Deaf Capital: An Exploration of the Relationship between Stigma and Value in Deaf Multilevel Marketing Participation in ...


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Deaf Capital: An Exploration of the Relationship between Stigma and Value in Deaf Multilevel Marketing Participation in Urban India
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Medical Anthropology Quarterly (MAQ).
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Friedner, Michele
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This article ethnographically examines how some deaf people in urban India have begun to orient themselves toward the future by participating in multilevel marketing businesses. In the absence of other structural possibilities for deaf future-making, deaf Indians have turned to such businesses in search of social, economic, and moral livelihood. This article analyzes participation in one particular business and asks how participating within the business both enables and disables the cultivation of specific ideas of development. Particular attention is devoted to exploring the multiple registers of the concept of “deaf development” and how such development may be cultivated through multilevel marketing businesses. This article aims to make a critical intervention in medical anthropology studies of disability by arguing that disability (or in this case deafness) can function as a source of value, therefore highlighting tensions between stigma and value.
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1 Michele Friedner Postdoctoral Fellow, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Anthropology Program (E mail:, Deaf Capital: An Exploration of the Relationship between Stigma and Value in Deaf Multilevel Marketi ng Participation in Urban India ____________________________________ _____________________________________ This article ethnographically examines how some deaf people in urban India have begun to orient themselves toward the future by participating in multilevel marketing businesses In the absence of other structural possibilities for deaf future making, deaf Indians have turned to such businesses in search of social, economic, and moral livelihood. This article analyzes participation in one particular business and asks how particip ating within the business both enables and disables the cultivation of specific ideas of development. Particular attention is devoted to exploring the multiple registers of the concept of "deaf development" and how such development may be cultivated throug h multilevel marketing businesses. This article aims to make a critical intervention in medical anthropology studies of disability by arguing that disability (or in this case deafness) can function as a source of value, therefore highlighting tensions betw een stigma and value. [ deaf, disability, stigma, India, development ] __________________________________________________________________________ Silver Venture is about business. About 1000 deaf in I ndia join it to earn better a n d transform our lives SMS sent to author by deaf Silver Venture member Introduction: Deaf C apital Many sign language using deaf Indians in Indian cities have turned to multilevel marketing businesses as sources of livelihood and sociality. Such bus inesses are based on the premise that social capital can be transformed into financial capital. In this article, I argue that an analysis of deaf participation in such businesses is an important intervention into how medical anthropologists think about disability and deafness in late modernity. Medical anthropologists have long utilized two dominant fra meworks for analyzing disability: individual, familial, or societal negotiations with stigma (e.g., Ablon 1988; Frank 2000; Weiss 2002 ) and medicalization and the emergence of medicalized subjectivities and (bio)socialities (e.g., Kohrman 2005; Petryna 200 2; Rapp 1999). In moving beyond these two frameworks, I propose instead to examine what might be considered the opposite of these frameworks. That is, I argue that medical anthropologists must examine the complicated relationship that exists between stigm a and value and the role that non medicalized socialities play in creating new forms of social, moral, and economic value In this case study d eafness, or rather, deaf sociality, becomes a privileged site of recruitment and


2 extraction and there is much te nsion between stigm and value. Indeed, deafness becomes deaf capital in the "competition ... of the excluded (Verdery 1996:203). It is therefore important to analyze how stigma is reinscripted as value in neo liberal times and to consider who benefits from this re inscription.As success in multi level marketi ng is based on the intermingling of social, moral, and economic value, I argue that such businesses (although they are rarely successful) are key sites for exploring these questions. Moving forward, I tur n to the scene of an anniversary function for a popular multilevel marketing business that has many deaf members throughout India On August 1, 2009 I traveled from Bangalore, in south India, to Pune, a bustling city in the western Indian state of Mahara sthra, to attend a mela or celebratory function, marking the two year anniversary of deaf peoples' involvement in Silver Venture, an international multilevel marketing business. 1 Silver Venture labels itself as providing "interactive business opportunitie s" through direct sales (from the company to individual representatives) of numismatic gold coins, health products, watches and jewelry, vacation packages, and telecommunications. The company started in Taiwan in 1998 and has offices throughout Asia, Afric a, and the Middle East. In India, members make a one time paymen t of around 30,000 r upees, approximately $500.00 USD and with this payment they buy either a numismatic gold coin or a fused glass energy disc that is said to increase vitality when placed close to the body. 2 Members can also buy and sell vacation packages but these were more expensive and therefore less popular among deaf members. Silver Venture members are told that the products are not as valuable as recru iting people for the business: t he real value comes from becoming an independent representative and recruiting others. When people join the business, they become a downline to the person whom they joined under. After they recruits someone, they become that person's upline. Uplines receiv e a percentage of their downline's initiation payment and then smaller percentages after that for each subsequent downline who joins under them. A pyramid like structure develops, fanning out and becoming broader as more members are recruited. 3 There are d istinct lineages and teams within the pyramid structure that can be tracked thro ugh an online e commerce system on the company's glamorous looking website. This mela for deaf people, known within Silver Venture as "special friends" (a term that I will exp lain later), was the second one ever held. Deaf people from all over India converged on Pune for this five hour function. 4 Expectations were very high as last year's first anniversary function had brought almost one thousand special friends to Pune, includ ing at least 20 members from Bangalore. For this second anniversary function, I accompanied members of Team Commitment, a deaf Silver Venture team based in Bangalore but with members all over India. Throughout June and July at Bangalore based weekly meetin gs of Team Commitment, Rajesh, Team Commitment's young and energetic leader, encouraged team members to travel to Pune. At one meeting, Rajesh invited Sharad, a shy young art student to explain how wonderful last year's function was to those team members p resent who had not traveled to Pune last year. Rajesh set the tone by asking Sharad questions 5 : Rajesh: What happened when people talked [in sign language] during the workshops? Sharad: They were told not to talk and escorted out.


