McEwen Takes Uncommon Approach to The Common Good

Story posted February 23, 2011

There are those who glaze over at the mention of "the common good" or wonder what such a lofty term really means.

The common good is recognized as a much beloved principle of education at Bowdoin College, and even identified as fundamental to many graduates' experience here. However, there is something intangible about Joseph McKeen's vision that "...literary institutions are founded and endowed for the common good, and not for the private advantage of those who resort to them for education ..."

What does the common good look like in action? And how might it influence education at Bowdoin and shape our lives?

Listen to a Podcast Recording

Wonder how to awaken a sense of "the common good?" For a start, listen to some stories, says Craig McEwen, Daniel B. Fayerwether Professor of Political Economy and Sociology.

McEwen presented "Stories and the Common Good" for the Karofsky Faculty Encore Lecture, Jan. 28, 2011. Listen to his talk.


No one has wrestled with these questions more earnestly than has Craig McEwen, the senior faculty fellow at the Joseph McKeen Center for the Common Good and Daniel B. Fayerwether Professor of Political Economy and Sociology.

It's been his professional charge to help McKeen Center staff expand connections between Bowdoin's academic program and an ever-growing network of public engagement initiatives dedicated to the common good. And it has been his personal mission to help students deepen their thinking about the common good through applied social research. That research teaches them about issues of poverty, homelessness, hunger and barriers to health care access as well as about local organizations that take on the challenge of dealing with these issues.

In his Spring 2011 Karofksy Faculty Encore Lecture, "Stories and the Common Good," McEwen delivered a perceptive, often witty, exploration of the paradoxes that underlie our awakening connections to others. He also challenged his audience to seek their own meaning for the common good.

"It may be relatively easy to find a common good when the common is confined to family," notes McEwen, "but it gets harder and harder, the wider we try to stretch the notion of common because we keep running into differences that separate rather than unite us."

McEwen suggested that "stories that help provoke our instinct for empathy are a major vehicle for both widening a circle of concern and simultaneously learning about difference. "

"Voices of the powerless through story can both awaken in others an unrecognized kinship or solidarity that deepens understanding, promotes sympathy, may touch conscience, and, on occasion, even promote action," said McEwen.

Listen to a podcast of McEwen's thought provoking Karofsky Lecture.

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