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Paulo Freire's blunt challenge to

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Critique of Anthropology

Paulo Freire's blunt challenge to anthropology: Create a Pedagogy of the

Oppressed for Your Times
Brian McKenna
Critique of Anthropology 2013 33: 447
DOI: 10.1177/0308275X13499383

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Critique of Anthropology
33(4) 447–475
Paulo Freire’s blunt ! The Author(s) 2013
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challenge to
DOI: 10.1177/0308275X13499383

anthropology: Create a

Pedagogy of the
Oppressed for Your
Brian McKenna
University of Michigan-Dearborn, USA

Paulo Freire was a revolutionary educator. He founded an educational movement based
on conducting an ethnographic evaluation of a community to identify the generative
themes (or ‘‘dangerous words’’) which matter profoundly to people and which, for just
this reason, contain their own catalytic power. In the sixteen years since Freire’s unti-
mely death in 1997, a small cottage industry has arisen to adapt, dissect and/or critique
Freire and his life’s work. A centerpiece of this intellectual ferment surrounds Freire’s
magnum opus, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970). Ironically few of Freire’s acolytes and/
or interlocutors have been formally educated anthropologists. This might seem surpris-
ing since much of Freire’s work overlaps with the mainstays of anthropology’s affirmed
methodological imperatives surrounding: recovery of native voice, community dialogue,
ethnographic research, cultural analysis, epistemological critique and working with the
most disempowered. Freire was a fervent anti-capitalist but it’s often difficult to recog-
nize this trait of his in professional anthropology. One reason is the domestication of his
messages. This includes the world’s most well-known anthropologists, World Bank
President Jim Yong Kim and Dr. Paul Farmer. Cofounders of Partners in Health, both
claim to be followers of Freire. This paper: (1) classifies seven ways anthropologists tend
to interpret Freire and the critical pedagogy movement; (2) illustrates Freire’s radical
educational approach by applying it to Drs. Kim and Farmer; and (3) distills the central
aspects of Freire’s work that are fundamental for a renewed public anthropology. In
critiquing Kim and Farmer, the article provides a detailed illustration of the Freirean
approach, one which privileges problem posing over problem solving and clarity over
charity. This article demonstrates the force of Freire in disrupting the ‘‘culture of

Corresponding author:
Brian McKenna, University of Michigan-Dearborn, 4901 Evergreen Rd., 4025 CASL Building, Dearborn,
MI 48128-1491, USA.

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448 Critique of Anthropology 33(4)

silence’’ by way of a case study that illuminates the dangers of liberalism in a collapsing

Paulo Freire, educational anthropology, Marxism, World Bank, public anthropology

Oppression – overwhelming control – is necrophilic. It is nourished by love of death,

not life.
Paulo Freire

In Tucson Arizona, in February 2012, public school teachers were ordered not to
teach Shakespeare’s The Tempest and a powerful little book called, Pedagogy of the
Oppressed, written by educator Paulo Freire. The Tempest was banned but a storm
was brewing. A few months earlier, in the fury of the Occupy Movement, police
pepper sprayed non-violent demonstrating students at the quad of the University of
California-Davis (known now as Pepper-Gate). In response, graduate students,
including several anthropologists, occupied the UCD College of Education. They
‘‘put up a huge banner on the front of Dutton Hall that read, ‘Welcome to Paulo
Freire Open University,’ and later started a new website for our campus called
‘Paulo Freire Open University,’’’ said Professor Karen Ann Watson-Gegeo, an
anthropologist whose students were involved. ‘‘We were introducing Freire’s
work to students in other disciplines,’’ she said. ‘‘My grad students and I are totally
into Freire’’ (McKenna, 2012, interview).
In Latin America, and especially Brazil, his birthplace, Freire’s work has taken a
permanent occupation. Two medical doctors, Father Ottorino Bonvini, MD and
Adalberto Barreto, an MD with a PhD in anthropology, for example, run two
mental health-development projects in two favelas (squatter settlements) in
Fortaleza, Brazil’s fifth largest city (Greenfield, 2010). They live and work with
people of the slums, contextualizing their afflictions in the socio-cultural situations
of their lives. ‘‘Remediation is sought by means of group discussion, reflection, and
analysis that has enabled their efforts at social change to be successful,’’ reports
anthropologist Sidney Greenfield who has studied their work (2010: 91). Bonvini
and Barreto credit their shared religious beliefs and the teachings of Paulo Freire
for motivating them and providing an overall orientation for their efforts.
Freire contributed an arsenal of creative tools to challenge authoritarianism and
capitalism. Nearly a half century since its English publication, Freire’s Pedagogy of
the Oppressed remains vital. It is on CounterPunch’s Best 100 Non-fiction Books in
English (along with Nancy Scheper-Hughes excellent Death Without Weeping:
The Violence of Everyday Life in Brazil). So powerful it is that I require it in my
‘‘Introduction to Anthropology’’ courses.
Freire was, in fact, an anthropological educator. He founded an educational
movement based, in part, on conducting an ethnographic evaluation of a commu-
nity to identify the generative themes (or ‘‘dangerous words’’) which matter

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McKenna 449

profoundly to people and which, for just this reason, contain their own catalytic
power. Those themes become the basis for critical dialogue and other pedagogical
strategies. ‘‘Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the
process of inquiry is one of violence,’’ said Freire. ‘‘The means used are not import-
ant; to alienate men from their own decision making is to change them into
objects.’’ Such assertions can get the attention of the powerful. In 1964, after a
military coup in Brazil, Freire was jailed for seventy days and later exiled from his
country. He did not return for 15 years. His crime? Using a wildly creative
approach to teach peasants how to read and write.
Pedagogy of the Oppressed presented his radical approach to overcome peoples’
‘‘culture of silence.’’ More so, it proposed an intricate theory of social revolution,
extending concepts like Antonio Gramsci’s ‘‘war of position’’ into wider educa-
tional discourse. After forty years the book retains its power. Freire skillfully
demonstrated how education is dialectically opposed to schooling. Schooling, he
argued, privileges socialization and conformity to the status quo. Education, on the
other hand, is about de-socialization. It has two essential moments: it is a struggle
for meaning and a struggle over power relations. The second phrase is the crucial
one, for it refers to the fact that in order to be convincing to the learner, knowledge,
whether ‘‘dangerous’’ or not, must be enacted in some manner, thereby enjoining
those who seek to repress the dialectical and creative urge to understand.
Regrettably, this counter-revolutionary tendency exists within us as a semi-
conscious incorporation of an alien power. Confronting this power takes work.
The Occupy Movement took on the challenge. It is but one of a cascade of
movements from below that can be expected in the years ahead. Anthropologists
must learn how to best anticipate, engage and lead these democratic eruptions. At
the same time they must work to take back higher education, their towns, and the
country from the terror of neoliberalism, an authoritarian movement from above
that has mounted a war on the thinking subject. Anthropologist and anarchist
David Graeber was a leader of the Occupy Wall Street Movement of 2011–1012.
‘‘The politics of direct action is based, to a certain degree, on a faith that freedom is
contagious,’’ he said, ‘‘It is almost impossible to convince the average American
that a truly democratic society would be possible. One can only show them’’
(Gibson-Graham, 2006; Graeber, 2011; Juris, 2008; see also Chomsky, 2012,
2013; Watkins, 2012).