3 Rajesh: Everyone pa id attention and kept their phones off and in their bags. If people did not pay attention or if they were sleepy, they were tapped by their neighbor to have them pay attention. In emphasizing the attention required of attendees, Rajesh was implying that this event was different from other deaf events at the time, such as cultural performances, sporting events, and social club meetings, where deaf people tended to gossip, share news with friends, and use their mobile phones to send text messages. Rajesh wa s also differentiating Silver Venture from the many other multilevel marketing businesses that deaf people could join at the time : businesses with lower initiation payments that also did not require much investment of time or effort. In contrast, special f riends functions were spaces where practices such as disciplined learning, carefully paying attention, and deaf entrepreneurship were cultivated. In these spaces, new ideas of "deaf development" were emerging that were structured by the constellation of de af peoples' social and economic positioning in India, their distinct orientations, and the liberalization of the Indian economy that has res ulted in fewer previously taken for granted government jobs and precarious private sector employment Deaf in U rban India Deaf children in India (and arguably everywhere in the world) are typically born into hearing families that do not learn sign language. Most Indian deaf schools, many of which are operated by the state, utilize the oral method of education in wh ich deaf children are supposed to be taught to lipread and speak, with very little success ( Bhattacharya 2010; Broota 2005; Zeshan et al. 2005). Currently, the Rehabilitation Council of India, the government body overseeing special schools and teacher training programs, offers only a 15 day Indian Sign Language course to teachers in training and it does not permit deaf teachers to teach in government schools. Many deaf people told me that they passed their Secondary School Leaving Certificates without actually learning (and that they passed through copying from each other, often with the help of teachers or a dministrators; such copying is a deaf "social fact" and discussed openly). They learn varieties of Indian Sign Language and important social, moral, and economic skills from each other ( e..g., how to interact with other deaf people and hearing people, how to act appropriately toward people of the opposite sex, and how to find and maintain employment ). Previously, after completing state run and private vocational training programs, many deaf people found work in government industries and the public sector m ore generally because of a 1% employment reservation. However, as a result of neoliberal reforms, government industries are downsizing and employment, as well as social services, are increasingly found in the private sector. Although there were many deaf p eople in their forties or older with government jobs, many of my younger interlocutors worked for multinational corporations (where they did low skilled business process outsourcing and data entry work) or in India's growing hospitality sector (as food ser vice workers or merchandise stockers). 6 Corporations employing them do so under the framework of corporate social responsibility and they publicize such employment in order to receive favorable attention. 7 Vocational training and job placement services ar e increasingly provided by non g overnmental organizations (NGOs) that receive funding from corporations. In many cases,


