and Criticism by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
their seminal book, "Language and Ideology," Hodge and Kress
(1979: vii) say that '[d]isciplines, unlike cows, yield least when most
contented'-and theirs is a legitimate contention. The very moment something,
anything, be it a theory, a philosophical system, or a relationship between
two individuals, is taken for granted, it is vitiated; it becomes fractured
and cannot yield anything. For some people, what is taken for granted
may have been exalted to the status of an axiom, which obviates, even
pre-empts, the need for constant negation and reconstruction. Yet, axioms
are the result of a long and rigorous process of such reconstruction;
they are not mere labels tacked onto theories and things. Rather, it is
on the basis of the Hegelian notion of Aufhebung that process can be made.
Knowledge is a negation on a previous negation (a process that I call
crisis), and the attempt to examine the validity and viability of previous
knowledge paves the way for new knowledge (a process that I call criticism).
Apparently, criticism generates crisis and crisis necessitates criticism.
In the present paper, we will draw our attention to a number of theories,
notions and contentions that permeate pedagogical practices, approaching
them from a, more or less, critical perspective.
Critical theory (or "criticism" for that matter) addresses the
relations among education, schooling, culture, society, and economy, and
it is premised upon the assumption that pedagogical practices are inextricably
related to social practices. Furthermore, within critical theory, the
critical intellectual is called on to identify and draw the line at any
injustices in these practices. In other words, the onus is on him or her
to engage in (and provide) a critical reappraisal of the aforementioned
institutions as well as the ideology (i.e., the systematically organised
presentation of reality) which sustains them and underpins their practices.
In short, critical theory is concerned with power in and through discourse.
Through language, we turn people and events into data, we decenter the
subject (that is, we construct a self that can click in and out of existence
whenever we see fit), and make generalisations, or 'historicisations',
to quote Foucault (1980: 117), whereby we dispense with the subject (the
individual) by arriving at an analysis which can account for the constitution
of the subject within a historical framework. In the case of the decentering
of the subject, we end up talking about femininity instead of women, Blackness
instead of Blacks, and homosexuality instead of homosexuals-a practice
which virtually exculpates institutions and certain groups of people from
blame, as in theory femininity, Blackness, and homosexuality, are not
historically embedded and, thus, are less likely to problematise the agents
or actors of history. Everything exists only for the purpose of philosophising,
while the truth is an area where "angels fear to tread." In
the case of the historicising of the subject, we end up categorising people
into different compartments (women, Blacks, homosexuals, etc.) and then
go on to pass judgement on them, without regard for any individual differences
within the groups we have constructed.
The placing of values, therefore, is a significant parameter in the construction
of the self, which in turn forms the basis for the construction and function
of all social institutions. Whatever is the "same" as anything
else is accorded high status and importance, since it is less likely to
impugn or militate against the status quo. Whatever is "different,"
however, is suppressed (or oppressed). But suppression is not necessarily
a straightforward process; nowadays, it is far more effective to efface
people by making generalisations about them and then going on to persuade
them that this is how things should be than by planting bombs over their
Herein lies the concept of "voice" in the construction of pedagogy.
According to Popkewitz (Popkewitz & Fendler, 1999: 33), the voice
of students, women, Blacks, African Americans, and so on, encapsulates
a group's distinctive cultural content. As far as the teacher is concerned,
we could say that he or she is supposed to render the different voices
'legitimate elements in the construction of pedagogy, particularly those
groups that have been socially and economically marginalized' (ibid.).
Nevertheless, the very existence of the notion of "voice" maintains
and promulgates the rules of "sameness / difference" that it
seeks to violate, as inherent in it are structural notions about groups
omitted from public participation.
back to the decentering and historicisation of the subject; we could adduce
the following example: There have been some assertions that African Americans
score lower on IQ tests. Even if such an aphorism might be "true,"
it leaves many questions unaddressed, not the least of which is what impact
such assertions have on a general population that does not have the privilege
to be aware of the limitations of such tests or the 'tenuous relation',
as Burbules and Berk say (ibid.), between what IQ tests measure and intelligence.
