Category Archives: Freire

Naming the World

A few questions the reading raised for me:

  1. What does it mean to “name the world”or “read the world” in a technological age? Is technology a tool to help us in naming, or is it something that needs to be named?
  2. Is the process of selections of codifications a way for investigators to exercise power? What other ways do they do so?
  3. How might access to computing mitigate the need for specialists and  investigators? Can people do this for themselves? What literacies do they need? Can user interfaces help? Or, does this whole idea conflict with the idea of an authentic dialogue? Can technology facilitate a deeper, richer more authentic dialogue?
  4. Echoing Sarah, why are the oppressed responsible for liberating the oppressors? Sounds like a lot of work. What if they want to become oppressors themselves? What if they just want to play videogames? Is this yet another way to derelict our own personal moral responsibilities?

Folks might also like to check out this discussion between Friere and Seymour Papert:

Designing Participation

I couldn’t help but make a comparison of Friere’s pedagogical strategy with the tenets of participatory design. They appear similarly inspired with participatory design emerging from failings in the product development paradigms for reasons akin to Friere’s explanation of why previous education plans have failed: because they focused on personal views of the implementer and did not take into account the “situation” of those who were receiving the product/education. They both try to address this by incorporating the user/oppressed in the design process in order to produce a service that is more relevant to those they are serving.

However, I am sure Freire would point to gaping holes in the current participatory design model with respect to its ability to target people’s needs. For the user is not part of the conversation throughout the entire development process. In the formative stages, the target population is observed and can provide input to designers but the idea formation portion, where concepts and values are synthesized, is performed only by the design team. Users have little to say in how the products actually get implemented and then are only presented with limited choices in the prototyping and iteration phases where the solution has been narrowly defined.

The lack of inclusion in the synthesis and design phases may feed Friere’s thoughts that the oppressors (the designers) have “a lack of confidence in the peoples ability to think, to want, and to know.” That prejudice affects their ability to truly bring about a change that can liberate the oppressed, such as produce a technological intervention relevant to their values. There is no true solidarity between the designers and users in this case since the potential users are not taking an active role throughout the entire creative process.

Creation is at the core of Friere’s values for freedom as it makes people active participants and forces them to question their situation fully. A “permanent dialogue” is required which most participatory design processes fail to deliver, only restarting the dialog at stages along the way. Thus, Friere would consider the participatory process as oppressive as it acts as a barrier to an individual’s ability to pursue a truth and a projection of themselves that is generated from their own reflection. True praxis cannot be achieved and the road to empowerment and liberation is blocked.

For participatory design to facilitate praxis, more than the process but the role of the designer (oppressor) would have to change. From one in control to one in complete solidarity with the user by integrating into the their “situation” – not just a designer for the user, but become the user themselves. This would entail more than just eating your own dog food, but breaking bread with and as a user. What would this look like?

Questions on Freire

1. Does Freire see science and technology as a positive agent, negative agent, or a neutral tool? Do you agree?

2. In our unquestioning embrace of new forms of  technology that are being used for our own oppression, are we unwittingly participating in the dehumanization of ourselves? What about when we have apparent control over the creation or use of that technology?

Wait, am I the oppressor? How do I know if I am?

A few quick (disjoint) thoughts:

1. I really liked the idea of “generative words,” and I wished that I could have read more about precisely what Freire’s literacy program looked like. Interesting methodology: “Seventeen generative words…to codify seventeen existential situations familiar to learners (Cultural Action for Freedom, p. 27).” I really liked the spirit of this exercise — one that encouraged composition, creativity and agency straight away.

2. I thought that this quote was relevant to some of the discussions we were having last week…

“This then is the great humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves and their oppressors as well. The oppressors, who oppress, exploit and rape by virtue of their power, cannot find in this power the strength to liberate either the oppressed or themselves. Only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both.” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 44)

After reading Freire, it seems even more absurd to think about while male idealists — with close ties to business and the military — as the guys who are going to envision the great new utopian applications of technology. I buy Freire’s argument that only those who are the victims of oppression have the will needed for real change. That being said, I wasn’t clear on how this new guard of formerly oppressed wouldn’t just play the role of the oppressor in the new configuration. Would a liberatory, critical education be sufficient to humanize us all, indefinitely? Seems optimistic, and I’m not aware of a historical precedent for such optimism. But perhaps, as Freire tells us, assuming that the past shows us what is possible for the future is unproductive and overly deterministic. So I’m down for having some optimism. Perhaps Freire’s version of utopia is possible.