4 funders are the same corporations hiring deaf workers. This downsizing of the state is a source of much disappointment to deaf people, a lthough, to be clear, many feel that their needs have never been met by the state ( compare Gupta 2012; Gupta and Sharma 2006; Sharma 2008). In fact, India's major disability legislation, the 1995 Persons with Disability (Equal Opportunities and Protection) Act does not mention sign language at all (and the a ct was passed after advocacy by physically disabled and blind Indians without much deaf representation). (Bhambani 2004). As such, b usinesses such as Silver Venture have become privileged sites to mitiga te both disappointment and the sense that the state does not "take care of deaf people," a statement often made by my interlocutors. I conducted ethnographic research on deaf involvement in multilevel marketing businesses from 2008 to 2010 in Bangalore, De lhi, Pune, and Mysore. It is not clear how many deaf people have joined such businesses (although a leader in Silver Venture estimated that there were about one thousand deaf people who had joined). However, during this period, such businesses had a major presence in deaf sociality and deaf people frequently discussed them in everyday conversations. I attended recruitment meetings, team strategy sessions, and large melas as mentioned above I conducted semi structured interviews with deaf leaders and deaf independent representatives in this business. I had informal conversation with many deaf people who did not join these businesses but who were very aware of their operations. In addition, I conducted archival research on the role of Silver Venture and othe r multilevel marketing businesses in India to understand how the state and trade organizations viewed them. The specific focus of this article is middle and upper class sign language using Indian deaf participants living in Pune and Bangalore who were lo cated at the middle or the top of Silver Venture's deaf lineages although success in Silver Venture (and in deaf social networks more broadly) does not necessarily map onto class or caste. The reason for this is because one's ability to communicate using sign language and one's access to useful information gives one status vis ˆ vis other deaf people. Communicative competence has less to do with class and more to do with whether one has access to sign language using deaf role mod els and peers. As such, a l ower middle class deaf person with deaf parents and a larger deaf network could be more successful in the Silver Venture structure than an affluent deaf person who was raised orally with poor sign language skills. Indeed, there were deaf people from afflue nt families who were not desired recruits because they did not have strong sign language skills due to attending hearing schools and lack of exposure to sign language using deaf people. I focus on those at the middle or the top of Silver Venture's deaf lin eages, but there was most certainly a deaf bottom of the pyramid, both empirically and analytically. Those at the bottom were supposed to follow their uplines' success, although as I discuss, they often did not (and could not) Re thinking how Medical Anthropologists Theorize Disability Returning to the quote with which I opened this article, Silver Venture ostensibly offered deaf participants the opportunity to transform their lives through being part of a deaf sociality (social practices and processe s) orien ted toward imagining and creating new futures. I argue that participation in Silver Venture provided a space for cultivating what my interlocutors called deaf development and engaging in practices that would f acilitate such development. By deaf dev elo pment, my interlocutors were referring to the desire for the emergence of


5 deaf administered structures and institutions that privilege distinctively deaf ways of being in the world such as valuing sign language, helping other deaf people, and sharing an d working collectively. Desiring deaf development requires deaf orientations through which deaf people are required to share information and skills that they have learned with other deaf people, recruit other deaf people to attend deaf events and learn sig n language, and engage in what I call ongoing "sameness work through which differences such as class, caste, religion, gender, geographic background, and educational levels are negotiated to create a sense of a cohesive deaf sociality. 8 When deaf develop ment takes place, there will be fewer structural obstacles in society and all deaf people will be able to live, learn, and work in conditions more of their own making. In thinking about Silver Vent ure as a space for cultivating deaf development, I want to consider how multilevel marketing produced a space for deafness to function as a valued condition. More broadly I want to cons ider how the current Indian neo liberal political economic structure has created conditions of possibi lity for deafness to function as a marker of inclusion (in the face of both broader structural exclusion and token inclusion in the private sector). In particular, Silver Venture allowed deaf participants to transform social capital in the form of deaf fri ends and aquaintances into financial capital. This transformation happened through taking advantage of dense deaf social networks that were often formed and sedimented over many years: D eaf people typically went through many years of schooling together in segregated deaf schools, attended vocational training programs specifically for deaf people, and were members of deaf social, sports, and/or trade organizations. In taking advantage of these networks, participants used their subject positions as deaf peopl e and members of a deaf sociality to recruit other deaf people to these schemes. Deafness therefore became a valued condition and a gateway for participating in Silver Venture. In analyzing how deafness (and deaf sociality) is productive of new forms of s ocial, moral, and economic practices, I build on James Staples' s (2005) work with Indian lepers in which he urges analysts to examine disability through another lens besides that of stigma and rehabilitation. Staples writes: T he same clawed hand and disto rted face that provokes social ostracism might also serve as a vital resource for collecting alms and for accessing other benefits" ( p. 13). As Staples shows, lepers are able to use their stigmatized bodily deformities to provide for themselves and their f amilies. Staples' s work departs from the norm of academic and policy work on disability in India that tends to depict disabled people as the most marginalized, poor, and downtrodden (e.g., Harriss White and Erb 2002 ; Hiranandani and Sonpal 2010; Klasing 20 07; World Bank 2007). In following Staples, I hope to to highlight tensions between stigma and value and explore how stigma can be reinscripted as value (also see Staples [ 2011 ] on the importance of nuancing how we theorize stigma). In doing so, I examine how middle and upper class deaf people negotiated and utilized deafness to their advantage through participating in multilevel marketing schemes. These deaf people w ere perhaps embodying ideal neo liberal entrepreneurial subjectivity in which they identif ed as deaf people who were responsible for taking care of, and affiliating with, others with the same identity (and their practices therefore differed from those of Staples' s interlocutors in that they were explicitly entrepreneurial) In foregrounding the ir deaf orientations, my interlocutors were emp hasizing that the discourse of deaf development extended to all deaf people, not just those involved in Silver Venture (Rose 1999).