The critical pedagogy movement

For Freire, problem posing was more crucial than problem solving (Barnes, 1992).
Freire was an irrepressible force against capitalism and imperialism. One way to
imagine Freire’s approach is to consider what the leading critical pedagogy activists
and scholars are doing today. Central among them are Henry Giroux, Stanley
Aronowitz, and Peter McLaren. All three were organizers of the inaugural 1986
conference on Critical Pedagogy in Amherst, Massachusetts (which I attended) and
all have risen to leadership positions in US culture. Over the past quarter century

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450 Critique of Anthropology 33(4)

they have published hundreds of articles and scores of books between them,
developing critical approaches appropriate for our times. All take their pedagogy
to the streets in their attempts to illustrate Raymond William’s theorizations of the
permanent educational force of the culture. Aronowitz ran for Governor of New
York, Giroux writes as a journalist for Truthout, McLaren has opened several
Freirean institutes throughout Latin America. All have deplored the domestication
of Freire. ‘‘Unfortunately,’’ said Giroux, ‘‘many of Freire’s followers have reduced
his pedagogy to a methodology or set of teaching techniques emphasizing dialogue,
the affirmation of student experience, and the decentralization of power in the
classroom. What has been lost in this analysis is Freire’s legacy of revolutionary
politics’’ (see Aronowitz, 1998, 2009; Darder, 2002).
Indeed, a number of university outreach efforts have turned Freire on his
head, converting ‘‘pedagogy of the oppressed’’ into ‘‘academic service learning,’’
in ‘‘partnership’’ with local corporations and other powerful institutions. There is
little or no pedagogical attention to the ‘‘gnosiological cycle,’’ a central foundation
of his work. In the gnosiological cycle, students are required to produce their own
knowledge and then perceive and come to understand this knowledge in a never-
ending spiral of action and reflection, ad infin. Theory building never ceases.
However in many quarters this theoretical approach is jettisoned. According to
one Big Ten university, for example, Freire is important for showing the importance
of ‘‘solidarity between institutions and society.’’ They continue, ‘‘In the parlance of
‘civic engagement,’ the solidarity about which Freire writes is commonly known as
campus-community partnerships.’’ According to this view Freire’s civic engagement
means things like planting trees, delivering medical care and mentoring troubled
youths. In fact, Freire mentored youths to make trouble. He was no Johnny
Appleseed. His book is strewn with references to Marx, Lenin, Niebuhr,
Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. There can be no civic engagement without identify-
ing the oppressors, as some universities might have it. Such an idea grossly dis-
torts the man, erasing his significance. ‘‘For the oppressors,’’ wrote Freire,
‘‘what is worthwhile is to have more-always more-even at the cost of the oppressed
having less or having nothing. For them, to be is to have and to be the class of the
One of the most potent components of Freire’s revolutionary pedagogy is crit-
ical ethnography (Kincheloe and McLaren, 1994; McKenna, 1998), an intimate
intertwining of theory and praxis, ad infin. This approach requires that anthro-
pologists, as transformative intellectuals, appropriate the references and referential
contexts of informants and then amplify the ‘‘dangerous words’’ or ‘‘generative
themes’’ back to them for further dialogue and reflection as part of a gnosiological
cycle of research and practice. This helps lead to the creation of a critical demo-
cratic public sphere. Importantly this also leads to a creation and re-creation of the
self – against authoritarianism (Freire, 1970; McKnight, 1995; Wolin, 2008).
Freire’s extensive oeuvre argues that educators must be intimately attuned to the
educational force of the entire culture and develop educational tactics and strate-
gies to defeat domination in all its guises.

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McKenna 451

Students are not taught how to challenge the oppression of everyday life at
the job, in the university, and in ‘‘service learning’’ projects themselves
(McKenna, 2008a). They are not educated to be ‘‘red and expert’’ (Spring,
2011). Legions of self-identified ‘‘Freirean’’ anthropologists are paradoxically
mis-educating millions (including anthropologists) about one of Freire’s central
messages: announcing a philosophy (and practice) which privileges education
over service and clarity over charity in thwarting oppression. A critical inquiry
into the work of ‘‘academic service learning’’ and ‘‘civic engagement’’ approaches
does double duty by explicating Freire’s critical approach while revealing the power
of our dominant culture to create a hollow and dangerous liberalism. This liber-
alism, as I’ll discuss, induces silence and conformity among critical intellectuals. As
Chris Hedges, a former New York Times war correspondent, relates in his excellent
Death of the Liberal Class, ‘‘The liberal class has died because it refused to act as if
anything had changed. . ..Our power elite and their liberal apologists lack the ideas
and the vocabulary to make sense of our new and terrifying reality’’ (Hedges, 2010:
Gary Malaney, student affairs director at the University of Massachusetts,
agrees. He makes this point powerfully (Malaney, 2006). He argues that student
affairs professionals are very poorly educated on the ideas and vocabulary asso-
ciated with understanding capitalism and neoliberalism. In his 2006 article,
‘‘Educating for Civic Engagement, Social Activism, and Political Dissent:
Adding the Study of Neoliberalism and Imperialism to the Student Affairs
Curriculum’’ Malaney said that, ‘‘instead of working to educate our students
regarding the potentially devastating impact of neoliberal ideology, colleges and
universities are contributing to the problem by catering to corporate power and
money through such activities as making the primary focus of the curriculum
related to jobs, not civic engagement, and by focusing research on corporate inter-
ests that do not necessarily consider the impact on the environment.’’ He says that
‘‘generally speaking [administrators] are very supportive of the disadvantaged and
oppressed, although they might not be attuned to the causes of the disadvantage.’’
This is a feature of liberalism, refusing to act as though anything had changed.
The world has changed to such a degree that it is very difficult to grasp.
Zygmunt Bauman calls our epoch ‘‘the interregnum,’’ a liminal period between a
powerful ‘‘liquid’’ capitalist era (which drowns local political structures) and a new
world yet to be (Bauman, 2007). Another political thinker, Sheldon Wolin, argues
that we live in an inverted totalitarian culture. Far from being exhausted by its
twentieth-century versions, ‘‘would be totalitarianism now have available technol-
ogies of control, intimidation and mass manipulation far surpassing those of that
earlier time [of Mussolini, Stalin and Hitler]’’ Wolin says. Unlike classic totalitar-
ianism with its strong central control and rigid citizen mobilization, our times
represent the political coming of age of corporate power and the political demobil-
ization of the citizenry. With the constant downsizing, privatization, outsourcing
and the dismantling of the welfare state, the resulting state of insecurity makes the
public feel so helpless that it is less likely to become politically active (Wolin, 2008).