3. Given this oppressor / oppressed dichotomy, and the inability of the oppressor to humanize the world, I wonder who the “we” is (the audience for the book). He speaks of an “interdisciplinary team” of educators that have a role in educating the oppressed…

“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 word, 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.” (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, p. 96)

…is this “we” that Freire speaks of part of the oppressor or the oppressed contingent? Based on the writing style, he’s not talking to illiterate or recently “educated” farmers, right?  So if he’s addressing the oppressor class, then what is the role of the oppressor in this struggle for humanization? Give me a job, man! Since I tend to read philosophy like self-help, I wonder what the implications are for me (if any). As a privileged, white, American, Berkeley student, do I have a role in Freire’s vision? If so, what is it? He implies that educators are part of the struggle. Are these educators somehow separate from the oppressed and the oppressors? Like the Swiss? Perhaps I missed a key part of the argument — can anyone help me out?

False Generosity as Entertainment

Freire admits the methods of liberation he proposes are complex, and I think they are even more so today, partly because of technology. “Technology” can simultaneously serve and undermine oppressors and the oppressed, as well as the process of liberation. One such technology is Hulu.

The TV show, Undercover Boss, is meant to show the CEO (oppressor) what it’s like to work for a day with his company’s laborers (the oppressed). At the end of the episode, the audience is eager to see how the CEO will respond. In the episode I watched recently, the CEO takes on a surfer-boy persona and learns some of his most talented employees are neglecting health issues because they don’t have health insurance or sick days, have to choose between fixing their cars or feeding their kids, and get treated badly by customers when out-of-date computer systems slow down their work. The CEO is sympathetic towards the three workers he meets and gives them collectively over $100,000 in addition to promotions they didn’t ask for. As for the other 10s of thousands of workers in his company, their cash registers will be upgraded sometime in the next three years. Otherwise the situation is unchanged.

The CEO continues to oppress as he has full power over the value of and kind of gifts he gives to the lucky few he met, and more knowingly neglects his company’s lack of living wage for all employees. Spending time with him is portrayed as the chance of a lifetime and hard working, relatable people receive highly deserved and needed gifts. The CEO is seemingly transformed from an innocently unaware leader to a generous friend of the people. The average audience is more accepting of the bigger picture, even tho for most employees the oppressive structure hasn’t changed.

Friere and Literacy

Reading through Friere’s thoughts on education and it’s relationship to power makes me think of the one laptop per child project. The project which is lauded with many design and humanitarian awards has proven to be a complete failure. The utopian aim was misguided by the technological determinism that sells wired magazine subscriptions. Friere’s emphasis on literacy is important. Literacy, according to Friere, is a vehicle to understanding one’s self and unearthing their oppression while giving them the proper language to combat their oppressors. To restate a question from last weeks discussion is technical literacy, in the form of learning programming, essential to the vision of Friere’s literacy?

So, how does the revolution work?

An admitted Friere fan, I totally agree with statements like “The revolution is made neither by the leaders for the people, nor by the people for the leaders, but by both acting together in unshakable solidarity. ” and “Action and reflection occur simultaneously. ” In fact, I try to embody them in a lot of my work.

But Friere often stops short of more concrete advice on how to execute the revolution he suggests. When beginning an oppression challenging project, how does it work for leaders and followers to act in solidarity together? How does it work for action and reflect to occur simultaneously? Thoughts on how we might translate Friere’s principles into methods and tools?

Humanize Me

A few questions arose while reading Friere’s “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”. Friere begins with a discussion of “humanization” and the “dehumanization” of the oppressed, a prominent theme of the first chapter. Additionally, he notes that one goal of the oppressed is to be “fully human” (56). He uses these two concepts – “humanization” and “fully human” – numerous times throughout the essay, leading me to meditate on what exactly he means by these phrases. Which brings me to my first question for Friere:

What does it mean to be humanized or fully human?

Is there an inherent state of being “fully human” that humans (perhaps even “users”) can attain? In application to broader themes of technology, I was brought to wonder

Is technology humanizing or dehumanizing us?

