Theories, Contexts, Practices: Traveling Alongside the Possibilities of ‘Inclusion’

aColumbia University
bUniversity of Duisburg-Essen, Germany

Reading Inclusion Divergently

ISBN: 978-1-80071-371-0, eISBN: 978-1-80071-370-3

ISSN: 1479-3636

Publication date: 12 December 2022


This chapter lays out the conceptual foundations for this book. Grounded in the tradition of disability studies, the authors describe their orientation to ‘inclusion’ and the entangled institutions of general and special education. They explain their attachment to the many ‘articulations’ of inclusive practices rather than engage in discourses of ‘implementation’ which inadvertently divide world regions. In doing so, they briefly trace the evolution of inclusion as a global concept and its relation to conditions in different parts of the world. They subsequently offer an introduction to the different chapters in the book.



Naraian, S. and Amrhein, B. (2022), "Theories, Contexts, Practices: Traveling Alongside the Possibilities of ‘Inclusion’", Amrhein, B. and Naraian, S. (Ed.) Reading Inclusion Divergently (International Perspectives on Inclusive Education, Vol. 19), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 1-18.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023 by Emerald Publishing Limited

Around the world, inclusive education continues to remain entangled within ecologies of practice that have resulted in blurred meanings. Such meanings inevitably register varying degrees of (dis)connections with the institutions of general and special education. Not surprisingly, inclusion as an ideal and as an objective remains protected, contested, diluted, malleable, vulnerable, intractable and frequently, just plain rhetorical. As ideals and contexts move alongside each other in all their socio-economic, cultural and political complexity, many of us worry about how to negotiate understandings of inclusion and how to continue serving as its advocates. At a time when social inequities have been made more glaringly visible by the COVID-19 pandemic, we have to wonder who in the world benefits from our theories and why/why not? How can we as researchers recognise and work with/against conditions that move us and our participants in more inclusive directions? How do we ourselves remain enfolded within processes of change?

While this book does not claim to answer all these questions, we do see them as animating its purpose. We consider this book as an urgently needed and long overdue intervention into commonly prevalent discourses of inclusion that are premised on static conceptions. In particular, we want to be mindful of not presuming a unidirectional flow of knowledge about inclusion from the Global North to the South (Armstrong, Armstrong, & Spandagou, 2011; Walton). We cannot any longer ignore the fact, that the spread of inclusion is tied to multinational agreements and that many countries, particularly in the Global South, have been required to take it up in pre-determined ways (Marshall, 2012). We seek, therefore, to be cautious about Eurocentric assumptions within notions of inclusion and instead privilege the perspectives of local agents/agencies (Connell, 2007; Meekosha, 2011). By acknowledging the priorities within regional contexts embedded within development activity, the book hopes to expand understandings of inclusive processes across Northern/Southern contexts.

In pursuing our vision for this book, we sought to avoid a ‘tourist’ model of inquiry (Mohanty, 2013) whereby we document each country's experience as though they could be considered separately from other regions. Such a model isolates struggles and successes such that the interrelatedness between geographic regions remains obscured. We grow accustomed to inquiries into ‘inclusion’ in far corners of the world while still remaining enclosed within our own. The transnational processes that bind us at multiple levels are obscured in regional stories of inclusion that are nonetheless affixed to pregiven, static notions of inclusion. In seeking to avoid perpetuating that model, we encouraged our authors towards inquiries that illustrate the process of transitioning to inclusive practices such that inclusion is seen as an ongoing affair rather than as the pursuit of an abstract ideal. This means documenting the dilemmas and struggles within such efforts to better understand the significance of learnings that are produced therein and the new forms of difference that may be generated.

By recognising processes within diverse sociocultural contexts as significant to understanding inclusion, this book re-evaluates concepts, seeks new theoretical and methodological directions, and explores learnings from emergent cultural processes. We reject the uni-directional, linear conceptualisations of development implied in the term ‘implementation’ which posits some as transmitters of knowledge and others as passive receivers. In that regard, we question the phenomenon of an ‘implementation gap’ in inclusive education that has been used to characterise states of inclusion in various regions. A ‘gap’ theory serves to merely place some national contexts in competition with others producing hierarchies among those who are ‘ahead’ or ‘behind’ and between ‘good’ or ‘bad’ inclusive practices/models. The chapters in this book, therefore, are less likely offer up critiques of regional systems and policies to locate their shortcomings as much as review them to understand what else we might all learn about inclusion.

