Pedagogy and the Politics of the Body: A Critical Praxis (Critical Education Practice)

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Utilizing certain basic contradictions, we must pose this existential, concrete, present situation to the people as a problem which challenges them and requires a response—not just at the intellectual level, but at the level of action. We must never merely discourse on the present situation, must never provide the people with programs which have little or nothing to do with their own preoccupations, doubts, hopes, and fears—programs which at times in fact increase the fears of the oppressed consciousness.

Antonia Darder: Reflections on Paulo Freire & Critical Pedagogy Today

It is not our role to speak to the people about our own view of the world, nor to attempt to impose that view on them, but rather to dialogue with the people about their view and ours. We must realize that their view of the world, manifested variously in their action, reflects their situation in the world.

Educational and political action which is not critically aware of this situation runs the risk either of "banking" or of preaching in the desert. Often, educators and politicians speak and are not understood because their language is not attuned to the concrete situation of the people they address. Accordingly, their talk is just alienated and alienating rhetoric. The language of the educator or the politician and it seems more and more clear that the latter must also become an educator, in the broadest sense of the word , like the language of the people, cannot exist without thought; and neither language nor thought can exist without a structure to which they refer.

In order to communicate effectively, educator and politician must understand the structural conditions in which the thought and language of the people are dialectically framed. It is to the reality which mediates men, and to the perception of that reality held by educators and people, that we must go to find the program content of education.

The investigation of what I have termed the people's "thematic universe" 13 —the complex of their "generative themes"—inaugurates the dialogue of education as the practice of freedom. The methodology of that investigation must likewise be dialogical, affording the opportunity both to discover generative themes and to stimulate people's awareness in regard to these themes.

Consistent with the liberating purpose of dialogical education, the object of the investigation is not persons as if they were anatomical fragments , but rather the thought-language with which men and women refer to reality, the levels at which they perceive that reality, and their view of the world, in which their generative themes are found.

Education as the Practice of Freedom

Before describing a "generative theme" more precisely, which will also clarify what is meant by a "minimum thematic universe," it seems to me indispensable to present a few preliminary reflections. The concept of a generative theme is neither an arbitrary invention nor a working hypothesis to be proved. If it were a hypothesis to be proved, the initial investigation would seek not to ascertain the nature of the theme, but rather the very existence or non-existence of themes themselves. In that event, before attempting to understand the theme in its richness, its significance, its plurality, its transformations, and its historical composition, we would first have to verify whether or not it is an objective fact; only then could we proceed to apprehend it.

Although an attitude of critical doubt is legitimate, it does appear possible to verify the reality of the generative theme—not only through one's own existential experience, but also through critical reflection on the human-world relationship and on the relationships between people implicit in the former. This point deserves more attention. One may well remember— trite as it seems—that, of the uncompleted beings, man is the only one to treat not only his actions but his very self as the object of his reflection; this capacity distinguishes him from the animals, which are unable to separate themselves from their activity and thus are unable to reflect upon it.

In this apparently superficial distinction lie the boundaries which delimit the action of each in his life space.


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Because the animals' activity is an extension of themselves, the results of that activity are also inseparable from themselves: animals can neither set objectives nor infuse their transformation of nature with any significance beyond itself. Moreover, the "decision" to perform this activity belongs not to them but to their species.

Animals are, accordingly, fundamentally "beings in themselves.

Pedagogy and the Politics of the Body: A Critical Praxis (Critical Education Practice)

Unable to decide for themselves, unable to objectify either themselves or their activity, lacking objectives which they themselves have set, living "submerged" in a world to which they can give no meaning, lacking a "tomorrow" and a "today" because they exist in an overwhelming present, animals are ahistorical. Their ahistorical life does not occur in the "world," taken in its strict meaning; for the animal, the world does not constitute a "not-I" which could set him apart as an "I.

Their life is not one of risk-taking, for they are not aware of taking risks. Risks are not challenges perceived upon reflection, but merely "noted" by the signs which indicate them; they accordingly do not require decision-making responses. Consequently, animals cannot commit themselves. Their ahistorical condition does not permit them to "take on" life. Because they do not "take it on," they cannot construct it; and if they do not construct it, they cannot transform its configuration. Nor can they know themselves to be destroyed by life, for they cannot expand their "prop" world into a meaningful, symbolic world which includes culture and history.

As a result, animals do not "animalize" their configuration in order to animalize themselves—nor do they "de-animalize" themselves. Even in the forest, they remain "beings-in-themselves," as animal-like there as in the zoo.

Interpretive Essays

In contrast, the people—aware of their activity and the world in which they are situated, acting in function of the objectives which they propose, having the seat of their decisions located in themselves and in their relations with the world and with others, infusing the world with their creative presence by means of the transformation they effect upon it—unlike animals, not only live but exist; 14 and their existence is historical. Animals live out their lives on an atemporal, flat, uniform "prop"; humans exist in a world which they are constantly re-creating and transforming.

