A Reappraisal of Children’s ‘Potential’

Clementine Beauvais, Rupert Higham

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


What does it mean for a child to fulfil his or her potential? This article explores the contexts and implications of the much-used concept of potential in educational discourses. We claim that many of the popular, political and educational uses of the term in relation to childhood have a problematic blind spot: interpersonality, and the necessary coexistence for the concept to be receivable of all children’s ‘potentials’. Rather than advocating abandoning the term—a futile gesture 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 think about the limitations of the notion of individual potential; namely, the moment when it comes into contact with other people’s projects. We propose a conceptualisation of potential as the negotiated, situated, ever-changing creation of a group of individuals, in a process marked by conflict, and which remains essentially difficult.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
JournalStudies in Philosophy and Education
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jan 2016

Bibliographical note

Clémentine Beauvais is a Lecturer in English in Education at the University of York. Rupert Higham is a Lecturer in Education at the University of Cambridge.
© 2016, The Author.


  • potential
  • agency
  • existentialism
  • intersubjectivity

Cite this