Dewey’s pragmatism and its implications for the spatialisation of social science
Pragmatism as a philosophy has emphasised the significance of process, temporality and historicity in human organisms’ transactions with their environment. This chapter explores the significance of spatiality for human–environment transactions. This is closely associated with John Dewey’s idea of ‘situation’ as capturing both immediate experience and more enduring and extensive spatial/temporal resources. Through a pragmatist idea of spatiality, as well as temporality, we might start to bring together the more vitalist pragmatism concerned with an active environment of humans, non-human organisms and objects in assemblages, and the more rationalist pragmatism that emphasises the distinctiveness of human practices (especially in language use). The chapter concludes with some illustrations from Chicago ethnography and Hull House social activism to suggest the significance of this idea of time, space and situation in problem solving, including problem solving in social science.
This chapter makes a pragmatic argument for a kind of humanism that is able to respond to the ecological crisis of our age. Rather than having to choose between a humanist or post-humanist approach to addressing global ecological crises, the chapter argues for a pragmatic ‘third way’. Drawing on the thought of Hannah Arendt, John Dewey, William James and Richard Rorty, the chapter identifies six pragmatic propositions to guide social scientists in the pursuit of solutions to the ecological and other crises facing us now.
A pragmatist responds to epistemic and other kinds of frictions in the academy
This chapter draws on writings by race theorists and pragmatists to inquire into the internal politics of our academic communities. The argument is built around the epistemic injustice articulated by students of colour in my own doctoral programme. The chapter starts with this situation and develops the concept of ‘embodied ignorance’ and its embeddedness in positions of power in order to explain such epistemological injustice and find ways to overcome it. Embodied ignorance arises at the individual level from the limits and particularity of being just one person in space and time; and it arises at the social level from the mobilisation of categories of bodies that mark some as more authoritatively, legally and normatively entitled and powerful than others. Greater epistemological justice within the academy cannot easily remedy practical harms, requiring, instead, engagement with the broader society. The chapter examines the history and current practice of affirmative action to better understand the political and economic dimensions of academic exclusion/inclusion. It then turns to pragmatist thought to understand how to go beyond the current limitations imposed on racial and other forms of inclusion in the creation of new knowledge aimed at more democratic ways of knowing and living.
Development studies and related practice have been structured by a duality that can be characterised as ‘big D’ and ‘little d’ development (or the dominant discourse and counter-discourses of development). Neither side has adopted pragmatism in any significant way despite the extent to which it can bring important insights to bear, and in this chapter we highlight the value of pragmatism’s (1) non-relativist anti-foundationalism, (2) dynamic and process-oriented approach to social reality, (3) experimentationalism for progress, and (4) deep, creative and radical democracy. We explore the relevance of these principles in providing new directions for development studies. Building on participatory, popular and indigenous ideas about development, we advocate a pragmatic approach to development, considering spaces of transaction, emergence and learning, and an orientation towards practice, deep democracy and social hope. We draw on a number of Iranian examples to illustrate our argument about the epistemological, ontological, practical and political relevance of the philosophy of pragmatism for development studies and practice.
Social scientists have begun to re-evaluate and incorporate some of pragmatist John Dewey’s insights into their work. This chapter explores the role of habit in John Dewey’s understanding of human psychology and culture, opening up connections to his associated ideas of embodiment, imagination, inquiry and community, all of which are central to his concept of democracy. The formation, implementation and modification of habits – whether viewed as individual-level, community-level or cultural-level – are central to the problem of adept democratic activity and social functioning. After explaining Dewey’s meaning of, and emphasis on, habit and its correlates, I suggest how time, culture, place and criticism are important considerations within Dewey’s vision of democracy and inquiry. In the closing section of the chapter, I turn to the more applied side of the matter and sketch out some potential implications of these ideas for doing social research and for social science as part of the university that engages in community life.
This chapter provides a thorough introduction to an edited book that comprises fifteen chapters exploring the power of pragmatism in relation to social research and the production of knowledge. The chapter outlines the historical development of the pragmatist tradition and its core ideas before exploring its application to social research, past and present. We make a strong case for pragmatic social research, outline its key components and highlight its implications for research practice and outcomes. In the penultimate section, we address some of the long-standing concerns about pragmatism in order to provide critical context to the chapters in the rest of the book. The final section introduces the structure of the book and summarises the substantive chapters that follow.
In this chapter, I make the case for pragmatic readings of social and political life as opposed to those associated with agonism (as developed by Chantal Mouffe and others). Drawing on evidence that demonstrates how the experience of working across difference to re-open a school building in New Orleans both grounded participants’ political commitments and altered them, I argue that agonistic theory is limited by its inattention to the lived experience of negotiating difference and by its assumptions regarding the futility of doing so in non-adversarial ways. In contrast, Deweyan pragmatism offers a useful counterpoint by centralising experience and emphasising the value of learning from engagements across difference. A Deweyan lens trains scholarly attention on the knowledge people create as they work across difference to understand and shape their own circumstances. In so doing, it encourages scholars to grapple with the limitations of their own expertise and points to potentially transformative practices that might otherwise be ignored.
This chapter examines the contribution that G.H. Mead’s conception of the self can make to understanding political subjectivity, and deploys this approach in a case study of urban politics in the UK. Mead argued that the social self is created through relations with other human actors, but that the emergent and impulsive ‘I’ of the self can disrupt, reject and challenge intersubjectively created ‘significant symbols’ that guide and give meaning to actors and society through recognition by both the conveyer and responder, shaping what he called the ‘me’. Mead’s conceptions of the ‘I and me’ of the self, and the role of powerful significant symbols, are deployed in an examination of new forms of city-regional government in England. This case study demonstrates how political agency is partly constructed by broader significant symbols that are utilised in the construction of this new governance arena, and how local actors seek to conform to or contest this new political landscape. The chapter applies Mead’s pragmatism as a counterpoint to dominant academic ideas about the power of neoliberalism and the post-political in understanding these and other developments.
This book makes the case for a pragmatist approach to the practice of social inquiry and knowledge production. Through diverse examples from multiple disciplines, contributors explore the power of pragmatism to inform a practice of inquiry that is democratic, community-centred, problem-oriented and experimental. Drawing from both classical and neo-pragmatist perspectives, the book advances a pragmatist sensibility in which truth and knowledge are contingent rather than universal, made rather than found, provisional rather than dogmatic, subject to continuous experimentation rather than ultimate proof and verified in their application in action rather than in the accuracy of their representation of an antecedent reality. The power of pragmatism offers a path forward for mobilizing the practice of inquiry in social research, exploring the implications of pragmatism for the process of knowledge production.
This chapter makes the case for pragmatist philosophy in planning theory and practice. I argue that pragmatism can help us to understand trends in contemporary planning theory, as well as develop a more promising future direction. The chapter introduces the two major branches of contemporary planning theory: (1) communicative planning and (2) radical planning. I explore how pragmatic planning can go beyond some of the limits of communicative approaches while also embracing the insights of radical planning. Emphasising early pragmatists’ emphasis on lived experience and the importance of pluralism, the chapter argues that pragmatism can connect different ideas in contemporary planning theory with great potential for practice, improving outcomes for publics.