An archaeology of emotional disturbance
Tisdale, Kirsten Claire Crowder
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In this deconstructive study, I have conducted a Foucaultian-inspired archaeological analysis of two professional journals of special education in order to determine the conditions of existence for the formation of emotional disturbance as an object of knowledge for special education. The research questions were (1) In what ways has emotional disturbance been articulated in special education in the United States? And (2) What conditions of existence have made these articulations possible? The data are theorized through the framework of a poststructurally-oriented disability studies. The data show how emotional disturbance, a tentative and vague idea at the turn of the 20th century, was produced as a handicapping condition through the tool of resemblance and was further produced as a distinct, identifiable handicapping condition through the tool of comparison. The ways that emotional disturbance was articulated as a problem of terminology, adults, and location are described. I argue that these articulations have had several functions: to form the boundaries of professions; to determine the types of students who are deserving of help; to link the behaviors of teachers and parents (as well as related issues of race, class and gender) and the behaviors of students; and to keep the problem of emotional disturbance close to the bodies of students it identifies. The conditions of existence are theorized through order (the ordered body, the ordering body, the social order), salvation, and patronage. Implications for students identified as emotionally disturbed, professionals, interested adults, and classroom practices are discussed.