Horizontal violence, otherwise known as mobbing, lateral aggression, or bullying (Browne & Smith 2008; Dellasega, 2007; Heim & Murphy, 2001) has been previously documented in the field of sign language interpreting as well as in other human services professions such as nursing and teaching (Ott, 2012). Interpersonal workplace hostility can have devastating personal and professional consequences regardless of the field of practice, particularly when attacks are repeated and severe (Leymann & Gustafsson, 1996, as cited in Browne & Smith, 2008).

In addition to the long-term effects of horizontal violence, a study by Hewlett (2013) found that negative interactions between interpreters during an interpreting situation causes emotional and mental strain, which in turn can impact the interpreter’s performance. The cumulative effect of sign language interpreters’ occupational culture of horizontal violence, therefore, is an additional ableist oppressive force that sign language interpreters collectively perpetrate against our community of service, the D/ deaf.

In this thesis study, the principal researcher explores features related to occupational cultures of horizontal violence and seeks to assess the current state of the field through anonymous surveys of sign language interpreters in the United States. Evidence from psychosocial research on the effects of workplace hostility provides insight into the ramifications of repeated peer-to-peer traumatization in the workplace. A thorough review of the literature identifies the factors unique to interpreting which provide optimal conditions for horizontal violence to thrive.

Data collected nationwide via electronic survey over the course of an eight-week long period of time elicited 59 unique responses for the experiential survey including a qualitative self-identity inventory and personal narratives on their experiences, perceptions, and observations of horizontal violence. The horizontal violence experiential survey gathered quantitative data of respondents' lived experiences and observations of ten horizontal violence related behaviors. For seven of the described behaviors (non-verbal innuendo, verbal affront, undermining service provision, bickering, backstabbing, gossiping, and microaggressions) a majority of participants (over 50%) positively identified these behaviors with experiences they have had in their professional communities.

Utilizing Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis and the social network theory, the qualitative data was analyzed manually and coded for themes related to the literature on horizontal violence, the sociolinguistic framework for sign language interpreters, and a Black feminist pedagogy (hooks, 2003; Krieger & Belliger, 2017; Roy & Metzger, 2014). Five major themes were revealed through this analysis to have casual ties to the culture of horizontal violence that sign language interpreters experience. Finally, the author discusses several possible solutions for individual practitioners and communities of interpreters experiencing horizontal violence based on current literature and personal praxis.

Exit Requirement


Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts in Interpreting Studies

Committee Chair

Elisa M. Maroney

Committee Member

Suzanne Ehrlich

Committee Member

Tie Burcham


Occupational culture, sign language interpreters, horizontal violence, power, privilege



Type (DCMI Terms)


Subject Categories

Language Interpretation and Translation | Sign Languages

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