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Theoretical Framework

This research project is based on a critical research paradigm.  From an ontological perspective this means that it is based on the assumption that reality is socially constructed and that it is under constant internal influence (Patel, 2015: 1).  From an epistemological perspective the critical paradigm makes the assumption that reality and knowledge are both socially constructed and influenced by power relations within society (ibid).  The theoretical perspective of the thesis is based therefore on a suitable critical perspective, that of critical pedagogy with a development education lens and referring too to critical theories within the field of community-based learning, critical disability, ‘race’ and feminist theory and critical narrative.

CP is strongly associated with the work of Brazilian educationalist, Paulo Freire who is commonly regarded as the inaugural philosopher of critical pedagogy (McLaren, 2004: 1).

Paulo Freire: Some Basic Concepts

CP is strongly associated with the work of Brazilian educationalist, Paulo Freire who is commonly regarded as the inaugural philosopher of critical pedagogy (McLaren, 2004: 1).  Writing from the 1960s onwards, he presented a theory of education in the context of the revolutionary struggle and was influenced by South American Liberation theology.  His seminal work Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1968) begins with a discussion on the struggle between the “oppressed” and the “oppressor” (Freire and Macedo, 2001a:41).  He argues that the oppressed, the underclasses, have not equally shared or received the benefits of education, they should not expect it as a gift from the ruling classes, but should educate themselves and develop a “pedagogy of the oppressed” (Kellner, 2003:6).  Oppression dehumanises both the oppressed and the oppressor.  This, he says “is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well” (ibid: 63).  The objective of CP is to empower students and help them help themselves (ibid).

Central to Freire’s pedagogy is the notion of “praxis”, which he defines as “reflection and action directed at the structures to be transformed” (Freire and Macedo, 2001a: 51) Achieving this “praxis” is at the centre of critical and development education and an objective of this research is to explore how this is experienced in a modern third level institution.  In the traditional “banking system” (ibid: 72) model of education the teacher deposits information into the heads of students who become more like “receptacles” of content which the students memorise and repeat. This dehumanises the student.  To understand and transform reality, the teacher and the student must enter into a dialogue. People do not create themselves in silence, but through words, actions and reflection. The use of dialogue, therefore, is the key element in learning.  Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention through inquiry with the world and between people. It is not enough for people to come together in dialogue in order to gain knowledge of their social reality. They must act together upon their environment in order to critically reflect upon their reality, uncover their oppression and transform it through further action and critical reflection. Speaking their “Word” is also part of the transformative process.  The right to name the world is not the right of just a privileged few; it is a right that belongs to everyone, hence the use of storytelling and narrative in this research.  People who have been denied the right to speak their “Word” must first reclaim their right (ibid:  87).  In the banking system knowledge is given by people who think they are knowledgeable to people they think know nothing. The solution is not to ‘integrate’ them into the structure of oppression, but to transform that structure so that they can become “beings for themselves”. (ibid:   80).  The question is if this can be achieved in the existing third level education system in Ireland today.

When the oppressed are convinced that they must fight for their liberation it is a result of their own “conscientizagao” (critical consciousness) not a gift from revolutionary leaders (ibid: 168).  As the oppressed acquire this knowledge of reality through common reflection and action, they discover themselves as its permanent re-creators. In this way, the presence of the oppressed in the struggle for their liberation will be what it should be: not pseudo-participation, but committed involvement.  The development of this critical political and social consciousness is an essential part of Freire’s model.  Those who work for liberation must not take advantage of the emotional dependence of the oppressed.  Using their dependence to create still greater dependence is an oppressor tactic. They must attempt through reflection and action to transform it into independence.

Each time in history and each local area have their own “generative” themes, key political themes within the community.  Any epoch “is characterized by a complex of ideas, concepts, hopes, doubts, values and challenges in dialectical interaction with their opposites striving towards their fulfilment” (ibid:  96).  Freire’s used “codification” in his literacy work with the rural poor in Brazil.  This involved gathering information in order to build up a picture (codify) around real situations, then “decodifying” so that a group begins to identify with aspects of the situation until they feel themselves to be in the situation and so able to reflect critically upon its various aspects, thus gathering understanding.  It is this praxis model of naming, reflecting, critically analysing and taking action that defines ‘pedagogy of the oppressed’ (ibid: 105).