CLARIFICATION OF SOME KEY TERMS AND CONCEPTS IN READING PAULO FREIRE
Bob Corbett (April 2000)
Paulo Freire is not easy to read. He uses unfamiliar terms and terms, which he has, created. In order to help you read the assigned passages with fuller understanding, I would recommend you read the notes below before reading Freire.
Those who are under the power of others in virtually any way, Freire calls the oppressed.
Those who dominate others in virtually any way, Freire calls the oppressors. Note that it would not be impossible, and is probably quite frequent, that we might be oppressed in some aspects of our lives and oppressors in some others.
Freire is struck by how often the oppressed adopt the oppressor's consciousness and even admire and envy the oppressed. On his view, we often even internalize the oppressor's view even though we suffer oppression from that very view.
When things get to bad (too oppressive), the oppressed often rise up and overthrow the oppressors. However, when they do this it is almost always so that they themselves can now become the oppressors.
Freire sees the true destiny of human beings to be for the oppressed to rise up and not overthrow the oppressors, but to liberate the world from oppressors, to create a world in which no one oppresses the other, but each lives in his or her own authentic humanity.
This goal is both asserted without argument, and is, of course, highly utopian.
The path to this goal is "the pedagogy of the oppressed." A guide for how to achieve this goal that I describe in #6.
The pedagogy of the oppressed is a process wherein the oppressed develop critical awareness that they are oppressed, and that oppression is dehumanization. Then, and only then, after this consciousness is achieved, can they move toward liberation of both themselves and the oppressors.
Praxis is the interrelationship between theory (or insight) and action. Action that does not follow from theory is weak and untrustworthy. Theory which doesn't lead to action is mere game playing.
Dialectical: This is an Hegelian concept, which Marx also used. The notion is this. A way to be in the world (call it A) develops in history. It embodies a view of the world. However, the view has in it directions which ensure its own end. [For example: using limited fuels as a source of energy carries with it the logic of its own end, since it uses up what it needs to have for energy.] When the contradiction comes (this moment when the logic of the dialectic is fulfilled), history goes one, and a new concept will develop which overcomes the previous contradiction, but, given the imperfection of our ideas and of history itself, will again be fraught with contradictions. This process is called the dialectical process of history. The oppressor-oppressed dialectic is, according to at least Hegel, Marx and Freire (and many many others) one such historical dialectic.
False generosity and paternalism: The point Freire is making with these terms is that when a system is structured so that there are oppressors and oppressed, some of the oppressor class feel genuine compassion toward the suffering of the oppressed. They move to isolate that suffering and to aid it, not to address the structures of society which are the root causes. Thus, to the extent that they relieve any suffering they do so by hiding from themselves the genuine causes, their own privilege as oppressor class members.