We had originally hoped to invite more southern-based researchers to contribute to this text in the hope of disrupting hierarchised epistemologies of inclusion. However, as it turned out, even as the geographic areas covered within this book span several continents, our authors themselves are mostly situated in Northern institutions, particularly in Germany. We do worry, along with others, about the dangers of colonialising perspectives of inclusion (Stienstra & Ngyuen). We also note that the proximity, in this case, to the German schooling system has afforded a unique to opportunity to those authors to examine the irreducibility of inclusive education to special education. The risk we take, therefore, is mitigated by our focus on inclusion as process rather than an abstract ideal. The authors in this text invite us, from wherever they are located, to consider the need for continually questioning the norms we take for granted that enclose the concept of inclusion and inhibit radical moves towards equitable practices.

1.1 Translating Ideals, Articulating Possibility

We are aware that for many scholars and practitioners alike, inclusion itself has been framed as a ‘disability’ issue, although many inclusive education researchers have advocated for a more expansive meaning that encompasses students from all historically marginalised groups (Ainscow, 2007). We understand inclusion to accommodate both these perspectives. We suggest that the concept of disability offers a more helpful lens to understand the experiences of all marginalised schooling communities because of the ideology of ability (Siebers, 2008) – and concomitant production of dis/ability – that structures most schooling systems remains widespread around the world today. We are able to then inspect the interweavings of ability and disability in local practice, while always leaving open to scrutiny the normalised practices within which dis/ability comes to take form.

Such interweavings are inevitably the product of divided systems of practice. In most countries special education remains unhappily bound with (or mis-recognised as) inclusive education even as general education may be minimally affected by legal and political developments related to the former. We see special education, at this historical juncture, as compulsorily embedded within the assemblages that deliver inclusion, even as we reject the former's fixed-ability, deficit-based orientation. Said differently, aspirations for inclusive education must explicate connections with special education. The ambiguity of this stance – these are, after all, divergent frames of coming to know learning and dis/ability – is not lost on us. We seek it intentionally. Our experiences as teachers, teacher-educators and researchers substantiate the futility of securing a purist location where the struggle lies only on one side of the border. We occupy the border ourselves and in risking the dangers of doing so, we follow Chicana feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldua – to remain at ‘the crossroads’ (1987, p. 102).

The divergent enactments of inclusion currently produced via negotiations between general and special education systems constitute an opportunity to demystify an arguably decontextualised ideal (Singal & Muthukrishna, 2014; Walton, 2018). Research tells us that inclusive schooling requires intentional shifts within and across multiple domains – cultural, political, socio-economic (Kozleski). The means and methods, therefore, by which inclusive schooling has been interpreted and enacted are inevitably characterised by diversity and struggle (Artiles, Kozleski, & Waitoller, 2011). While some regions seek to make educational policies more disability-inclusive (Carrington et al., 2017), others worry about restrictive opportunities for refugee and/or immigrant students (Gomolla & Radtke, 2009). Each particular category of learners deemed to show evidence of ‘special educational need’ – disabled, refugee, out-of-school, poor, migrant, immigrant – acquires salience within different national contexts through its entanglement in sociopolitical processes unique to that region.

To privilege the unpredictable ‘agentive manoueverings’ (Naraian & Schlessinger, 2018) within these processes on the ground and the myriad intertwined contextual specificities, we follow Stein, Andreotti, Bruce, and Suša (2016) to understand such efforts towards inclusion as ‘articulations’. Articulations may be relevant not only to understand contextual differences between nation-states, but differences within them. They refute notions of passive compliance to external norms implicit in notions of implementation to disclose, instead, the complex workings of agency across multiple planes. Local agents anywhere actively construct ‘foreign’ ideas to develop degrees of congruence with local beliefs and practices producing ‘a two-way dialogue involving the localization of universal ideas and universalizations of local normative and social frameworks’ (Acharya, 2018, p. 46).

Seeking ‘articulations’ of inclusion affirms the call by scholars in the Global South for a theory of translation, a ‘hermeneutics that makes it possible for the needs, aspirations and practices of a given culture to be understood by another’ (Tikly, 2004, p. 193). This is particularly relevant given that global commitments to address equitable education for children and youth – indeed, the very foundations of a global imaginary itself – remain embedded in histories of colonial expansionism that have left many nation-states economically and politically disadvantaged within the world order (Stein, 2017; Tikly, 2004). Indeed, scholars have argued that the intellectual traditions that underlie social science research have historically adopted colonialising perspectives and continue to do so today (Connell, 2007; Takayama, Sriprakash, & Connell, 2017). Therefore, rather than assess regional efforts towards inclusion against norms established in distant spaces, we are interested in the disclosure of processes of ‘vernacularisation’ that can account for the unequal locations of individuals and institutions who participate in the flow of ideas; the channels through which collective packages of ideas and discourses are communicated translocally; and, the negotiations that occur within and across nation-states (Levitt & Merry, 2009).

