Pedagogy of the Oppressed Chatper 4 Part 1

P FreireKey Concepts in Chapter 4:

  • Antidialogicity and dialogicity as opposed theoretical frameworks for cultural action: the first serves oppression and the second, liberation.

Antidialogicity and Dialogicity frameworks for cultural action

Chapter 4 examines the broader cultural context in which the educational programmes described in chapter 3 take place. Just as the “banking system of education” is contrasted with problem-solving education, here in chapter four “antidialogical action” is contrasted with “dialogical action” in social relations and cultural communication. Freire stresses again that human activity consists of action and reflection, he calls this process praxis which he equates with the transformation of the world. We need a theory to understand praxis. Human activity is theory and practice; it is reflection and action. As he said in chapter 2, human activity cannot be reduced to either verbalism or activism. Because this transformation is about the people, they must be involved in both the reflection and the action.

Freire talks about the oppressed being the Subjects of the transformation, fully conscious unambiguous beings. If they are involved in the process as ambiguous beings still harbouring an oppressed identity, Freire contends that they will simply imagine they have reached power. Again, I have seen how this can play out in the real world. Many projects pay lip service to empowerment. For instance a piece of funding is awarded and an oppressed group produce a piece of art work or a film or a documentary, often facilitated by a person who is not a member of that group. The latter is paid for their skills and the group do have an opportunity to learn skills, articulate their experience and perhaps have their voice heard. Such projects can be transformative but very often they are not because they are not accompanied by the kind of critical awareness Freire espouses. A process of transformation cannot happen “without the people” or for the people. Dialogue with the people is radically necessary to every authentic revolution. We are witnessing this in Greece at the present time. We have a population where 60% of the people have reached a stage that they can make a decision to stand up to neoliberal European powers even knowing that there might be detrimental consequences for them personally. It is not a military coup, it is not force, it is a courageous act by the people for the people who have been involved in an honest dialogue about their condition. They are trying, despite tremendous opposition to say that those who rule us are accountable to us. Freire’s point could not be more pertinent to the current crisis in Greece.

Freire goes on to emphasise that action and reflection occur simultaneously. Critical analysis might lead to a decision not to take action at a particular time but this in itself is a form of action. The point he is making is that it is the true critical awareness of one’s decision is what is important.

In revolutionary action the oppressed and the leaders are equally the Subjects of revolutionary action, and reality serves as the medium for the transforming action of both groups. In this theory of action one cannot speak of an actor, nor simply of actors, but rather of actors in intercommunication. We should not have leaders on the one hand and the oppressed on the other, this merely replicates oppressive structures. If leaders avoid dialogue with the people under the pretence of organising them it shows a lack of trust and faith in the people and it also shows a fear of freedom. Leaders and people must act together in solidarity.

The need for dialog is linked back to the idea of the praxis. It is not good enough for the revolutionary leadership to have a theory of the revolution and to employ the people simply as activists; this would be to manipulate the people and the leaders would thereby invalidate their own praxis. The praxis must include the intellectuals and the people together. If the leadership simply issues communiqués they deny the people their praxis. The essential point is that the relation between revolutionary leaders and the people must be dialogical if it is to avoid mirroring the relations between the oppressor and the oppressed.

One cannot help but note how much this rings true in the present day. If we look at recent protests in Ireland e.g. water charge protests what I feel was at play was class warfare. One must ask again, why would the leaders of the people of Ireland, those people elected to represent the people of Ireland, have been so reluctant to listen to the people? The people were saying “no”. Yet somehow the leaders were afraid of this “no”. One cannot but ask if Freire’s premise is true. Do our governments fear that the very people they represent might actually be free. Surely when there is widespread opposition across many sectors of society, to a national policy, a democratic government ought to listen rather than mistrust the people?

On the other hand I do believe that a small minority of the people involved in the water protests did in fact lack the “reflection” part put forward by Freire. I do think that some did resort to populism but not necessarily those popularly considered to be “populist”. For example one of the leaders of the protest, Paul Murphy, an elected member of the Dáil (Irish Parliament), was accused of such populism and indeed I asked myself this question too. However, if anyone would care to read the transcript (Late Late Paul Murphy) of an interview he gave earlier this year on the popular TV Chat Show “The Late Late Show”, one cannot but conclude that this is someone who has reflected and who has acted on that reflection and that indeed does give him true power.

One criticism I will make is that I still find some of Freire’s approach to be patronising. He says that the leadership must not “believe in the myth of the ignorance of the people” and at the same time they should ‘mistrust’ the peasant who still may “house the oppressor” in him. The leadership must show ‘determination’. His idea that authority, which he distinguishes from authoritarianism, is required for freedom is unconvincing. “The fact that the leaders who organize the people do not have the right to arbitrarily impose their word does not mean that they must therefore take a liberalist position which would encourage license among the people, who are accustomed to oppression”. Freire seems to have a formula for his revolutionary process and it includes the notion that authority is needed for freedom to happen. It seems to fly in the face of his basic philosophy.