Philosophy and Community Practices

by Roberto Franzini Tibaldeo (Volume editor) Graziano Lingua (Volume editor)
Edited Collection 204 Pages
Series: Dia-Logos , Volume 23

Table Of Content

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction (Roberto Franzini Tibaldeo / Graziano Lingua)
  • Section 1 The Theoretical and Practical Framework: State of the Art and Critical Lens
  • Chapter 1 – Philosophy (Alessandro De Cesaris / Roberto Franzini Tibaldeo / Cristina Rebuffo)
  • Chapter 2 – Community (Graziano Lingua / Paolo Monti)
  • Chapter 3 – Education (Sara Nosari / Federico Zamengo)
  • Section 2 Accounts of Community Experiences
  • Chapter 4 – Promoting and Assessing Community Development Through Philosophy (Roberto Franzini Tibaldeo / Nicolò Valenzano)
  • Chapter 5 – Building Bridges Between Diversities: The Case Study of “MondoQui”, Mondovì (Sergio Racca / Nicolò Valenzano)
  • Chapter 6 – Philosophy in San Siro. An Experience in Philosophy for Communities: Rethinking Inhabiting and Inhabiting Thought in the Neighbourhood Workshops (Pierpaolo Casarin)
  • Chapter 7 – We Have Encountered Not only Words: The Practice of Philosophy for Communities in the Community of San Benedetto al Porto, Genoa (Silvia Bevilacqua)
  • Chapter 8 – Philosophy for Children: A Longitudinal Research (Félix García Moriyón)
  • Chapter 9 – Paths of the Labyrinth: A Philosophy Project in a Public School in Duque de Caxias, Rio de Janeiro (Edna Olimpia da Cunha / Vanise Dutra Gomes / Walter Omar Kohan)
  • Chapter 10 – An Outline Appraisal of Community Practices (Roberto Franzini Tibaldeo / Sergio Racca / Nicolò Valenzano / Federico Zamengo)
  • Section 3 Prospects for the Future: Further Reflections and Practical Possibilities
  • Chapter 11 – “I open the Problem, and I don’t know…”: What is “Philosophical” in P4C and in Philosophy? (Giacomo Pezzano)
  • Chapter 12 – New Literacy and Multidimensional Thinking: P4C and the Challenges of the Digital Age (Alessandro De Cesaris)
  • Chapter 13 – Linking Moral Competence, Hospitality, and Education. An MCT-based Pilot Survey (Ewa Nowak / Małgorzata Steć)
  • Chapter 14 – Who is the Adult Educator? (Federico Zamengo)
  • Chapter 15 – Praxis of the Common and Community-based Philosophical Practices (Gabriele Vissio)
  • Chapter 16 – Different Minds Thinking Together: The Potential of Philosophy for Communities from an Intercultural Perspective (Anna Granata)
  • About the Contributors
  • Series index

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Roberto Franzini Tibaldeo, Graziano Lingua


Abstract: In this introduction the authors present the interdisciplinary project “Philosophy and Community Practices”, which was carried out between 2016 and 2017 at the University of Turin. The project aimed at evaluating the relevance of community-based philosophical practices like Philosophy for Communities (p4c) to empowering individuals and communities.

Keywords: Philosophy for Communities (p4c); pluralism; diversity; community; empowerment.

The present publication is one of the outcomes of the interdisciplinary research project called “Philosophy and Community Practices”1, which was carried out between 2016 and 2017 at the Department of Philosophy and Educational Sciences of the University of Turin. This project involved about 20 people (researchers, scholars and educators) and benefited from the collaboration with two organisations: CeSPeC (Cuneo, Italy), to disseminate the research and raise public awareness, and MondoQui (Mondovì, Italy) for the pilot empirical evaluation project. The project aimed to analyse the contribution of the philosophical practice known as Philosophy for Communities – an application of Matthew Lipman and Ann M. Sharp’s well-established Philosophy for Children (p4c) to non-formal and informal education contexts with adults2 – in relation to a number of problems which have arisen in the social and political spheres. It was expressed in a twofold structure encompassing a critical study of theoretical models and practical ← 7 | 8 → intervention in terms of education and empowerment. Specifically, the aim of the project was to evaluate the social relevance of community philosophical practices such as Philosophy for Communities, which contribute to spreading a formative proposal that not only helps people socialise, but also guides them in acquiring useful skills for the realisation of inclusive communities and shared projects.

