Student identity work and the micro/politics of 'special educational needs' in a girls' comprehensive school
This thesis is an account of an ethnographic study of the meanings and practices around what has come to be known as 'special educational needs' (SEN) in a girls' comprehensive school in London. Using a feminist post-structuralist approach, I look at how specific students, formally identified as having SEN, use these meanings and practices in the process of making sense of themselves as school students: a process I call 'identity work' . I discuss how this complex process is nuanced by multiple axes of difference, including gender/sexuality, social class, ethnicity, religion and physical appearance. I argue that the identity work of the girls and young women takes place within a policy, micropolitical and microcultural context that positions them as 'intellectually subordinated'. Current educational policy and school micropolitics work together to construct a micro/political contradiction. On the one hand, the competitive standards agenda privileges a dominant discourse of normative success based on examination results that are largely inaccessible to the participants of this research. On the other hand, the drive towards 'inclusion' appears to require other kinds of values, producing what I argue is a consolation, or deficit, discourse of success. Student microcultures, and student identity work, are produced in relation to this contradiction. This thesis suggests that current rhetoric and reforms associated with 'inclusive education' have acted to complexify, but not necessarily to ameliorate, the intellectual subordination of the 'special needs student'. I use participant observation and interviews, augmented by reflexive and interactive methods, to think with the girls and young women about their experiences of schooling, and about their understandings of themselves as school students. I also use this data, and my analysis of it, to examine the current limits of a feminist poststructural approach, and to suggest possible directions for further theoretical work.