Pedagogy of the Oppressed Chapter 4 Part 2

pfChapter 4 Part 2:

Key Concepts:

  • The antidialogical action and its characteristics: conquest, divide and rule, manipulation, and cultural invasion;
  • The theory of dialogical action and its characteristics: cooperation, unity, organisation, and cultural synthesis.

The second part of Freire’s fourth chapter explores in more depth some of the concepts put forward in the first part of the chapter. He proposes dialogics as an instrument to free the colonized, through the use of cooperation, unity, organisation and cultural synthesis (overcoming problems in society to liberate human beings). This is in contrast to antidialogics which use , manipulation, cultural invasion, and the concept of divide and rule. Freire suggests that populist dialogue is necessary for revolution; that impeding dialogue dehumanizes and supports the status quo.



The first characteristic of antidialogical action is the necessity for conquest. The antidialogical individual, in his relations with others, aims at conquering them—increasingly and by every means, from the toughest to the most refined, from the most repressive to the most solicitous (paternalism). The oppressor conquers the oppressed with an invariably unilateral dialogue, converting the communication process into an act of necrophilia. Some oppressors even use other ideological instruments to achieve their conquest – like that of “bread and circus” – so that their conquest will be total.

Conquerors present the world to the people as a given to which they must adapt rather than a problem to be solved. Freire goes on to list some myths which conquerors deposit in the people: the oppressive order is a ‘free society’, all persons are free to work where they wish, that if they don’t like their boss they can leave him and look for another job, the myth that the street vendor is as much an entrepreneur as the owner of a large factory; education is the path for inclusion for all – when in fact it is shaped like a pyramid and only a small fraction actually get to the top and so on.

“All these myths (and others the reader could list), the internalization of which is essential to the subjugation of the oppressed, are presented to them by well-organized propaganda and slogans, via the mass “communications” media—as if such alienation constituted real communication”. He refers to the practice, in ancient Rome, of the dominant elites giving “bread and circus” to the people in order to “soften them up” and to secure their own tranquility. The content and methods of conquest vary historically; what does not vary (as long as dominant elites exist) is the necrophilic passion to oppress.


Divide and Rule

The oppressors also seek to prevent people from uniting through dialogue. In their implicit discourse they warn that it can be dangerous to the “social peace” to speak to the oppressed about the concepts of union and organisation, amongst others. One of their principal activities is to weaken the oppressed through alienation, with the idea that this will cause internal divisions, and that in this way things will remain stable. Compared to those who opposed them, the oppressors seem to be the only ones that can create the harmony necessary for life. But this is really an effort to divide. If any individual decides to begin a fight for liberation, he is stigmatised, included on the “black list”, all in an effort to avoid the historically inevitable realisation of freedom.

I was particularly interested in Freire’s reference to oppressive cultural action often carried out by “dedicated but naive professionals” in “community development” projects, which takes a “focalised” view of problems rather than seeing them in a broader context. Regions are broken into local communities in a manner which fails to take into account interconnectivity at regional, national and international levels. This leads to an alienation which serves to divide people rather than join with the struggle of oppressed women and men in other areas. This is a central concept in Development and Global Citizenship Education and shows again the impact which Freire had and continues to have in this field.


In the case of manipulation Freire writes “In a situation of manipulation, the Left is almost always tempted by a “quick return to power”, forgets the necessity of joining with the oppressed to forge an organization, and strays into an impossible ‘dialog’ with the dominant elites. One tactic under the heading of manipulation is for the bourgeois to inculcate an appetite for “personal success” amongst the poor.

Cultural Invasion

Cultural invasion is the instrument of domination where the dominator imposes his values and outlook into the culture of the oppressed. Freire sees that this may not be overt: “All domination involves invasion- at times physical and overt, at times camouflaged, with the invader assuming the role of a helping friend”. The example Freire gives is how the values of the surrounding culture can be reflected in the conditions in the home. Cultural invasion “implies the ‘superiority’ of the invader and the ‘inferiority’ of those who are invaded, as well as the imposition of values by the former, who possess the latter and are afraid of losing them”. The cultural revolution must always be dialogical and resist tendencies to cultural invasion even in the revolution – for example bureaucratic tendencies in the new society.

Cultural Invasion

A further characteristic of antidialogicity is a cultural invasion, of which the oppressed are the object. They are just this, objects, while the oppressors are the actors and authors of the process. It’s a subliminal tactic that is used to dominate and that leads to the inauthenticity of individuals. The greater the level of mimicry on the part of the oppressed, the greater the tranquility of the oppressors. What happens among the masses is a loss of values, a transformation in their form of speaking and, inexorably, support for the oppressor.

