Theorizing Dialogue among Various Voices in Critical Theory

Joseph Zanoni

Social Theory and Human-Capital

We may judge theories and discourse in early childhood and human capital by how useful they are for explaining practice and not how abstruse they are. Given expanding alignments of knowledge, technology, and critique, one grand counter narrative could not satisfy our needs (Lyotard, 1984). The aims of educational inquiry may be understood by developing frameworks of dimensionality recognizing hybrid or overlapping social theories. The palimpsest process of history shows how the paradigm shifts of theoretical legacies position us now to unpack our contemporary moment and to propose paths for future social practice.

Many social theorists define what discourse is, where it circulates and travels, and how to perceive see it based on the human propensity for language. Perhaps language is a primary expression of human capital since material capital is based on the intersubjective use of language and action emerging through meaning and interpretation (Berk, 2001; Darder, 2011; Fairclough, 2003; Hand, Penuel, & Gutierrez, 2013; Luke, 1995; Pennycook, 2001). I will begin to use the term “human-capital” with the hyphen to emphasize the root of humanism in our multidimensional theoretical discussion. Following forms of critical theory I assume that early childhood is a recent and evolving social condition that is inherently neither good nor neutral. Social theories will be used to elucidate a significant social problem: how capitalist extraction, individualism, and modernist meritocracy are reflected in discourse. Left unchallenged, this evolving hegemony accelerates the material and social inequities between the wealthy and the poor; we focus on early childhood as a site of circulation and interaction (Bloch, Kennedy, Lightfoot, & Weyenberg, 2006).

We ask these questions and use theory to understand what early childhood is and for whom it is valuable; similarly human-capital could be described as the value and use of human capabilities for phenomenological, experiential, and other noninstrumental uses. Critique should also lead to curriculum possibilities and social design experiments that use theory to propose and envision social relations that may impact the expression of early childhood (Gutierrez & Vossoughi, 2010). The theories developed by Foucault, Gramsci, and Bakhtin described here could provide an emphasis on the humanity in human-capital.

See how the palimpsest appears; part of the text is scraped away by an instrument or dissolved in some way and yet some of the text clings to the structure. The knife of theory could loosen the hold of material and social assumptions allowing a third space for praxis to take hold (Gutierrez, Baquedano-Lopez, & Tejeda, 1999). We may ask if the text that remains, continuing to resound, is essential or just tenacious. Reflection and action may be grounded in repertoires of cultural practices such as language and other forms of exchange but expressed in unexpected ways (Gutierrez & Rogoff, 2003). The palimpsest action of discourses upon each other—shearing at each other or creating tension—in alignment or juxtaposition, flows with, blocks, or interrupts a stream of assumptions (Luke, 2002; New London Group, 1996). Theory can illuminate or confound a portion of dimensionality enabling new groundings to encompass larger horizons of the ecosocial perspective (Krieger, 2011). Hybrid viewpoints related to social levels, the life course, agency, embodiment, and social history can enable social critique animating emergent values to be addressed in collaboration and coordination in a move toward health equity in early childhood.

The dimensional use of social theory can offer guides as we seek to consider, link, or contrast micro, meso, and macro levels of discourse interaction that may direct or reflect action reverberating on many levels (Hand et al., 2013). The reason for all of this is to recognize the working of power in language and to conceive how this varying language may be formed to confront social material inequities.

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