Philosophy Ph.D. Dissertations


John Dewey's Theory of Growth and Amy Allen's Feminist Theory of Power Applied to the Work of Domestic Violence Shelters

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Philosophy, Applied

First Advisor

Michael Bradie, PhD (Committee Chair)


Over the last twenty-five years, there has been an increased interest in bringing together pragmatism and feminism. The dissertation advances this movement. It specifically examines the theory of growth offered by John Dewey and the feminist theory of power outlined by Amy Allen. The dissertation then examines the two theories in relation to the theory and practice of domestic violence emergency shelters. Dewey's theory of growth, which may apply to individual growth, and the work done with individual women in shelters provides a nice point of convergence from which to examine pragmatism and feminism. Before bringing representatives of pragmatism and feminism together, the dissertation addresses a criticism of Dewey's work that presents a potential obstacle to a productive merger. The dissertation alleviates the criticism that Dewey's theory of growth is cryptic and allusive by presenting the theory in light of his central pragmatic commitments. This presentation contextualizes his statements about growth and frames them within a comprehensive theory. In addition, the criticism that Dewey does not significantly address issues of power within his work is potentially problematic for application to the work of domestic violence shelters. To address this issue, the dissertation evaluates Dewey's work for whether it adequately theorizes the modes of power that Allen argues are necessary for a feminist theory of power, specifically, domination, resistance, and solidarity. The conclusion is made that while Dewey's theory embraces, or at least accommodates, each mode of power, his emphasis on problem-solving and cooperative inquiry masks the fact that problems may result from oppressive relations of power, making their resolution that much more difficult. To supplement Dewey's ability to diagnose relations of power, the dissertation explores the possibility of a joint theory between Dewey and Allen in application to the theory and practice of domestic violence emergency shelters. The dissertation concludes that the fruitfulness of this examination illustrates the potential benefits for the continued pursuit of collaboration between pragmatism and feminism.