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452 Critique of Anthropology 33(4)

Pacification and quiescence have long been characteristic features of US culture,

both in the workplace and outside of it. Today it is categorically worse. In our
political culture, service outpaces education and charity displaces clarity as modes
of action. Fear trumps freedom. Passivity is de jure.
Most intellectuals are rendered passive and frightened by the tsunami around
them. A central refuge for critique, the university, is under siege. Too many are
trapped in the rituals of specialization, the warp and woof of their professional
selves, refusing to abandon the safety of thinking conventional thoughts. Nearly
half are Adjunct Professors living at near poverty wages and fearful of saying
anything that might jeopardize their jobs. Self-censorship has become the coin of
the realm.
In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire spoke at length of the authoritarianism of
the work place, a boxed-in culture where workers must passively act as ‘‘wage
slaves’’ or risk ‘‘losing their jobs and finding their names on a ‘black list’ signifying
closed doors to other jobs’’ (Freire, 1970: 141). He argued that this is the least that
can happen. ‘‘[Workers’] basic insecurity is. . . directly linked to the enslavement of
their labor (which really implies the enslavement as a person. . .)’’ (Freire, 1970:
141). He quoted tellingly Bishop Franic Split on this issue, ‘‘If the workers do not
become in some way the owners of their labor, all structural reforms will be inef-
fective. [This is true] even if the workers receive a higher salary in an economic
system but are not content with these raises. They want to be owners, not sellers, of
their labor. . .. At present the workers are increasingly aware that labor represents a
part of the human person. A person, however cannot be bought; neither can he sell
himself. Any purchase or sale of labor is a type of slavery’’ (Freire, 1970: 139). At
the current historical conjuncture, any discussion of ‘‘wage slavery,’’ is openly
mocked and so is rarely uttered. In the dominant discourse workers and profes-
sionals should be grateful to the ‘‘job creators’’ for letting them work.
Thinking along these lines is a dangerous act, even more so when translated into
critical practice. With a Freirian pedagogical approach students can find the
‘‘words to say it’’ (i.e. describe their realities on a deeper level) and begin to register
their legitimate anger at a system that has made them disposable. To be Freirian,
then, is be prepared to stand alone. As Giroux notes, ‘‘Academics who assume the
role of public intellectuals must function within institutions, in part, as an exile, as
someone who raises uncomfortable questions, makes authority responsible,
encourages thoughtful exchanges, connects knowledge to the wider society, and
addresses important social issues’’ (Giroux, 2010a: 101).
The critical pedagogy school of education is the primary heir to Freire. They
carry forward this critical work in recent work and books whose names capture the
Zeitgeist: Youth in Revolt: Reclaiming a Democratic Future (Giroux, 2013b),
Twilight of the Social, Resurgent Publics in the Age of Disposabilty (Giroux,
2012), Disposable Youth, Racialized Memories and the Culture of Cruelty
(Giroux, 2012), Capitalism and Conquerors (McLaren, 2005), Against the Terror
of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed (Giroux, 2007), Zombie Politics
and Culture in the Age of Neoliberalism (Giroux, 2010b). All these pedagogues

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McKenna 453

return to radical education, as the prime mover for social action. For a
fuller introduction see The Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy
In On Critical Pedagogy (2010a), Henry Giroux underscores the ecumenical
openness of Freire’s thought, ‘‘Freire’s genius was to elaborate a theory of social
change and engagement that was neither vanguardist nor populist. Combining
theoretical rigor, social relevance, and moral compassion, Freire gave new meaning
to the politics of daily life while affirming the importance of theory in opening up
the space of critique, possibility, politics, and practice’’ (Giroux, 2010a: 163). In
other words, Freire was as critical of the Left as he was of the Right. Moreover he
insisted that students incessantly criticize his ideas in order to develop better theory
and praxis. Said Donaldo Macedo, ‘‘A humanizing pedagogy. . .must attempt to
create educational structures that would enable. . .student to equip themselves with
the necessary critical tools to unveil the root causes of oppression, including the
teachers’ complicity with the very structures from which they reap benefits and
privileges’’ (Freire, 2004).

Social amnesia and Freire

I first learned of Freire in 1981 when my fellow anthropology graduate student and
Central American activist, Rosemary Porter, gave me a dog-eared copy of his
book. It changed my life. I had the great fortune of meeting Freire at a 1986
conference on ‘‘critical pedagogy’’ in Amherst, Massachusetts. I found Freire to
be a very modest and charming man. I remember him taking the stage with his gray
beard and thick glasses talking about the necessity to criticize him and ‘‘recreate’’
his ideas for one’s own context, discarding what did not work and developing new
critical approaches appropriate for one’s given historical times. This message has
grown in importance over the past three decades. I have since written extensively
on how I have employed Freire, as a muckraking journalist (McKenna, 2002a,
2002b, 2010c, 2010d, 2010e), a critical ethnographer in medical education
(McKenna, 1998, 2012), an environmental scholar (McKenna, 2009b, 2010b), an
educational theorist (McKenna, 1986, 2003, 2008b, 2010f), aesthetic public peda-
gogue (McKenna, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c; McKenna and Darder, 2011), and medical
critic (McKenna, 2009a, 2010a, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c; McKenna and Notman,
In my anthropological work I have found a widespread social amnesia about
Paulo Freire. Russell Jacoby, in his book of that title (Jacoby, 1975), said social
amnesia was a willful repression of things we already knew. In his book he shows
how the radical nature of Freud’s thought was purposely watered down, domes-
ticated and forgotten by the great majority of his heirs in order to gain wider public
acceptance. Post-Freudians became liberal or conservative, borrowing what they
needed from Freud without bothering to master the theory behind his work. This is
precisely what has happened in the US social sciences including anthropology, with
Freire (and Freud for that matter). Aside from the critical pedagogy school and a

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454 Critique of Anthropology 33(4)

few other pockets, the deep social theory behind Paulo Freire is willfully forgotten
or has never been encountered.
And so, there are a million Freires according to educator Rosa Maria Torres.
In anthropology, I have found, there are predominantly seven, most but a mere
fragment of his oeuvre. I reviewed the academic literature on how anthropologists
have referenced Freire over the past forty years and found more than one hundred
articles, monographs and books where Freire is cited, critiqued or credited with
important theoretical contributions for anthropological work (See especially:
Bartlett, 2005; Levinson, 2011; Sandlin et al., 2009; Wahab, 2010). I also solicited
comments about Freire’s oeuvre on multiple anthropological listservs. I have
codified these in the following seven ways:

