Privilege and the Avoidance of Stigma

Chris Hale


This ethnographic case study examines a privileged family’s expression of the discursive phenomena of learning disabilities (LD) as described by Christine Sleeter in her seminal article Why is There Learning Disabilities? The author explores enactments of ideological perspectives on the significance of effort, intelligence, LD, and privilege with regards to one child’s academic success in the context of his elite private school. The central data within this paper is a portion of conversation among the research participants, the privileged parents of a child purported to have LD, and the researcher. The main speaker is the wife and mother, who weaves a narrative based on her perception of events that occurred during her son’s first grade experience at school. The purpose of her narrative is to refute the teachers’ expressed assumptions that her son’s academic difficulties are due to a lack of effort and/or commitment to his education. Her narrative is an object of analysis, used with phenomenological data sources that provide opportunities to examine the interactions and transactions embedded within the conversation. The theories of Pierre Bourdieu provide an important theoretical lens through which enactments of the reproduction of class privilege are framed. Sleeter’s exposition of the class-inscribed roots of LD discourse provides socio-historic context to the analysis presented here.


social class; learning disabilities; education; ideology; ethnography; identity; stigma

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Copyright (c) 2010 Chris Hale

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