04 SES 08 B, Diversity and Its Discontents: Challenges of inclusive education policy and practice in Europe
Dealing with differences is a central question in inclusive education, as it aims at ensuring that everyone can obtain a good quality education by removing barriers to learning and participation in school (Spratt, Florian, 2015; Booth, Ainscow, 2011). However, learner diversity is nowadays subject to the pressure towards increasing pathologization that contributes to the students’ marginalization and exclusion by means of two processes: immunization and burnout. As in the medical practice of vaccinating, immunization introduces within the organism a minor diseaseto protect it from a major, presumedly lethal, disorder. Difference is seen as a danger that can be kept under control through identification, fragmentation, and partial incorporation (Esposito, 2011). Accordingly, school welcomes SEN - classifying and assimilating students as dividuals - to limit unconditional diversity that students as individuals implies. Conversely, burnout is the process of assuming and multiplying diversity by endless repetition, so as to achieve a permanent condition of overproduction and inflation that erodes the creative meaning of differences (Han, 2015). As an autoimmune disease, a devalued form of diversity - measured, ranked, and strictly linked to the notion of achievement - is incessantly advertised and reproduced, leading to oversaturation that intoxicates the system from inside. Similarly, the pervasive stress on a mono-dimensional view of diversity as competition has spread the current epidemic of keywords as “ranking” or “excellence” in school, whose excess triggers a condition of constant fibrillation and exhaustion, diverting attention and resources from promoting inclusive education (Tomlinson, 2012). Both processes - immunization and burnout - can be seen as sociocultural devices (“dispositives”, “assemblages”) that hinder inclusion by manipulating educational subjects (Deleuze, 1990; Foucault, 2002). They createnew forms of subjectification that are both vague (as identification is based on blurred labels as SEN or “excellence”) and precise (classifying students according to those labels has tangible consequences on their life).
Recently Allan and Youdell (2015), following Derrida (1994), analysed these dynamics of subjectification in terms of “ghosting” - the act of “actively erasing a person or thing, while creating an impression of its continued presence” - as a way of critically examining the SEND Code of Practice introduced in UK. In the same vein, we propose to examine SEN practices through the category of zombie. A long-lasting and successful genre in the popular culture, zombie has lately become a subject of interest in social sciences (Lauro & Embry, 2008; Drezner, 2014; Browning et al., 2016; Giroux, 2011). As a conceptual framework, it helps shed light on the way barriers to learning and participation are built on the notion of difference as liminality. Similar to ghosts, zombies are entities suspended between life and death. However, while ghosts are immaterial - souls without body that beg for being exorcised - zombie are substantial: they are bodies without soul, whose sole purpose is assaulting humans to produce even more zombies. Therefore, zombies are essentially a habit, a repetition pattern that proliferates by establishing a standard that systematically eliminates difference (Deleuze,1994). When personality is reduced to the basic impulse of furiously assimilating other humans, none is safe from the risk of becoming a zombie. Moreover, zombies cannot be freed or persuaded to negotiate, but only killed (although, paradoxically, their undead condition makes this very difficult). As a consequence, we reaffirm our humanity by creating and executing zombies as a form of “bare life”, i.e. as an exception that allows us to confirm the social order according to the principle of the “inclusive exclusion” (Agamben, 1998).
We will use the critical lens of zombie studies to analyse the guidelines on SEN policies recently issued in four European countries.
Investigation was developed by means of critical discourse analysis. Critical discourse analysis (CDA) aims to explore the relationships between discursive practices and texts, linking them to the wider background of social and cultural structures, relations, and processes. As such, it helps describe, interpret, and explain power relationships between language and social configurations (Hart & Cap, 2014; Rogers, 2011). Differently from other discourse analysis methods, CDA offers not only a description and interpretation, but also includes an explanation of why and how hidden power relations are embedded in the construction and representation of the educational field through discourse. We applied CDA to a corpus related to the topic of SEN, which comprised documents as official guidelines and guidance issued by the national Ministry of Education in four European countries (France, Italy, Spain, and UK) between 2006 and 2017. Moreover, we examined transnational reports on SEN prepared by the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education during the same length of time. Collected texts were subsequently analysed through an examination of the following aspects (Fairclough, 2001): - whole text organisation (narrative and argumentative structure); - clause combination; - grammatical and semantic features (transitivity, action, voice, mood, modality); and - words (e.g. vocabulary, collocations, use of metaphors). Evidences emerging from the CDA analysis were then coded through Atlas.ti© in order to compare data and highlight commonalities and differences. This led to identify categories that were used to develop a cross-country analysis of the national approach to SEN policies across the four countries. Research findings were validated by verifying inter-rater reliability (k=0.85), as well as through the triangulation of information sources, including the EASDNE reports. Emerging themes provided by the study were examined to find common trends to be discussed in relation with the zombie paradigm previously described.
The evolution of national approaches to SEN is not linear nor homogeneous, as it reflects the different social and cultural environment of each country. However, critical discourse analysis of national guidelines helps to outline some shared, recurring themes that can be acknowledged as emerging trends of SEN policies across France, Italy, Spain, and UK. Interpreted through the conceptual framework of zombie studies, those trends highlight some important questions: - Immunization strategies applied to SEN support a deficit view of school children, whereas burnout strategies generate a surplus perspective, according to which some students "exceed" school standards as they suffer from saturating conditions as e.g. ADHD, ODD, or autism; - While immunization produces educational zombies (children are accepted as far as they are identified with their deficit), burnout produces educational zombing, i.e. a pervasive practice through which anyone can be discarded as potentially defective. The two processes are interdependent; - Zombie students are the "majority exception" that the educational system requires to support the current myth of excellence, which acknowledges only a small number of students as valuable. Accordingly, exclusion is created both through under-inclusion (stigmatisation of diversity) and super-inclusion (oversaturation and devaluation of diversity). Implications and limitations of these findings in relation with the current debate on inclusive education policies and practices in Europe, as well as possible directions for further investigation in this field will be discussed during the presentation.
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