National Association for Music Education Research Conference 2016, Atlanta, GA.
Music education research and publications related to disability regularly approach the subject from a medicalized perspective, seeing disability only as individual pathology of particular persons who fall outside of the norm due to differences in physical or cognitive functioning (Dobbs, 2012). Such a perspective takes disability as an ontological fact. Yet, scholars in the field of disability studies draw on the social model of disability (Oliver, 1983) to forward a different perspective, viewing disability as a social construct which manifests as social oppression exerted upon those deemed to have functional differences. Central to this perspective are the ways in which disability is constructed, named, and expressed through social practices. Professional journals represent disciplinary discourses that constitute and regulate social practices within a field (Foucault, 1995). Mantie (2013) suggests that professional publications “serve to construct the truth about matters of disciplinary concern” (p. 336). As such, professional publications are prime locations for analysis into understand how disability is constructed and catalyzed in music education through and practice.
Discourse analysis commonly takes as its focus verbal and written text, yet, Christmann (2008) implicates photography as an element of discourse regularly disregarded though potentially powerful for analysis of power and social practice. Solomon-Godeau (1991) asserts that each rather than being an objective document of nature, a photograph is framed by “textual, epistemological, and ideological systems that inscribe and contain it” (p. 171), thus questioning any claim for the representation objective truth of photographs. Noth (2011) implicates the symbolic and indexical qualities of photographs and urges for the use of critical visual analysis as a means of reading photographic data.
The purpose of this study was to examine the way disability has been constructed in the Music Educators Journal in its 101-year history (2014-2015) through photographic representation. The researcher employed critical visual analysis (Margolis & Pauwless, 2011) and content analysis (Yarbough, 1984) methods in order to inspect the ways that persons with disabilities are represented within the specific disciplinary discourse of the Music Educators Journal (MEJ). The researcher examined 641 issues of the MEJ to find photographs of persons with disabilities. Photographs (N = 177) were analyzed using Garland-Thomson’s (2002) “visual rhetorics of disability” taxonomy of “the wondrous,” “the sentimental,” “the exotic,” and “the realistic.” Shifts in the quantities of photographs in each category over time and in relation to disability-related policy suggest the changing nature of how music education constructs disability through photographic representations. Also, findings implicate the need for critical and sensitive consideration of how persons with disabilities are represented in music education literature.