Such translations are themselves set against a backdrop of widespread neoliberal discourses which inform the rhetoric of policies stemming from national priorities and/or multinational agreements that represent disability in stereotypical ways (Dingo, 2007; McRuer, 2007). The inevitable danger that lurks alongside translations accomplished under these conditions, therefore, is that by engendering various ‘versions’ of inclusion, the struggle against exclusionary practices may inadvertently be domesticated, or at worst, ignored (Peters, Johnstone, & Ferguson, 2007). As teacher educators ourselves, we know that mitigating this risk calls for teachers to adopt a reflexive orientation towards their practice (Black-Hawkins & Amrhein, 2014; Lytle & Cochran-Smith, 1992). However, we also acknowledge that such practices of reflexivity can implicate other historically mediated regional processes such as the evolution of the disciplinary foundations of teacher education; reflexivity is itself a materially grounded phenomenon (Naraian, 2016). Without accounting for the lived experiences that take form within multiple overlapping social dimensions, the requirement for reflexivity can serve as a ‘posture of domination’ (Alarcon, 1991). Struggle, then, is inherent in any articulation of inclusion (Waitoller & Kozleski, 2013).

Why do we edit a book on the struggles of inclusion around the world? We want to understand how inclusion moves people, places and policies in various regions and what that can teach us about how to advance our goals for equitable schooling. Indeed, the movement of ideas, people and practices is implicit within the concept of inclusion itself (Ainscow, 2016; Booth, 2009; Köpfer, 2020). Still, the beguiling simplicity of the term ‘inclusion’ has posited global rhetoric against the complexities of actualising its localised production, delivering inclusion as a ‘wicked problem’, (Walton, 2017). To move beyond characterisations of inclusion as a problem, we think it is important to unravel this ‘wickedness’ such that our theories move alongside the unpredictability of material worlds.

1.2 Putting Our Concepts and Theories to Work Alongside Diverse Practices

We follow meanings of inclusion that have been derived from theorising within the field of disability studies (Gabel, 2002; Taylor, 2006). However, we know that inclusion, as a form of practice, does not always grow out of the insights from this work. While the distinction between ability-based inclusion and a more socioculturally derived notion has been put forth (Dudley-Marling & Burns, 2014), we are also interested in other ways that ‘practice’ intrudes on theories of inclusion. Certainly, this means recognising the very real challenges of enacting inclusion in regions with high levels of poverty, low rates of literacy, high population density and limited resources. However, we would also like to know about the demands the practical negotiation of such conditions place on our theories of inclusion. How can practice in regions, where the feasibility of major transformations of schooling is unlikely, act on theories of inclusion developed elsewhere and incorporated within multinational agreements?

In seeing the value of material determinants to our understandings of inclusion, we also want to acknowledge the materiality of intellectual inquiry itself (Hau, 2000) in the knowledge production of inclusion among unevenly resourced nations. For instance, the particular conditions of doing research including the reward and compensation structures in higher education, academic responsibilities, proximity to students, accessibility to journals and databases, and state/federal accountability mandates all index the material context in which inclusive education develops as a theoretical construct (Naraian, 2016). As researchers located within Northern institutions, we understand that our inquiries have formed with(in) the unique set of affordances and constraints made available therein.

1.2.1 Our Arrival at Articulations of Inclusion

As co-editors, we have traversed different scholarly (and teacherly) journeys to arrive at this juncture. I, Bettina, would describe my journey toward articulations of inclusion as a very long one that has occurred predominantly within the German education system. For me, this process divides into five formative stages. My own school years (1), my training as a teacher (2), my 10 years of work as a teacher in so-called inclusive classes in the German school system (3) my now over 12 years of work as an inclusion researcher and educational scientist (4), and for the last 5 years or so my teaching and research activities internationally.

I grew up in the German education system of the 1980s, which was and is anything but inclusive. After only four years of common elementary school, children and adolescents are divided into three different types of schools at the age of 9. This practice of streaming is deeply rooted in the German education system and it is not too pessimistic to claim that the widespread school practice of ability labelling will dissolve in the near future. However, since I was one of the students who, with great personal effort, apparently unobtrusively made it through the system successfully, the massive educational inequities remained completely hidden from me during this first phase (1). (2) These also did not become clear to me in the second phase of my approach to articulations of inclusion. As a prospective elementary school teacher, I had nothing to do with special education students in my studies. I also did not get much insight into the topic of learning disabilities, since special education teachers were being trained for this next door. The big awakening came in the third phase (3), in which I was paid to compensate for educational disadvantages as a teacher of a so-called inclusion class. However, I had not learned how to do this in the two previous phases. What followed was a ten-year phase of learning on the job with all the professional ups and downs one can imagine.

It was especially the lows that then let me dive into the fourth phase (4), in which I am currently still. I have now been researching professionalisation and school development processes for over a decade, predominantly in the German education system, which have been given the label of inclusion, especially since 2009. I dived into a fifth phase (5) about five years ago. When I got tired of the national discussion around the topic of inclusion, I started traveling to very different educational systems. What I immediately noticed was that the simplistic idea of implementing inclusion in different educational systems, as described above, especially in the direction from North to South, produced endless misunderstandings and therefore could not contribute to a mutual understanding of this educational idea. The opposite was observed. A few actors dominated the field here without even being aware of it.

