Dispensing with labels: Enabling children and professionals to share a community of practice

Jane Tobbell, Rebecca Lawthom

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


This paper investigates, through critical review, the label of emotional and behavioural difficulties and its utility in child and professional relationships. Considerable human energy and resources have been focused on ameliorating the individual and social implications of behaviour difficulties. However, the effort expended has often been levelled at individual (and policy) interventions, thereby neglecting the relationship element. We propose a reconceptualisation of the label (and thereby stigma) through envisioning learning as doing/participation. The communities of practice literature challenges the notion that learning is a time-limited activity, dependent on individual cognition. Instead learning is synonymous with being, and is a continuous and embedded process. Hence, learning and identity are inextricably linked and located in the various practice settings inhabited by children and professionals. The relationships emerge from and are shaped by the attendant practices which surround the term ‘difficulties’: children with ‘difficulties’ need ‘special’ attention to ‘improve’ their cognitions. In this paper we explore, using the community of practice literature, how learning and inclusion are processes of participation and suggest practices which would serve to liberate the child and the professional from the ‘difficult’ relationship/identity/label.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-97
Number of pages9
JournalEducational and Child Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2005
Externally publishedYes


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