Critical consciousness

Critical consciousness, conscientization or originally conscientização (Portuguese) is a social concept formulated and developed by the Brazilian educationalist, writer and thinker Paolo Freire. In his book Education for critical consciousness (1974), which he published just four years after his seminal work Pedagogy of the Opressed (1970), Freire describes his motivation for his revolutionary way of education as such:

 “For only as men grasp the themes can they intervene in reality instead of remaining mere onlookers. And only by developing a permanently critical attitude can men overcome a posture of adjustment in order to become integrated with the spirit of time.” [1]

Living in a mostly illiterate Brazilian society under governmental change, Freire understood that only by achieving a deeper understanding of the prevailing political and social contradictions, men could become active parts of a transition towards a democractic society. According to Freire, the important thing is to help “men (and nations) to help themselves to place them in consciously critical confrontation with their problems to make them agents of their own recuperation.” His concept of popular education would support the liberation of men of the negative self-images created by their oppressors and the powerful to make them self-aware confident change agents of their own lives taking part in their own history.

Freire mentions responsibility as one of the most fundamental human necessities [2]. Without the capacity to make informed decisions, men cannot escape their passivity and cannot become responsible of their own actions. Societies in transition need rapid and sure solutions for its problems – but those solutions should never be imposed on people but developed with them to stabilize the new order.

Social activist and writer Arlene Goldbard recognizes the importance of conscientization for community cultural development in her 2006 book New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development. She describes the process of conscientization as an identification of “contradictions in experience through dialogue and becoming part of the process of changing the world“ by “breaking through prevailing mythologies to reach new levels of awareness.” [3]

What does all this mean for the practice of democracy and social change? If we look at democratic societies of our world today, it is an interesting discourse to reconsider what liberty and freedom really do mean. Barack Obama addressed these concepts yesterday in his inaugurative speech to enter his second presidential period: “You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. You and I, as citizens, have the obligation to shape the debates of our time — not only with the votes we cast, but with the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideals. (…) With common effort and common purpose, with passion and dedication, let us answer the call of history and carry into an uncertain future that precious light of freedom.”

Grand but inspiring words to inaugurate the new year. Have a critically conscious 2013.

window874 recommends:

Paolo Freire (1974): Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group.

KM, 22.1.2013

[1] Freire, P. (1974) Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum International Publishing Group, p. 5.
[2] Ibid, p. 12.
[3] Goldbard, A. (2006) New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development. New Village Press.


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