Kuntz ’96 gives lecture

Educational philosopher Kuntz ’96 comes home for lecture

November 7, 2019
Megan Beatty '20
Kuntz lecture

Aaron Kuntz speaks at Saint Michael’s on November 6. (Photo by Max Rossignol ’22)

Aaron Kuntz ’96 delivered the annual Humanities Lecture at Saint Michael’s College in the Farrell Room in St. Edmunds Hall, on Wednesday afternoon, November 6, 2019. His presentation was titled: “Are the Humanities a Problem? Challenging Convention through Inquiry.”

The Farrell Room was packed with students, faculty and friends eager to hear Kuntz’s perspective.  Professor Christina Root of the English Faculty introduced Kuntz, whom she taught while he was a student at St. Mike’s. She called him “a teacher of teachers” and his work “a wonderful interdisciplinary inspiration.”

During his time at St. Mike’s, Kuntz was an English major and minored in both gender studies and philosophy. Root described his current scholarship on educational philosophy as growing directly “out of the textual analysis he did here in the liberal arts.” Kuntz went on to get his master’s in English and then a doctorate in educational studies and is now the chair of the Department of Educational Studies at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. He has written two books, The Responsible Methodologist and Qualitative Inquiry: Cartography and the Promise of Material Change. He is also the son of the late, much-loved St. Mike’s Professor of History Norbert Kuntz, and the recently retired Professor of Psychology Sue Kuntz.

Aaron Kuntz described his work as differentiating between conventional research and inquiry. He argued that conventional research is too focused on procedure and method, whereas the humanities focus on critical inquiry, exploring questions rather than seeking immediate answers. He said that he is “interested in inquiry that makes visible operating logics and values and tries to seek change.”

“Do the humanities themselves need change?” Kuntz asked. Are they a problem? Maybe the humanities need to be more of a problem than they are.” He argued that inquiry can show how to encounter difference productively by paying close attention to texts that speak back to and trouble accepted norms. Kuntz explained what it means to be a problem by using the metaphor of an allergy: “When you get a rash your body is overreacting to a stimulus, and that rash shows you what your body is doing. Becoming a problem makes normative functioning visible. When you become a problem, you can see how normative society works.” For this reason, becoming a problem and making the humanities a greater problem through inquiry is essential, he said.

Kuntz considered four questions based in inquiry: does it generate cartographies of the status quo, does it refuse to be governed as it is, does it practice an openness to difference as productive, and does it believe in an open-ended future? “We have to have an inquiry process that’s open to a future as unknown because we cannot predict the future,” Kuntz said. He emphasized that inquiry is not replicative, which means not putting our energy into going back to ideas that we already know.

“Materialist inquiry asks what it means to live differently, and how we can shift the material conditions of our lives so that we live differently rather than just think differently.”

Aaron Kuntz

Kuntz highlighted a materialist kind of inquiry, which he described as process-focused rather than product-focused. In this way, materialist inquiry seeks change because it seeks a shift away from the fixation on the epistemological, which comes from Cartesian Dualism, and toward the ontological. “Materialist inquiry asks what it means to live differently, and how we can shift the material conditions of our lives so that we live differently rather than just think differently.”

He said inquiry can help the humanities by encouraging the consideration of two important questions: “What has happened to us to create us how we are now, and how might we be otherwise?” The humanities have to start generating meaningful responses to those two questions to remain relevant, Kuntz said

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