Making sense of existence without relying on dualist assumptions

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … the continuity of forms
  • Knowing is … being
  • Learner is … any form acting with/in other forms
  • Learning is … becoming
  • Teaching is … N/A


Ancient (entrenched in the language)


Materialisms assert that everything in the universe is matter-based – and so, in one swoop, reject almost all Correspondence Discourses and their associated dualisms. Even ideas and consciousness are seen as the result of material interactions. Most materialisms accept evolutionary theory, and many recent versions embrace Eco-Complexity Discourses. Correspondingly, all reject notions of spirits, spirituality, fates, and deities as useful or valid explanatory devices. There are many varieties at play among discourses on learning. The ones that are currently most influential are Dialectical Materialism, Eliminative Materialism, and New Materialism:
  • Dialectical Materialism (Marxist Dialectics) is associated with most varieties of Critical Pedagogy. It is focused on such material conditions as social class and power structures in its efforts to prompt societal evolutions toward more just forms of social organization.
  • Eliminative Materialism (Eliminativism) focuses mainly on concepts associated with “mind” Asserting that Folk Theories are mistaken, it looks to Neuroscience to one day reveal that such notions as intention, belief, desire, and love are by-products of inadequate natural languages rather than materially rooted.
  • New Materialisms amplify the orienting tenets of Materialisms, with a particularly enthusiastic embrace of eco-centrism (i.e., displacing humans as the centre of inquiry) that emphasizes the rejection of human/non-human, animate/inanimate, and other dualisms already problematized by Materialisms. Most often, New Materialisms are aligned with Post-Structuralism.
Discourses that occupy a similar philosophical space to Materialisms are:
  • Naturalism (Charles Albert Dubray; 1910s) – the view that only natural laws operate in this universe – entailing rejections of the supernatural, the spiritual, the metaphysical, and the idealistic.
  • Physicalism (Otto Neurath, Rudolf Carnap; 1930s) – often used interchangeably with Materialisms, Physicalism is sometimes distinguished as being more explicit in its alignment with physics and its considerations of more than matter (e.g., energy, fundamental laws).


The most vocal criticisms of Materialisms are anchored to belief systems that rely on some combination of fundamental dualisms, such as human/natural, body/mind, or limited/omnipotent, including:
  • Hard Problem – the difficulty encountered within Materialisms of explaining the emergence of mind and consciousness
Other critiques are more ideologically focused, particularly those associated with Dialectical Materialism.

Authors and/or Prominent Influences

Charles Darwin; Karl Marx

Status as a Theory of Learning

Materialisms are not theories of learning, per se. However, like a few other recent theoretical offerings, they can be construed as presenting an account of material dynamics in which all activity is, in effect, learning/becoming.

Status as a Theory of Teaching

Materialisms are not theories of teaching. That said, New Materialisms have been taken up by a number of educational researchers to interrogate matters of curriculum foci and teaching practices.

Status as a Scientific Theory

Materialisms can be argued to be scientifically rigorous, at least those versions that embrace and encompass contemporary perspectives on evolution and complexity.


  • Dialectical Materialism (Marxist Dialectics)
  • Eliminative Materialism (Eliminativism)
  • Hard Problem
  • Naturalism
  • New Materialisms
  • Physicalism

Map Location

Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2021). “Materialisms” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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