Sharon Smith "The Role of Risk in Relation to Special Educational Needs and Disability"

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Recorded by Sharon Smith on February 5, 2020.

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Lecture Summary: Since the 1990s, there has been an increased focus within education on keeping pupils safe, and anticipating risks of problems, such as negative outcomes or future underachievement, resulting in the ‘at risk’ label being applied to some students, who then require greater observation and protection. Students with disabilities are often seen as more vulnerable than the general school population, and therefore are subject to even greater monitoring and risk management than their peers.

This paper will argue that the move within education towards risk management is problematic for disabled students, because they are now subject to disciplinary power over their future, which is calculated and managed. However, the future of the other is not something that should be comprehended in the present, nor should there be any attempt to contain it. Instead, there should be a relationship with the future, based on ‘the temporal transcendence of the present toward the mystery of the future’ (Levinas, 1987:94). This paper therefore discusses an alternative conception of teaching and learning for students with disabilities, where the educator puts themselves in a ‘position to receive and welcome’ the other in their alterity, which defies any limits that may be imposed on them (Todd, 2011:174-5).

Levinas, E. (1987) Time and The Other [and additional essays]. Trans. by R.A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.

Todd, S. (2011) Welcoming and Difficult Learning. In: Egéa-Kuehne, D. (ed.) Levinas and Education: At the Intersection of Faith and Reason. London: Routledge, 170-185.

Sharon Smith is a PhD research student at the University of Birmingham. Her PhD approaches the subjectivity of parents of disabled children/children labelled with Special Educational Needs in order to explore how this impacts on inclusion. She is also interested in issues relating to risk, parent participation and philosophy of education. Sharon was awarded the inaugural BERA Doctoral Fellowship in 2019.

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Resources and Further Reading

Speaker’s Publications:

Smith, Sharon. “An Ethical Responsibility.” In Interventions in Disabled Childhood Studies, edited by Dan Goodley, Katherine Runswick-Cole, and Kirsty Liddiard, 40-43. Sheffield: iHuman Press, 2020. Available online: Disabled children’s childhood studies

Smith, Sharon. “Book Review: Forms of Education: Rethinking Educational Experience Against and Outside the Humanist Legacy.” British Journal of Educational Studies 68, no. 6 (2020): 781–783. Available online:

Spencer, Stephanie and Sharon Smith. “Women Professors and Deans: Access, Opportunity, and Networks.” In: Handbook of Historical Studies in Education, edited by Tanya Fitzgerald, 795-811. Singapore: Springer, 2020. Available online:

Other Resources

Beck, Ulrich. Risk Society: Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage Publications, 1992.

Beck, Ulrich. World Risk Society. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1999.

Emmanuel Levinas

Felicity Armstrong

Foucault, Michel. Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Translated by Alan Sheridan. New York: Vintage Books, 1977. 

François Ewald

Gert Biesta

Hilary Putnam

Jens Zinn

Kathryn Almack

Len Barton

Levinas, Emmanuel. Time and the Other. Translated by Richard A. Cohen. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press, 1987.

Robert Castel

Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Code of Practice

Ulrich Beck

2003 Green Paper “Every Child Matters”

2004 Children Act