The power of pragmatism

Knowledge production and social inquiry

Edited by Jane Wills and Robert Lake

The power of pragmatism


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Book Information

  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-3494-3
  • Pages: 304
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £85.00
  • Published Date: May 2020
  • BIC Category: Sociology, Development and environmental geography, PHILOSOPHY / Movements / Pragmatism, PHILOSOPHY / Epistemology, SOCIAL SCIENCE / Human Geography, Society & social sciences / General, Philosophy: Epistemology & Theory Of Knowledge, Human Geography
  • Series: Manchester University Press


This book makes the case for a pragmatist approach to the practice of social inquiry and knowledge production. Through diverse examples from multiple disciplines, contributors explore the power of pragmatism to inform a practice of inquiry that is democratic, community-centred, problem-oriented and experimental. Drawing from both classical and neo-pragmatist perspectives, the book advances a pragmatist sensibility in which truth and knowledge are contingent rather than universal, made rather than found, provisional rather than dogmatic, subject to continuous experimentation rather than ultimate proof, and verified in their application in action rather than in the accuracy of their representation of an antecedent reality. The Power of Pragmatism offers a path forward for mobilizing the practice of inquiry and knowledge production on behalf of achieving what Dewey called a sense for the better kind of life to be led.


'In a world in which ideological boundaries are increasingly impermeable and cross-political debates mere shouting matches, pragmatism offers not just an escape but entry into a world of mutual respect, justice, and democracy. This book is a contribution to hope at a time when despair seems unavoidable.'
Robert A. Beauregard, Professor Emeritus, Columbia University

'The Power of Pragmatism is so much more than just a model of pragmatist scholarship, old and new. It offers a timely message about how a living tradition of thought can embrace a world of uncertainty and competing truths without itself seeking guarantees. Genuinely multidisciplinary, the collection champions a political stance as much as a philosophical one: the pressing need to create shared, collective responses to the social, political and environmental challenges that confront us today.'
John Allen, Professor Emeritus, Open University

'This excellent book offers a vital approach to knowledge as a collective and participatory process of experiment and action for an unstable and complex world. A diverse set of outstanding authors contribute innovative insights on a wide range of fields including geography, politics, environmental studies, economic development and urban planning. This impressive and hugely encouraging text convincingly shows how intelligence, conversation, and collaboration can produce useful knowledge that provides ways to cope with emerging problems and threats of change.'
Peter Sunley, Professor of Economic Geography, University of Southampton


Part I: The power of pragmatism
1 Introduction: The power of pragmatism - Jane Wills and Robert W. Lake

Part II: Key thinkers, core ideas and their application to social research
2 Habits of social inquiry and reconstruction: A Deweyan vision of democracy and social research - Malcolm Cutchin
3 Appreciating the situation: Dewey's pragmatism and its implications for the spatialisation of social science - Gary Bridge
4 Mead, subjectivity and urban politics - Crispian Fuller
5 Rorty, conversation and the power of maps - Trevor Barnes

Part III: 'Truth', epistemic injustice and academic practice
6 Embodied inequalities: Can we go beyond epistemologies of ignorance in pragmatic knowledge projects? - Susan Saegert
7 Truth and academia in times of fake news, alternative facts, and filter bubbles: A pragmatist notion of critique as mediation - Klaus Geiselhart
8 Learning from experience: Pragmatism and politics in place - Alice Huff
9 Reflections on an experiment in pragmatic social research and knowledge production - Liam Harney and Jane Wills

Part IV: Disciplinary applications in pragmatic research
10 Ecological crisis, action and pragmatic humanism - Meg Holden
11 Pragmatism, anti-representational theory and local methods for critical-creative ecological action - Owain Jones
12 Pragmatism and contemporary planning theory: Going beyond a communicative approach - Ihnji Jon
13 Exploring possibilities for a pragmatic orientation in development studies - Alireza F. Farahani and Azadeh Hadizadeh Esfahani

Part V: Conclusion and postscript
14 The quest for uncertainty: Pragmatism between rationalism and sentimentality - Robert W. Lake
15 Postscript: Who's afraid of pragmatism? - Clive Barnett


Jane Wills is Professor of Geography at the Centre for Geography and Environmental Science and the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter

Robert W. Lake is Professor in the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy and a member of the Graduate Faculties in Geography and Urban Planning at Rutgers University

The power of pragmatism

Edited by Jane Wills, Robert Lake

Hardcover £85.00 / $130.00

Paperback £25.00 / $36.95

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