The Matter of Thinking: Material Thinking and the Natural History of Humankind

  • Aislinn O'Donnell Maynooth University


Contemporary educational policies have recently prioritised the development of generic, core, and transferable skills. This essay reflects on this tendency in the context of the ‘algorithmic condition’ and those discourses that tend toward an image of education that privileges dematerialised skills, practices, and knowledge. It argues that this turn towards dematerialisation is resonant with shifts in a number of diff erent domains, including work, and explores some of the implications of this shift. Instead I suggest an approach to education that understands it as turning towards the world, loving the world, and creating a common world. In order to understanding thinking and knowing as material practices, the concept of ‘material thinking’ is developed that refuses binaries of theory and practice, but that instead understands thinking, particularly in educational contexts, as material and a practice of thinking with something, and a turning towards the world. I draw upon the work of Susan Oyama, Elizabeth Grosz, Tim Ingold and Isabelle Stengers, and explore the example of Barbara McClintock’s research as a cytogeneticist researching maize. Here I am particularly interested in the importance of deep engagement with a subject matter in terms of developing the skilfulness that is associated with what I am calling ‘material thinking’. This allows us to think about education in a way that pays attention to the plurality of practices of material thinking that engage with the natural history of humankind, and the story of the world.


Aislinn O'Donnell, Maynooth University
O’Donnell, A. (2018). The Matter of Thinking: Material Thinking and the Natural History of Humankind. Studier I Pædagogisk Filosofi, 6(1), 39-54.