In The Sociology of Disability and Inclusive Education: A tribute to Len Barton, Madeline Arnot is editor of a collection of writings from an impressive list of scholars spanning the fields of inclusive education and disability studies. Their combined chapters do many things; not least, celebrating the unrivalled contribution Len Barton has made to the lives of disabled people and others who live with exclusion. Collectively the authors demonstrate the breadth and significance of Professor Barton’s contributions and achievements in highlighting the position of disabled people within society. On reading the book, my own sense of the power of Barton’s work was reaffirmed; as well as challenging the general failure of sociological debates to represent adequately the politics of disability, his work communicates the imperative for socially just systems. The systems which have undoubtedly been impacted most by the contribution of his lifelong work are those of education, specifically inclusive education. Originally published as a special issue of the British Journal of Sociology of Education, of which Len Barton was the Founding Editor and Chair until he retired in 2009, this book maps his career and in doing so helps the reader to gain a sense of the practical, real-life impact that his scholarly activity and activism has had on society.
Throughout the book the reader will find analysis of Barton’s work as a scholar and activist but also discover an inescapable warmth and appreciation expressed by all those he has influenced and who call him their friend as well as mentor. There are many who have greatly valued the opportunity to work with Len Barton, whose contribution to studies of disability and inclusive education and companionship has been mutually beneficial so that it would have been impossible to include all of them. Even so, I must admit to being surprised that Felicity Armstrong is not an author of a chapter in the collection. That said, appropriately her presence and important voice is nonetheless felt throughout the book.
Barton’s work is unsurpassed in its contribution to knowledge, scholarship and change for those working to engage with, or living with, inclusion and exclusion around the world. This compilation of reflections upon this work, by international scholars who have engaged deeply with his thinking, is therefore sure to become a well-thumbed reference for anyone seeking to develop their understanding of key debates. There is a strong cross-cultural thread running through the chapters that adds to the book’s value as a resource for those engaged with contemporary international developments around inclusion.
As a book that connects disability studies and inclusive education, this makes a tremendously important text for student readers and activists. The various chapter writers remind us that there are enormous challenges facing those seeking to advance inclusive education. The requirement Barton has taught us, for full participation and collaboration of disabled people, both children who are in the education system and adults who have experienced a wide range of systems, remains immensely difficult to realize in practice. Peters draws upon Barton’s inimitable ‘politics of hope’ as she contends with the struggle for practitioners to prioritize listening and encourage resilience through raising the voices of their students. A politics of hope has certainly been inscribed upon the hearts and minds of those who have had the opportunity to hear Len Barton speak, and in this book such politics are given new energy.
The Sociology of Disability and Inclusive Education comes out at a time when many of its writers fear that the distance between disability studies and inclusive education is being increased, not reduced, for families and in schools and communities around the world. As a counter to this, Len Barton’s unerring theoretical commitment to justice and rights runs throughout the book to power the socially driven vehicle of inclusive practice. Its publication is timely, in a political climate in which:
impact of market ideologies has profoundly influenced how we think and talk about education. We view education through the lens of a form of economic rationality in which cost effectiveness, efficiency and value for money has entailed the generation of a more competitive, selective and socially diverse series of policies, and globally the major purpose of education is the preparation of an economically productive, globally competitive workforce. (Barton quoted in Tomlinson 2012, 15)
One of the key messages I have taken from this text is that in prevailing global conditions of economic hardship it is essential that the production of inclusive research is intensified. Researchers must strive to find ways to ensure disabled people influence the issues that are of real concern to them and it must not be forgotten, as Len Barton has taught so many, that ‘research that lacks an insider-perspective, is at least one-dimensional and indeed, at worst, is arrogant and misleading’ (Gillborn quoted in Barton 2012, 119). The voices of disabled people must be at the centre of all considerations leading to inclusion and contributors to the book insist on placing utmost value on insider perspectives in all that we do. As a mother seeking inclusion for my own children with impairments, I know, as is depicted through this book, that now more than ever social structures such as education, family, employment and practical support services must be protected and entitlement to full and active inclusion in ordinary lives made possible. Contributions to the book which explore the complex relationship between the academy, pedagogy, research and activism left me feeling motivated to contribute to studies of disability and inclusive education and to forge a climate and spaces for inclusion of disabled people on their own terms.
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I recommend The Sociology of Disability and Inclusive Education as an essential read for those with interests in sociology, education, disability studies, political theory and cognate disciplines. I hope everyone who can play a part in creating inclusion will think deeply about this tribute to the work of Len Barton which has given hope of transformation to so many.
Faculty of Health and Life Sciences, Northumbria University, Newcastle, UK
© 2016 Dawn Benson
- Barton, L. 2012. “Response.” In The Sociology of Disability and Inclusive Education: A Tribute to Len Barton, edited by M. Arnot, 114–121. London: Routledge.
- Tomlinson, S. 2012. “A Tribute to Len Barton.” In The Sociology of Disability and Inclusive Education: A Tribute to Len Barton, edited by M. Arnot, 10–19. London: Routledge.