23 SES 09 C, Higher Education
In a famous reflection, Foucault once asked ‘What are we today?’ (Foucault, 1984). It seems an easy question to answer. However, in an era of post-truths, in which political uncertainties, economic instability and social insecurity seem to accompany us on the relentless road from welfarism to neoliberalism (Ball, 2015a), the answer to this query needs particular sociological attention. How can policy sociology help us make sense out of our present? Where do we begin to investigate the fleeting operations of truth in an increasingly performative, neoliberal, knowledge society?
I chose to contribute to this ‘history of the present’ (Foucault, 1977) by focussing on disability in higher education. If, on the one hand, disabled students’ rights are upheld through international documents such as Education Transforms Lives (UNESCO, 2017) and the Convention for the Rights of Persons with Disability (UN, 2006); on the other hand, on a state government level, neoliberal positions are undermining disability services and financial provisions in academic setting.
Disability is a very new topic in the Italian policy sociology of education. Despite a number of policies upholding the legal right to and equal and accessible education to all disabled students, disability in Italy is still discursively constructed as an individual problem, ‘as a consequence of defective or disordered individual pathology’ (Moore and Slee, 2012:228). A sociological, political, and social constructivist perspective on disability still struggles to gain ground and pedagogical approaches that situate the attention on the individual needs are still dictating the dominant discourses and approaches on disability issues in education.
The Italian Disability Studies are beginning to raise their voice (D’Alessio, 2011), drawing attention on the contextual, pedagogical and curricular factors that produce and reproduce disability in compulsory education. However, when it comes to explore disability in higher education, sociological approaches are scant (Ferrucci, 2004; Masiello, 2015), not to mention research from a post-structural perspective.
With my paper, I want to start filling this gap, investigating disability from a sociological and discursive account. In order to do this, I focus on a specific situation, the entrance exam that students are asked to take to enrol at university in some departments. Analysing the encroachment and enactment of policies that regulate the access to university studies, I problematize disability not as something disabled students have to overcome, to compensate or rehabilitate from; but as a discursive formation that finds its truth in local and contingent knowledge, expertise, and power relations, constituted by practices that do not comply with a given and disciplined norm.
Framed within studies on governmentality (Burchell et al. 1991), Critical Disability Studies (Goodley, 2013; Campbell, 2009; Tremain, 2001) and policy sociology in education (Ball et al., 2012), with my paper I seek to find alternative solutions to processes of exclusion of disabled students in higher education. Rather than appealing to pre-wrapped epistemological approaches in studying disability and higher education (Riddell, et al. 2005; Beauchamp-Pryor, 2013), which consider disability as an already objectified subject of research, my study takes an ontological stance on it, exploring the how power relations actively produce disability and disabled students as respectively object and subjects of policy and practices in the everyday academic routine. In order to do this therefore I ask myself: what is the disabled student today? How is disability governed in Italian higher education and how do disabled student govern themselves as such? By focussing on the event of the entrance exam, I aim to begin to address these questions and sparkle discussion on the issue.
To research disability in higher education, the paper takes an analytical approach that operationalizes Foucauldian methods into an ethnographic setting in Italy, providing a detailed present unfolding of the materialist and contextualised object of disability. However, my intent is not to carry out a Foucauldian critical discourse analysis such as scholars in the field already attempted (Grue, 2015). With my paper, genealogical and archaeological methods are deployed to develop an original tool called disability dispositif (Foucault, 1980; Bussolini, 2010; Bailey 2013), which describes a permeable and fluid combination of discourses, subjectivities, policies and practices, institutions, legislative and philosophical disposition, feelings and behaviours, ‘which is both strategic and technical’ (Foucault, 2006, p.xxiii). It allows to investigate the coexistence of modernist and postmodernist processes, managing to merge the structural and institutional drivers with the subject agency and self-formation. The disability dispositif intends to become an analytical tool to investigate the history of the present of disability in academia, researching in details power enacted through the bodies of disabled students by collecting data from: (i) the university setting; (ii) programme and placement for further job opportunities; (iii) interviews with disabled students and disability personnel; (iv) analysis of public policy and discourse and regimes of practices about disability (Pillow, 2015; Ball, 2015b).
A genealogy of disability does not provide policy answers (cf. Pillow, 2015), nonetheless it can provide a unique ‘history of the present’ that narrates the government and self-government of disabled students as subjects of deficit and ableist practices. With my analytical investigation of the disability dispositif during the university entrance exam, I therefore show the generative power in the enactment of disability policies. The Foucauldian approach has been criticised for leading to a power impasse and to a subject passively constituted by discourses (Fraser, 1989). However, my paper proves that the disability dispositif has a concrete potential to become an innovative analytical tool to research the very historically and locally placed nature of disability, providing an effective platform for collecting data and assessing the present of disabled students in any higher education settings, connecting the ad hocery of truths with structural, although changeable, systemic features. Although disability appears as a homogenous concept on the surface, disability research necessarily needs to be contextual to be effective. For this reason, the disability dispositif as an analytical tool opens up for further research in different higher education settings. The analytical outcomes of my disability dispositif aim to address two intertwined drivers of change. First, by fighting the historically placed and fleeting power of individualising neoliberal practices, change can spring from disabled students rethinking what constitutes them as disabled. By refusing the ways in which they are spoken, students can rethink themselves as subjects of particular practices, retracing their own university experiences and practices and to start thinking about their subjectivities otherwise. Second, the dispositif intends to supply a ‘snap-shot’ on the present of disability practice in higher education, challenging the transient nature of truth and offering an evidence-based space to rethink policies to support disabled students educational access and attainment.
