Discourse and practice : the constitution and deployment of contemporary learning disability care

  • James Richard Clarke

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy (PhD)


This thesis engages with the relationship between discourse and practice within the context of contemporary learning disability care. Three key points are made. Firstly, by reading contemporary learning disability policy through Foucault's work on biopower I argue that a discursive rationality that works by acting upon and alt~ring the actions of people with a learning disability is being produced. I critically analyse three mentalities (choice, inclusion and self-knowledge), that are key to this rationale, and show that they discursively operate by fixing normative assumptions about learning disability. This is because these mentalities are shown to deploy idealised assumptions about how normal individuals live producing a normative basis for learning disability care. By exposing the contingent nature of these discourses I challenge the danger that they become solidified or naturalised. Secondly, by drawing from interview testimony with practitioners I argue that the discursive constitution of these mentalities is enacted differently in different practices and exceeds the discursive rationality and normative assumptions that policy produces. By using the work of Mol I show that foregrounding practices exposes the situational differences that constitute how each of the mentalities emerges in practice. Applying the work of Deleuze I show that not subsuming performative difference into pre-determined narratives allows the potential for novelty to emerge. Thirdly, I apply the narrative of discourse and practice, staged in the context of contemporary learning disability support, to wider debates and show that this application can help destabilize prescriptions that govern not only those with a learning disability but also each and every one of us. I argue that there is always a performative tension between discourse and practice because discursive deployments simultaneously structure practical enactments but are always resisted and exceeded in these enactments. Crucially I show that this tension needs to be embraced and not ignored.
Date of Award2010
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorMaria Fannin (Supervisor) & John-David Dewsbury (Supervisor)

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