I, Srikala, had already experienced a disability rights orientation to practice during my early years as a special educator with an NGO in Chennai, India, before I was certified to teach disabled students in US public schools. My subsequent gravitation to disability studies therefore seemed a logical progression from my initial encounters of inclusion through families of disabled students in Chennai. Disability theory tapped into the activist leanings that had been nurtured in me back then, even as it congealed my discomfort with existing practices in US schools. Still, my former experiences as a public school teacher and ‘direct service provider’, left me always lodged within the nexus of cherished ideals, school policies, and local practices that would continue to insert itself stubbornly within my subsequent attempts to theorise inclusion.

Most of my research inquiries have taken place within the US and in that regard, one may wonder about my suitability as a co-editor of a text centered on surfacing divergent understandings of inclusion around the world. Yet, it is precisely my epistemological position as a Northern-based researcher of Southern origin that complicates my attachments to the theories that have undergirded disability studies in education. For me, the plurality of epistemologies that disability studies scholars in education in the US and UK have argued for in debates with special educationists (Gallagher, 2006), extends beyond positivist-constructivist boundaries. My affiliation with a Southern context strongly suggested that the experiences of people in these regions bear epistemic significance for understanding inclusion. I have deliberately sought out theories including the writings of US Third World feminisms, critical realism, and posthumanisms that could conceptually ‘stretch’ my role as inquirer whether that was in the US, Germany or in India. In privileging learnings from practice to direct my theoretical explorations, I have shifted continually between ways of knowing that have undoubtedly evoked discomfort but have also been simultaneously generative.

1.2.2 Inclusion: Traveling Through Time, Place and Theory

Disability studies perspectives recognise disability not as an individualised deficit, but as a socially constructed phenomenon resulting from physical, cultural, social, and political barriers that impede the full participation of disabled individuals in society (citations). Inclusive education scholars working from this perspective regard efforts to identify and remediate learning differences in students as illustrating a ‘medical model’ approach that ignores the conditions within which such ‘differences’ were produced (Baglieri & Lalvani, 2020). In that regard, while recognising that the impactful Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994) still left many questions unanswered (Ainscow, Slee, & Best, 2019) we affirm one of the earliest formal meanings of inclusion within that document: ‘The fundamental principle of the inclusive school is that all children should learn together, wherever possible, regardless of any difficulties or differences they may have’ (UNESCO, 1994, p. 11). The aim of ‘inclusion’ has been upheld as increasing presence, participation and achievement within schools by eliminating barriers to education for all learners, particularly those affiliated with historically marginalised communities (Booth & Ainscow, 2011).

The structural re-organisation of schools called for by this resolution, while originating in a concern for disabled students, simultaneously served as an opportunity to actualise the goals of the global commitment to make education available to all children (Peters, 2007; UNESCO, 1990). Said differently, the concept of ‘inclusion’ as articulated in the Salamanca Statement could both reduce the numbers of out-of-school children and eliminate barriers for participation for many others, particularly children from historically marginalised communities, raising achievement levels for all children in the world. Indeed, recognising the urgency and relevance of inclusive schooling for achieving development goals in education, the most recent renewal of the global commitment to Education for All (EFA) initiated at the 1990 UNESCO Conference in Jomtien, has now come to place inclusive schooling at the center stage of its agenda (UNESCO, 1990, 1994, 2015, 2020).

Still, the complexities of enacting inclusion in various sociocultural contexts have not remained in sync with the expectations of the Salamanca Statement. Increasingly, researchers, particularly in the Global South, have questioned the wholesale application of models of inclusive schooling enshrined in the Salamanca Statement and the meanings of inclusion that predominate within inclusive education research (see for example, Grech, 2011; Karangwa, 2018; Kisanji, 1998; Rambla, Ferrer, Tarabini, & Verger, 2008; Urwick & Elliott, 2010; Walton, 2018). Some of these studies have also critiqued the concept of inclusion for its global ambition (Elder & Foley, 2015). Equally, the contributions of these nations to international conceptualisations of inclusion have not been widely recognised. Not surprisingly, there have been growing calls to re-calibrate understandings of inclusion and its theoretical groundings so that they can still be relevant in regions that bear little resemblance to the socio-economic and socio-political conditions of the North where much of the research in inclusive education has originated (Corcoran, Claiborne, & Whitburn, 2019; Messiou, 2017; Naraian, 2016).

