Critical Pragmatism and the Appropriation of Ethnography by Philosophy of Education

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In this essay I explore the potential that ethnographic methods hold for philosophy of education as a form of critical pragmatism. An aim of critical pragmatism is to help to analyze the roadblocks to fruitful communication, coordination and liberation. It does so by identifying their sources and opportunities for repair. As I have argued elsewhere (Feinberg in Eur J Pragmatism Am Philos 4(1):222–240, 2012) an important aim of critical pragmatism is to redirect expert knowledge so it takes seriously local understanding. In this essay I do two things. First I look at the other side of critical pragmatism showing how, by adopting ethnographic methods, critical pragmatism can be used to refine and expand local, common sense understanding. Second I show how philosophers can draw on ethnography to understand the ways in which normative issues are felt, defined and creatively resolved on the local level, and how they can in turn use that understanding to provide some general guidelines for addressing educational problems. I show how critical pragmatism can aid education by displaying and thematizing the innovative solutions that people, caught between different normative imperatives, devise to maintain an inclusive, educationally meaningful environment. In this part I draw on my work in a Catholic school to illustrate how ethnography can be used by philosophy to capture innovative resolutions to conflicts of value and I show how philosophy can then serve to thematize these resolutions by appropriating more general categories for addressing similar educational concerns.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)149-157
Number of pages9
JournalStudies in Philosophy and Education
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2015


  • Ethnography
  • Philosophy of education
  • Pragmatism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Philosophy


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