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Blog post Part of special issue: Educators learning through communities of philosophical enquiry

Editorial: Educators learning through communities of philosophical enquiry

Joanna Haynes, Associate Professor (Senior Lecturer) in Education Studies at University of Plymouth

‘Community’ is suggestive of collectivism and plurality, while ‘enquiry’ evokes processes of exploration led by pressing questions or concerns. Combining these concepts and practices is at the heart of the ‘community of enquiry’, associated with Philosophy for Children (P4C). Drawing on and diverging from the work of Charles Sanders Peirce, among several others, P4C founders Ann Margaret Sharp and Matthew Lipman adopted this term to characterise its relational methodology (Gregory, 2022).

Over the past 50 years, philosophical enquiry in community has been taken up, not only in schools around the world but also in a wide range of other contexts, including teacher education, university teaching and research, and in informal community settings. Since the creation of Philosophy for Children (P4C), those associated with its theory and practice around the world have continued to deliberate and experiment with it, giving rise to a significant educational, social and philosophical movement (Gregory et al., 2017).

The collection of writing brought together in this BERA Blog special issue draws attention to the thinking, shifts of perspective and wider development of educators who work with/in community of enquiry approaches. It highlights questions raised for those educators relating to how this practice can be critical, creative and educative for those who lead such enquiries, or would like to do so, whatever their field. The authors in this collection communicate about ideas and practices in order to problematise issues related to who, or what, is doing the educating in communities of philosophical enquiry. The following contributions include discussions on:

  • open and philosophical listening; troubling notions of child, listening and voice
  • educators’ power and positionality and the impact on who can speak or be heard
  • silencing, marginalisation and epistemic violence
  • hierarchies of knowledge and knowing
  • eco-philosophical perspectives; the importance of place and embedded enquiry
  • dialogue, social action and democracy
  • reflexive and critical professional development
  • the aims, purposes and forms of education; how processes of philosophical enquiry can generate wider dialogue towards the reconstruction of education.

From the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow, Scotland, Claire Cassidy draws attention to the powerful effects on teachers’ listening when they teach through communities of enquiry, and to implications for student voice. Philosopher of education at the University of the Azores Magda Costa Carvalho highlights ways in which discourses on listening and voice reproduce an adultist, rationalist bias in educational relationships. Darren Chetty, former primary school teacher, doctoral researcher and lecturer at University College London, addresses racism in education, and examines how both teachers and children are positioned within the environment of the school, as in who gets to ask questions and who gets to experience being answerable to others. Recently appointed as co-director of SAPERE[1], philosopher Grace Lockrobin argues that to encounter the conflicting views of others and develop the skills and dispositions necessary to resolve ethical dilemmas with good judgement, teachers and learners should engage in enquiry via pedagogies such as the community of enquiry.

From their experience of P4C in Australia, Mary Graham, Gilbert Burgh and Simone Thornton raise questions of epistemic violence, silencing and marginalisation in education. They call for place-responsive pedagogies, where place is understood as something diverse, active and multi-storied. Graeme Tiffany, a UK-based independent researcher and education consultant with a background in youth work and community development, draws attention to the kind of knowledge and relationship-building required when practising philosophical enquiry in community settings, where participation is voluntary, and discusses how this involvement is a form of social action. From their positions as academics, in Brazil and in South Africa, Rose-Anne Reynolds and Walter Kohan address the politics of academic discussion-as-usual. They propose that exercising the power of being and thinking together through community of enquiry challenges hierarchical relations of knowing.

The contributors in this collection might be described as ‘critical advocates’ of educating through communities of philosophical enquiry. Darren Chetty and Judith Suissa have proposed that we extend interpretation of the ‘community of enquiry’ to something closer to Peirce’s sense, to include not only Philosophy for Children practitioners and students but also trainers, scholars, writers and the spaces in which they enquire together. They write: ‘rather than viewing community of inquiry as a term for a clearly delineated, procedural, timetabled “event” in schools we take it to mean those adults and children who enquire together philosophically and those who think philosophically about such a practice’ (in Gregory et al., 2017, p. 12).

A particular value of bringing this collection together is to highlight the ways in which the scholarship and practice in different settings inform one another and raise important critical questions about the theory and practice of communities of enquiry for education in general.

[1] SAPERE is the Society for the Advancement of Philosophical Enquiry and Reflection in Education and is the UK network for Philosophy for Children.


Gregory, M. R. (2022). Charles Peirce and the community of philosophical inquiry. Analytic Teaching and Philosophical Praxis, 42(1), pp. 1–16. 

Gregory, M. R., Haynes, J., & Murris K. (Eds.). (2017). The Routledge international handbook on Philosophy for Children. Routledge.

Gregory, M. R., & Laverty, M. J. (Eds.). (2018). In community of inquiry with Ann Margaret Sharp: Childhood, philosophy and education. Routledge.