Children's embodied social capital and (dis)ability: connecting micro- and macro- scales of exclusion/inclusion

Project summary

The research explores how broader-scale patterns of exclusion and inclusion are (re)produced, contested or transformed via young people's everyday practices, which construct variously valued embodied identities. The focus is upon the (re)production or transformation of disability and ability, and how (dis)ability interconnects with other characteristics, such as social 'class', gender and ethnicity. Mixed qualitative and quantitative methods are used to examine the interconnections between: socio-economic advantage and disadvantage; diagnoses of Special Educational Needs and/or disability; young people's everyday practices of (dis)ability; and individuals' self-representation as (dis)abled. In-depth case-studies are being conducted within school, home and leisure spaces.


The rationale for the research is twofold. First, it provides a timely, policy-relevant investigation; foregrounding children’s voices within relatively adult-centric policy and academic arenas. Second, it significantly advances knowledge and theories of the (re)production of inequality via embodied identities. Transformations in globalised policies have instigated a geographical shift in the education of disabled children away from segregated special, into mainstream, schools in recent decades (e.g. UN, 1994; DfES, 2001a, b). However, such ‘inclusion’ policies have recently been contested. Formerly influential advocates have critiqued inclusive education (Warnock, 2005), stimulating broad-scale policy reviews of disabled children’s education (e.g. House of Commons Education and Skills Committee). Within this shifting terrain, research is required that moves beyond polarised debates about the ‘place’ of disabled children’s education to explore the assumptions underpinning policy discourses. For instance, it is often taken as given that the co-presence of ‘(dis)abled’ children will transform dominant, devalued, representations of disability among children currently and in their adult futures; ultimately transforming society. However, research in children’s geographies has highlighted that children are active agents in social reproduction. The research therefore explores the relational (re)production of (dis)ability and other axes of identity as embodied social capital (Holt, 2008) within children’s everyday socio-spatial practices in home, school and leisure spaces. The research thus enhances theorisations of education, (dis)ability, childhood, social capital, and the reproduction/transformation of broader-scale patterns of inequality though embodied identities.

Aims and Objectives

The aim of this research is to investigate how the socio-spatial construction of embodied social capital via children’s everyday practices (re)produces disability as a (de)valued identifier that intersects with other ‘axes of power’ to reproduce (or transform) enduring broader scale material inequalities within school, home and leisure spaces. The specific objectives and research questions are to investigate: 1. The (re)production of embodied social capital by ‘(dis)abled’ children in informal cultures in school, home and leisure spaces: 2. The spatiality of children’s reproduction of embodied social capital at micro and macro scales: Timescale The project is supported by a £234,354 grant from the Economic and Social Research Council (RES-062-23-1073). The project is funded for 30 months, beginning April 2009. The research team include Dr Louise Holt,  Dr Sophie Bowlby and a post-doctoral research fellow.

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