6 While my research with Silver Venture's special friends might not seem to diverge from what has already been written about pyramid schemes in other places (e.g., Cahn 2006, 2011; Comaroff and Comaroff 2000; Dolan and Johnstone Louis 2011; Verdery 1996; Wil son 1999), I wish to make a broader argument of relevance to medical anthropology beyond the role of deafness in enabling multilevel marketing participation about the role (and the enrollment) of d isability in late modernity/neo liberal times. 9 In doing so, I depart from the mainstream Disability Studies canon that argues that as a result of new labor and living arrangements under the industrial revolution, "disability," as both an analytical concept and lived way of experiencing the world, emerged. Accordin g to this body of work, feudal and agricultural societies were inclusive of bodily difference. In contrast, under capitalism, factories demanded a specific kind of "able" body and the state began to exert contro l according to, and along the lines of, bodil y difference (e.g., Barnes and Mercer 20 10 ; Gleeson 1998 ; Oliver 19 9 0 ). I n contrast, this case study illustrates how late capitalism, or specifically the Indian neo liberal political economic structure of the present has found a way of including those who might otherwise be excluded through participation in multilevel marketing businesses. 10 As such, it seems to me that medical anthropologists must shift their analytical framework to analyzing not only how disabled people are excluded but also how and wher e they are included. That is, they must be attentive to the ways that stigma and value work hand in hand and how disability is increasingly included in workplaces and social and political structures in ways that are not always to disabled peoples' advantag e. Silver Venture and Special Frie nds Where did the category special friend come from? In a (captioned) video made for the first anniversary function of Silver Venture's special friends titled "Silent Pathbearers to Success," Pradeep Sathi, a hearing independent representative known to his downlines as Guide of Destiny (G.O.D), sat in a massive black leather armchair and enthusiastically proclaimed: "Hello my special friends I love you!" Large and garrulous, he went on to state that he preferred to cal l "those who the world call as deaf" his special friends "because they are close to my heart." Sathi said that he joined Silver Venture in 2001 and was always interested in helping "the less privileged." However it was not until 2007, after he became a mil lionaire, that he found a way to help those who would become his special friends. One of his downlines worked with a deaf man named Bhupen and this downline conducted a prosperity meeting, Silver Venture's jargon for a recruitment session, with him. After the prosperity meeting, Bhupen joined and and rapidly recruited other deaf people as his downlines. In Sep tember 2007, there were around 35 deaf members of Silver Venture living in Pune. In response to these growing numbers, Sathi decided to donate an air conditioned conference room on a weekly basis, provide sign language interpretation for trainings, and caption Silver Venture training videos. Sathi was considered to be the father and great upline of all deaf teams in India. Deaf members often cheered an d applauded when someone used the category special friend or mentioned Sathi at a Silver Venture meeting. Deaf people did not see the word "special" as paternalistic or stigmatizing (as I initially did). Rather they saw it as a sign of care and as a lovin g way to recognize that they were different from hearing people (and it produced a distinct rhetoric of "inclusive"


7 recruitment). While most deaf people had never met Sathi, he was more than just an abstract business leader; he was seen as a nurturing and enabling supporter of deaf development in all of its registers. His acronym G.O.D reflects this and his pastoral power (Foucault 2007) derived from both providing technical access such as closed captioned videos and motivational support and inspiration. D eaf Silver Venture events were always interpreted and when top deaf leaders traveled to Malaysia for a conference, interpreters accompanied them. Many training videos were also interpreted, notably by some of India's most well known interpreters. Special friends spoke about this level of access proudly and it was jux taposed with access elsewhere: T here were few certified interpreters in India and even fewer schools, colleges, and workplaces hired interpreters on a daily basis or for special meetings or f unctions. As discussed above, provision of communication access was not legally mandated and t here were very few spaces where Indian deaf people felt that their communication modalities were appr eciated and actually utilized and Silver Venture was one suc h space. As Sathi stated in the second anniversary special friends video: "T his business gives an equal opportunity to everyone." Indeed, not only did Silver Venture appear to give deaf people an "equal opportunity but it appeared to be particularly well designed for deaf participation because it seemingly permitted deaf people to transform their dense social networks into financial capital and deaf people were able to work almost exclusively with other deaf people. T he Anthropologist's First Prospe rity Meet ing I now analyz e a Silver Venture prosperity meeting to examine how Silver Venture both appealed to and included deaf participants. In particular, I examine how deaf orientations, future aspirations, and ultimately, themes of deaf development are deployed by Silver Venture's special friends to recruit other deaf people. The first prosperity meeting that I attended took place in Bangalore in September 2008 I t was conducted by Aparna, a tall and fashionable deaf woman in her early thirt ies with exc ellent Indian Sign L anguage and English writing skills. These skills allowed her to communicate easily with deaf and hearing people from all walks of life (thanks to attending an innovative private school for deaf children that encouraged the use of sign l anguage) and she had cultivcated a vast deaf and hearing social network. Aparna was financially well supported by her husband's family and she had a stable and fairly well paying (by deaf standards) job as a graphic designer. However, she felt that her ea rnings were not enough to support her lifestyle aspirations and she valued the challenges and sociality offered by Silver Venture. She therefore used her earnings to join the business. A rriving at Aparna's house, I discovered that the other attendees were two young women and a young man in their twenties who worked at different coffee cafŽ chains as baristas, a friend of the young man who was studying for a bachelors degree in computer applications, and Naveen, a deaf pastor at one of Bangalore's many deaf churches who said that he came just to "see and learn." 11 After chatting informally for a while, we clustered around the coffee table in the sitting room for the prosperity meeting. Aparna started by telling us that the presentation was going to be like a parachute trip and that we should not interrupt or ask questions until we landed. And she said that we were required to turn off our mobile phones, which we all obediently did. At that point she turned on her laptop and


