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Ways of Seeing, Learning, And Photography

Ways of Seeing, Learning, And Photography

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Published by Michael Chew
This paper explores how principles of critical pedagogy and transformational learning operated in a series of photography workshops that I ran with multicultural youth, evaluates the expression of these principles, and sketches out potentials for further transformation.
This paper explores how principles of critical pedagogy and transformational learning operated in a series of photography workshops that I ran with multicultural youth, evaluates the expression of these principles, and sketches out potentials for further transformation.

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Published by: Michael Chew on Jul 24, 2011
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08/18/2013

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Ways of seeing, learning andphotography: a critique of a learningenvironment
"True compassion does not come from wanting to help out those less fortunate than ourselves but from realizing our kinship with all beings." ~ Pema Chödron
Introduction
This paper explores how principles of critical pedagogy and transformationallearning operated in a series of photography workshops that I ran withmulticultural youth, evaluates the expression of these principles, and sketchesout potentials for further transformation.This is achieved in four parts. Part one presents a theoreticalbackground in relevant concepts from transformative learning and criticalpedagogy. Part two introduces the project itself – its context, participants, andhow it was run. Part three explores the project’s explicit and implicit learningagendas, critically examining the assumptions, issues, and transformativepotential around firstly reading photographs, then secondarily makingphotographs. Part four analyses how power operates in the workshop contextand ramifications for democratic education.
Part I - Theoretical background
This paper draws its theoretical background in critical pedagogy andtransformational learning from the ideas of Paulo Freire and Jack Mezirowwho have contributed foundational insights in the two related fields. I brieflysketch out here ideas relevant for the subsequent analysis.
Michael Chew
 
 
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Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy developed as a response to thesystematic exclusion of the poor from education in Brazil where he worked inthe early 1960s. His theory of liberation education recognized that themarginalized could not escape oppression within the standard educationtradition – what he called the ‘banking’ approach, where active teachersdeposit knowledge in ‘empty’ and passive students. He writes, “The morestudents work at storing the deposits entrusted to them, the less they developthe critical consciousness which would result from their intervention in theworld as transformers of that world
” 
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. This critical consciousness - or ‘concretisation’ - is needed to reveal the social, political, and economiccontradictions that form the oppressive matrix that anchors them in anunderprivileged position. It is the vital step that paves the way for them to takeaction in the world against this oppression.Coming from a very different context almost a decade later, JackMezirow began to similarly explore the types of learning experiences that areable to fundamentally change the way people see both themselves and their world. Based on his pioneering research with adult learners, and drawingfrom Habermas’ theory of communicative action, Mezirow outlined a theory of transformative learning. This theory has evolved considerable over the last20 years in light of numerous critiques
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, but essentially locates the act of critical reflection on one’s lived experiences as the basis for transformativelearning. Through this critical reflection, a learner can perceive andsubsequently transform her 
habits of mind 
– the complex meaning structuresthat continually filter an individual’s way of seeing the world.While critical reflection is crucial for both theories, they differ in the context inwhich this occurs:
Like Mezirow, Freire sees critical reflection as central to transformation in context toproblem-posing and dialogue with other learners. However, in contrast, Freire sees itspurpose based on a rediscovery of power such that the more critically aware learnersbecome the more they are able to transform society and subsequently their ownreality.
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Freire (1970, p. 60)
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Kitchenham (2008)
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Taylor, cited in Brown (2004, p. 86)
 
 
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In this way according to Freire a reflection is only truly critical when it leads totransformative social action, in the outside world.
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For Mezirow social actionis a natural and desirable consequence of the process of transformativelearning – however it is not intrinsically necessary to the process.Photography for both is a powerful medium that can effecttransformative change. Freire has himself on occasion used participatoryphotography to draw attention to conditions of oppression.
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In Freirean criticalpedagogy, photographs taken by learners themselves have the potential toplay a key role in helping them to critically reflect on their own livedexperiences, in clarifying and articulating how they face injustices, and inframing their ideas for action. Freirean inspired photography projects havetended to focus on the to literal and rational reflection of the socio-politicalcontext of the learner.
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 For Mezirow’s early work, rationality was also paramount, asexpressed through dialogue and critical reflection. His later writing gave morerecognition to emotional or intuitive experiences – such as image-basedreflection - having the potential of leading to transformative learning.
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 Lightfoot-Lawrence and Davis note that “…making and finding meaningthrough art is a transformative experience. Once we have encountered seeingand thinking in the aesthetic realm, our ability to think and see more generallyis altered”.
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Having sketched out the basics of the theoretical background, we turnto the project in question.
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See Brown (2004, p. 86) for further elaboration of this analysis.
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One example dates from 1973, when Freire was conducting a literacy project in a barrio of Lima, Peru. He asked people the question "What is exploitation?", and requested theanswers in photographs. The ensuring images spurred widespread discussions in thePeruvian barrio about forms of institutionalized exploitation and ways to overcome them. SeeSinghai (2004).
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Singhai (2004)
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Mezirow (2000). The mytho-poetic view of transformative learning subsequently developedby Dirkx expanded on these intuitive ways of knowing.
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Lightfoot-Lawrence and Davis, cited in Morton (2007, p. 268)

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