(1) The Participatory Action Research (PAR) and Community Action Freire.
PAR activists work on a variety of issues including development, health, environ-
ment, labor, ethnicity, education. Anthropologist Jean Schensul is a leading prac-
titioner of PAR with decades of experience at the Institute for Community
Research in Hartford, Connecticut. In her 2010 Malinowski Address (the premier
annual speech for the Society for Applied Anthropology) in Merida, Mexico,
Schensul expounded on Freire as ‘‘a key inspirational source’’ for community
anthropology (Schensul, 2010). Founded in 1987 the ICR has taken Freire’s con-
cepts and reworked them in a variety of contexts and social theories. One of her
initiatives was the Urban Women’s Development Project (1988–1992) in which
ICR partnered with women from thirteen Hartford neighborhoods to bridge
ethnic, cultural, age and class differences in building local leadership for social
change. Another project worked with residents from Hartford’s poorest neighbor-
hoods to strengthen families, produce data and design action strategies (Schensul
et al., 2008). ‘‘The intent is to use the tools of social science to give validity to local
knowledge, thus reversing elitist structures that dominate the production of scien-
tific knowledge and its uses. We have found this form of collaboration to be highly
meaningful, both personally and professionally, and at the same time fraught with
challenges and contradictions’’ (Schensul et al., 2008; see also, Beck, 2011; Belle,
1984; Burton, 1980; Center for Social Well Being, 2013; Dias, 1999; Ervin, 2005;
Fals-Borda and Rahman, 1991; Fetterman, 1986; Fisher, 2010; Hammer, 2004;
Harrison, 2008; Lambert-Pennington, 2013; Maida, 2011; Meek, 2012; Mencher,
2012; Moriarty, 2004, 2006; Nading, 2012; Oppenheim, 2011; Phillips, 2010;
Schensul et al., 2008; Schugurensky, 2011; Unterberger, 2012; Wahab, 2010).
(2) The Troublemaking Freire. Barbara Rose Johnston, a leading ecological
anthropologist, is a leading exponent of this approach (see also Lopes, 2009;
Wesch, 2012). Johnston said that, ‘‘Freire was essential inspirational reading for
me in graduate studies, [and] my dissertation. [He] is one of the key cited sources
used in my ‘Towards an Environmental Anthropology’ keynote address to the
Women and Anthropology Conference at CSUS in 1990 – an address later revised
for. . . a Practicing Anthropology special issue coedited with Tom Arcury
(Johnston, 1995) 1995 and woven into the mission and methods of the Society

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McKenna 455

for Applied Anthropology/EPA Environmental Anthropology Project (1995–

2000). I see Freire as a foundational source, like many have suggested, for partici-
patory action research and what some now call citizen science’’ (Johnston, 2010).
Johnston argues that applied anthropologists can play four different roles: analysts,
advocates, mediators, and troublemakers (Johnston, 2001). She warns that
‘‘[W]hen environmental justice work involves advocacy and action – confronta-
tional politics – a number of professional bridges are burned. . ..’Cause-oriented’
anthropology suggests people who make trouble. Troublemakers are celebrated in
this discipline when their cause succeeds and justice prevails. But often ‘justice’ is
elusive, success is hard to gauge, and action results in unforeseen adverse conse-
quences.’’ (Johnston, 2001: 8). Johnston has never held a full time academic job
and that is perhaps one reason she has been effective as an activist/troublemaking
anthropologist (see also McKenna, 2008a).
(3) The Revolutionary Freire. In 1970, Freire argued for a ‘‘cultural revolution’’
in which ‘‘the total society [is] to be reconstructed’’ (Freire, 1970: 157). He was in
agreement with aspects of medical doctor Che Guevara’s philosophy of revolution
quoting Che’s reflections, ‘‘As a result of daily contact with [the people of Sierra
Maestra] and their problems we became firmly convinced [italicized in original] of
the need for complete change in the life of our people. . . Communion with the
people ceased to be a mere theory, to become an integral part of ourselves’’ (Freire,
1970: 170). At the same time Freire argued that ‘‘revolutionary praxis cannot tol-
erate an absurd dichotomy in which the praxis of the people is merely that of
following the leader’s decisions – a dichotomy reflecting the prescriptive methods
of the dominant elites. . ..Revolutionary. . . leaders cannot treat the oppressed as
their possession’’ (Freire, 1970: 120). Quoting another Cuban medical doctor, Dr
Orlando Aguirre Ortiz, Freire supported a revolutionary practice in which naming
and renaming the world was a vital part of the fight. He quoted Ortiz who said,
‘‘The revolution involves three ‘‘Ps’’: palavra, povo, e polvora [word, people, and
gunpowder]. The explosion of the gunpowder clears the people’s perception of their
concrete situation, in pursuit, through action, of their liberation.’’ Freire supported
how Ortiz stressed the word [palavra], as action and reflection, as praxis.
(4) The Downplayed Freire. A good many anthropologists admit that Freire has
had various degrees of influence on them but they rarely mention or cite him (Gene
Anderson, 2010, personal communication). Several anthropologists wrote that
Freire is a permanent presence in their classroom teaching. ‘‘I personally use
Freire every day I ever taught a class – didn’t cite him much though, just stole
his philosophy!’’ reported anthropologist Gene Anderson. ‘‘The real question is:
why does anthropology ignore education? The Anthropology and Education
[Journal] is purely classroom-and-formal-school work, and my contribution to
traditional (non-school) education had to be published in psychology journals
because the anthro-ed journals specifically reject everything that isn’t classroom.’’
Anthropologist David Meek argues that one reason anthropologists do not engage
directly with Freire is because, ‘‘he is known as an educator, not an anthropologist,
and while his writings are truly engaging and powerful they usually do not come up

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456 Critique of Anthropology 33(4)

under the anthropological radar as they are not ethnographic, nor were ever pub-
lished in anthropological journals.’’
(5) The Ignored Freire. His absence was apparent in a recent 2011 book
edited by Dr Kathryn Anderson-Levitt, the former editor of the flagship academic
journal Anthropology and Education. In the book, titled Anthropologies of
Education: A Global Guide to Ethnographic Studies of Learning and Schooling,
thirteen anthropologists spoke of pedagogies around the world, but there was
only one textual reference to Freire and not one to Henry Giroux and the global
critical pedagogy movement. Incredibly, this invisible Freire was ‘‘present’’ in a
recent edition of the influential journal, Current Anthropology. The editors dedi-
cated their entire October 2010 issue to the question of ‘‘Engaged Anthropology:
Diversity and Dilemmas,’’ with the support of the Wenner-Gren Foundation
(anthropology’s premier funding arm). The issue included essays and remarks
from nineteen well-known anthropologists who had participated in the symposium,
‘‘The Anthropologist as Social Critic: Working Towards a More Engaged
Anthropology.’’ These included Setha Low and Michael Herzfeld as well as
Norma Gonzalez who wrote the article, ‘‘Advocacy Anthropology and
Education’’ (Gonzalez, 2010: S249–S258). There was not one reference to Freire
in the entire edition.
(6) The Domesticated Freire. By domestication I refer to versions of Freire’s
thought that dilute Freire’s messages to such a degree that they become unrecog-
nizable, or even contrary to Freire’s actual points. They become anti-Freire.
This strategy is often done to make Freire acceptable to the dominant culture
(i.e. the oppressors), while recognizing legitimate ideas that Freire once uttered.
This perversion of Freire takes small bits of his overall work to justify a larger
political project, usually liberal, as in the civic engagement efforts of universities
cited above.
(7) The ‘‘True Generosity’’ Freire. Paul Farmer, MD and Jim Yong Kim, MD,
arguably the two most well-known anthropologists in the world, claim adherence to
this view. They are MacArthur Genius award winners and cofounders of the non-
profit Partners in Health (PIH). In March 2012, President Obama nominated Dr Kim
to head the World Bank. Kim began his new job on July 1, 2012. His nomination was
strongly endorsed by his friend, Paul Farmer who argued, ‘‘Kim’s humility would
serve World Bank well’’ in a Washington Post column on April 11, 2012.