8 began an elaborate PowerPoint pres entation (which had been given to her by Dinesh, a Pune based deaf leader). This presentation began with a discussion of dreams: Aparna said that we all had dreams when we were children and she asked us what our dreams were. The male coffee shop worker s aid that he wanted a house and a stable job; Aparna responded to this by stating that at the rate that he was earning, it would not be possible. She then rapidly scrolled through pictures of various objects of desire: a big bungalow, a Ferrari car, a world tour, good education for children, and money for retirement. We were told that, like most of the world, we would never be able to afford these things. She then showed us a diagram of a river of money far away from a cluster of houses. Over a period of a y ear, one house laid pipes and was given access to this water and money, and then the other houses around it piped in water from that house sharing resources being the message. The implication was that by joining Silver Venture and being connected to other uplines and downlines, there would always be a steady stream of revenue running. This cluster of houses could also be seen as representing a wider Indian deaf sociality in which participants worked together to help and support each other and the water and money were metaphors for deaf development, gained through working together. Indeed, much time during the presentation was devoted to the idea of helping others. Asking "Who does not want to help people?" Aparna stressed that the Silver Venture foundation, Silver Venture's philanthropic branch, had donated money to NGOs around the world. She showed us a scrapbook filled with various certificates attesting to Silver Venture's humanitarian work and pictures of famous members of Silver Venture performing chari table works. Aparna connected this to desires to help other deaf people, and she said that participating in the business would enable us to do so through donating money to deaf organizations and schools. Aparna ended her presentation by showing us video cl ips of dizzying crowds at Silver Venture international conferences and she told us stories about various people featured in the clips: the 26 year old man who retired after becoming a millionare and the bored housewife who joined Silver Venture despite her husband's resistance and subsequently wound up earning more than him. In addition to these success stories, Aparna also showed us pictures of deaf Silver Venture uplines in Malaysia and at other international conferences, thereby promoting ideas of deaf m obility and of deaf people being equal to hearing people. After Aparna finished, we sat around drawing diagrams of uplines and downlines because we struggled to understand how the business worked: We drew lines and circles connecting individuals to two peo ple beneath them. These diagrams resembled both pyramids and family trees in which there is one parent (an upline) who spawns two children (downlines). These family trees, through linking deaf people to each other, again stressed ideas of deaf orientations and bonds. Those present, with the exception of the pastor, seemed excited about joining, as Silver Venture represented both an escape from their low paying hospitality jobs and an opportunity to participate in a seemingly deaf centered job that was more rewarding. However, none of these attendees were able to join due to lack of funds. A spirations, H opes and D reams This prosperity meeting was not dissimilar to others that I would subsequently see, although many did not involve laptops or PowerPoint presentations. However, all of the meetings


9 followed a similar template of providing attendees an opportunity to share and therefore cultivate, their hopes and dreams for the future. 12 These hopes and dreams were social, economic, and moral in nature: Par ticipants wanted bungalows and they wanted better deaf schools where deaf children could receive good educations. Kishore, a deaf cyber cafŽ owner and Silver Venture member, told me that his dream was to travel with other deaf people, a dream that I heard repeated again and again by others on his team and other teams. Chetan, another member of Team Wonderful Dream, told me that he decided to join after learning about special friend leaders' journeys all over India. He thought that it would be wonderful to t ravel with other deaf friends in large deaf groups, but his government salary did not provide him with the financial means to do this. Aparna also said that she wanted to travel, although she was also interested in wine tasting and horseback riding as well Since the formation of the All India Federation of the Deaf in 1955, deaf people have traveled all over India for sporting events and competitions, deaf culture seminars, and beauty and dance pageants, often in large groups. 13 Such traveling, even to a n eighboring city or state, was an important part of being a member of a deaf organization. However the kind of traveling that special friends wanted d iffered from this form of institutional deaf travel as it was independent, purely recreational, and unfett ered by deaf bureaucracies. (And many younger deaf people felt that deaf organizations, run by older deaf men and women, were out of touch with their needs and experiences.) In addition to this aspiration for personal mobility and independence, deaf people also repeatedly expressed a desire to help other deaf people, a dominant theme in the discourse of deaf development. Dinesh, a deaf leader in Silver Venture based in Pune who traveled all over India, told me repeatedly that Silver Venture provided him wit h freedom and time to help other deaf people. If he had a regular job, he would not be able to meet and help deaf people as frequently as he did (although he did not give me examples of how he helped people aside from encouraging them to participate in the business). He regaled me with stories of how he had helped very poor deaf people join the business and prosper. Both Dinesh and Kishore told me that they dreamed of building old age homes for deaf senior citizens. Minoo, a woman in her late fifties and pe rhaps the oldest member of Team Wonderful Dream in Bangalore, told me: "I want to help poor deaf people coming from villages, I want to help deaf people learn about HIV and AIDS, I want to help deaf go to America to study, and I want to help deaf in India get into colleges." These Silver Venture members desired to use their (imagined) earnings for deaf development for creating better education options for the deaf as well as deaf run institutions. Deaf development, then, was a theme running through prosperi ty meetings and members often explictly talked about how they saw Silver Venture as a way of cultivating a better future for all deaf people, not just Silver Venture members. 14 Underlying these hopes and dreams for better deaf schools and deaf old age homes was the common lament about the failure of the state to provide livelihood to deaf people uttered most clearly by Kishore: "The government does not help deaf people." Indeed, Pinky, another Pune based Silver Venture deaf leader, saw Silver Venture as operating as the provider that the state is not. Her words echo the words of many other special friends: It is difficult for deaf in India to get jobs and deaf and hearing are not equal. Deaf people do not own cars and do not fly on planes. But deaf peo ple have dreams as


