The method of democracy: John Dewey’s critical social theory

Ridley, David Benjamin (2019). The method of democracy: John Dewey’s critical social theory. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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This thesis argues that John Dewey’s theory of collective intelligence presents a unique critical social theory that escapes the dead-ends of Frankfurt School critical theory and speaks directly to the political situation faced today by academics and the public. In Part 1, Dewey’s critical social theory is argued to present a ‘method of democracy’ that proposes a form of ‘intelligent populism’ as the mode of collective action in contemporary ‘political democracies’. Part 2 applies the method of democracy to the contemporary ‘problematic situation’ of neoliberalism in crisis. It is argued that ‘third-wave neoliberalism’ in the UK has turned to higher education (HE) as a solution to this crisis, seeking to redirect HE through the TEF, REF and KEF national performance management systems to the needs of a stagnating monopoly capitalist economy. Part 3 explores ways out of the current crisis based on Dewey’s theory of collective intelligence. Beginning with the institutional context of social theory today, Michael Burawoy’s theory of public sociology is reconstructed as ‘democratic sociology’ based on a practice of ‘co-inquiry’ with the public. While Burawoy argues that the ‘founding tension’ in sociology between professional and radical sociology can be resolved by establishing an ‘organic solidarity’ within the discipline, the analysis of marketisation presented in the thesis suggests that only by uniting with other academics and the public in the fight against neoliberalism can sociologists avoid co-optation. The method of democracy then provides the basis for a reconstruction of the academic profession on a model of ‘democratic collegiality’. Democratic collegiality in turn offers a solution to the contradictions in governance arising from marketisation, pointing to the ‘social co-operative’ as an ideal form for democratised universities. Finally, Corbynism is argued to be a ‘verification’ of Dewey’s hypothesis of intelligent populism, and the book concludes with an analysis of the Lucas Plan, which offers valuable lessons for activist-academics seeking to help realise this genuine alternative to neoliberalism today.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of Social Policy, Department of Social Policy, Sociology and Criminology
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
H Social Sciences > HX Socialism. Communism. Anarchism
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education


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