Both Drs Kim and Farmer assert that they are highly influenced by Paulo
Freire. At first glance this seems consistent with Kim’s excellent 2000 Dying for
Growth, a book that Kim coedited with several others from the Institute for Health
and Social Justice Issues in Cambridge, Massachusetts (Kim, 2000). I have used the
book in my Medical Anthropology teaching. In a lengthy interview with the Boston
Phoenix reported by Tinker Ready, Kim explain[ed] that he and Farmer share
several key influences. Ready reported that, ‘‘One is Paulo Freire’s classic 1968
manifesto Pedagogy of the Oppressed (‘True generosity consists precisely in fighting
to destroy the causes which nourish false charity,’ it reads in part). The other is the

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McKenna 457

radical Catholic doctrine known as liberation theology, which preaches that the
Church should be in the business of fighting poverty and oppression. So, he
says, they work alongside the poor and answer to the poor, not to the WHO or
government health ministries’’ (Ready, 2001).
In another context, Paul Farmer explained how his Freirean social justice model
is a vast improvement over the charity model and development models of health
care. He said,

Charity . . . presupposes that there will always be those who have and those who have
not. This may or may not be true, but again, there are costs to seeing the problem in
this light. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire put it this way: ‘In order to have
the continued opportunity to express their ‘generosity,’ the oppressors must perpetu-
ate injustice as well. An unjust social order is the permanent fount of this ‘generosity,’
which is nourished by death, despair, and poverty.’ Freire’s conclusion follows nat-
urally enough: ‘True generosity consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes
which nourish false charity.’ Given the 20th century’s marked tendency toward
increasing economic inequity in the face of economic growth, there will be plenty of
false charity in the future. (Farmer, 1995)

Drs Kim and Farmer’s worldwide influence is stunning. As renowned health experts
and political appointees whose profiles rise higher on the world stage, their inter-
pretations of Freire will continue to influence legions of intellectuals, doctors, gov-
ernment officials, anthropologists and citizens. As such, they demand much more
rigorous critical attention, both in terms of how they model anthropology in general,
and for the purposes of this article, how they model Freire, the critical pedagogy
school and Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I now turn to this focus. This critique does
double duty in explicating the importance of Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed for
today’s critical praxis while illustrating the weaknesses of the ‘‘service learning’’
models – in health, medicine, education and universities – which too easily slip
into a valorization of ‘‘acting’’ without thinking, and/or liberalism without apolo-
gies, as Maloney indicated above. In the next section, I discuss how Farmer and
Kim’s work distorts and contradicts many of Freire’s most important contributions
further contributing to widespread social amnesia of Freire. I do it, ironically, by
applying ideas from Pedagogy of the Oppressed to Kim and Farmer’s own theories
and practices. Finally, I discuss the prolific work of Dr Henry Giroux, PhD, Freire’s
most important heir. He identifies the ‘‘pathologies of power’’ in the ‘‘terror of
neoliberalism’’ in ways that critique Kim and Farmer and offer many more valuable
insights and resources of hope in the Freirian tradition.

Dying for capitalism

In a situation of manipulation, the Left is almost always tempted by a ‘quick return to

power,’ forgets the necessity of joining with the oppressed to forge an organization, and

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458 Critique of Anthropology 33(4)

strays into an impossible ‘dialogue’ with the dominant elites. It ends by being manipu-
lated by these elites, and not infrequently falls into the elitist game, which it calls ‘real-
ism.’ (Paulo Freire, 1970: 146)

When he was nominated for the World Bank position, several sectors of the inter-
national community questioned Dr Kim’s credentials and argued that the selection
process was undemocratic and not based on merit. Kim was widely supported by
US liberals as well as prestigious publications like the Financial Times and the New
York Times. Disregarding the international community’s call for transparency, and
encouraged by his friend Paul Farmer, Kim accepted the post and joined President
Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Treasury Secretary Timothy
Geithner in the Rose Garden ceremony.
Over the past two decades Kim and Farmer have demonstrated that diseases
could be treated successfully and economically in some of the poorest, remotest
places in the underdeveloped world. According to journalist Patrick Bond, ‘‘[these]
breakthroughs required making alliances with grassroots activists, including South
Africa’s Treatment Action Campaign, to win an historic fight against Big Pharma
and the World Trade Organization’s Intellectual Property rights protections in
2001. The payoff was provision of generic and discounted AIDS medicines to
several million poor people at an affordable price, whereas a decade earlier those
medicines cost $15,000/patient/year. It was one the greatest recent victories against
corporate-facilitated oppression [in recent decades].’’ Said Kim, ‘‘That was the
moving thing for me. Seeing the proof.’’
For their efforts Kim and Farmer were awarded MacArthur Genius Awards.
Farmer travels the world treating patients and raising money for his PIH clinics
which amount to more than 76 clinics in 12 countries serving 2.6 million people per
year. PIH employs almost 15,000 in countries including Haiti, Rwanda, Peru and
Kazakhstan. Farmer was offered the job to head US AID in 2009, but he declined.
Since the Haitian earthquake in 2010, Farmer has worked extensively with former
President Bill Clinton to help alleviate the suffering of many. He is now UN Special
Envoy to Haiti under Clinton.
In its various chapters, Dying for Growth explores the linkages between neo-
liberalism or late capitalism and health problems among the poor in various coun-
tries. In the concluding chapter, Millen, Irwin, and Kim advocate a program of
‘‘pragmatic solidarity’’ that calls for a collective effort that aims to counter the
adverse effects of neoliberalism upon the health of the poor. Medical anthropolo-
gist Hans Baer (2001) wrote a generally positive review of Dying for Growth, but he
faulted the editors for failing to provide readers with a vision that will not simply
ameliorate the worst effects of global capitalism upon the health of the poor. In his
view, this would entail the creation of health for all that entails constructing an
alternative global political economy oriented to meeting social needs rather than to
profit making (McKenna and Baer, 2012).
Perhaps this omission provided Kim with the wiggle room he may have needed
when during his nomination process for the World Bank when many questioned