10 well and this is how Silver Venture helps deaf we want to travel all over India to support deaf people. In contrast to the state, deaf people felt that Silver Venture offered possibilities for deaf development. Dinesh, Pinky, and othe r Pune based uplines argued that Pune was a site of such development in the present. Indeed, Pune leaders constantly entreated downlines and potential recruits to "Come to Pune and see for yourself." No B anquet at the Second Anniversary Program And many of us did come to Pune. As I noted earlier, perhaps one thousand special friends from all over India attended the 2008 anniversary function. However, the 2009 gathering had far fewer attendees and was not the envisioned international gathering of two thousand or more deaf people attending. Instead, there were about 250 attendees sitting on plastic chairs in a dim hall. Why such a decline in numbers? One obvious reason was that India was experiencing significant inflation and a downturn in economic growth, a source of much confusion and concern, and many deaf people were either afraid to join the business or lacked money. Another reason was that despite exhortations by Dinesh, Pinky, and other leaders to have their downlines follow them and duplicate their success, downlines were unable to convince other deaf people to join for a variety of reasons: They could not explain the business clearly as a result of their sign language skills or lack of understanding themselves; they expected their uplines to do the presentations for them; and Silver Venture started developing a "bad" reputation. Deaf people constantly mentioned that the Silver Venture office in Ahmedabad had been shut down by the police because of allegations of fraud, that the coins were not real gold, and that the bio disk did not work. Downlines complained about the lack of training that they received from uplines and there was fighting within teams over who would recruit potential deaf members. And teams fought over the finite number of dea f people left to recruit. Despite the rousing presentations and testimonies, at the end of the anniversary function the mood was melancholic because, despite the leaders' tenacious efforts and travels all over India, the poor attendance seemed to represent the end of a potential deaf future, the loss of hopes and dreams about financial independence, new schools for the deaf, and deaf old age homes. Most of my interlocutors never recouped their initial investment. And despite claims to the contrary, there wa s clear class (re)production that took place as those at the head of deaf lineages sought out increasingly poorer deaf people to join under them, therefore producing and reproducing the "bottom of the pyramid" as both an empirical and analytic category. Th is is not to say that there were not people who were still excited and optimistic. I talked to one deaf young man from Mumbai whose deaf father joined the business under Dinesh over a year prior but still had not received training. When I asked this young man if he thought that his father's opportunity was now ruined, he responded: "Silver Venture is like a beautiful new car. Even if you do not know how to drive it and take an auto [rickshaw] everyday, you will wash it everyday and you will one day learn ho w to drive it." Similarly, Rajesh still ordered his Bangalore team to meet weekly although his downlines were not successful at recruiting anyone themselves. At the last Team Commitment meeting that I attended, Rajesh excitedly announced that he had recrui ted the treasurer of the Kerala Deaf Association and that this person had many contacts. Perhaps there were still untapped


