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Department of Social Anthropology

DEAF singing Kelly F Robinson

Cambridge researcher involved in British Sign Language translation first for anthropological journal

Knowing by DEAF Listening, by Kelly Fagan Robinson


Dr Kelly Fagan Robinson, a Leverhulme Early Career Fellow, Research Fellow and Postgraduate Tutor at Clare Hall has since 2007 worked alongside Deaf professional artists, advocates and activists. Robinson’s latest paper, Knowing By DEAF Listening, is about to be published in American Anthropologist as part of a special section, Knowing By Singing edited by Caroline Gatt and Valeria Lembo (Early release copy available here:

The article contends with the ways in which so-called 'mainstream' hearing-centred culture frequently fails to understand the ontological and epistemic importance of British Sign Language (BSL) to Deaf sign users in the UK, an ignorance which effectively refutes Deaf ways of being in the UK. Because concepts of ’access’ are crucial in this context, it was important to Robinson that the article be published not only in English, but also BSL. Elizabeth Chin, editor of American Anthropologist, agreed for the journal to cover the cost of translating the abstract into BSL and the Leverhulme Trust funded the main article’s translation.  The article has been translated by Helen Foulkes (, a deaf BSL translator. and The Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge will host the digital translation on their YouTube channel. 

Publishing an article in BSL is a first for American Anthropologist, for Social Anthropology at Cambridge, and for Robinson as well. Prior to translation, the piece was rewritten by Robinson to suit BSL grammar and syntax, and has been broken down by section, meaning it spans five individual videos.  It is highly recommended that these videos are watched in sequence starting with the first video, “An Ethnographic Account of Knowing By Not Singing,” however each section can be viewed separately as a resource for teaching. The full Table of Contents is included below:

Video 1:

Video 2:

Video 3:

Video 4:

Video 5:

The videos can be found sequentially to the first video on the Department of Social Anthropology’s YouTube channel.  Please follow the link to the first video to find the other four videos. 

Robinson's current project, entitled Communications Faultlines on the Frontlines, focuses on communication breakdown when asking for support in the UK (


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