Saturday, 5 July 2008

Theorising Inclusion and the dogma of accessibility

On Wednesday 2nd July I attended a seminar hosted by the Southampton University School of Education and the BERA Inclusive Education Special Interest Group. The theme was theorising inclusion and the two speakers were Julie Allan and Roger Slee. Both talks gave me much food for thought in relation to my own research and practice.

Julie Allan's talk developed an argument that four philsophers of difference had the potential to rescue inclusion from the "spot of bother" it was in at the moment. The philsophers she chose to focus on were:

Deleuze & Guatarri- deterritorialization, rhizomic learning and difference
Foucault: practices of the self & transgression
Derrida: aporias & deconstruction

Rhizomic learning is offered as an alternative to the structured aboretal learning borne of rigid spaces. Rhizomic learning is about lines of flight rather than safe spaces. Learning through wandering produces maps rather than knowledge and what is learnt is unseen and unpredicted by us. In terms of inclusion, if such learning is encouraged then there will be less emphasis on marking learners out as different depending on what they do or don't know. Deterritorializing is about smoothing out rigid spaces ( Allan applied this concept to teacher education) by breaking rules. By asking questions that challenge thinking, that make you a foreigner in your own land. Allan gave an example by suggesting that rather than ask " what is inclusion?" we should ask "what does inclusion do?". Allan argues further that we don't need to refer to the groups we work in to gain approval or collective ownership of an idea, we just need to get on and do it (take a risk, be creative).

Aporias are two paths or two ways forward. Arguing against the dogma of inclusion that forces us to choose one path, Allan argues that inclusion is not about either/or; it is about also/and. There are times when it might be useful to hold two things in our mind (e.g deficit and social model re dyslexia). She argues that when we are forced to choose one path we can create injustices (e.g choosing which student to support over another). Derrida argued that we need to practice the art of deconstructing dogma- "reading a text twice"- looking behind a text (e.g inclusion policy) and seeing how it gets itself into trouble. Allan argued that we need to teach trainee teachers to see the undecidabilities of inclusion and how inlcusion texts close them down. Texts construct passive, dull and regulated teachers. This argument has real resonance for me when thinking about how accessibility guidelines closes down practice and how people fail to read the texts of "universal design" twice in order to see that it does not necessarily equate to a "one size fits all" approach to the provision of accessible technologies for disabled learners.

Allan then went on to use Foucault's notion of self practice or ethical work to arge that inclusion starts with ourselves- we are more in control of inclusion than we think we are and we need to make an analysis of where we are. She concluded by arguing that we can invent inclusion as something better than we've had before, but we need to re-frame inclusion as ethical and political. We should not be trying to pin inclusion down, but to open it up and out. This thing called inclusion won't come about through grand revolt, but through tiny ruptures which open up possibilities.

The audience discussion raised some interesting questions and issues:

  1. Is it dangerous to smooth out the spaces (i.e danger of blandness and sameness)? Julie responded by agreeing that difference is interesting and the danger is in fact in re-territorialization or re-inscribing.
  2. Does everyone have the credentials needed to cross the space?
  3. When student support services and others are required to construct a case for inclusion- this inevitably pathologises universities and students.
  4. Inclusion can be viewed as "tethering"- tethering people to particular streams of provision.

Roger Slee started off with an interesting metaphor in relation to "rescuing inclusion": Is it about throwing out the lifeboats of inclusion or draining the pool?

Roger agreed with Julie that inclusion starts with ourselves- examing our discomforts around inclusion.

Roger argued that inclusion was born in a particular moment in time (politicallly, culturally and historically). As it has travelled it has lost its insurrectionary force. Instead of insurrection we now get orhodoxy we now imposed thought and forced adherence. Inclusion has therefore lost its effectiveness. Inclusion therefore, is political. It is about who is in, who is out and who decides. The history of inclusion ought to be the subject of interrogation. When Roger said this, it reminded me of the archeology metaphor I used in my book when I argued that learning technologists needed to dig deeper into the history of accessibility in order to understand where approaches to accessibility were derived.

According to Roger, inclusive education is a series of related "projects" and separating them is dangerous. Inclusion is about policy work, research work and ground work. Separation of these projects allows us to do analytical work, but they are related.

Inclusive education is:

  • not about indicators of inclusion, but about recognising exclusion;
  • a political undertaking;
  • a cultural then technical undertaking;
  • about all students ;
  • straighforward and complex ;
  • a project designed to bother- it therefore is always going to run into resistance .

Finally, Roger concluded: we are not straight about inclusion being complex- it can't be boiled down to specific techniques or tools.

I wish I could say something really clever now about how these talks have influenced by thinking, but the truth is I can't. At the moment all I know is that my thinking has been influenced, but in what way I can't yet say. Watch this space though because I think I might be about to go on a rhizomic learning journey- reflecting on how these ideas might help me develop my thinking about the development of accessibility practices in higher education. I certainly believe the dogma of accessibility needs to be deconstructed.

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