04 SES 08 E, Delving into Inclusion: Research strategies and methodological options
Research Background, Aims and Theoretical Framework
This paper examines how the Intersectional Framework (Weber, 2001) can be used within educational research with vulnerable or minority families to research inclusively and reach an authentic portrayal of their experiences. Drawing on her qualitative study examining the experiences of British-Pakistani mothers of children with Special Educational Needs and/or Disability (SEND) of navigating special education system, the author employed the feminist Intersectional Framework to understand the intermeshed contexts which affect the mothers’ experiences. Garcia and Ortiz (2013) suggest that existing research presents a rather homogenised depiction of minorities, generally endorsing the view that professionals should acquire cultural competencies in order to interact with minority families. Disability research routinely eschews intersectional analysis, reinforcing a ‘White disability experience’ (Thompson, 2016) which is unrepresentative of ethnic minority experiences. This paper supports Garcia and Ortiz’s stance on the need to apply an intersectional lens to researching with minority/diverse families, in the author’s case, the British-Pakistani community’s experiences of supporting their child with SEND.
Crenshaw’s (1991) landmark study on intersectionality posited that, combating the social injustice faced by women with hybrid identities was only possible if we understand their experiences of social inequality, which were constructed by an intersection of race, gender and class. Weber (2001) subsequently adapted intersectionality into a theoretical framework, which the author’s current study employed to examine maternal agency. The author wanted to comprehensively explore the heterogeneous nature of South Asian maternal experiences of their children’s SEND, acknowledging that these mothers hold fluid identities which have been formed via interwoven social divisions which have marginalised them from mainstream society. Weber’s framework (2001, p.4) delineates five interrelated themed social divisions which the author’s current study also examined, namely: Historically and Geographically/Globally Contextual; Socially Constructed; Power Relationships; Macro/Social Structural and Micro/Social Psychological Levels; and Simultaneously Expressed. This framework posits that social divisions/categories are in a constant state of flux, interacting with the actors and influencing their positioning (Staunces, 2003).
Weber’s intersectional approach, similarly to Crenshaw and Collins, proposes that social divisions are simultaneously expressed, whereby actors may occupy dominant positions within one experience and a subordinate position in another. This offers hope that oppressed groups may not be oppressed in all aspects of their lives, and in recognising how existing social divisions create disadvantage, they can advocate for a more equitable position. For instance, Runswick-Cole (2008) found parents challenged school placement decisions, their children’s support, and appealed the LAs refusal of Statements to SENDisT. However, Runswick-Cole (2008) suggests greater consciousness is required about one’s identity and oppressive structures restricting one’s freedom for resistance to develop. The methodological consequence of applying this framework is that it creates space for participants to become reflexive and realise their agency in bringing about positive changes to their everyday lives. Once parents realise how their multiple positionings and decisions have resulted in their present situation, more liberating experiences can emerge.
Methodology This research was a qualitative research grounded in feminist research methods. I incorporated feminist values of respect, reciprocity, empathy, and engagement within my methodology to improve and strengthen my critical stance. I chose my research methods with a view to reducing the asymmetric power between myself and my participants, and to enable my participants to discuss those experiences that have previously been excluded from academic discourse. I utilised a combination of unstructured time-line interviews, semi-structured interviews, and vignettes within my research to probe how mothers navigated the SEN system within Britain, and their day-to-day experiences of supporting their child. Data collected from unstructured interviews informed subsequent semi-structured interviews and vignettes. Unstructured interviews enable interviewees to describe their account of events, how they prioritised certain events (Kvale and Brinkmann, 2009), providing insights into participants’ thought processes. Interviewing has been widely used within qualitative research, addressing ‘how’ and ‘why’ participants understand their lived experiences. Presenting participants with vignettes which resemble their own experiences also provided a neutral space for reflection without making participants uncomfortable (Spalding and Phillips, 2007). The data collection period lasted six months, incorporating over 50 hours of interviews. Each participant was interviewed three times allowing me sufficient time to connect with my participants; after data collection ended, I maintained contact with those mothers who wanted to stay in touch. Moreover, throughout my research journey my supervisors constantly performed peer debriefing, checking where my interpretations needed clarification. The use of research diaries, transcripts and field notes also maintained corroboration with my participants’ accounts, and checking for internal discrepancies within interviews also aided research credibility.
The author utilised Weber’s (2001) Intersectional Framework to reinforce her feminist stance within her methodology, and to examine maternal experiences that are situated within simultaneously-occurring contexts that had hitherto been overlooked within literature. This was a challenging undertaking because there are no guidelines regarding how this framework can be applied to qualitative research. The only other qualitative study to apply Weber’s (2001) Intersectional Framework was Björnsdóttir and Traustadottir’s (2010) Icelandic study, which had used life histories to explore how disabled people experienced disability within a wider context of social inequalities; their data analysis had been driven by Weber’s (2001) five categories of social divisions. However, as opposed to imposing the Intersectional Framework onto her research data, the author used Weber’s Framework to better understand how the researcher can research mothering within a minority context. This was difficult to depict in a linear manner throughout the research process, however, the entire research process was arguably underpinned by an Intersectional lens. The author utilised the Intersectional Framework to challenge negative stereotypes about British-Pakistani mothers as passive participants in their child’s special educational experiences, because the mothers actively reconstructed their own narratives, revealing positionings which enabled their experiences and social divisions which disempowered them. The mothers also reported wanting equal access for their daughters as well as their sons to education and employment opportunities. Nonetheless, some mothers did highlight how their placement decisions had been unreasonably influenced by patriarchy from their extended family. Despite this patriarchy, the author posits that ultimately the mothers in her study acted as “agents of change” (Bhatti 1999, 86) for their children with SEND, by challenging traditional family decision-making and patriarchal decision-makers.
Bhatti, G. (1999). Asian children at home and at school: An ethnographic study. London: Routledge Björnsdóttir, K. & Traustadottir, R. (2010). Stuck in the land of disability? The intersection of learning difficulties, class, gender and religion. Disability & Society, 25(1), 49-62 Crenshaw, K. W. (1991). Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics,and Violence Against Women of Color. Stanford Law Review, 43 (6), 1241 – 1299 Garcia, S. B., & Ortiz, A. A. (2013). Intersectionality as a framework for transformative research in special education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners,13(2), 32–47 Staunces, Dorothy. (2003). Where Have all the Subjects Gone? Bringing Together the Concepts of Intersectionality and Subjectification. NORA, 2(11),101-110. Thompson, V. (2016). Why is Disability Representation So White? #DisabilityTooWhite. Available online at: http://www.ablehere.com/media-gallery/333-why-is-disability-representation-so-white-disabilitytoowhite-cc.html Weber, L. (2001). Understanding race, class, gender and sexuality: A conceptual framework. Boston: McGraw Hill
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