Research Handbook on the Sociology of Education
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Research Handbook on the Sociology of Education

Edited by Rolf Becker

Presenting original contributions from the key experts in the field, the Research Handbook on the Sociology of Education explores the major theoretical, methodological, empirical and political challenges and pressing social questions facing education in current times.
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Chapter 21: Disability and inequality in educational opportunities from a life course perspective

Justin J.W. Powell and Lisa Pfahl


Inclusive education has become a global norm, supported by the recognition of human rights, and now affects education policymaking and system development worldwide. While important contributions in sociological research on education, social disadvantages and inequality exist, those on disability in a life course perspective and in an international comparative perspective are rarer. Studies of the educational opportunities of children and youth with disabilities and disadvantages over the past several decades underscore the lack of systematic approaches to facilitate educational and social inclusion. Within the educational research field, sociological approaches to disability, to special educational needs and to inclusive education emphasize such dimensions as exclusion/inclusion, segregation/integration, learning opportunities, inequality/equality, institutionalization, stigma, risk, and credentials and qualifications. Due to the conceptual ambiguity of ‘(dis)ability’, recognizing and understanding the causes and consequences of disability-related inequality requires in-depth dialogue, and this benefits from the results of studies on different levels and from cultural analysis within diverse contexts. This chapter provides insights into disability and inequality in educational opportunities across Europe and into select research topics, gaps and results. Mainstream sociology of education would increase its contributions and relevance were it to be more inclusive in analysing the processes that affect the educational opportunities and life chances of those who experience disablement, and are differently classified, in educational organizations.

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