Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 38, Issue 4, pp 669–699 | Cite as

‘Learning Disabilities’ as a ‘Black Box’: On the Different Conceptions and Constructions of a Popular Clinical Entity in Israel

  • Ofer KatcherginEmail author
Original Paper


This article aims to stimulate new thinking about learning disabilities than is customary in local literature. Previous educational and psychological studies concerning learning disabilities regarded them as if they were objective categories with formal definitions and criteria accepted in scholarly literature. Contrary to that, this article explores the various conceptions, constructions, and meanings of learning disabilities that comprise the narrative descriptions and explanations of didactic diagnosticians. For this purpose, 50 in-depth interviews were conducted. There are four sections. Part One lays out the theoretical and methodological background of the sociological and discursive debate about learning disabilities. Part Two explores the various main thematic aspects and narrative strategies that were used by the diagnosticians in their construction of their purportedly ‘objective’, ‘a-historical’, ‘a-political’ experts’ narrative. The third part reveals the polyphonic multifaceted nature of the learning disabilities construct. The experts’ narrative undermines the objective and homogeneous definitions in the literature by uncovering learning disabilities’ heterogeneous meaning repertoire. This repertoire consists, among others, of conceptualizing disability as a ‘disease’, a ‘symptom’, a ‘genetic defect’, a ‘disorder’, an ‘educational difficulty’, a ‘variance’, and even a ‘gift’. This part also reveals the experts’ narrative reaction strategies to the aforementioned polyphonic spectacle. It is revealed that the interviewees’ narrative deconstructs the ‘scientific factual nature’ of the clinical categories. The fourth part highlights a central paradox in the expert narrative: The tension between the narrative stigmatic—labeling aspects and the destigmatic—‘liberating’ aspects. The claim is made that this tension can partly explain the current popularity of the LD diagnosis. This article is the third in a series of papers that seeks to contribute to the creation of a more nuanced disability discourse by exposing its shaky scientific foundations.


Learning disabilities as a social construct Didactic diagnosis Critical discourse analysis Critical disability studies Medicalization Narrative analysis 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Oranim Academic CollegeKiryat TivonIsrael
  2. 2.Levinsky Academic CollegeTel AvivIsrael

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