The child is perhaps “dehumanized” by sacrificing physical play and vital socialization during his or her early adolescence in exchange for the immediate pleasure of iPad video games. On the contrary, a child suffering trauma to her or her legs is “humanized” by prosthetic limbs, and upon walking again he is “fully human”. Are technology workers dehumanized by working long hours at home, trapped within the inescapable stream of work emails? Such language is furthered by Friere’s discussion of the duality of the oppressed and wanting to “live authentically”. To Friere, “Money is the measure of all things, and profit the primary goal”. Such is the perspective of oppressors, but also perhaps the way some activists perceive the tech industry; is the tech industry and its workers the dominant class, and therefore the oppressors of our society? There is no question that such a mindset is myopic and simplistic, but it led me to more critically analyze the state of pedagogy in technology, and in turn, my own education. Friere makes distinct two types of pedagogy. The first is an education used by “prescribers” to make the oppressed conform to our present system. The second type of education is a means of practicing freedom and ultimately, transformation of the “oppressor-oppressed distinction”.

In which category does our MIMS program fit into; a pedagogy to conform to the present system or economy, with an emphasis on developing strongly niche and highly desired skills in the technology industry? On a relevant note, Friere states that “our advanced technological society is rapidly making objects of most of us and subtly programming us into the conformity to the logic of its system” (33).

Or is our education a critical pedagogy with “praxis” as an end goal, the balance of theory and practice, of “objectivism and subjectivism” to achieve freedom to overcome “oppression”?

The Rise of Geekdom

Amongst all the recent discussion of this past weekend’s Super Bowl, my husband and I found ourselves remarking on the following: 1. we don’t care about the Super Bowl, and 2. we don’t care about football in general. And then this comic showed up in one of my feeds:
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal

This made me think more about geekdom: as technology has become more obviously important in our daily lives, being a nerd has become an acceptable kind of cool. But instead of encouraging a society of equality, the unenlightened oppressed geeks have become “Revenge of the Nerds.”

Freire writes in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, ‘almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to be come oppressors, or “sub-oppressors.”‘ This psychological truth is applicable in so many situations, including in this rise of geekdom. Where it was previously uncool to be a nerd, now can be a power to be lorded over the heads of those who are not as technology-capable. This may seem like a very superficial comparison to violent situations in other countries, but perceived status can have important effects on the lives of few.

How can we act as co-investigators as we explore new technological possibilities? Can human-computer interaction research and user-centred design mitigate our potential for cementing a technological divide?

Technology and dialogue

Throughout chapters 1 and 3 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, a few things stood out to me that Freire didn’t raise as explicitly linked to technology, but that seemed relevant given last week’s conversation. First, if we (naïvely) view technology – or content and use derived from technology – as neutral, than perhaps it could fit into a Freirean worldview as an enabler of dialogue, one which could be “constituted and organized by the students’ view of the world” with content that “constantly expands and renews itself” (p109). If we presume that content isn’t distorted by external influences and power structures, than the sort of ground-up education — in which context is respected and intellectual queries arise individually and internally — could be enabled by technology. Of course, given our conversations last week, we know this problematic, and that technology doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Freire eloquently addresses this (Cultural Action and Conscientization, p63):

“Let it be clear, however, that technological development must be one of the concerns of the revolutionary project. It would be simplistic to attribute responsibility for these deviations to technology in itself. This would be another kind of irrationalism, that of conceiving of technology as a demonic entity, above and opposed to men. Critically viewed, technology is nothing more nor less than a natural phase of the creative process that engaged man from the memento he forged his first tool and began to transform the world for its humanization.”

I didn’t get a full read on Freire’s views on technology from the selected pieces. In Cultural Action and Conscientization, there was clear concern about the potentially subversive nature of technology and media (see the quoted part in Zach’s agency paragraph), but no outright dismissal or antagonism. Instead, caution. That’s echoed elsewhere, including in a piece that summarizes some of Freire’s views on technology by Richard Kahn and Douglas Kellner:

This is not to say that Paulo Freire sought to adopt computers uncritically, rather his policy was formed as a result of a political and pedagogical strategy that sought to intervene in the status quo of a multimediated age. Though the rhetoric surrounding computers in education is often ebullient, Freire countered that he had worries about infused technology, fearing ‘that the introduction of these more sophisticated means into the educational field will, once more, work in favor of those who have and against those who have not’ (Gadotti, 1994, p. 79). To this end, he was concerned that the science and technology of technocapitalism was increasingly producing knowledge representative only of ‘little groups of people, scientists’ (Darder, 2002, p. ix). That most people, in either the First World or the Third, have neither the ability to produce a computer, nor even to manufacture or manipulate the software upon which computers run, was in his opinion antidemocratic and dangerously unparticipatory.

The whole piece is worth a look — and it also discusses Illich.