In Toronto last year, several PES members joined a panel session to discuss “agency after Foucault.” Many philosophers of education, in the wake of Foucault and other recent poststructuralists, often struggle to make sense of agency, intention, and the individual subject, particularly within social justice education. Some participants in this session and others challenged certain assumptions about human subjects as autonomous, self-made, efficacious agents of social and political change, many of which were held by the pragmatists whose work largely began and continues to influence our field. In many cases, the views of pragmatists and poststructuralists are stubbornly opposed to one another. In this essay, however, I suggest that constructing an amalgam through dialogue between them offers solutions to particular problems within each tradition, especially in regards to agency. John Dewey and Judith Butler, significant philosophers within each tradition, show considerable similarity as well as important points of difference in their theories of agency. The fruitfulness of reading them together has largely been overlooked, and I offer here such a reading as a contribution to the philosophical struggle that continues from last year’s conference. I will describe each theory separately before showing how, when taken together, each theory rescues the other from certain pitfalls, and a more robust vision of agency and political change through education is formed. I will end by highlighting some educational implications that follow from the resulting view.
Philosophy of Education
College of Education Journals
McGough, Sarah M. Political Agency and the Classroom: Reading John Dewey and Judith Butler Together. Philosophy of Education, 2005, pp 99-107.