As scholars within the disability studies tradition, we interpret the charge of inclusive schooling as interrogating normalcy and difference in schools such that multiple forms of abilities and disabilities may be valued (Danforth, 2014; Valle & Connor, 2019). We understand inclusive education as a democratic orientation to schooling that is premised on the capability of the educational environment to be hospitable to a range of diverse learners.

We subscribe to the curricular and instructional frameworks developed in the last few decades that can support teachers in creating hospitable classrooms for students with diverse learning profiles (see for e.g., Baglieri & Lalvani, 2020; Greenstein, 2015; Rose, Meyer, & Hitchcock, 2006). The adoption of these forms of pedagogies emerging largely from research in Northern contexts has also been encouraged and adopted in Southern nations (Biraimah, 2016; LeFanu, 2013; Walton, 2018). What remains less visible in research is how these pedagogies have been appropriated or transformed in the context of localised priorities and material conditions of enactment.

In recent decades, the field of disability studies has seen a renewed interest in materiality and embodiment that have disrupted the simple opposition of the medical and social models of disability (Siebers, 2008; Mitchell, Antebi, & Snyder, 2019). Even as researchers remain suspicious of a reliance of medicalised explanations, there is increasing acknowledgement of the variability of experience that call for complex explanations. Our search for more expansive transnational conceptualisations of inclusive education travels alongside these developments within disability studies. In particular, we draw impetus from calls within critical disability studies to acknowledge the ‘northerness’ of theorising that has constituted the field thus far (Meekosha, 2011). Concepts and aspirations in the field, these scholars argue, have been framed around concerns of the Global North and have little relation to the life experiences in other regions. The ‘northernness’ that marks such research results in universal claims, e.g., all experiences of inclusion or disability are knowable in the same way.

Recent research, however, tells us otherwise. For instance, the distinction between ‘disability’ and ‘impairment’ is foundational to the social model of disability that has informed global agreements on human rights as well as DSE scholarship on inclusive education (Sherry, 2014; Valle & Connor, 2019). Briefly, while ‘impairment’ registers biological experience, ‘disability’ signifies the effects of social oppression. Such distinctions, however, may remain epistemologically obscure to local populations in the Global South experiencing severely restrictive conditions of ‘social suffering’ brought on by disability that may themselves be attributable to colonialist projects (Meekosha, 2011). 1 Other distinctions such as the conflicting orientations of the ‘social model’ and the ‘medical model’ of disability which are considered self-evident in Northern contexts of inclusive practice, may have little relevance in Southern regions where, for instance, an affinity with the ‘medical model’ is seen as more progressive and modern than traditional practices (Kalyanpur, 2014).The slippage within such binary distinctions that informs regional productions of inclusion partly accounts for divergent interpretations of the scope of inclusive and special education. Many researchers have therefore argued that the intellectual tools deployed to analyze experiences in Southern regions continue to be closely aligned with the ‘metropole’ instead of reflecting the colonial histories of those regions (Connell, 2007, 2012; Goodley, Lawthom, Liddiard, & Runswick-Cole, 2019).

Addressing this imbalance is necessary if the struggle against ability-based practices must traverse the diversity of cultural practices globally. As Goodley et al. (2019) ask, ‘What really is the point of Anglo-American-centric disability theory when it has so little to say to anyone outside of these spaces of Empire?’ (p. 978). We admit that, given our own institutional preparations as researchers, working against this process is not easily accomplished. Still, we see this book as making efforts in this direction. Several of the chapters in this text have been written in collaboration with local research partners. Their co-authored reports and descriptive accounts privilege the complexities of inclusive practice. In other chapters, the authors have deliberately deployed their theoretical frames to account for complexity and contradiction, resisting pre-given static notions of inclusion. Collectively, we aspire to a theory that can accomplish ‘divergent’ readings of inclusion that subsume both the discourse of equity and the material conditions of its enactment anywhere.

We follow the theories of materiality have begun to take hold in the field of disability studies (Feely, 2016; Vandekinderen & Roets, 2016) and surface more directly in investigations of inclusion (Vandebussche & De Schauwer, 2018; Sjöberg, 2017). We have ourselves taken this up to understand what implications this can have for the ways we come to know inclusion (Naraian & Amrhein, 2020). Theories of materiality breathe vibrancy into all objects – human and non-human – such that ‘inclusion’ itself serves as an agent alongside other elements with which it co-evolves (Barad, 2007; Coole & Frost, 2010; Nayar, 2014). The de-centring of the human within such theories in favor of conceptualising concepts and phenomena as open-ended dynamic assemblages, permits explorations of inclusion that open it up in unpredictable ways. Explanations that converge towards predictable understandings of inclusion are no longer feasible. Instead, inclusion remains continually in flux as the objects (human and non-human) of inquiry remain relationally bound to each other. Rather than attaching intentionality to human actors, we look for the affective forces between them that make some elements within enactments of inclusion come to matter in specific ways at particular historical junctures (Fox & Allred, 2015).