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McKenna 459

whether the author of Dying for Growth, was, in fact, anti-capitalist. The book had
appeared to be fiercely challenging the growth mantra. However in Farmer’s
Washington Post editorial, he responded with a resounding no, arguing
that ‘‘any reasonable reading of the book indicates that Dying for Growth is pro--
growth, raising questions about particular policies and patterns of growth that
exclude the great majority of people living in poverty. Hence the double entendre
in the title’’ (Farmer and Gershman, 2012).
With their latest actions, Drs Kim and Farmer make an astounding public
reversal from their tone in Dying for Growth. One of Dr Kim’s chief actions
today is to vigorously promote capitalism, albeit a form of capitalism with a
human face. In a recent BBC interview Jim Kim said that capitalist ‘‘market-
based growth is a priority for every single country’’ (BBC, 2012). Kim said that
this was the best way to create jobs and lift people out of poverty. In reality, both
Farmer and Kim appear to be overlooking the increasing number of scholars and
activists who are challenging the growth paradigm associated with global capital-
ism, especially in light of the increasing evidence that the treadmill of production
and consumption is highly dependent on fossil fuels is not only contributing to
increasing social inequality around the world but also depletion of natural
resources and environmental degradation, of which the most profound form is
climate change.
What is needed is ‘‘appropriate development’’ or economic growth for the
poorest people in the world and de-growth of the affluent in both developed and
developing societies. We need to achieve a post-capitalist economy oriented to
social parity, justice, environmental sustainability and a safe climate.
In terms of Farmer’s defense of his colleague, South African journalist Patrick
Bond does not agree with his argument. ‘‘I’ve met both Farmer and Gershman, and
like everyone else, I immensely respect their traditional role: haranguing powerful
institutions to do less harm,’’ he said, ‘‘[but] what they did in the Washington Post
was the opposite, offering excuses for the World Bank and its status quo ideology
because their friend is about to take over. The contradictions will be spectacular.
The scholar who coedited the great anti-neoliberal book Dying for Growth will be
compelled to actively ignore data (from Christian Aid) which suggest 185 million
African deaths in the twenty-first century will be due to climate change, in addition
to immediate coal-related health problems’’ (Bond, 2012). Similarly, anthropolo-
gist Bill Derman, an Africanist with more than thirty years of experience on water
projects, said that ‘‘There is a long history involved in World Bank banking on
large dams. . ..[and] it gives credibility to environmentally disastrous and culturally
genocidal projects. . .. At the very least the new head of the bank should have called
for a thorough review of the basis for supporting Kenya’s request without examin-
ing the horrendous social and environmental so-called research carried out on
behalf of the Ethiopian government’’ (Derman, 2012).
Anthropologist Jason Hickel, of the London School of Economics, finds ‘‘it
astounding that we continue to place our hope for the end of poverty in an inter-
national financial institution that is fundamentally beholden to the interests of Wall

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460 Critique of Anthropology 33(4)

Street and the US government’’ (Hickel, 2012). Hickel argues that, ‘‘Kim probably
won’t be able to accomplish these reforms because they would run up against
enormously powerful economic interests. Real change will require rebuilding the
global justice movement by linking together organisations that have been working
on these issues for decades. As neoliberal policy has ravaged the lives of hundreds
of millions of people around the world, there’s a lot of anger out there ready to be
mobilised. A revolution lays waiting in the wings; we have only to call it forth’’
(Hickel, 2012).
The point is also captured by anthropologist G Derrick Hodge in a 2011 review
of ‘‘the Continuing Career of Jim Yong Kim (Hodge, 2011). Hodge salutes Kim’s
‘‘staggering success’’ in a ‘‘remarkable career’’ that has extended and enhanced the
lives of many. However he also notes Kim’s ‘‘strange bedfellows.’’ Hodge makes a
theoretical critique of Kim commenting that ‘‘he has been quite willing to support
the profitability of already very wealthy corporations if it means saving a life in the
here and now’’ (Hodge, 2011). ‘‘Yet, by not challenging the ways in which profit-
motivated economic processes cause the kind of illness that they claim to cure,’’ he
said, ‘‘this kind of pragmatism risks sacrificing future generations for current exi-
gencies’’ (Hodge, 2011). In other words, by accommodating with established power
and capitalist relations of production, Kim (and Farmer) may be causing more
harm than good over the long sweep of history. Hodge wonders if Kim ‘‘is willing
to risk alienating wealthy donors [and whether] he might feel morally compelled to
use his new pulpit to tell the truth about global capitalism, as he did in Dying for
Growth’’ (Hodge, 2011). These are important questions and reflect the ‘‘problem
posing’’ element of Freire. It is for reasons like these that journalist Patrick Bond
named his popular CounterPunch article ‘‘Why Jim Kim Should Resign from the
World Bank’’ (Bond, 2012). One wonders how Kim might reconcile the fact that
Paulo Freire himself renounced the World Bank and refused to take money from
them when he was the Secretary of Education in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Dual beings

Professional women and men of any specialty, university graduates or not,

are individuals who are ‘determined from above’, by a culture of domination which as
constituted them as dual beings. (Friere, 1970: 139)

The term ‘‘structural violence’’ is part of medical anthropologists Paul Farmer and
Jim Kim’s arsenal of development theory. Loic Wacquant critiqued this concept in
a special forum at which Farmer was present (Wacquant, 2004). Anthropologist
Michael D’Arcy amplified Wacquant’s criticism saying, ‘‘the analytic of structural
violence is a wonderful way to begin a conversation about the role of institutions in
producing social change and redressing wrongs, but. . .specific dimensions of these
structural. . ..violences should also be enumerated in the name of producing con-
crete effects and not merely garnering donations from a concerned but relatively

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McKenna 461

uninformed general public. If integrating critique into action is truly part of what
differentiates Farmer and Kim’s organization from other forms of humanitarian
intervention, then one would think that the organization and its directors
would welcome constructive feedback from colleagues, allies, and intellectual
fellow travelers.’’ A Freirean approach to improving the world asks these ques-
tions. As Freire himself pointed out, ‘‘any situation in which some men prevent
others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. . .the movement of
inquiry must be directed towards humanization – man’s historical vocation’’
(Freire, 1970: 73).
David Harvey is clear in The Enigma of Capital. ‘‘A youthful, student led revo-
lutionary movement, with all of its evident uncertainties and problems,’’ he said,
‘‘is a necessary but not sufficient condition to produce that revolution in mental
conceptions that can lead us to a more rational solution to the current problems of
endless growth, the first lesson it must learn is that an ethical, non-exploitative and
socially just capitalism that redounds to the benefit of all is impossible. It contra-
dicts the very nature of what capital is about’’ (Harvey, 2010: 259). Kim and
Farmer’s liberalism contradicts the very nature of what Freire is about. Ideas
of revolutionary transformation are anathema to liberals. In Death of the
Liberal Class, (Hedges, 2010), Hedges says that ‘‘the liberal class was always
compromised by its embrace of the power elite, as well as its deep hostility to
American radicals.’’ He goes further, arguing that ‘‘the corporate coup d’etat [of
the United States] is complete [and] we must not waste our time trying to reform
or appeal to systems of power’’ (Hedges, 2010: 193). He quotes social activist
Norman Finkelstein, fired from DePaul University for his public praxis:
‘‘There are two sets of principles. They are the principles of power and privilege
and the principles of truth and justice. If you pursue truth and justice, it will always
mean a diminution of power and privilege. If you pursue power and privilege it
will always be at the expense of truth and justice’’ (Hedges, 2010: 36; see also
Bledstein, 1976).