Other important questions are: Who is making these assertions? Are such
findings supposed to question African American intelligence or to demonstrate
the bias of IQ tests?
Confronted with a "crisis" of this sort, the "critical
person" is called on to engage in "criticism." He is something
much akin to a critical consumer of information; he is driven to seek
reasons and evidence-in other words, he needs to look at the world through
a critical lens. For some, a critical person not only should have the
capacity (the skills) to seek truth and evidence, but he should also have
a tendency or disposition to seek them (Ennis, 1987, 1996; Siegel, 1988;
Scheffler, 1991). Moreover, Paul (1983: 23; 1994) addresses the relation
between skills and disposition in his distinction between "weak-sense"
and "strong-sense" critical thinking. For him, the "weak-sense"
means that one has learnt the skills and can demonstrate them whenever
he is asked to do so; the "strong-sense" means that one has
turned these skills into a way of living in which even one's own assumptions
are reexamined and questioned. Of course, it goes without saying that
part of the method of critical thinking involves fostering dialogue, in
which thinking from others' perspective plays an important role in the
assessment of truth claims. An imposition of one's own version of the
truth, even in the face of incontestable evidence, can result in a premature
rejection of credible alternative points of view.
At any rate, critical pedagogy involves 'reading the world' as well as
'reading the word' (Freire and Donaldo, 1987). Critiquing the social institutions
and social traditions that create and maintain conditions of suppression
and oppression is part of developing a critical consciousness. In this
important regard, ideology is not a simple assertion or proposition whose
truth value can be tested against some inexorable facts out in the world;
ideology creates, and accounts for, the world (Kellner, 1978).
By way of conclusion, we would like to quote Wacquant (1993), who eloquently
captures the thread of reasoning that has permeated this short paper:
the preeminent institutional machinery for the certification
of social hierarchies in advanced nationstates. Again not unlike the church
in medieval society, the school supplies a sociodicy in action of the
existing social order, a rationale for its inequities and the cognitive
and moral basis of its conservation.
H. (1987). A Taxonomy of Critical Thinking Dispositions and Abilities.
In Teaching Thinking Skills: Theory and Practice, edited by J. Boykoff
and R. J. Sternberg. New York: W. H. Freeman.
Ennis, R. H. (1996). Critical Thinking. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice
Foucault, M. (1980). Power / Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other
By Michel Foucault, 1972-1977. Translated and edited by C. Gordon. New
Freire, P. and M. Donaldo. (1987). Literacy: Reading the World and the
South Hadley, MA: Bergin Garvey.
Hodge, R. and G. Kress. (1979). Language as Ideology. London: Routledge.
Kellner, D. (1978). Ideology, Marxism, and Advanced Capitalism. Socialist
Review, 42: 37-65.
Paul, R. (1983). An Agenda item for the informal Logic / Critical Thinking
Movement. Informal Logic Newsletter, 5 (2): 23.
Paul, R. (1994). Teaching Critical Thinking in the Strong Sense. In Re-Thinking
Reason: New Perspectives in Critical Thinking, edited by K. S. Walters.
Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Popkewitz, T. S. & L., Fendler (Eds). (1999). Critical Theories in
Changing Terrains of Knowledge and Politics. New York: Routledge.
Scheffler, I. (1991). In Praise of the Cognitive Emotions, In In Praise
of the Cognitive Emotions, edited by I. Scheffler. New York: Routledge.
Siegel, H. (1988). Educating Reason: Rationality, Critical Thinking, and
Education. New York: Routledge.
Wacquant, L. (1993). On the Tracks of Symbolic Power: Prefatory Notes
to Bourdieu's State Nobility. In Theory, Culture, and Society, 10(3),
English Literature and Linguistics at Athens University and then did an
MA in Applied Linguistics at Sussex University. After that, he earned
an MBA from Mooreland University and is currently finishing the second
year of my PhD studies in Education at Nottingham University. His academic
interests include fostering cultural awareness and learner autonomy, as
well as such issues as language and ideology, Critical Discourse Analysis,
Pragmatics, Sociolinguistics, and the Psychology of Education.
can be contacted at:
To the original article
To the articles index