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Developing a Critical Sociology of Special and Inclusive Education: The Contribution of Sally Tomlinson

Mon, April 16, 8:15 to 10:15am, New York Hilton Midtown, Floor: Second Floor, Beekman


From the 1970s onwards, the sociology of education flourished in British universities, although few sociologists focussed specifically on special and inclusive education. Sally Tomlinson stands out as an exceptional scholar, who throughout her long academic career, has insisted on the contribution of sociology to an understanding of the experiences of those categorised as low achievers. Tomlinson’s seminal book A Sociology of Special Education (first published in 1982 and reissued in 2012) reminded readers that the fundamental purpose of sociology as a subject is to allow people to liberate themselves from the mystification of social reality that is continually provided by those in our society who exercise power and influence. In this paper, I provide an account of the way in which Tomlinson’s work has contributed to demystifying the social reality surrounding special and inclusive education. I also consider some of the outstanding dilemmas which are raised by Tomlinson’s work. Finally, looking to the next decade and beyond, I reflect on the way in which sociology may contribute to an understanding of the field of special and inclusive education.