A rigorous detour through Marx is essential

Dr Farmer has vigorously renounced Marxist approaches for diagnosing and
transforming the world. In a text from the bestselling New York Times book,
Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would
Cure the World (Kidder, 2003),’’ Kidder writes of Dr Farmer, ‘‘He had studied
the world’s ideologies . . . But years ago he’d concluded that Marxism wouldn’t
answer the questions posed by the suffering he encountered in Haiti. And he had
quarrels with the Marxists he’d read: ‘What I don’t like about Marxist literature
is what I don’t like about academic pursuits–and isn’t that what Marxism is, now?
In general, the arrogance, the petty infighting, the dishonesty, the desire for self-
promotion, the orthodoxy: I can’t stand the orthodoxy, and I’ll bet that’s one
reason that science did not flourish in the former Soviet Union’’’ (Kidder, 2003:

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462 Critique of Anthropology 33(4)

Like Kim, Farmer’s assertions distort Freire’s essential message. In Freire’s

final publication, a posthumous collection of letters titled, Pedagogy of
Indignation, published in 2004, Freire’s colleague Donaldo Macedo puts the issue
‘‘. . .. one cannot understand Freire’s theories without taking a rigorous detour
through a Marxist analysis, and [any] offhand dismissal of Marx is nothing more
than a vain attempt to remove the sociohistorical context that grounds Pedagogy of
the Oppressed’’ (Freire, 2004: xiv–xv). Macedo underscores that ‘‘the misunder-
standing, even by those who claim to be Freirean, is not innocent. It allows
many liberal educators to appropriate selective aspects of Freire’s theory and prac-
tice it as a badge of progressiveness while conveniently dismissing or ignoring the
‘Marxist perspectives’ that would question their complicity with the very structures
that created human misery in the first place’’ (Freire, 2004: xvi).

Naming the pathologies of power

For some time Farmer himself has been reluctant to critique capitalism per se,
instead tending to cite ‘‘structural violence’’ as the source of the problems of many
of the world’s poor. Still, in his recent book Haiti After the Earthquake he does
acknowledge that ‘‘growing inequality, both within countries and between them, is
the linchpin of modern servitude’’ (Farmer, 2011: 117).
PIH is becoming more and more closely tied to corporate capital. In 2011, PIH
generated revenues of $88 million. There were more than 15,000 new donors the
last fiscal year. Among its corporate and foundation donors are Abbot
Laboratories, Aetna Foundation, Inc. American Express, the Bill and Melinda
Gates Foundation, General Electric, Co., Goldman, Sachs Co., Google, Home
Depot, HSBC Philanthropic Programs, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Microsoft,
Morgan Stanley, Novartis, Pfizer, UPS, US Bancorp, Wells Fargo and
Weyerhaeuser Family Foundation (PIH Annual Report, 2011).
In a February 23, 2013 article by Henry Giroux titled The Politics of
Disimagination and the Pathologies of Power, Giroux charged that ‘‘American
Society is awash in a culture of civic illiteracy, cruelty andcorruption. For example,
major banks such as Barclays and HSBC swindle billions from clients and increase
their profit margins by laundering money for terrorist organizations, and no one
goes to jail’’ (Giroux, 2013a). Dr Farmer, who receives support from HSBC,
among other financial institutions, has chosen not to make these kinds of linkages
in his public pedagogy.
Drs Farmer and Kim work closely with President Obama and former President
Clinton. When he was president, Clinton forced Haiti to drop tariffs on imported
subsidized US rice. This neoliberal policy destroyed Haitian rice farming and ser-
iously undercut Haiti’s ability to become a self-sufficient country. It is widely
viewed as contributing to Haiti’s forced urbanization, an event that increased the
earthquake toll. Clinton, of course, also passed NAFTA which significantly hurt

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McKenna 463

the US working class. He destroyed welfare and in 1999 was responsible for tearing
down the firewalls between investment and commercial banking which opened the
banking system to speculators and contributed to much human misery
associated with the 2008 financial meltdown. Obama raised more than $600 million
for his 2008 election and over $715 million for the 2012 election, most from
corporations, and has served those same corporations as well as his Republican
predecessor. He has stood by while those same corporations looted the treasury
and has done little to help the millions of Americans who have lost their homes
to Liars Loans and bank repossessions. The list of accommodations to capital
is long.
Dr Farmer’s close alliance with former President Clinton, and relative silence
over many controversial issues such as a raise in the minimum wage for Haitians,
has led to a critique by Ansel Herz, a Haitian based reporter who has written for
the Nation, the New York Daily News and Al Jazeera. Writing in CounterPunch on
January 17, 2013, Herz titled his piece, The Doctor and the Haitian Machine, The
Uses of Paul Farmer reporting on his interview with Dr Farmer (Herz, 2013). While
Kim and Farmer work closely with these elites – two of the most powerful men in
the world – they simultaneously tout Freire while ignoring his wealth of theory and
practice as well as the work of legions of critical pedagogues around the globe. As
Donaldo Macedo puts it, ‘‘the misunderstanding of Paulo Freire’s leading theor-
etical ideas is also implicated in the facile dismissal of Freire’s legacy and influence,
which has actually shaped a vibrant field of critical pedagogy that has taken root
throughout the United States and the world in the last two decades or so. . ..[includ-
ing] contributions of scholars such as Henry Giroux, Stanley Aronowitz, Michele
Fine, Antonia Darder, Linda Brodkey, and Peter McLaren’’ (Freire, 2004:

Kim: Anthropologists don’t often act, but physicians do

The Premier Demand upon all Education is that Auschwitz not happen again.
(Adorno, 1951)

Dr Kim makes a strong criticism of anthropologists who do not ‘‘act.’’ Speaking on

PBS television in 2009, he told Bill Moyers that, ‘‘Anthropologists are a little bit
different [than physicians]; we don’t often act on what we do’’ (Moyers, 2009).
Similarly, Dr Farmer presents himself as a doer. ‘‘I’m an action kind of guy,’’ he
told Tracy Kidder (Kidder, 2003: 79).
The implication seems to be that Drs Kim and Farmer model the work –
biomedical-dominated work — that anthropologists should be doing, work that
is allegedly in the tradition of Paulo Freire. Is it? What do they mean by ‘‘act’’?
In the past year, several anthropologists and former students have begun to pub-
licly challenge Drs Kim and Farmer’s views on social action. One is physician/
anthropologist Sam Dubal who wrote that,

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464 Critique of Anthropology 33(4)

