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Popular Narratives of the Cochlear Implant


In contemporary medical discourse as well as in the field of Disability Studies, the problems concerning the Cochlear implant (CI) gave rise to a series of controversies. While medical discourses or viscourses imply a natural process of hearing, the counterargument is that “normal hearing” is a social and cultural construction, which depends on a corresponding “thought style”. However, such constructions of normality, disability, inclusion and exclusion are not only produced or criticized by scientific or journalistic mediatizations but also to a large degree by popular narrative media. Consequently, this paper analyzes the specific filmic-narrative appropriation, reworking and interpretation of discourses on the CI in popular media formations such as TV series, medical-technological viscourses in documentaries and Youtube videos. The thesis is that narrative media cannot be considered a mere reproduction of scientific or social discourses, but instead functions as productions of reality. Thus, narrative media is capable of (co)producing (in mutual exchange with social and medical discourses) interpretations, evaluations of normality and disability.


  • Cochlear Implants (CI)
  • Deaf Community
  • Crazy Love
  • Hearing World
  • Camcorder Recording

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Fig. 1


  1. 1.

    Which also depends on the degree of hearing loss and whether the person in question was born deaf or lost hearing as an adult. Certainly, identity constructions are conditioned by a vast spectrum of other factors, such as social environment, age, gender, etc.

  2. 2.

    One may even argue that there is no such thing as ‘the’ hearing community or ‘the’ Deaf community, as such constructions are merely medially produced or discourse effects (cf. Ochsner 2013; Spöhrer 2013a).

  3. 3.

    Further examples of such viscourse in medical textbooks can be found in Zeng (2004).

  4. 4.

    The term viscourse refers to Karin Knorr-Cetina’s (1999) concept of stabilized visual discourses used in scientific communities.

  5. 5.

    “Reality” is never an unmediated or given state or situation that can be detached from culture or human perception, but instead is highly dependent on specific and culturally variegating practices, discourses and (subjective) perceptions. Especially the example of the CI shows that “hearing” is not a given sense that allows us an immediate access to any “outside reality” (cf. Spöhrer 2017).

  6. 6.

    For example Kupfer and Lyon (2012) and Dussling (2010).

  7. 7.

    The image can be found in Chaikof (2008).

  8. 8.

    “The remarkable thing about the show is that it deals with issues of deafness and Deaf Culture extremely well, addressing issues of mainstream vs. Deaf education (i.e., lip-reading, cochlear implantation, romantic relationships between Deaf and hearing people, the decision of whether to use one’s voice, etc.) in an informative and respectful manner that feels organic to the plot of the series.” Cf. (accessed April 1, 2016).

  9. 9.

    In season 2, an entire episode (episode 9, “Uprising”) is presented without spoken language, but only rather by means of American Sign Language and background sounds. (accessed April 1, 2016).

  10. 10.

    Especially in “Prudence, avarice, lust, justice, anger” (season 2, episode 17) and “What goes up must come down” (season 2, episode 19), the conflict between Emmett and his father is being tied to the CI as discussed in the introductory part of this text.

  11. 11.

    Switched at Birth (Weiss 2011), ECCE MONO, season 2, episode 15, D: Lizzy Weiss.

  12. 12.

    Switched at Birth (Weiss 2011), ECCE MONO, season 2, episode 15, D: Lizzy Weiss, TC 00:24:37.

  13. 13. (accessed April 1, 2016).

  14. 14. (accessed April 1, 2016).

  15. 15.

    Switched at Birth (USA 2011–), ECCE MONO, season 2, episode 15, D: Lizzy Weiss, TC 00:12:20; on, one of the authors uses the expression the opposite way by saying that for example Emmett is “playing the deaf card” several times within the series: (accessed April 1, 2016).

  16. 16.

    Cf. the comparison of hearing speech with a CI and normal hearing capacities in “What do cochlear implants sound like? 1 – Speech”, in Auditory Neuroscience, (accessed December 18, 2014).

  17. 17.

    This is also obvious if one has in mind that one of the contributors to Deer Prom, John McKeever, is a comedian. Cf. (accessed December 18, 2014).


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Grebe, A., Stock, R., Spöhrer, M. (2019). Popular Narratives of the Cochlear Implant. In: Görgen, A., Nunez, G., Fangerau, H. (eds) Handbook of Popular Culture and Biomedicine. Springer, Cham.

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