In this introductory chapter, we would like to briefly present the following aspects of the project: a) the social, political and cultural issues it had to address (sections 1 and 2); b) the research questions and the underlying premises (sect. 3); c) the methodology, the results achieved so far and the structure of the present publication (sect. 4).

1. Literary prologue

Proceeding eighty miles into the northwest wind, you reach the city of Euphemia, where the merchants of seven nations gather at every solstice and equinox. The boat that lands there with a cargo of ginger and cotton will set sail again, its hold filled with pistachio nuts and poppy seeds, and the caravan that has just unloaded sacks of nutmegs and raisins is already cramming its saddlebags with bolts of golden muslin for the return journey. But what drives men to travel up rivers and cross deserts to come here is not only the exchange of wares, which you could find, everywhere the same, in all the bazaars inside and outside the Great Khan’s empire, scattered at your feet on the same yellow mats, in the shade of the same awnings protecting them from the flies, offered with the same lying reduction in prices. You do not come to Euphemia only to buy and sell, but also because at night, by the fires all around the market, seated on sacks or barrels or stretched out on piles of carpets, at each word that one man says – such as “wolf,” “sister,” “hidden treasure,” “battle,” “scabies,” “lovers” – the others tell, each one, his tale of wolves, sisters, treasures, scabies, lovers, battles. And you know that in the long journey ahead of you, when to keep awake against the camel’s swaying or the junk’s rocking, you start summoning up your memories one by one, your wolf will have become another wolf, your sister a different sister, your battle other battles, on your return from Euphemia, the city where memory is traded at every solstice and at every equinox (Calvino 1974: 36–37).

We have chosen to start with this literary prologue because it aptly expresses the meaning of the “Philosophy and Community Practices” project. Euphemia (from the Greek eu, “good”, e phemi, “speaking”) literally means “speaking well”, and is not only the name of a person, but also that of one of Italo Calvino’s famous “invisible cities”. The story of Euphemia, from which the quotation is taken, can be read as a metaphor for the practice of inclusive dialogue that transforms the interlocutors. The scene is that of the encounter with the other, with the foreigner, who is not just a stranger but turns for a day into a companion with whom to build a common memory. This is the starting point of the idea of working on community-based philosophical practices. ← 8 | 9 →

As is known, in the face of the (broadly understood) cultural issues of diversity and pluralism, the projects of “multiculturalism” and “interculturalism” express two different points of view: the first descriptively acknowledges a plurality (of views, values, cultural and religious instances, but also ways of living and concrete practices) and investigates the rules of the coexistence of different identities; the second, instead, has the goal – which is certainly more ambitious, but also more difficult and controversial – to work in view of the qualitative transformation of plurality in pluralism. This means favouring and practicing interrelations of diversity that go beyond the simple act of pluralisation, seeking a real interaction made up of an in-depth comparison, translation practices, research and the construction of common horizons. Without an active encounter between those who hold culturally different views and ways of life, the other remains a stranger arousing fear or, at best, indifference. Concrete interaction, instead, pushes people to decentralise their point of view and to relativize their practices, thereby offering the context for the creation of innovative existential, cultural and value-based relationships.