Understanding articulations of inclusion alongside theories of assemblage imbricates the concept of intersectionality that is an imperative within contemporary social theory (Puar, 2012). We know that descriptions of inclusion are inevitably tethered to the interplay of racialised, gendered, classed and other identitarian dimensions that foreclose simplistic explanations (Sarkar, Mueller, & Forber-Pratt, 2022). Still, the purpose of investigating how practices, policies, discourses, actors and resources co-evolve within an inquiry into inclusion is not directed towards securing full and finalised representations of inclusion enactments. Rather, it evokes new trajectories of inquiry that might have remained unavailable otherwise (Naraian, 2020).

1.3 The Organisation of This Book

The book was stimulated by an international symposium and seminar on ‘Reading Inclusive Education Divergently: Between Official Discourses and Local Complexities’ that we organised at Bielefeld University/Germany and was funded by the Thyssen Foundation. We sought an expansive conversation by inviting German and international researchers from various disciplines: educational sciences, sociology, psychology or philosophy. The main purpose of the seminar was to collectively further our understandings of ‘inclusive education’ by sharpening focus on contextual specificities but without losing our commitments to its larger vision. Researchers from several countries including Germany, India, Japan, Rwanda, Nigeria and the USA participated. Rather than simply talking about translating solutions and practices generated in schooling systems from one country to another, we encouraged our invitees to engage in a deeper understanding of how local contexts inform the production of inclusive practices.

The coercive nature of multinational agreements notwithstanding, it has taken sustained and concerted advocacy for inclusive education to acquire a central place within the global educational agenda (UNESCO, 2020). As regional stakeholders continue to translate international principles, the original impulse to fight discrimination may be obscured in the subjection to official mandates. Keeping these in mind, the key questions we addressed during the symposium were as follows:

  1. What new forms of knowledge/practices are generated when local understandings, conditions and practices engage with pre-given (or globally circulating) meanings of inclusion?

  2. How is the network of social, political, cultural, and economic institutions constituted within local commitments to inclusion? What priorities, commitments, debates and struggles for equity are implicated within the local production of inclusion? Why are the political actors interested in adopting discourses centered on inclusive education?

  3. To what extent have the new politics of inclusive education given rise to transformed pedagogies and new ways of teaching and learning? Are there any changes in the lives of vulnerable children and their families?

Over two and a half days, participants shared and discussed their papers. There seemed an eagerness on the part of both seasoned and emerging scholars to participate in the space provided by these questions. The discussions they provoked formed the basis for the structure of this book which we have organised in three parts:

1.3.1 Part I: Understanding Inclusion via Struggles Around the World

The question that guides the writings in this section is: How is inclusion understood as a project for equity and social justice within varied constellations of political, legal, cultural and economic factors? Our purpose was to unequivocally register the commitments that have animated the conception of this book. Writing from specific geographic locations, the authors in this section collectively articulate the orientation of this book towards the values, approaches and considerations we take up in relation to inclusive education.

In his chapter ‘A world exposed: The plaintive plea for inclusion’ Roger Slee locates us during this time of disruption, uncertainty, and mounting threats to democracy, to reiterate the necessity for inclusion ‘at a time when we seem to be craving connection.’ Noting the singular conditions invoked by the pandemic, he offers four provocations to facilitate our critical awareness of the global response to it. He reminds us that the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare, and also intensified, the social and economic inequalities that undergird societies, making more vulnerable those who have already been disenfranchised. Yet, and this is important, it has also disclosed that change on a massive scale is possible. Indeed, as Slee argues persuasively, it is absolutely essential. He extends a call to the global community of educators for an authentic, rather than cosmetic, reform agenda that is preceded by a recognition of ableism as embedded within existing school systems.

Turning to the ubiquity of ‘diagnostic’ practices when considering students who struggle to learn, Michael Vogt and Til Newhaus challenge the presumed rationality of procedures they call SNAP (special needs assessment procedures) that are used world-wide as a mechanism for distributing children within schools. Describing them as ‘keyholes through which a political ideology can be observed’ they suggest that these procedures are steeped in cultural and historical conditions. They wonder about the ‘hidden motives, unarticulated intentions and latent referential frameworks’ that inform their usage and development. They are therefore mistrustful of its apparent administrative and pedagogical roles in schools. Understanding them as highly context-dependent instruments, Vogt and Neuhas call for an international cartography of SNAPs; they seek historical analyses that can arise from varied disciplinary foci, thereby subjecting them to deeper scrutiny.

