An ontological turn in critical thinking in higher education

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Research and Development in Higher Education: Higher Education in a Globalized World Vol. 37

July, 2014, 352 pages
Published by
A. Kwan, E. Wong, T. Kwong, P. Lau & A. Goody

It has been argued that higher education pedagogy needs to take an ‘ontological turn’ because the focus on the development of generic skills does not enable students to face the ontological challenge of a ‘supercomplex’ world (Barnett, 2004, 2005). This challenge requires that students are able to develop a sense of an ethical self in relation to competing discourses and perspectives. Higher education is, as yet, ill- equipped to prepare students for this ontological challenge (Barnett, 2004). There is a need, therefore, to review current teaching practices and to develop practices more able to support students in meeting this challenge. Critical thinking is an appropriate teaching and learning area for this type of review, as it is concerned, at least in theory, with teaching students skills to analyse competing discourses.

This paper examines critical thinking in professional education and finds little evidence of an ontological turn. The focus is, instead, on critical thinking as the skill of making judgements. Drawing from theorists who argue against critique being directed at making judgements (Butler, 2001), the paper reviews the limitations of this focus. It is argued that Michel Foucault’s (1984) ‘critical ontology’ can be adapted as a method in critical thinking that addresses the need for an ‘ontological turn’. Further research in this area is warranted in order to develop ontological teaching and learning methods.

Keywords: ontological turn; critical ontologies; critical thinking 

An ontological turn in critical thinking in higher education

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Pollard, V.