Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Is John Dewey's Thought "Humanist"?

Academic journal article JCT (Online)

Is John Dewey's Thought "Humanist"?

Article excerpt

THIS PAPER ASKS A RELATIVELY STRAIGHTFORWARD QUESTION-Is John Dewey's thought "humanist"?1 But neither the answer (Yes, but...) nor the importance of the question are straightforward. In asking this question, I wish to put Dewey's texts into conversation with the substantial body of research literature-mostly in the humanities and social sciences, but increasingly within educational thought as well-of nonhumanist theory, broadly understood (Murris, 2016; Siddiqui, 2016; Snaza, et al., 2014; Snaza & Weaver, 2014).2 Before outlining the scope of this paper, it may be useful to be direct: To the extent that the answer to my question is "Yes," Dewey's texts seem increasingly irrelevant to the problems- ecological, political, ontological-facing us in the present moment. But I will argue that Dewey's texts are not univocally or easily humanist, and that this mixed quality enables a dehumanist reconstruction of his ideas. This allows two related but distinct avenues for future engagements between Dewey and nonhumanist thought. On the one hand, it would enable those of us working in curriculum studies and educational philosophy to find a familiar point of reference for engaging the sometimes-daunting work on nonhumanism, even a way of thinking about curriculum studies as always already open to thinking beyond the merely human and in ways that are not restricted by "humanism." That is, this reading might open a way of reading Dewey differently than he has customarily been read. On the other hand, a dehumanist reconstruction of Dewey might give nonhumanist thought a set of basic concepts-experience, habit, education, democracy-that enable it to translate its considerable ontological and political insights into more "practical" avenues, making good on its implicitly pragmatic politics, and directing those politics to explicitly decolonial projects.3 The concept of dehumanism, proposed by Julietta Singh (2017), refers to methodologies that "bring the posthuman into critical conversation with the decolonial" (p. 4). For Singh,

Dehumanism requires not an easy repudiation and renunciation of dehumanization but a form of radical dwelling in and with dehumanization through the narrative excesses and insufficiencies of the 'good' human-a cohabitation that acts on and through us in order to imagine other forms of political allegiance. (p. 4)

Dehumanism, then, combines critiques of the human from nonhumanist thought with decolonial attention to dehumanization, and a desire for what Sylvia Wynter and Katherine McKittrick (2015) would call new genres of performing the human.

It will be useful to begin by explaining how I will use the terms "humanist" and "nonhumanist," for I take both to be less restrictive (and restricted) than they are sometimes used. Then, I will turn to how Dewey's concept of the "public" has been put to use by new materialist political philosopher Jane Bennett (2010), providing a way of thinking about what she calls Dewey's "flirting" (p. 102) with nonhumanist ideas in Art as Experience, a flirtation that opens up the possibility of a dehumanist reconstruction. Following that, I turn to a somewhat schematic account of Dewey's philosophy, focusing on the key terms of habit, experience, growth, and democracy. Throughout this account, I put particular emphasis on the ways that humanism appears or adheres in Dewey's texts, but I also begin to point toward ways that his thought outstrips humanism. I end with a set of axioms for pursuing a dehumanist reconstruction of Dewey's ideas. Throughout, I am aware of the immensity of this task and the ways that an essay can only give the barest hint of the work to come. My hope is that this essay may serve as a spur for an ongoing, collective grappling with reconfiguring Dewey's thought as we experiment with pedagogies calibrated to attuning differently, more openly, to the more-than-human world in which we are (re)learning to dwell, while simultaneously working against colonialisms, including the settler colonialism that structures life in the Americas. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.