Bailey, P., (2013). The policy dispositif: historical formation and method. Journal of Education Policy, 28(6), 807-827. DOI: 10.1080/02680939.2013.782512 Ball, S.J., (2015a). Accounting for a sociological life: influences and experiences on the road from welfarism to neoliberalism, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 36:6, 817-831, DOI: 10.1080/01425692.2015.1050087 Ball, S.J., (2015b). What is policy? 21 years later: reflections on the possibilities of policy research, Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 36:3, 306-313, DOI: 10.1080/01596306.2015.1015279 Beauchamp-Pryor, K. (2013) Disabled Students in Welsh Higher Education: a framework for equality and inclusion. Rotterdam:SensePublications. Burchell, G.; Gordon, C.; Miller, P., (Eds.) (1991). The Foucault Effect. Studies in governmentality. Chicago:University of ChicagoPress. Bussolini, (2010). What is a Dispositive?. Foucault Studies, 10, pp. 85-107. Campbell, F. K., (2009). Contours of Ableism: Territories, Objects, Disability and Desire. London:PalgraveMacmillan. D’Alessio, S. (2011). Inclusive Education in Italy. A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Policy of Integrazione Scolastica. Rotterdam, New York, Taipei:SensePublisher. Ferrucci, F., (2004). La disabilita come relazione sociale. Gli approcci sociologici tra natura e cultura. Catanzaro:RubbettinoEditore. Foucault, M., (1984). What is Enlightenment?. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault Reader, New York:PantheonBooks, pp. 32-50. Foucault, M., (1977). Nietzesche, genealogy, history. In P. Rabinow (Ed.), The Foucault Reader, New York:PantheonBooks. Foucault, M., (1980). Power/Knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings 1972-1977. New York:Vintage Books. Foucault, M. (2006). Psychiatric Power: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1973-74. Basingstoke:PalgraveMacmillan. Fraser, N. (1989). Unruly Practices: power, discourse and gender in contemporary social theory. Cambridge:PolityPress. Goodley, D., (2013). Dis/entangling critical disability studies. Disability & Society, 28:5, 631-644, DOI: 10.1080/09687599.2012.717884 Grue, J. (2015). Disability and Discourse Analysis. Farnham:Ashgate Publishing Limited. Masiello, S., (2015). L’Università Inclusiva? In Quaderni di Sociologia [online], 69, 107-128. Retrivable at http://qds.revues.org/524 DOI: 10.4000/qds.524 last access 08.02.2017. Moore M., Slee, R., (2012). Disability Studies, Inclusive Education & Exclusion. In Routledge Handbook of Disability Studies. London:Routledge, pp. 225:239. Pillow, W. S., (2015). Embodying policy studies: Feminist genealogy as methodology. In K. N. Gulson, M. Clarke & E. Petersen (Eds.), pp. 203-226. Education policy and contemporary theory: Implications for research. London:Routledge. Riddell S.; Tinklin, T.; Wilson, A., (2005). Disabled students in higher education: perspectives on widening access and changing policy. London:Routledge. Tremain, S., (2001). On the Government of Disability. Social Theory and Practice, 27(4): 617-636. UNESCO, (2017). Education Transforms Lives. Paris:UNESCO Publishing. United Nations, (2006). Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. New York:United Nations.
00. Central Events (Keynotes, EERA-Panel, EERJ Round Table, Invited Sessions)
Network 1. Continuing Professional Development: Learning for Individuals, Leaders, and Organisations
Network 2. Vocational Education and Training (VETNET)
Network 3. Curriculum Innovation
Network 4. Inclusive Education
Network 5. Children and Youth at Risk and Urban Education
Network 6. Open Learning: Media, Environments and Cultures
Network 7. Social Justice and Intercultural Education
Network 8. Research on Health Education
Network 9. Assessment, Evaluation, Testing and Measurement
Network 10. Teacher Education Research
Network 11. Educational Effectiveness and Quality Assurance
Network 12. LISnet - Library and Information Science Network
Network 13. Philosophy of Education
Network 14. Communities, Families and Schooling in Educational Research
Network 15. Research Partnerships in Education
Network 16. ICT in Education and Training
Network 17. Histories of Education
Network 18. Research in Sport Pedagogy
Network 19. Ethnography
Network 20. Research in Innovative Intercultural Learning Environments
Network 22. Research in Higher Education
Network 23. Policy Studies and Politics of Education
Network 24. Mathematics Education Research
Network 25. Research on Children's Rights in Education
Network 26. Educational Leadership
Network 27. Didactics – Learning and Teaching
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