Discourses of inclusion: a critique

L. Dunne

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Inclusion is now an accepted part of schooling in the UK. This paper presents aspects of a doctoral research study that critically considered prevailing discourses of inclusion in education. The study was concerned with how inclusion presents itself to the social world and with how meanings and discourses of inclusion (as a body of knowledge) are acquired, legitimized and re-produced. One of the aims of the study was to take the seemingly self-evident object of inclusion and to deconstruct and question it, both as a potentially normalizing, hegemonic discourse and as a universalizing concept. A multi-method research approach was adopted to address the questions: how is the contemporary discourse of inclusion configured and what are its characteristics? What might be the potential effects of this discourse? A range of educationalists, including teachers, teaching assistants, and lecturers engaged in professional development programmes were invited to give their views and interpretation of ‘inclusion’ in written form, via an online discussion board facility, or orally, and also as a visual representation in the form of a drawing that was then discussed. The multi-textual responses were analysed thematically and interpreted. Within the data, the phrases ‘special educational needs child’ and ‘the included child’ were frequently used interchangeably. The interpretations of inclusion that were given were, more often than not, restricted to a neo-traditional special needs discursive framework. This study suggests that the discourse of inclusion continues to rely on neotraditional special educational knowledge. Although there may be different language and terminology, traditionalist systems and practices that potentially limit ways of thinking and talking about difference, appear to prevail. In some instances, the discourses accorded with inclusive policy. For example, a prevailing discourse of ‘meeting needs’ and ‘keeping children safe’ was concordant with the Every Child Matters (DfES, 2003) policy agenda; affirming Ball’s (1997) notion of policy as practice. Drawing upon Foucault’s notion of discourse as practice, this paper makes tentative suggestions about the effects that certain prevalent and newly emergent discourses might have upon pupils; especially upon pupils who are caught within a deficit discourse; assigned particular labels; marked out as ‘at risk’ or ‘vulnerable’, or who are subject to particularly subtle discursive process of ‘othering’.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2008
EventBritish Educational Research Association (BERA) Conference - Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 3 Sept 20086 Sept 2008


ConferenceBritish Educational Research Association (BERA) Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


Dive into the research topics of 'Discourses of inclusion: a critique'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this