04 SES 06 E, Taking a Step Further: Developing creative approaches to research on inclusive education
Inclusive education has gained traction internationally and has become a field characterised by an “elasticity rather than precision of definitions” (Slee, 2011, p. 64). We approach inclusive education as a critical education project whose priority is to identify and address the pervasive educational exclusion that results from unequal social relations (Slee, 2011). This insurrectionary idea offers “an alternative vision of the purposes, character and practices of schooling” (p.41). Often, though, it has been ‘domesticated’ in prescriptions for, and descriptions of policy and practice that do not challenge the structures that produce exclusion. Many organisations advocate for inclusive education, and many books, websites and training providers seek ways to realise it in practice. It has a strong presence on the internet with websites offering multimodal representations of inclusive education. This is unsurprising considering the electronic era’s impact on the visual turn (Kress, 1998).
We are interested in exploring how inclusive education is represented visually. Our concern is that online images are seldom read or used critically. Images sourced through search engines are often seen as a ‘quick grab’ that add visual appeal to verbal or written texts. Kress and van Leeuven (1996, pp. 4-5) draw attention to the fact that because the visual is controlled by “‘empires of mass media’”, the work of designers and image banks exert “a ‘normalising’ influence on visual communication across the world.” The ranking of images from on-line searches are a result of search engine optimisation (SEO) thus the orchestration (Kress, 2010) of images is not natural or neutral and reflect unequal power relations.
We thus seek to answer the following questions from a Google Images search using the term ‘inclusive education’:
- What messages does the ensemble of signs convey about inclusive education?
- To what extent do these messages advance or subvert its aims and ideals?
We aim to advance a resistant reading (Janks, 2012) of images of inclusive education, and suggest how the field might disrupt representations that undermine its concerns.
Critical visual literacy (Newfield, 2011) offers a theoretical lens with which to analyse images of inclusive education. Critical visual literacy traces its roots to critical theory, and the traditions derived from it, including Freire’s work (Schieble, 2014) and (Multimodal) Critical Discourse Analysis. It also draws on semiotics and Visual Grammar (Wang, 2014). The central tenets of critical visual literacy are that ways of thinking about the world are “inscribed within images” (Newfield, 2011, p.92) or, as Wang (2014, p.281) notes, ideologies are “encoded” in images. The image analyst’s task is to identify how the features of visual design work to position both the subject/s of the images and the viewer. It exposes the ways in which ‘taken-for-granted’ ways of viewing the world are legitimated and habituated, and dominance is maintained.
Various strategies can be employed in critical visual analysis. We use Halliday’s social semiotic metafunctions as applied by Kress and Leeuwen (1996) for visual analysis and Lemke’s (2002) extension of these functions when dealing with hypermedia texts. This is a useful tool for uncovering the ideological underpinnings of multimodal texts. Texts are configurations of three types of meaning: ideational - representations of experience and the logical relations among them; interpersonal - construals of social relations and attitudes; textual/compositional - combines ideational and interpersonal meaning and focuses on elements that make texts cohere.
A critical approach to literacy is advocated by Slee (2011, p.164) to reform education as an “inclusive enterprise”. We argue that it is entirely apposite that we turn critical (visual) attention to inclusive education itself.
This study is conducted within a qualitative paradigm, using the tools of critical visual literacy. Selection of images followed the PRISMA flowchart (Moher, Liberati, Tetzlaff, & Altman, 2009). First, we identified the first 100 Google images using the term “inclusive education” and screened these to remove duplicates. The criterion for eligibility for inclusion in the data set was that the image should be primarily visual, so we eliminated text-centred images, like word clouds. For this study, we also eliminated photographs, so that we were not analysing across visual genres. After this process, 73 images formed the data set for this study. We deemed the set to be broad enough to provide a range of images and analyse the features of each image in depth. For the purposes of this paper we work with the images as they appeared on Google Images, and not in conjunction with their source. In analysing ideational functions, we considered the ways in which participants (actors and objects) were represented by identifying processes for naturalistic and abstract images. Social distance and attitude were examined for interpersonal meaning. Salience and Framing were examined for textual (compositional) meaning. This drew attention to the presence or absence of visual elements and recurring features in and across the images. These recurring features were categorised and counted to see more accurately the extent to which they recurred across the data set. Five prominent motifs of inclusive education emerge from this analysis. We link these motifs with literature on inclusive education and the sociology of childhood to show that they represent some of the concerns of the field. As we explain in the findings, the images also reveal a vision/version of inclusive education at variance with its aims and ideals.
The first motif is that human difference is significant in inclusive education. Most of the images contain naturalistic (rather than abstract) depictions of humans, using race/ethnicity, gender and disability to signify diversity. To achieve this range of diversity, the images mostly use four or more actors. Social relations that emerge from the analysis of interpersonal meaning reveals the subversion of diversity because able-bodied whiteness remains dominant. The second motif is that of inclusive education as a children’s issue, with nearly half of the images containing only children. Often these images contain stylised, comic book or naïve drawings of children and toys. We consider this critically, in terms of how children are represented (James & Prout, 2015), and the implication that this potentially trivialises the field of inclusive education. Inclusive education in adult learning settings is mostly absent. Third, the images show that connections are an important motif, with more than half presenting actors in close proximity. A close examination shows social distance: participants with disabilities seldom hold hands with, or touch others, mostly they are separate, or touched by others. We argue that this perpetuates a limited notion of inclusive education, i.e., presence without participation or belonging. Our fourth motif is of inclusive education as celebration. This is conveyed through colour, gesture, directionality, and stance, smiling faces and party accoutrements. While this taps into the ‘celebration of diversity’ trope, it minimises the challenge of identifying and addressing exclusionary pressures and practices. Finally, we note that these four motifs are seldom presented with reference to educational contexts. Educational attainment for marginalised groups is rendered invisible, as inclusive education becomes merely about groups of playful, somewhat diverse children. We conclude by arguing that proponents of inclusive education need to acknowledge and challenge prevalent visual (mis)representations and (sub)versions of the field.
Janks, H. (2012). The importance of critical literacy. English Teaching: Practice and Critique 11(1), 150– 163. Kress, G. (1998). Visual and verbal modes of representation in electronically mediated communication: The potentials of new forms of text. In I. Snyder & M. Joyce (Eds.), Page to screen: Taking literacy in the electronic era (pp. 53-79). Sydney: Allen and Unwin. Kress, G. (2010). Multimodality: a social semiotic approach to contemporary communication. London: Routledge. Kress, G. & van Leeuwen, T. (1996). Reading images: The grammar of visual design. London: Routledge. Lemke, J. (2002). Travels in hypermodality. Visual Communication, 1(3), 299-325. Moher, D., Liberati, A., Tetzlaff, J., & Altman, D. G. (2009). Preferred reporting items for systematic reviews and meta-analyses: the PRISMA statement. BMJ, 339. doi:10.1136/bmj.b2535 Newﬁeld, D. (2011). From Visual Literacy to Critical Visual Literacy: An Analysis of Educational Materials. English Teaching: Practice and Critique 10(1), 81– 94. James, A. & Prout. A. (Eds.) (2015). Constructing and reconstructing childhood. New York: Routledge. Schieble, M.B. (2014). Reading images in American Born Chinese through critical visual literacy. English Journal, 103(5), 47-52. Slee, R. (2011). The irregular school. London: Routledge. Wang, J. (2014). Criticising images: critical discourse analysis of visual semiosis in picture news. Critical Arts, 28(2), 264-286. doi:10.1080/02560046.2014.906344
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