The pluralistic and dialogic option therefore reflects the desire to see, in the contemporary and globalised socio-cultural complexity, a plural reality in the making that contains a normative instance: it does not just ask for political management but rather requires an in-depth ethical and pedagogical reflection. As Calvino points out, the very dynamics of human desire and the concrete fabric of the relationships of existence are what exposes us to “otherness” and “diversity”, pushing us – as long as we freely consent – towards the overcoming of the existing plurality and towards a pluralism to come. However, this pluralism cannot be reached without accepting the partiality of one’s point of view in the context of a wider horizon: one of coexistence and a shared common horizon to be cooperatively constructed. Such “inclusive” pluralism, capable of integrating cultural differences without homologating them, is not at all irreconcilable with renewed and non-totalitarian (or fundamentalist) forms of community ties that do not aim at idiosyncratic closure but open up to a cosmopolitan universalism (think of U. Beck’s reflections, of G. Marramao’s “universalism of difference” or of M. Pagano’s “universal without one” – Beck 2004; Marramao 2003; Pagano 2007). This is a multi-faceted challenge whose results are largely unknown and unpredictable, although it is clear that the transition to a pluralist society can offer more than one chance of success, as opposed to the risk of slipping into one of the “pathologies of the global age” (Pulcini 2013; Honneth 1992; Honneth 1994).

We believe that the abovementioned challenges require institutionalised and professionalising education (school, university, etc.) to work alongside practices ← 9 | 10 → and occasions of informal education (Calvino’s “fires all around the market”) addressed to people and citizens of all ages. The encounter with the other – as again suggested by Calvino – does not only happen through the negotium (= the space of action necessary for survival, labour, etc.), through which we surely come into contact and get to know the otherness of the other. Indeed, the negotium has to be complemented with the otium, that is, the ability to take the time to reflect on the meaning of one’s and the others’ existence, and experience relative analogies and differences.

2. Global age and the practice of dialogic inclusion: from formal to informal education

Even at first glance, the past decades have been of extraordinary importance to understanding the difficulties related to the accommodation of ethnic and religious diversity, both in Europe and globally. In many countries, the public opinion, politicians and scholars have underlined the government’s incapacity to provide satisfactory policies on social cohesion and on the governance of ethnically and religiously diverse groups. To some extent, the alleged ineffectiveness of these policies highlights a deeper problem: since the 1990s (the decade of the war in former Yugoslavia), and especially since the beginning of the new millennium (9/11 in the USA and several terror attacks in Europe), a growing fear of the so-called “clash of civilisations” has spread all over the globe. According to this trend, ethnic and religious diversities and traditions are perceived as menaces to the status quo and therefore trigger problematic reactions: first, the social groups’ enclosure within the defensive barriers of static identities, which are often manipulated for political purposes; and, second, the tendency of the members of a dominant group not to recognise the “other” as equal in his or her rights.

In addition, the recent global economic crisis has given people and politicians of several developed European and Western countries an excuse to engage in further defensive processes: all those who are perceived as somewhat “different” or “outsiders” are likely to suffer various forms of discrimination and exclusion. Therefore, we are witnessing an additional threat to society: the “us vs. them” conflict discriminates against the weakest members of society and the so-called “minorities within minorities”, that is – generally speaking – women, young people and immigrants (Ambrosini 2005; eds. Eisenberg & Spinner-Halev 2005). As a result, our epoch seems to be afflicted with a series of problems, such as the spread of stereotypes, social prejudice and discrimination; an increasing lack of faith in future opportunities; a generalised breakdown of critical and reflective ← 10 | 11 → thinking; and a pervasive distrust of democracy (Bobbio 1987; Appadurai 1996; Pulcini 2013).

Of course, one of the aspects that are directly affected in this landscape is education, whose role is indeed of paramount importance, especially in the present-day culturally diverse society. However – as often happens – the relevance of education is largely underestimated or even ignored in too many Western and European countries (Nussbaum 2010). As a consequence, educational methods, strategies and practices appear not to be as effective as expected in facing the abovementioned challenges – that is, in enhancing critical thinking and social inclusion, offering job opportunities and educating reflective democratic citizens (see, among others, Torres 2009; Nussbaum 2010; eds. Grant & Portera 2011; Nowak 2013; eds. Nowak, Schrader & Zizek 2013).

