Much work in the field of social policy tends to ignore issues of identity, assuming that individuals experience particular social policy regimes in very similar ways. This idea has been subject to criticism by writers such as Hughes (1998), Hughes and Lewis (1998) and Saraga (1998), who maintain that social welfare is experienced differently by different individuals and groups. The implication of these ideas is that future welfare regimes must deliver services which accommodate, rather than curb, individual difference, whilst retaining some notion of collective entitlement. Within recent sociological theory, on the other hand, there has been a focus on individualism and difference, to the extent that the power of structural forces has often been underplayed. Within postmodernity, the self is construed as performative and reflexive, constantly defined and redefined in varying social contexts. Writers like Beck (1992), Beck, Giddens and Lash (1994) and Lash and Urry (1993) emphasise the ability of the individual to self-define through patterns of consumption, thus bypassing the forces of social determination.
This chapter explores the impact of specific regimes of procedural justice on the identities of parents and professionals in the field of special educational needs (SEN). Having outlined some of the key differences in models of procedural justice at national levels, case studies are used to examine the ways in which different regimes of procedural justice are experienced and negotiated at local authority level by parents and professionals. The chapter aims to illustrate the high level of complexity within policy systems. Whilst broad differences may be identified between approaches to special needs policy (and education policy) in Scotland and England, parents and professionals at local authority level respond differently, exploiting the range of trade-offs between competing policy frameworks to negotiate a range of identities. It is argued that such an analysis enables us to combine understandings from sociology and social policy Individuals negotiate identity with significant others within contexts which are not entirely determined by overarching external forces, but at the same time allow only a certain amount of room for individual negotiation.