When there is a cultural invasion, the relationship between parent and child changes to the benefit of the oppressors, who assume that they should educate the community, when in reality the community should educate itself. What is even more cruel is that when an oppressed individual attempts to liberate himself and fights to convince his fellows to do the same, he is negatively classified. For the oppressors, it seems impossible to listen to the unrest of the community. It is as if they see them as incapable of thought. This characteristic implies a single, inflexible view of reality.


Dialogic action proceeds by cooperation, unity for liberation, organisation and cultural synthesis.


Cooperation is a form of community emancipation. Collaboration does not happen through the presence of a messianic leader, but instead through the union created when a leader and the masses communicate and interact with each other to achieve their mutual goal of liberating themselves and discovering the world, instead of adapting to it. It happens when they offer each other mutual trust, so that a revolutionary praxis can be reached. Such a situation requires humility and constant dialogue on the part of all the participants.

Unity for Liberation

For Freire unity means class consciousness.  A consciousness of unity is linked to organisation amongst the oppressed. Organisation must be based on a solidarity with the people as opposed to manipulation of the oppressors who organise themselves so as to dominate them. Freire sees authority as part of this organisation but argues that it must be built on freedom; if not it is authoritarianism.


Dialogical action also requires organisation if it is to avoid ideological control from the top. Organisation is a necessary element of revolutionary action; it implies coherence between action and practice, boldness, radicalising without sectarianism, and the courage to love. All these aspects should be present without falling into naiveté. Obviously, in order for revolutionary action to be accomplished, discipline, order, precise objectives, clear tasks to be completed, and accountability to one’s compatriots must all be present. We are in no way speaking about an anarchistic activity. Rather, we are speaking about the awakening necessary to free oneself from the oppression that one encounters.

Cultural Synthesis


Freire contrasts cultural synthesis with cultural invasion. In cultural invasion the actors superimpose themselves on the people. In cultural synthesis the actors “become integrated with the people”. Both act on the world together.

For Freire the revolution must have this cultural aspect – it is the intellectual part of the praxis. Freire links this back to his educational programmes, which, as we have seen, involve the peasants in the investigation of their own reality. Thus no one, he claims, is imposing on them. However I would argue that the world of academia is still being imposed on the oppressed. Cultural synthesis is where the world-views of the leadership (which will include academics) and of the peasants affirm and support each other.

This view has implications for my own PhD where I am trying to bring the voices of the oppressed or “the diversity of life” directly into the third level classroom. While a critical consciousness may or may not arise for all concerned, the reality is that this experiment highlights the systematic nature of oppressive education. My research proposal brings people from diverse backgrounds, educational opportunities and abilities. While collaboration is beneficial in some ways, overall we are still faced with the reality that our education system still places value on certain kinds of “knowing” and ways of “seeing the world”. We bring the “socially excluded” to “our” classrooms and “we” the students and researchers gain recognition and knowledge. But how do we really value the joint participation of those from “diverse non-traditional” backgrounds. If we turned the education system completely on its head, valuing the real lived experience of people and how they think society’s problems should be solved, perhaps we might find better solutions.

Hence a highly fascinating person with an intellectual disability gives his views on the world, how he sees people, God, development, politics and how people with disabilities should be treated. He has a brilliant head for facts such as historical dates. He would win mastermind on some topics. He is interesting and articulate and fun to be with. He can do, see and talk about so much of what is important for humanity. In fact we need to hear him.

A transgender woman in my research group who is also so capable yet cannot hold a job because her way of being in the world is not acceptable except in protected or special sort of environments. I heard her speak at a conference recently. A brilliant paper, probably better than the average third level student just getting through their degree. Yet her efforts, ideas and writings won’t receive a degree, they won’t be valued in the same way and they won’t be financially beneficial to her because she won’t work as a teacher or doctor or engineer.

In my view we need to at the very least find ways within our educational structures and in our society to value such experiences in a way which goes beyond lip service.

Freire’s work offers ways of thinking about this which is why I feel it is valid in today’s world. However while I do agree strongly with much of his philosophy on education and community, I do not find two aspects convincing. As I have explained in some of the blogs here I find Freire patronising in places. More significantly I do feel that he places all of the responsibility for liberation into the hands of the oppressed. I am not sure if he places sufficient emphasis on structural and systematic aspects of education and society which make it difficult for the oppressed to stand up to their oppressors. Nor does he place sufficient emphasis, in my view, on the responsibility of the oppressor. He says that it is only in the encounter of the people with the revolutionary leaders, in their communion, in their praxis, can a theory of liberation be built. But I believe that this communion needs to also include the oppressor.