11 markets, more social capital to transform into financial capital. And as for deaf people who lost their financial investment, they st ill gained something: language, discourses, and practices for imagining and creating new deaf futures. While the failure of Silver Venture could have resulted in acrimonious ruptures in deaf sociality, deaf social fabric appeared to be largely untouched. T his was because of the "sameness work" that deaf people engaged in and the importance of maintaining a cohesive and harmonious deaf sociality oriented toward collective deaf development. Multilevel Marketing Circulations Silver Venture was not the onl y multilevel marketing business in which deaf people participated; in the absence of other deaf centered employment opportunities, such businesses in general were perceived as being an engine toward deaf development, as after all, as Pinky and Kishore told me, the government does not help deaf people In addition to Silver Venture, there were at least five other deaf multilevel marketing businesses operating in Bangalore, and it was not uncommon for people to belong to Silver Venture and other businesses R ecruitment sessions were mostly held in large halls in colleges and corporations, spaces that were mostly inaccessible to deaf people on other days. Paper invitations in envelopes were distributed at one recruitment session for yet another and SMSes were c irculated to invite deaf people to come to meetings and learn about different businesses. These invitations often guaranteed prosperity and began with questions such as Deaf's future how? Unlike Silver Venture, these other schemes did not require as much of a financial investment and cost around 3,000 rupees compared to Silver Venture's 30,000 rupees. In addition, members rarely met in regimented and organized fashions to strategize and discuss dreams as they did with Silver Venture. There was less at sta ke socially, morally, and economically. I want to talk about one recruitment session that I unexpectedly attended in order to demonstrate where businesses surface and the role that they play in deaf worlds. In September 2008, I attended a function hosted by a deaf Hare Krishna teacher named Devananda for Krishna's birthday celebration. As part of this program, there was storytelling about Krishna, an art contest, and a discussion of Hindu morality and the importance of good behavior. At the end of the prog ram, Devananda invited a hearing woman up onto the stage to talk about a business that she was recruiting for, called Golden Days. Devananda was a member of this business (in addition to being a member of Silver Venture: His dream was to build an ashram fo r deaf people) and he invited this woman to present at the function after soliciting donations from her for Krishna's birthday. With the help of another deaf Golden Days member, this woman talked about the benefits of the business and the guaranteed income that participants would earn. At the end, many people signed up before enjoying a rice dinner to celebrate Krishna's birthday. When I talked about this recruitment session with Chetan, the deaf government worker and Silver Venture member I mentioned earli er, he said that deaf people needed money and that this was a good business for them; he said that Golden Days was one way for deaf people to help each other and become financially independent. Chetan's words point to the salience of such business es in dea f worlds. In this setting the social, moral, and economic components of deaf development were found: Deaf attendees learned about the importance of good behavior and financial success.


12 Indeed, multilevel marketing could be found in unexpected places: dust y courtyards of vocational training centers where deaf trainees ate lunch, high tech information technology offices where deaf people worked as back office data entry operators, deaf clubs where older deaf men employed as manual laborers drank tea, and dea f churches and Hindu gatherings. To be sure, there were also participants who attended recruitment sessions for the complimentary tea and samosas, the opportunity to socialize with deaf friends, and the entertainment invariably provided by Power P oint prese ntations and demonstrations of products. Yet, in observing Power P oint presentations proclaiming that everyone has dreams, that it is important to save for the future, and that deaf people must help each other, they were producing and participating in both material and affective space for considering what this future might be and for speculating about deaf development. Conclusion Silver Venture and other multilevel marketing businesses have become key sites for seeking deaf development in urban India because of their unique recruitment structures and their dependence on transforming social capital into financial capital. By deaf development, I mean the multiple regi sters of social, moral, and economic development that include developing deaf orientations, helping and sharing with other deaf people, and having access to financial capital and consumption. Many deaf participants felt that Silver Venture would provide de af people with the social, moral, and economic tools that were needed to cultivate deaf development (and they felt that Silver Venture leaders were examples of such development). These tools included new sign language form and content for sharing aspiratio ns, hopes, and future oriented narratives, financial capital to build deaf schools and deaf old age homes, the ability to engage in consumption, and the skills needed to become confident and strong deaf people capable of recruiting others. As time went on and the heady first days and months of deaf involvement dissipated, it became clear to some that Silver Venture, despite being a "gift" from G.O.D., was not the boon that it initially appeared to be; there was a disjuncture between discourses of developme nt and actual material development. Those at the bottom of the pyramid struggled to find downlines and regretted that they had invested money in the business. A few special friends attempted to quit, but leaders exerted heavy pressure on them to stay invol ved and search for downlines. Most of my interlocutors did not recoup their initial investment although leaders still searched for new downlines. To be sure, the discourse of deaf development extended beyond Silver Venture and dreams for better deaf school s, deaf old age homes, and new consumption practices continued to exist. These dreams may have become stronger for Silver Venture participants and on lookers because Silver Venture provided conditions of possibility for imagining new futures. This is the story of special friends who, because of the particular resonance of this structure of opportunity with their already existing (and emerging) social forms, are in the process of cultivating new social, moral, and economic worlds. This is therefore a story of both the specificities of deaf development and the generalities of new possibilities and constraints enabled by economic change in urban India. This is also a story of how deafness becomes deaf capital under neoliberal businesses such as multilevel mark eting. Deaf participation in Silver Venture illustrates how neoliberalism enables and disables the


