The Swedenborgian infant school pedagogy of Samuel Wilderspin, 1820-1825: an actor-network analysis

PhD Thesis

Odhner, S. 2023. The Swedenborgian infant school pedagogy of Samuel Wilderspin, 1820-1825: an actor-network analysis. PhD Thesis Canterbury Christ Church University School of Humanites and Education Studies
AuthorsOdhner, S.
TypePhD Thesis
Qualification nameDoctor of Philosophy

Samuel Wilderspin’s infant pedagogy is recognised as an important contribution to the evolution of contemporary education. In particular, Wilderspin proffered a sophisticated pedagogic approach when educational theories were as yet undeveloped. However, Wilderspin’s seminal texts have been overlooked due to their unorthodox structure. Recent studies have called for research to uncover the veiled influence of heterodox religious communities on educational policymaking. This thesis utilises actor-network theory to unravel the unconventional assembly of these texts as a strategy for conveying their esoteric foundations with impunity during the political uncertainties of the early nineteenth century. It reports the discovery of significant parallels between Emanuel Swedenborg’s principles of exegesis and the structure of Wilderspin’s texts to expose them as the output of a marginalised network fixed upon enacting social reform through the establishment of early childhood education. It traces the interdenominational pedagogy from its origins in New Lanark under Robert Owen and James Buchanan to its parliamentary authorisation in London. It culminates with Wilderspin’s problematisation of the infant school actor-network and subsequent ascendance as promoter for the Infant School Society. It identifies Buchanan’s sectarian affiliation as an insubordinate act that not only mediated the design of Owen’s plan but occasioned his censure and activated recurrent attempts to safeguard the pedagogy by disclaiming Buchanan’s role in its production. It demonstrates that while Swedenborg did not assemble a coherent theory of education, an array of concepts in his oeuvre shaped pivotal aspects of infant pedagogy. Nevertheless, scrutinising successive editions of Wilderspin’s works exposes a scholarly circle responsible for their complex assembly. The findings of this thesis reveal Owen’s method as an unrecognised approach to the religious impasse in education, expose the theoretical foundations of contemporary schooling and establish Swedenborg’s ideology as the groundwork for constructivism.

KeywordsSamuel Wilderspin; Infant school; Pedagogy; Emanuel Swedenborg; Marginalisation; Play; Constructivism
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Publication process dates
Deposited14 May 2024
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