To be sure, traditional education has always been criticised for its incapacity to be abreast of the contemporary situation and to understand the signs of changing times (see, for instance, Dewey 1980). However, the present context is quite different, due to factors such as globalisation, social and cultural fragmentation, the consequences of digitalisation and the current trends in international migration (Gobbo 2000; Bauman & Mazzeo 2012; eds. Portera & Grant 2017). These circumstances also affect education, which is forced to review its overall aims and develop new pedagogical methods and practices in order to reconnect itself with what is happening in the world and restore its formative, leading and propulsive role in society. It is also in order to achieve these results and regain effectiveness that, in the last few decades, pedagogy and educational practices have extended their area of intervention beyond the school domain and have been paying increasing attention to non-formal and informal adult education (Eaton 2010).

Among the new educational challenges to be addressed in this regard, the issue of pluralism and diversity of values, cultures, religions, etc., is certainly of the greatest importance. And yet, these social and political challenges are far from being successfully dealt with by social and educational institutions. In this respect, our aim was to undertake an interdisciplinary inquiry into the relevance of philosophical practices in fostering community-based reflection, inclusion and democracy among adults. But why philosophy? And why in its interpersonal specificity? Our societies are currently experiencing the tension between two diverging forces: on the one hand, the individual is subject to a process of individualisation and social atomisation that results in marginalising the intersubjective meaning of individual existence; on the other hand, we witness a global spread of communitarian trends aiming at the creation of idiosyncratic identities and at the restoration of an intersubjective meaning by renouncing individual freedom. We believe that re-establishing sociality ← 11 | 12 → and interpersonal capabilities, fostering inclusive democracies and appreciating diversities entails steering clear of these extremes and being capable of enhancing both individual freedom and commitment to otherness.

In Matthew Lipman and Ann M. Sharp’s p4c, we have found an educational proposal pivoted on the practice of philosophy, which aims at achieving precisely these goals. In this regard, p4c emphasises two interesting aspects: on the one hand, the multidimensionality of creative, critical and caring thinking; and, on the other hand, the importance of both thinking-for-oneself and thinking-with-others through dialogue, thereby highlighting both individual autonomy and a non-communitarian community of inquiry (Lipman 1995; Lipman 2003). These are the main reasons why our project leaned towards p4c rather than other philosophical practices. There are also some additional reasons: a) the p4c proposal is structured according to an educational curriculum and a replicable, though flexible, methodology, and was originally conceived for education both inside and outside of school, involving both young people and adults; b) in the 1970s (viz. its early years), the p4c scholastic curriculum underwent empirical corroboration and in the following decades it received continuous scholarly attention, but not enough theoretico-practical research has yet been carried out as regards its impact outside of school. Our project contributes precisely to filling this gap: by focusing on adults, the research project aims at clarifying the social impact of the philosophical dialogue fostered by p4c and at assessing its relevance to present-day issues related to the inclusion and appreciation of diversity.

3. The “Philosophy and Community Practices” project

The “Philosophy and Community Practices” research project intended to address the issue of social inclusion and dialogue between diverse cultures, with particular reference to the democratic and (arguably) pluralistic public sphere that presently characterises the European states and their societies. The underlying problem was how to form an effective pluralism without sacrificing the search for common horizons that is indispensable for social coexistence and for the political government of society. How could we contribute to this transformation? The first major issue we wanted to address in our work was whether the creation of spaces to exchange views and ideas and the concrete practice of dialogue in the contexts of strong social differentiation could help achieve this objective. We therefore thought that the dialogical practice was the central element to address in our research, from both a theoretical and a practical standpoint. The second general question we have tried to investigate was whether and to what extent the social/community practice of philosophy had something to offer in this regard. ← 12 | 13 → The aim was to verify the potential educational role it may play in the attempt to make social relationships more reflective and self-aware.

Within this framework, the project revolved around the following research questions:

Biographical notes

Roberto Franzini Tibaldeo (Volume editor) Graziano Lingua (Volume editor)

Roberto Franzini Tibaldeo is F.R.S.-FNRS Chargé de recherche (Postdoctoral researcher) at the Université catholique de Louvain (Belgium). Graziano Lingua is Associate Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Turin and Associate Member of GSRL (EPHE-CNRS) in Paris.


Title: Philosophy and Community Practices