Sensory Impairment

Posted: 18 Oct 2010

See all articles by Elizabeth K. Keating

Elizabeth K. Keating

Harvard University - John F. Kennedy School of Government

R. Neill Hadder

Texas State University, San Marcos

Date Written: October 2010


Anthropological studies of sensory impairment address biological conditions and cultural disablement while contributing to theoretical discussions of cultural competence, communicative practices, the role of narrative, and features of identity, ideologies, and technology. As boundary cases, impairments can disclose essential aspects of the senses in human life. Sensory impairment studies navigate the complexities of comparing dominant sensory discourses with individual sense differences, cross-linguistic incomparabilities among sense categories, and how impairment categories tend to fuse together highly diverse conditions. The category of disability, which includes sensory impairment, comprises chronic deficit relative to priority competencies. With special emphasis on blindness/visual impairment and deafness/hearing impairment, we overview sensory impairment on three levels: the social partitioning of the sensorium, differential ramifications of sensory impairments cross-culturally, and the classification of the person based on cultural priorities. We identify ten common themes in ethnographically oriented studies.

Suggested Citation

Keating, Elizabeth K. and Hadder, R. Neill, Sensory Impairment (October 2010). Annual Review of Anthropology, Vol. 39, pp. 115-129, 2010, Available at SSRN: or

Elizabeth K. Keating (Contact Author)

Harvard University - John F. Kennedy School of Government ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-495-9856 (Phone)
617-495-8963 (Fax)

R. Neill Hadder

Texas State University, San Marcos ( email )

601 University Drive
San Marcos, TX 78666-4616
United States

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics