University of Cambridge > > Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars > From unlimited to situated: A reappraisal of children’s ‘potential’

From unlimited to situated: A reappraisal of children’s ‘potential’

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Lucian Stephenson.

‘We want to ensure all young people have the tools and opportunities they need to fulfil their potential, regardless of background or life circumstances.’ (DfE, 2013)

But what does it mean to fulfil one’s potential? This talk explores the concept of ‘potential’ in education from a philosophical perspective. We claim that the popular and political uses of the term in relation to childhood have been dominated by two central theories, which we call ‘closed’ and ‘open’, and which are both problematic for different reasons. Rather than advocating abandoning the term – a futile gesture in any case given its emotive force – we argue that the concept of children’s potential must be profoundly rethought to be workable as a philosophical notion in education.

In an era marked by the unspoken assumption that ‘unlimited potential’ is always a good thing, we argue that it might be necessary to curb the notion of individual potential. We represent it instead as the negotiated, situated, ever-changing creation of a group of individuals, in a process marked by conflict, and that remains essentially difficult.

We will be actively inviting feedback on this talk towards an article submission.


Rupert Higham is a Lecturer in Leadership for Learning at the Faculty of Education. His research revolves around dialogue and student agency.

Clementine Beauvais is a Junior Research Fellow at Homerton College in the philosophy and cultural sociology of childhood.

This talk is part of the Pedagogy, Language, Arts & Culture in Education (PLACE) Group Seminars series.

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