Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

"I Guess That the Greatest Freedom.": A Phenomenology of Spaces and Severe Multiple Disabilities

Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

"I Guess That the Greatest Freedom.": A Phenomenology of Spaces and Severe Multiple Disabilities

Article excerpt


Inclusivity is a wide concept that carries many nuances in the educational system (Qvortrup, 2012). The notion of inclusive education is universal and, in a number of countries, embraced as an ideology for the educational system (Standal & Rugseth, 2015). In this paper, we investigate lived experiences in segregated educational spaces adapted for students with severe and multiple disabilities. In order to explore the meaning of spatiality as phenomenological existentiality, we focus on movement as a possible hub of perception and expressiveness for the participants. To acknowledge their expressivity, we follow French phenomenologist Merleau-Ponty's emphasis on the moving body as purposefully active. Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of perception (1945/ 2014) therefore offers a framework for understanding disability as a total way of being. Yet, it is important to point out that not all bodies have equal possibilities to inhabit spaces that correspond to their point of departure, as the world has already taken shape around and for some bodies, thus leaving other bodies out of place.

Research projects including participants with severe and multiple disabilities have generally applied perspectives other than the phenomenological. Proceeding from a medical perspective, Mulholland and McNeill (1989), as also Foley, Harvey, Chun and Kim (2008), apply what are upheld as objective medical standards for measuring bodily reactions. Applying a behaviourist perspective, Lancioni, Bellini, Oliva, Singh, O'Reilly, and Sigafoos (2010) view behaviour in terms of cause and effect; and, adopting a social perspective, Ostlund (2015) focuses on educational organization as shaping students' participation. Accordingly, we find that, while a medical perspective views disability as impairment caused by inherent traits of individuals, a behaviourist perspective views disability as measurable behaviour deviating from a given norm, and a social perspective views disability as socially constructed. Due to the predominance of these approaches to disability, the subjective perspectives of those affected have tended to remain unexplored.

A paradigmatic shift occurred in childhood studies at the start of the twentieth century. While earlier research approached childhood as a transition to adulthood, more recent approaches regard childhood as a "fully fledged" state of being (Spord Borgen & Eriksen Ødegaard, 2015) in which children are independent actors in their own right (Ytterhus, Egilson, Traustadóttir, & Berg, 2015, p. 17). This stance is also upheld in contemporary childhood disability research, where Ytterhus, Egilson, Traustadóttir, and Berg (2015) criticise the traditional "narrow and limited" understanding of childhood and disability. While they thus suggest that future research should aim to foreground the perspectives of children and youth with disabilities, they nevertheless underline the importance of also including the perspectives of the children's significant others, particularly when children can neither speak nor articulate their points of view symbolically. In line, thus, with recent developments in disability research, the research question formulated for this study was as follows: What is the meaning of spatiality for students with severe multiple disabilities in the context of special needs education?

Spatiality: A Phenomenological Perspective on Space

Van Manen (1990/2012, 2014) describes spatiality as an existentiality that, in its different modalities, is part of every person's lifeworld. There is a difference between space as the objective presence of geometrical points, and spatiality as subjectively experienced space. Spaces might be geographically close, and yet they might be experienced as far away if, due to hindrances, they are difficult to approach (van Manen, 1990/2012).

In Geography of the Lifeworld (1979), Seamon looks at bonds between persons and places, recounting stories about how body-subjects experience spaces they inhabit in everyday life. …

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