A foucauldian discourse analysis of intellectual disability in Irish education
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Since the birth of the Irish State there has been three official terms for children with mental disabilities, ‘mental deficiency’, ‘mental handicap’ and ‘intellectual disability’. Each new term replaced the previous one; ‘mental deficiency’ became ‘mental handicap’, subsequently ‘mental handicap’ became ‘intellectual disability’. This thesis applied a Foucauldian Discourse analysis to the history of Irish Education to expose the hidden conditions that underpinned the aforementioned concepts, in order to answer the following questions: What factors brought a particular conceptual configuration in the classification of intellectual disability into play in the first instance? What made that configuration seem plausible and socially desirable? What changes or events happened that caused the conceptual configuration to be replaced? And did these changes cultivate marginalisation or demarginalisation? The first part of the analysis divided the history of Irish education into three different epistémè and labelled them, the Institution, the Birth of Special Education and the Birth of Social Inclusion. Foucauldian tools of analysis were applied to allow for the surfaces of emergence to be exposed and indentified, thus in turn revealing the frameworks of knowledge that were hidden underneath. These frameworks were created from paradigms of information, practices and processes that surrounded the terms ‘mental deficiency’, ‘mental handicap’ and ‘intellectual disability’ in each of the overlapping discourses within the epistémè. What was revealed was that each epistémè produced variable paradigms that resulted in frameworks of knowledge that were deemed legitimate depending on who were the main authors of delimitation on mental disabilities in that time. These authors had the power to decide the truths of the condition and how the concept was to be constructed. Each epistémè was different as the power relations shifted between the authors. It also became apparent that marginalisation was not an intentional result of the conditions discussed but instead was an unfortunate consequence.