13 inclusion of certain kinds of bodies, identities, and orientations and it highlights the disjuncture between discursive and material development. Ultimately deaf multilevel marketing business participation foregrounds tensions between inclusion and exclusion and stigma and value. Indeed, case studies like this push medical anthropologists to rethink the category of stigma and how it operates (or not) under n eo liberalism. I argue that medical anthropologists interested in the category of disability must also consider the non medicalized socialities and subjectivities that emerge alongside and in relation to it In addition, we must ask how these socialities an d subjectivities enable new forms of value making and inclusion. And perhaps most importantly, we must critically ask who benefits from the multiple forms of value that emerge and from practic es of including disabled people. Deaf multilevel marketing parti cipation foregrounds the multiple forms of social, moral, and economic value that are at play and how value is extracted from conditions that mi ght be considered stigmatized. Notes Acknowledgements I thank Lawrence Cohen, Mara Green, Peter Cahn, Stefan Helmreich, Chris Walley, China Rose Scherz, and Graham Jones in addition to three anonymous reviewers for MAQ. And of course, this work could not have been written without the generosity and patience o f Silver Venture members. 1. I use pseudonyms for the company and all of my interlocutors. As much as possible, I disguise distinguishing features of the company ( e.g., where its headquarters are) while also highlighting what makes it unique. 2. Thirty t housand rupees is quite a large amount for lower and middle class people. For example, deaf interlocutors who worked in the hospitality sector as food service workers e arned between 5,000 and 7,000 rupees a month while those who worked in information tec hnology enabled services as back office data entry operators earned betw een 4,000 and 17,000 rupees a month. Public sector employees whom I met earned between 12,000 rupees and 22,000 rupees a month. 3. While Silver Venture functions like a pyramid scheme, my i nterlocutors called it a "multi level marketing business" or simply, a "business." I therefore do the same. 4. Departing from the normative Deaf Studies practice of capitalizing Deaf (started by James Woodward in 1972 to foreground the fact that Deaf people see themselves as belonging to a distinct Deaf culture and as members of a linguistic minority group), I use the term/category deaf. My interlocutors generally did not capitalize deaf in their writing and they did not use the same discourses us ed both by Deaf Studies scholars and lay members of Western d/Deaf communities 5. All conversations took place in Indian Sign Language. Indian Sign Language has regional variations although deaf Indians are able to adapt quickly to variations. I provided the t ranslations from Indian Sign Language to English in the text 6. The experiences of deaf young adults might not appear to be dissimilar from those of non deaf youth in which desires for consumption and global imaginaries of such consumption loom larg e (Fernandes 2000; Liechty 2003; Lukose 2009). However, the particular constellation of opportunities available to deaf young adults in India differs from those available to non deaf young adults because of poor quality deaf education in which sign


14 languag e is not privileged and a rarely enforced state juridicial legal framework that does not provide deaf people with much protection (again, see Bhattacharya 2010; Broota 2005; Zeshan et al. 2010). 7. See Friedner (2013) and Hoffman Dilloway (2011) on coffee cafŽ chains that hire deaf workers in India and Nepal and the feelings that these workers insti l l in non deaf customers. See Friedner [ 2008 ] for a discussion of how many corporations, notably those in the information techno logy and hospitality sectors, act ively seek to hire disabled workers to both combat attribution and show corporate social responsibility. 8. An example of "sameness work" took place in Bangalore's Team Wonderful Dream. Arman, a Muslim man was very unhappy about being on the same team as Devananada, a Hare Krishna teacher who he thought was disrespectful to Muslims. Similarly, Chetan was upset about being on the same tearm as Minoo, a woman he previously worked with in Amway and who he regard ed as a thief. Yet everyone adjusted. And when u plines came from Pune everyone in Bangalore had to adjust to a variety of Indian Sign Language that was different from theirs. 9. I have not seen other academic studies of multi level marketing business participation in India although such businesses app ear to be ubiquitous among the lower and middle classes and they are often featured and discussed in popular media. While c onducting research with other disabled Indians, including physically disabled and blind Indians, it did not seem to me that these bus inesses were prevalent at all. This could be because deaf social networks were denser because of shared language (and a lack of a shared language with hearing people) and because deaf people experienced more substantial barr i ers to education and employment (see Broota 2005). 10. I think it is important to problematize what people are being included in and how this inclusion happens. I nclusion functions as a black box and unspecified authoritative discourse within international and Indian disability rights m ovements (that have largely embraced neo liberal principles premised on the importance of individual empowerment, independence, and rights). 11. Bangalore had eight deaf churches. They were spaces where deaf people could use sign language, share news, and l earn from each other. Deaf people c onsidered them to be spaces of deaf development and they often used the same logics of recruitment to recruit people for churches that they used to recruit for multilevel marketing businesses (thus resonating with Cahn's [ 2011 ] work on multi level marketing and spirituality). 12. These future oriented narratives mark a departure from deaf narrative practices in which deaf people share biographies in relation to a wider deaf world to create deaf sociality. (Mindess 2006; Padden and Humphries 2006). 13. Deaf people from diverse class backgrounds were able to travel because of international and domestic funding allocated to such programs. Deaf people were often more mobile than their family members because of this funding another form of deaf capital. 14. While this desire to help other deaf peop le might not seem dissimilar to what van We ssel (2004) describes as middle class Indians negotiating their discomfort toward aquiring material possessions, I argue that this desire to help all deaf people, regardless of class background, is part of deaf so ciality in general.


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