‘I like the unpath best.’ Exposure, Attention, and Transformation: A Softer Path Stretching Towards Social Justice

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


The magnitude of economic disadvantage, poverty, and social inequality suggests that issues of social injustice demand our attention now, more than ever before. Political discourse around social justice is often premised on a pragmatic agenda, placing emphasis on changing the individual, rather than addressing structural social inequalities. Education is increasingly dominated by global priorities, prioritising in particular those economic and intellectual concerns that place an emphasis on the Self. Taken together, the notion that individual merit and success amounts to the ‘good life’ is perpetuated. I therefore call for an awakening to these emergent priorities of education as, I argue, they divert our attention from ethical, political, and sociological concerns, towards competitive and intellectual virtues. I suggest that there is the need for education to open up the space to think about what it is to live with, and respond responsibly to the Other. I work with the complexity of social justice in which I acknowledge that the particulars of human experience are never clear or fixed. I refuse to cast the complexity of social justice as children and young peoples’ ignorance of the concept. I go on to reimagine a space where children and young people can question what social justice means, what it ought to mean, and how it could be otherwise. Consequently, the arguments herein are grounded in pedagogies central to the community of philosophical inquiry (CoPI) as a space for children and young people to open up a discourse to rethink relations with the Other. I explore three key themes: exposure of the Self, and to the Other central to social justice; an attentiveness to the Other and issues of social injustice; and transformation of the Self, concerning how one comes to understand the Other and the concept of social justice. I suggest that in a turn away from the Self, and through a knowing of and an encounter with the realities of social justice, one comes to better know the experiences of the Other, and with this knowledge one holds it demands one to exercise the necessary virtues towards the Other. Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain provides the foundations for this thesis. I use Shepherd’s account of her time spent walking in the mountains to enrich not only my understanding of the idea of research but also as research being lived as an embodied experience. I use Shepherd’s appeal to an unknowing as a gentle force to render an attentiveness to thinking more carefully about what it is to know and understand social justice. We leave the well-defined research paths behind in favour of one which offers the space for one to pause for a moment, to take in the surroundings, to question what presents itself, and to consider alternatives. I invite the reader to walk into the wild with me on this journey.
Date of Award9 Nov 2022
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Edge Hill University
SupervisorAMANDA FULFORD (Director of Studies), CAROL ROBINSON (Supervisor) & ANNABEL YALE (Supervisor)


  • Nan Shepherd
  • social justice
  • philosophy
  • philosophy for children
  • attention
  • exposure
  • transformation
  • Emerson
  • community philosophy

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