Julie Allan, Sally Brown and Sheila Riddell
We have reached a crisis in special education where theorising has at best proved inadequate for understanding individuals' experiences and at worst has been alienating because it has made them, not participating subjects, but objects upon which research is done. Researchers seem unable to shake off the 'methodological individualism' inherent in positivist social research (Oliver, 1992a:107) and consequently, there have been many calls over the last fifteen years or so for research in special education which is more sensitive to the experience of learning difficulties (Schindele, 1985; Clough and Barton, 1995).
In this chapter we examine two main strands of theorising about special educational needs and disability-social constructionist and social creationist perspectives-and question their contribution to understanding the experiences of disabled people. We also consider how current market-led educational policies have reinforced individualistic, rather than social, theoretical models. Our sense of 'theoretical crisis' is fuelled by objections from disabled people to researchers' alienating practices. It is clear that researchers need to establish theoretical perspectives which do more than pay lip service to the involvement of disabled people and must, as Oliver (1992a) contends, change the social relations of research production. We offer an alternative perspective for theorising children's experiences of special education provision, which uses Foucault's 'box of tools' (Foucault, 1977a:205) to analyse discourses, and, finally, we explore the implications of an approach of this kind for research and practice in special education.
Two polarised models have tended to predominate theorising within special education and disability. An individualistic model attributes difficulties to within child factors and has tended to be associated with medical and charity