For animals, "here" is only a habitat with which they enter into contact; for people, "here" signifies not merely a physical space, but also an historical space. Strictly speaking, "here," "now," "there," "tomorrow," and "yesterday" do not exist for the animal, whose life, lacking self-consciousness, is totally determined. Animals cannot surmount the limits imposed by the "here," the "now," or the "there. Humans, however, because they are aware of themselves and thus of the world—because they are conscious beings —exist in a dialectical relationship between the determination of limits and their own freedom.

As they separate themselves from the world, which they objectify, as they separate themselves from their own activity, as they locate the seat of their decisions in themselves and in their relations with the world and others, people overcome the situations which limit them: the "limit-situations. Men and women respond to the challenge with actions which Vieira Pinto calls "limit-acts": those directed at negating and overcoming, rather than passively accepting, the "given.

Pedagogy - Wikipedia

Thus, it is not the limit-situations in and of themselves which create a climate of hopelessness, but rather how they are perceived by women and men at a given historical moment: whether they appear as fetters or as insurmountable barriers. As critical perception is embodied in action, a climate of hope and confidence develops which leads men to attempt to overcome the limit-situations.

This objective can be achieved only through action upon the concrete, historical reality in which limit-situations historically are found.


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As reality is transformed and these situations are superseded, new ones will appear, which in turn will evoke new limit-acts. The prop world of animals contains no limit-situations, due to its ahistorical character.

Issues in Critical Pedagogy

Similarly, animals lack the ability to exercise limit-acts, which require a decisive attitude towards the world: separation from and objectification of the world in order to transform it, Organically bound to their prop, animals do not distinguish between themselves and the world. Accordingly, animals are not limited by limit-situations—which are historical—but rather by the entire prop.


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And the appropriate role for animals is not to relate to their prop in that event, the prop would be a world , but to adapt to it. Thus, when animals "produce" a nest, a hive, or a burrow, they are not creating products which result from "limit-acts," that is, transforming responses. Their productive activity is subordinated to the satisfaction of a physical necessity which is simply stimulating, rather than challenging.

Only products which result from the activity of a being but do not belong to its physical body though these products may bear its seal , can give a dimension of meaning to the context, which thus becomes a world. A being capable of such production who thereby is necessarily aware of himself, is a "being for himself" could no longer be if she or he were not in the process of being in the world with which he or she relates; just as the world would no longer exist if this being did not exist. The difference between animals—who because their activity does not constitute limit-acts cannot create products detached from themselves—and humankind—who through their action upon the world create the realm of culture and history—is that only the latter are beings of the praxis.

Only human beings are praxis—the praxis which, as the reflection and action which truly transform reality, is the source of knowledge and creation. Animal activity, which occurs without a praxis, is not creative; peoples transforming activity is. It is as transforming and creative beings that humans, in their permanent relations with reality, produce not only material goods— tangible objects—but also social institutions, ideas, and concepts.

Because—in contrast to animals—people can tri-dimensionalize time into the past, the present, and the future, their history, in function of their own creations, develops as a constant process of transformation within which epochal units materialize. These epochal units are not closed periods of time, static compartments within which people are confined.

Were this the case, a fundamental condition of history—its continuity—would disappear. On the contrary, epochal units interrelate in the dynamics of historical continuity. An epoch is characterized by a complex of ideas, concepts, hopes, doubts, values, and challenges in dialectical interaction with their opposites, striving towards plenitude.

The concrete representation of many of these ideas, values, concepts, and hopes, as well as the obstacles which impede the people's full humanization, constitute the themes of that epoch. These themes imply others which are opposing or even antithetical; they also indicate tasks to be carried out and fulfilled.

Thus, historical themes are never isolated, independent, disconnected, or static; they are always interacting dialectically with their opposites. Nor can these themes be found anywhere except in the human-world relationship.

The complex of interacting themes of an epoch constitutes its "thematic universe. Confronted by this "universe of themes" in dialectical contradiction, persons take equally contradictory positions: some work to maintain the structures, others to change them. As antagonism deepens between themes which are the expression of reality, there is a tendency for the themes and for reality itself to be mythicized, establishing a climate of irrationality and sectarianism. This climate threatens to drain the themes of their deeper significance and to deprive them of their characteristically dynamic aspect.

In such a situation, myth-creating irrationality itself becomes a fundamental theme. Its opposing theme, the critical and dynamic view of the world, strives to unveil reality, unmask its mythicization, and achieve a full realization of the human task: the permanent transformation of reality in favor of the liberation of people. In the last analysis, the themes 19 both contain and are contained in limit-situations ; the tasks they imply require limit-acts.

When the themes are concealed by the limit-situations and thus are not clearly perceived, the corresponding tasks—people's responses in the form of historical action—can be neither authentically nor critically fulfilled. In this situation, humans are unable to transcend the limit-situations to discover that beyond these situations—and in contradiction to them—lies an untested feasibility.