC; MA in Communications from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD and BA in Anthropology and Art History from Smith College in Northampton, MA. In 2014, Moriarty Harrelson was one of six people in the first cohort of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship and conducted fieldwork in Cambodia.

Go back