Deweyan Pragmatism for Human Geography: Less Explored Concepts and Values

Authors: Malcolm Cutchin*, Wayne State University
Topics: Geographic Thought
Keywords: John Dewey, temporality, habits, ethics, environment
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/11/2018
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:40 AM
Room: Galerie 3, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Pragmatist philosopher John Dewey’s remarkable output spanned a vast array of foci and issues. As a well-respected public intellectual, his writings often bridged the hallways of the academy with the concerns of citizens on the streets. In one of his most accessible and important books, Human Nature and Conduct, he wrote, “The best we can accomplish for posterity is to transmit unimpaired and with some increment of meaning the environment that makes it possible to maintain the habits of decent and refined life.” In this paper, I use this synoptic statement by Dewey as the springboard for an argument about the relevance for Deweyan pragmatism for human geography in the 21st century. In doing so, I intentionally focus on aspects of Dewey’s work that have been less explored by geographers. I will suggest the significance of Dewey’s theory of temporality—the value he places on the future while not omitting the import of the past or present. I also will unpack Dewey’s use of the term environment—a crucial idea for his pragmatism—and the various senses in which it provides a point of fit for geography. Habits also are an important contribution of Dewey’s, and his conceptualization contains intriguing possibilities for geographic thought and research. The roles of meliorism and responsibility in Dewey’s thinking also are present in his statement, and the frequent ethical focus of his thinking also holds significance for a Deweyan-informed geography. I conclude with thoughts about how these integrated dimensions of Deweyan pragmatism could inform geographic praxis.

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