Silence and its mechanisms as the discursive production of the ‘normal’ in the early childhood classroom

Karen Watson*, Zsuzsa Millei, Eva Bendix Petersen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articlepeer-review


In this paper, we aim to better understand and trouble the discursive (re)production of what is taken as the ‘normal’ in ‘inclusive’ early childhood classrooms. We do so by exploring the practices of the ‘including’ group, the so-called ‘normal, in relation to or in the presence of those who are variously labeled as ‘non-normal’. We highlight those mechanisms that are associated with silence and taboo, and through which the including group produces and maintains itself. We present data produced during a six-month ethnographic study in three early childhood classrooms in Australia. Using the notion of category boundary work in the analysis, we illuminate the practices of silence: ‘ignoring’, ‘moving away’, ‘turning away’ and ‘keeping silent’ through which children undertake the category work of the ‘normal’. The effect of this category work, we argue, is that disability or the diagnosed subject becomes ‘the elephant in the room’, strongly present but avowedly ignored. We draw out some considerations for practice in the concluding part of the paper.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Childhood, Education & Society
Issue number2
Pages (from-to)103-115
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Category boundary work
  • Inclusion
  • Taboo
  • Poststructural
  • Normal
  • Early childhood
  • Ethnography

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