Embodiment and Agency: The Concept of Growth in John Dewey's Philosophy of Education
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This project takes up recent literature exploring intersections between embodiment theory and education research. I bring these literatures together around an interpretation of the concept of growth from John Dewey's work on education, as I argue that this widely debated idea represents a particularly rich concept with respect to this intersection of theory. I interpret his concept of growth as a concept regarding human agency, which I claim is a thoroughly embodied and felt phenomenon (as opposed to a purely rational capacity). In this interpretation, I follow Dewey in claiming that growth is a valuable educational goal, arguing that when read as embodied agency, the concept of growth can be a helpful focus for encouraging the cultivation of students' felt experiences of agency. The project begins by taking up Dewey and his work in the philosophy of education, emphasizing his definition of education as the reconstruction of experience and the ideal of growth as it relates to this reconstruction. I outline Dewey's conceptions of experience as well as his ideas regarding the self, the body-mind, and the relationship between habit and self-constitution. While I claim that Dewey's work offers a rich framework in which to think about growth, agency, and education, I then look to two alternate philosophical perspectives in supplementing his conception of the embodied self. First, I take up the work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty in describing how his phenomenological perspective articulates a method for careful, first-person testimony regarding embodied experience, as this supplements Dewey's view by focusing thematically on how embodied agency is felt and experienced. Second, I take up the work of Michel Foucault in describing how his postmodern perspective articulates a method for deconstructing the social conditions that create contemporary, disciplinary body-subjects, as well as how his later work emphasizes care of the self, projects of self-transformation, and practices of freedom. These thinkers, I argue, can further Dewey's emphasis on growth by providing resources regarding transformation as the unending process of self-creation, exploration, and the expansion of possibilities, which buttress Dewey's idea of growth when interpreted as embodied agency.