In Chapter 3, Johannes Tschapka and Tri Nawangsari remind us that colonial legacies are inseparable from our discussions of schooling and inclusion. Drawing on Foucault, the authors undertake a genealogical critique to ‘desacralize the institutionalising of inclusive education in Indonesia’. They work with Foucauldian notions of heterotropia and heterochronia to trace connections between European social and colonialist histories, and post-independence educational policy in Indonesia that pursue forms of surveillance. Using classroom arrangement in a disability support centre in Surabaya, Indonesia, as point of departure, they show us, for example, that the ‘form of seating at school desks in its colonial form has not only been retained but has been integrated into the humanistic ideals of inclusive school classrooms of 2020’. Tschapka and Nawangsari argue for change in the ways we understand the workings of power within the educational sciences, in order to deepen how ‘inclusive’ education gets taken up in schools.

Noticing the absence of criticality within preparation for inclusive education, Julie Allan, in Chapter 4 invites to consider ‘new critical tools’ to advocate for social change. She offers us a quick generalised review of the history of the field of disability studies. She describes it as ‘a powerful force, enabling us to think and perceive differently and to do so “better” than we have hitherto done’. She then explores the field of disability arts, which restores embodiment to analyses of difference in ways that may be provocative, disruptive, empowering and joyful. By compelling the audience to examine themselves, it opens up new ways of coming to know disability. And finally, she accentuates the centrality of student perspectives in generating valuable insights into conditions of schooling. Collectively, they advance the importance of critique that can move schools and policymaking towards greater equity.

1.3.2 Part II: Critical Interrogation of Inclusive Practices in Local Contexts

In this section author contributions address the following questions: How is inclusion taken up within the confluence of global understandings and local priorities? The contributors in this section critically examine the articulations and emerging struggles within the area of inclusive education in regional contexts within Africa, Asia, America and Europe. Taking us into a post-conflict region in Sri Lanka, Tamara Handy invokes the concept of ‘disposability’ to interrogate processes within school systems that mark some students as worthy and others as undeserving. Drawing on findings from an institutional ethnography, she describes the ways teachers' evaluations of student (in)capability drew on intersecting judgments of class, caste and family structures demarcating some students as inherently unworthy of educational support and others as deserving protection. Teacher's discriminatory practices were enabled by schooling policies, ‘order-building technologies’ that authorised ability-based segregation. Any protections granted to some of these students were ‘precarious, and therefore volatile’ even as others remained deeply aware of the deliberate disparities in treatment towards them. Handy's study compels us to wonder about boundaries within visions of inclusive schooling and how they can extend our imagined conceptions of it.

Pursuing the thread of local translations, Eva Bulgrin explores regional intra-action in Benin, West Africa and how they affect processes of inclusion/exclusion. Conceptualising inclusion in relation to ‘the act of participating and exercising power in policy processes’ she takes up a post-development framework along with spatial analysis to offer a glimpse of uneven power relations between various entities. Participants in her study developed maps that illustrated the interplay of roles and influence between different groups of actors, which included head teachers as well as representatives of parents' associations and teacher unions at multiple levels of government. Tension between these levels both enhanced and diminished the legitimacy of schooling entities. Families experienced exclusion in local contexts despite their historically influential role in educational provision, while NGOs maintained a greater degree of influence. Bulgrin concludes that ‘the decentralisation policy favours the inclusion of government actors and the partial exclusion of civil society actors’.

Inquiring into the German education system, Bettina Amrhein illustrates ‘what happens when inclusion is implemented in a school system that seems to be poorly prepared for it’. She critiques the narrow interpretations of the UN-CRPD that emphasise joint schooling of students with and without disabilities or seek ‘additive measures’ for students with disabilities. Investigating the distribution of students within the German schools, Amrhein presents a highly a selective educational system that deliberately rewards some students while discriminating against others. She calls out on ‘misguided developments’ in interpretations of inclusion that reflect an expansion of special education rather than a paradigm shift in the structure of schools. Drawing on Fend's theory of recontextualisation, she illustrates the ways the system resists such a shift whereby local actors use the ‘existing functional logic’ of the system to re-purpose attempts at reform.

Extending the focus on general education provision, Evariste Karangwa interrogates education policies in post-genocide Rwanda that, he argues, have failed students with disabilities. Tracing cultural precedents to the concept of inclusion pre-existing within African educational contexts as well as the historical influences of colonial/missionary presence in the region, he presents the results of a study of that examined two schools identified by districts as the vanguard of good practice against the goals of the Ministry of Education. Karangwa illustrates that the situation on the ground falls far short of the latter's ambitious vision as lack of resources, misinformation, and inadequate preparation constrain progress. Questioning whether the reform policies have been accompanied by a ‘set of deliberate steps’, she argues that ‘transformation for improvement through education ought to be profound and not simply cosmetic, with systemic implications that strongly impact on targeted structures, inputs and processes’.

1.3.3 Part III: Methodological/Epistemological Commitments in Analysing Inclusive Education

The third section is dedicated to exploring issues of methodology/epistemology when researching for complex accountings of inclusive practices. We note that we emphasise researcher reflexivity as a necessary component of ethical research for inclusion. Authors in this section worked with the question: What ways of knowing human experience inform methodological decision-making in investigations of inclusion?

