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SAAP Annual Meeting 2018

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Pragmatic Instrumentalism and the Creative Arts: Advocacy, Policy, and Critical Problems

Using John Dewey’s claim that “knowing is not self-enclosed and final but is instrumental to reconstruction of situations” this paper reconceptualizes arts-centered inquiry as pragmatic instrumentalism. It interrogates the advocacy claim that arts education develops the creativity and innovation necessary to maintain the nation’s global competitiveness. I draw a distinction between the syntactical use of the term “instrumental” in denoting structural, utilitarian justifications for the arts and the more expansive conceptual application of the term to encompass benefits the arts provide individual students in mediating complex and connected learning. The difference has to do with the center of power. Structural, utilitarian instrumentality has as its intended outcome efficient management of human behavior. By contrast, pragmatic instrumentalism looks at transformative consequences for particular individuals engaged in practical, everyday transactions. By reclaiming the term “instrumental” for arts-centered inquiry, the notion of generativity to arts learning grounded in American philosophy gains new meaning.

Deron Boyles
Georgia State University
United States


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