Dystopian fiction, crises, and the education of grownups

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Thursday 6 October 2022, 5.30pm - 7pm
Live online via MS Teams

Centre for Philosophy of Education, Seminar Series: 'Educational Conversations'

This paper addresses the question of how one’s education might help a person to deal productively with crises, taking the recent coronavirus pandemic as an example. While it might seem antithetical to read dystopian literature in a time of crisis, I argue that there are specific features of this genre which can prompt the kind of self-reflection characteristic of a Cavellian ‘education of grownups’. Dystopian fiction can put readers in a position of ‘strangeness’ from the outset, and these novels go beyond a mere correspondence notion of ‘truth’, in turn leaving room for ‘truth’ as the ‘unconcealment of beings’ to ‘happen’ (Heidegger, 1978/2011, p.113). Taking examples from 1984 and Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground, I develop a concept of ‘ontological closeness’ to explain the significance of dystopian fiction for a broader ‘education of grownups’, whilst also drawing lines of connection between Cavell and Heidegger.

Although a perfectionist ‘education of grownups’ is not confined to educational institutions, it is my contention that the educative value of dystopian novels does nevertheless have significant implications for Higher Education. Universities should not only respond to current crises, but also equip students to deal productively with crises that they might encounter on an individual, personal level and on a broader, global scale. I am not simply advocating that dystopian novels should be included on course reading lists, but if the pandemic can be seen as a ‘portal’ (Roy, 2020), then perhaps we need to consider how a ‘preparedness to deal with crises’ can be foregrounded as a clear aim of HE among the various other changes we might envisage for education in a ‘post-COVID’ world.

Claire Skea is a Lecturer in Education at Liverpool Hope University. Claire is a philosopher of education, with a specific focus on policy and practice in Higher Education. She has published articles on student satisfaction in HE, student complaints, neoliberalism and academic identity, and outdoor education. Her research interests include student satisfaction and the student experience in Higher Education, student engagement and reading habits, and philosophy and film.

For further information, please contact alexis.gibbs@winchester.ac.uk or adrian.skilbeck@winchester.ac.uk

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