Michelle Proyer takes up the challenges of undertaking participatory research in inclusive educations across national and cultural borders. She digs unflinchingly into the intricate layers within ‘the triangle of transnational/transcultural research collaboration, participatory research approaches, and inclusive education’. Drawing on her collaboration with Thai researchers, she describes the painstaking process of developing shared understanding of the aims of the research. Collaborative research with international partners, she argues, not only surfaces minoritised perspectives, it allows opportunities for ‘communally decoding meaning’ that can facilitate international efforts. it As efforts to produce a shared language of disability were unsuccessful she notes that ‘accepting the fact that some of the concepts will remain fuzzy was an important learning experience’. She concludes that adopting ‘readiness to engage, openness to approach, and interest to learn’ are necessary qualities doing for collaborative research in inclusive education.

Resienbauer and Kleinen tackle the notion of ‘context’ within qualitative approaches to researching inclusion, specifically in relation to interpreting data. Drawing from research projects that took up ethnography and the documentary method respectively, they illustrate a reconstructive approach to analyzing data excerpts from teacher narratives that can be sensitive to context. They follow with a discussion on three aspects that are relevant for the qualitative analyses of data from differing world regions: the limited abilities of researchers to access context in its full complexity, the problem of reification of differences in conceptualising research, and strategies of comparison during the process of data analysis. They argue that ‘joint interpretation of data is crucial in order to assure that the reconstructions of the research participants' perspectives have relevance for the particular local context’.

Pursuing the focus on reconstructive approaches in inclusive education Benjamin Badstieber, Julia Gasterstädt and Andreas Köpfer further explore the challenges of normativity and reification in inclusive education research. They identify the origins of these challenges within understandings of inclusion that can be differentiated according to presumed categories of students served and the structural conditions that are/are not addressed. Arguing that current research in inclusive education fails to adequately ‘highlight processes and ambivalences in the methodological approach to the research object’, they posit that such research demands a process of transformation not only from participants, but from the researchers themselves. They show us that reconstructive approaches to inquiry engage with normativity at different levels enabling researchers ‘to gain insight into processes of constructing categories in order to understand the complexity and situatedness of categories and their processes of abstraction’.

Finally, Srikala Naraian ventures into posthumanist thought as an influential body of work to examine the epistemological/ontological commitments to inclusive education. Her aim is ‘not to disavow the human status of disability, but to draw a closer attention to the more-than-human character of experience’ when researching inclusive education and teacher preparation for inclusion. After tracing the connections between posthumanism and disability studies, she reviews the methodological orientations within a disability studies informed inclusive education. She subsequently describes the possibilities, questions and challenges evoked by a posthumanist orientation to inclusive education research by drawing upon her own research with teachers. She notes that this approach ‘affirms meanings of inclusion as always unpredictable, and as materializing contingently within varied material-discursive arrangements’.

We conclude with our final thoughts on the journey stimulated by this book.



Within disability studies generally, ‘suffering’ is equated with notions of personal tragedy which promote individualised and medicalised understandings of disability that are considered antithetical to the social model of disability (Siebers, 2008).


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Theories, Contexts, Practices: Traveling Alongside the Possibilities of ‘Inclusion’
Part I Understanding Inclusion via Struggles Around the World
A World Exposed: A Plaintive Plea for Inclusion
Historical and International-Comparative Perspectives on Special Needs Assessment Procedures – Current Findings and Potentials for Future Research
Genealogical Critique of Institutionalising ‘Inclusive Education’ in Indonesia
Disability Studies, Disability Arts and Students' Perspectives: New Critical Tools for Inclusive Education
Part II Critical Interrogation of Inclusive Practices in Local Contexts
Incessant Agitations: Inclusive Education and the Politics of Disposability
Inclusion and Exclusion in Local Governance: A Post-Development and Spatial Perspective on a Field Study from Benin
The Struggle for the Power of Interpretation of Inclusive Education in Germany – Multi-Level Theoretical Considerations
Stifled or Loosened Course of Inclusive Education in Rwanda: Interrogating Policy and Practice in Africa
Part III Methodological/Epistemological Commitments in Analyzing Inclusive Education Processes and Practice
Establishing and Maintaining Participatory Elements in Transnational and Cultural Research Collaboration on Inclusive Education
The Notion of Context in International Research on Inclusive Teaching Practices: Perspectives Derived from Reconstructive Research Approaches
Reconstructive Approaches in Inclusive Education: Methodological Challenges of Normativity and Reification in International Inclusion Research
Stimulating Methodological Innovations in Researching Inclusion: Posthumanism and Disability
Part IV Conclusion
Staying Mindful, Moving With (Un)certainty