Society for Urban, National and Transnational/Global Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
Being the largest disability group in China, deaf people have received relatively less attention from the state. Even though Chinese government has introduced the concept Barrier-free City (wuzhangai dushi) for almost two decades, the understanding and practices of “barrier-free” are limited in the elite-dominated urban construction projects such as accessible facilities for wheel-chair-using citizens and tactile pavements.
With ethnographic evidence based on fieldwork in 2018, this paper will document how an assemblage of non-state actors, tech-savvy university students, industrious laborers intermediate the emerging markets of care for people with hearing disability in southern China. Since 2014, along with the state promotion of innovation enterprises, there emerge several civil groups of deaf and hearing people in Guangdong with the ambition to design tech products for people with hearing disabilities in China. These products are mostly based on cell phone applications, ranging from digital sign language translation to voice recognition and conference shorthand captioning devices. I argue that the young startups’ very efforts to obtain the legal and institutional recognition from municipal government both as “People-run Non-Enterprise Units” (minban feiqiye danwei) and “Social Organization” transform the foundation of their emergence, the state-centered welfare politics of disability in China. Moreover, the booming startup ecology initiates processes of marketization (Çalışkan and Callon 2010) where voices or sign languages are passified into standardized digital goods sellable for a price.