- Situating Democracy and Social Ethics:Exploring the Value and Limitations of Addams's Philosophic-Activism
i begin my response to Jane Addams's Evolutionary Theorizing by first noting that I have been studying Jane Addams as a resource for social change off and on for over fifteen years. Despite this prior study, Fischer's newest volume unveiled an array of insights and relevant strategies for engaging in philosophic-activism I had yet to fully uncover and articulate. I also want to begin by noting that I engaged this text with a particular lens and set of goals in mind: First, I read this work as a feminist pragmatist inherently sympathetic to Addams's work. I also read this text as an engaged philosopher interested in enhancing my own practices and better supporting others engaged in place-based philosophic-activism (Lake). I read it as a white, cisgender, educated woman with a host of privileges and as a Director of Design Thinking and an Associate Professor at a small, private liberal arts university. Within these frames, I uncovered an array of strategies incredibly relevant to efforts toward more relational and revolutionary philosophic-activism. In particular, I found Fischer's explication of Addams's commitment to propinquity, historic and geographic mapping, as well as synthetic imagination and rhetorical framing to be particularly important for—but often absent from—current efforts toward "public philosophy." Given the rising interest in publicly engaged scholarship, I think Jane Addams's Evolutionary Theorizing could be a resource for transforming academic endeavors so they are more inclusive and responsive to issues across diverse communities.1 [End Page 119]
What More Might We Learn from Addams? Strategies for Publicly Engaged Scholars
1. Propinquity (walk in and with)
Propinquity—the need for being near to and with diverse communities—is one of the first strategies we (re)learn from Jane Addams's Evolutionary Theorizing. While many other scholars and biographers of Addams have noted this same commitment, Fischer's analysis emphasizes just how rigorous and radical this was.2 She writes that the real "focus of Addams's ethical deliberations" was "the relationships that hold between and among people" (Fischer 71). Addams's energy was devoted to creating "communities of ascent" by encouraging the growth of "webs of affiliation" (Fischer 65) with those who "hold to differing conceptions of the good" (Fischer 111). Fischer emphasizes that, for Addams, this required living in—not simply sporadically visiting—diverse communities. She also emphasizes that it requires a strong dose of humility and a willingness to be transformed.
On this scale, academia's episodic forays into service, obsession with short-term study abroad experiences, as well as its on-demand requests of communities to be research subjects are inherently problematic (Stoecker). Fischer's explication of propinquity could reform the way academics engage in teaching, research, and service by forcing us to consider how we currently are or could be "near to" spaces of differences in a sustained way. For instance, this approach could encourage us to reframe service from an additional, ad hoc, and burdensome obligation within university structures to a powerful opportunity to be with others outside our department and university. It could be seen as a chance to foster relationships that crack open opportunities to work alongside. Ideas that emerge from these burgeoning relationships could filter into course design and research projects, encouraging academics to pursue a "place-based and regional, yet global" approach (Fischer 230). Taking seriously the role of propinquity and humility opens opportunities for relational and emergent co-learning across constituencies. It could also encourage us to collaboratively create syllabi, project descriptions, and learning outcomes with communities and students over time (Fauvel et al.).
As Fischer also makes clear, this requires the willingness to not only situate oneself across spaces of difference, but to also "map" the hidden complexities of the present across space and time.
2. Map the Hidden Complexities (look back and look around)
Fischer gently points out that many Addams scholars have failed to appreciate the rigor of Addams's outreach and analysis. She documents how Addams [End Page 120] situated social problems within the "penumbra" of their "associations." She did this by...