Dr. Navin Kikabhai's The Rhetoric of Widening Participation in Higher Education and Its Impacts interrogates the discourses, policy, and politics surrounding efforts to expand access to higher education for students with intellectual disabilities. 1 The book uses a post-modern theoretical lens, specifically drawing from the work of Foucault and Deleuze, to critique the ways societal institutions have developed ecologies of power that exclude students with intellectual disabilities from meaningful participation in postsecondary spaces. Set in the context of the U.K. higher education system, the book points to the potential of inclusive education as a "radical restructuring of the entire education system" (Kikabhai, 2018, p. 2). Kikabhai (2018) documents the ways rhetoric and practice ignore and/or are slow to turn towards these radical possibilities. The book's chapters alternate between theoretical examinations of power, institutions, and discourse and qualitative analyses of his participants' experience and perspectives. In the theoretical framing, Kikabhai places a range of Western disability studies scholars and post-modern theorists into conversation with each other. This analysis may be resonant for scholars interested in the discourse and history around expanding postsecondary opportunities for students with intellectual disabilities, as well as practitioners interested in ways of historically and theoretically situating their efforts to expand higher education (O'Brien, Bonati, Gadow, & Slee, 2019).

The book is organized around qualitative data from a doctorial study on a collaborative effort by leaders at Red Rock College and the Cutting Edge Theater 2 group to develop a three-year degree program in theatre arts for students with intellectual disabilities. Kikabhai (2018) follows the evolution and eventual dissolution of the proposed degree program, using the discourses that emerged through interviews, public records, and proposal documents to map relations of power across multiple sectors of society that impact higher education. They unpack how participation in higher education has been regulated through "micro-techniques" of power such as "assessments, examinations, self-disclosure," (Kikabhai, 2018, p. 140) which serve to maintain and "camouflage discrimination" (Kikabhai, 2018, p. 177). Kikabhai (2018) argues that discourse around the need to broaden participation is "misleading" (p. 11); that it conjures an ideal of inclusion while obscuring how students continue to be subject to the "politics of modern higher education," e.g., exclusion, surveillance, and regulation (p. 140). Under this model, the hierarchical "ranks of the privileged" are ultimately preserved (Mingus, 2011, para. 5). As such, Kikabhai (2018) hesitates to frame the program's ultimate dissolution as a failure; highlighting instead the project and those involved in its development as contributing to a larger change effort, namely, shifting "the assumption that such individuals so-labelled cannot succeed in gaining higher education" (p. 236).

Kikabhai (2018) unpacks several places of discursive tension in how students with intellectual disabilities have been "in-situ-ationalised," or shaped by "the relationship between labels and location" (p. 241). In particular, they provide a compelling critique of the way educability became enmeshed with institutionalization. Put another way, they identify how the physical isolation of students with intellectual disabilities occurred when they were seen as educable (requiring specialists, intervention, and treatment) as well as when they were seen as ineducable (needing to be isolated from their non-disabled peers). Kikabhai traces the way separation functions as a theme and mechanism of disciplinary power within educational spaces. Disabled people are not only physically separated in primary and secondary educational spaces, their historical contributions are excluded within curricula (e.g., the history of music). Within theatre arts and arts education, Kikabhai (2018) frames how these separations collude to produce a prevailing culture in which non-disabled people are "not used to living in an inclusive world," which hampers, at least initially, their ability to imagine and develop opportunities for meaningful participation by students and professionals with intellectual disabilities (p. 72). Even the stakeholders at Red Rock and Cutting Edge had limited experience with students with intellectual disabilities prior to becoming involved in inclusive theatre arts organizations. 3 Given this context and the book's emphasis on inclusive education as a radical opportunity to reimagine higher education, it would have been impactful if Kikabhai had explored possibilities for participatory program development and how individuals with intellectual disabilities figure in the organization and advocacy for programs aimed to serve them (Heffron, Spassiani, Angell, Hammel, 2018).

The Rhetoric of Widening Participation in Higher Education and Its Impacts raises compelling questions about the layered politics and discourses underlying efforts to broaden participation in higher education for students with intellectual disabilities. As the available postsecondary options for students with intellectual disabilities continue to expand (Plotner & Marshall, 2015), these questions present critical opportunities for disability studies scholars to expand on critiques of societal power structures as they inform the purposes of higher education. Scholars with an interest in higher education policy, the education pathways of students with intellectual disabilities, and/or post-modern critique may find this book worthwhile for its conceptual engagement with the commitments and discourses surrounding higher education and inclusive education.

References

Endnotes

  1. Kikabhai (2018) recognizes multiple labels for intellectual disability and uses learning disability throughout the text. For this review, I am using intellectual disability to be consistent with U.S.-based scholarship as well as previous reviews in the journal (Heller, Rizzolo, & Keller, 2005).
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  2. All names in the book are pseudonyms.
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  3. There is only one participant with an intellectual disability represented in the book, an instructor and former student at Cutting Edge, whose narrative around teaching and learning is referenced in multiple places.
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