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‘Learning difficulties’ and the academy: a case study

Kikabhai, Navin (2014) ‘Learning difficulties’ and the academy: a case study. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis is a critical investigation of the issues around the exclusion of individuals described as having ‘learning difficulties’ from higher education participation. As a qualitative inquiry it is situated within a ‘real life’ contemporary, interpretive and rapidly changing context. Using a postmodernist conceptual framework it draws upon the work of Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari. Adopting a case study approach, it explores the insights and experiences of a group of individuals who attempted to develop an undergraduate degree programme in the performing arts. Using one-to-one interviews, focus-group interviews and participant observations, its principal findings relate to a range of exclusionary barriers; these being attitudinal, cultural, educational, employment, financial and modern higher education. Its contribution is to (critical) disability studies, research and a critique of ‘learning difficulties’. Its postmodernist framework offers a theoretical map, insights into discourses of power/knowledge, and makes transparent the competing and contradictory discursive practices, challenging dualism and tree like structures. It concludes, suggesting that ‘learning difficulties’ is a constructed and re-constructed discourse. Its relationship with higher education is a feature of modern times, which comes to light in the turn to postmodernism. It rejects understandings of ‘learning difficulties’ that have taken-on ‘beliefs’, ‘realities’, ‘practices’ and ‘truths’ associated with ‘deficit’, ‘personal tragedy’, and ‘abnormality’. Moreover, individuals labelled as having ‘learning difficulties’, despite the rhetoric of ‘widening participation’, are intentionally positioned, and beset by barriers, and silenced, and excluded from degree level participation. Therefore, it calls for a radical re-think of the notion of ‘learning difficulties’, segregated provision, access to employment in theatre, associated HE policy and legislation, and to critical questions of modern higher education participation.

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