Folding Froebel with Deleuze

Rethinking the significance of imitation in early childhood


  • Maggie MacLure
  • Christina MacRae


Deleuze, Froebel, becoming, imitation, monism, unfolding, self-activity


The paper brings Froebel’s philosophy into conversation with that of Deleuze. We focus on the fold and on self-activity as key concepts that hold a special place in the monist philosophies of both thinkers. One point at which their (very different) ontologies coincide is their conceptualization of a cosmos in which everything is ultimately in relation. The philosophical convergences of such different thinkers in different eras are mapped in relation to the influences of a shared lineage with some earlier hermetic and romantic strains of thought. Both Froebel and Deleuze conceive of subjectivity as a relation of dynamic folding and unfolding of inner life and external world. The fold, as the operation that brings outside and inside together in a unitary system, counters the dualisms that still tend to structure thought: for instance, ideal/material, intelligible/sensible, nature/culture, individual/social.

Reading Deleuze with Froebel helps to draw out some theoretical underpinnings of Froebel’s holism, by bringing movement, matter and the senses back into focus and rethinking the relation between children and their environment in learning and development. We discuss some empirical examples of what this might look like from a current research project, focusing on imitation as one example of the fold between the inner life and the outer worlds of young children. In particular, we are interested in exploring how Froebel’s conception of imitation as a dynamic and metamorphic act of self-transformation might share some affinities with the concept of becoming developed by Deleuze and Guattari.