Discourses of widening participation and social inclusion
This thesis explores the relationship between policies and initiatives designed to widen participation in post-compulsory learning and notions of social inclusion. Whilst both widening participation and social inclusion can be viewed as distinct policy areas, the focus for this research are the links between the two, the impact that these links have on the development of specific education policy initiatives and what that means for those implicated in these initiatives. This thesis begins with an examination of the way in which notions of social exclusion, lifelong learning and widening participation are constructed in policy texts and practices. I argue that dominant discourses of social inclusion, which emphasise equality of opportunity brought about through participation in paid employment, lead to an under-valuing in policy terms of learning programmes that seek to promote the wider benefits of learning. I also argue, however, that the potential exists for practitioners and learners to resist and subvert these dominant discourses. Drawing on the work of Bacchi (2002) I highlight how, through theorising the ‘spaces for challenge’, analysts can examine processes of micromanipulation – the unique ways in which marginalised people or groups raise problems or attempt to influence any agenda. Adopting a Foucauldian genealogical approach I explore the ways in which a specific widening participation initiative, that of Adult Learners’ Week (ALW), has been used by practitioners to both engage potential learners and influence Government policy. The range of data drawn on includes archive material relating to the ALW initiative; policy texts and documents; interviews with practitioners and learners involved with ALW and other widening participation initiatives; and, participant and non-participant observations of interactions between practitioners involved in planning for and delivering ALW. In this thesis I use the ALW themes of ‘Community, Culture and Citizenship’, ‘Equality and Diversity’ and ‘Skills for Life’ to explore examples of micromanipulation identified in the analysis of these data. This thesis concludes with reflections on the usefulness of adopting a genealogical approach and a discussion of the lessons that can be learned from the examples of micromanipulations discussed, including the challenges to widening participation that persist.