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Constructing Disability and Social Inequality Early in the Life Course: the case of special education in Germany and the United States

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The Ohio State University Libraries
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dsq_2003_spring_07.doc Disability Studies Quarterly Spring 2003, Volume 23, No. 2 pages 57-75 <www.cds.hawaii.edu/dsq> Copyright 2003 by the Society for Disability Studies Constructing Disability and Social Inequality Early in the Life Course: the case of special education in Germany and the United States Justin J.W. Powell Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany Keywords: Special education, life course, labeling Abstract Joining life course and educational stratification research with disability studies' complimentary emphasis on structure and disabling barriers enables a more complete analysis of the experiences and life chances of primary and secondary school students who are classified disabled. Because the processes that affect life course phases and transitions, as well as individual opportunities, identities, and attainments are cumulative, analysis of early differentiation is necessary to understand how (special) education legitimates and generates social inequality. Universal compulsory education led schools to develop a variety of sorting mechanisms. Especially during the resulting transitions within an educational system's learning opportunity structures, special educational needs are identified, labelled - and categorical boundaries drawn around dis/ability - altering individuals' trajectories. By stigmatizing, separating, and segregating students, special education institutions in Germany and the United States construct social inequality early in the life course. Life course perspectives emphasize the interrelation of social structure and agency, the importance of age and generation, and the accumulation of dis/advantages over a person's life course. Disability studies, while also attending to individuals' lived experience of impairment, chronic illness, and disability, has primarily focused on the key role of social, institutional, and environmental barriers in constructing disability. Toge

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