As detailed in Chapter 1, Researching special schools: a poststructuralist approach, this work explores the capacity to apply poststructuralism, in theory and in practice, in a setting where other discourses are dominant. I focus on my own work as principal in the context of a special education school where I worked with students categorised as ‘emotionally/behaviourally disordered’. I analyse the discourses that inform this kind of work, both from the position of one who inevitably took them up, even becoming expert in them, and from a Foucauldian position of critique which sets out to render these discourses less able to be taken up.
In this chapter I use Foucault’s work on discipline and punishment to make sense of the discipline practices that are at work in schools such that most students in mainstream schools ‘get it right’ at being good students and come to desire getting it right. I then explore the workings of punishment for those students in mainstream schools who perform ‘bad’ behaviour yet remain in mainstream/regular schools. This exploration is used to gain insight into the ways students in the special school, by contrast, perform ‘bad’ behaviour in such ways that they are read as ‘abnormally bad’ and confined even to the margins in a special school.