I was initially tremendously excited about the ‘Introduction to Social Medicine’ course
[at Harvard]. But it turned out to be an enormous disappointment. First, its level of
engagement with the social determinants of healthcare was (perhaps appropriate to a
politically conservative institution like HMS) superficial. We were taught little more
than the banal fact that poverty is a major etiology of disease. Second, instead of being
taught careful methods of engaging with poverty as physicians, Jim Kim presented to
us, in conjunction with Michael Porter of Harvard Business School, ‘global health
delivery’ models, ways of using logistical tools of commercial production to improve
efficiency and efficacy of the ‘delivery’ of global health care. Instead of urging us to
engage in deeper scholarship of history, anthropology, and philosophy, Kim – who
later left to become president of Dartmouth College, and now, tellingly, stands pre-
sident-elect of the World Bank – encouraged first-year HMS students to pursue
MBAs. (Dubal, 2012)

In terms of public health or social medicine, much of the thunder of the polit-
ical economy of health literature that began to emerge in the early 1970s
and inspired both critical medical anthropologists and critical medical sociolo-
gists has been subtly co-opted in the guise of the social determinants of health dis-
course. In 2004, the WHO Commission on Macroeconomics and Health
created the Commission on Social Determinants of Health. Unfortunately,
this approach tends to ignore the political economy of health. The social
determinants of health that are repeatedly identified in the literature include
poverty, employment and unemployment, stress, inequalities in housing, educa-
tion, social inclusion, nutrition, as well as various lifestyle factors, such as ethnicity
and sexual behavior. In essence, this perspective fails to look further upstream and
does not posit the various social determinants as ultimately being rooted in the
capitalist world system. That form of theoretical action is marginalized.
Writing on July 17, 2012 in The Dartmouth, the student newspaper of Kim’s
former Presidential post, philosophy student Becca Rothfeld, provides additional
information about Dr Kim’s view of ‘‘action,’’

In March 2010, former College President Jim Yong Kim spoke at The Washington
Post lecture series on leadership. He addressed the Dartmouth undergraduate popu-
lation, counseling its constituents to abandon their starry-eyed ambitions. ‘It’s great to
have all these great ideals,’ he noted, with a tinge of condescension. ‘But when you go
to Haiti, when you go to Africa, they don’t ask you, ‘How much do you feel for my
people?’’ He concluded by chastising any Dartmouth students hopelessly naive
enough to maintain an affinity for the liberal arts, whom he advised to ‘get a skill.’
One casualty of this brutal methodology is philosophy, an entire field that Kim cas-
ually dismisses as practically useless. He describes his erstwhile interest in the discip-
line as the passing passion of a ‘smart-aleck sophomore.’ Apparently, it doesn’t
require what Kim would qualify as ‘skill’ to author works like ‘A Critique of
Pure Reason’ and ‘A Discourse on the Method.’ In Kim’s view, thinkers like Kant,

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McKenna 465

Descartes and Rousseau would have done better to stop thinking and start acting.’’
(Rothfeld, 2012)

Like Rothfeld, Theodor Adorno, one of the twentieth century’s greatest philoso-
phers, would also have critical comments for Kim. Adorno, and the Frankfurt
School of critical theory, of which he was a part, was of immense influence to
Paulo Freire and the current critical pedagogy school.
‘‘Distance from praxis is disreputable to everyone,’’ said Adorno, ‘‘Whoever
doesn’t want to really knuckle down and get his hands dirty, is suspect, as
though the aversion were not legitimate and only distorted by privilege. [the
demand is to become] an active, practical person. . .[like] an industrial leader or
an athlete. One should join in. Whoever thinks, removes himself, is considered
weak, cowardly, virtually a traitor’’ (Adorno, 1963: 290). Adorno worried that
such an admonition might be ‘‘quickly transformed into a prohibition on think-
ing’’ itself (Adorno, 1963: 290). He warned that ‘‘The much invoked unity
of theory and praxis has the tendency of slipping into the predominance of
praxis’’ (Adorno, 1963: 290). Such a ‘‘forced primacy’’ stopped ‘‘the critique
Marx himself practiced’’ as in places like the former Soviet Union. Eventually,
once on this road, the criticism against critique ‘‘is not tolerated anymore except
for the criticism that people were not yet working hard enough. So easily does the
subordination of theory to praxis invert into service rendered to renewed oppres-
sion’’ (Adorno, 1963: 290). He went further. ‘‘Whoever criticizes violates
the taboo of unity, which tends towards totalitarian organization. The critic
becomes a divisive influence and, with a totalitarian phrase, a subversive’’
(Adorno, 1963: 283).
Theoretical action leads to disturbing insights. We find that the material forces
at work on the individual’s consciousness are massive. Again Adorno captures
elements of the hegemony it in a piece that is overly pessimistic, but important
to quote at length,

The economic order . . . renders the majority of people dependent upon condi-
tions beyond their control, and thus maintains them in a state of political
immaturity. If they want to live, then no other avenue remains but to
adapt . . . they must negate precisely the autonomous subjectivity to which the idea
of democracy appeals; they can preserve themselves only if they renounce their self.
To see through the nexus of deception, they would need to make precisely that pain-
ful intellectual effort that the organization of everyday life, not least of all a culture
industry inflated to the point of totality, prevents. The necessity of such adaptation,
of identification with the given . . . creates the potential for totalitarianism. (Adorno,
1963: 98–99)

To this the Dartmouth president advised the student/philosopher to ‘‘get a


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466 Critique of Anthropology 33(4)

The idea seems to be that college youth should focus on mastering practical
skills that privilege instrumental rationality, not critical pedagogy, the humanities
or philosophy. Moreover, Dr Kim seems to be saying, one should arm oneself with
as many hard-skill based degrees as possible, preferably: MD, PhD, and MBA. But
who can afford this but the rich? And for the rest, isn’t the debt peonage from all
this graduate education another form of structural violence?
Further, Kim does not pay proper attention to how ‘‘Medical Education is
under Siege’’ (McKenna, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c) from authoritarian pedagogies,
reified slogan systems and a trade school mentality that places more value on
obedience than critique. There is little sense in his discourse about how biomedi-
cine’s indoctrinating pedagogies contribute to the making of ‘‘slave doctors’’ (see
McKenna, 2012). In my ethnography of medical education at Michigan State
University I illustrate the essential truths behind MD Leon Eisenberg’s description
of biomedical education as a system of ‘‘cultural indoctrination’’ in which ‘‘the first
year student is reluctant [to speak out],’’ against injustice while the third year
student does not even hear [about] it.’’ He said that this socialization experience
helps to create conservative medical providers. ‘‘Courage and morality,’’ he said,
‘‘atrophy with misuse.’’
A Freirian pedagogy of the oppressed in medical education would place sub-
stantial curricular focus on how medicine has become complicit in the cruelties of
capitalism on a wide variety of levels (McKenna, 2011a, 2011b, 2011c).
In fact, the primary causes of preventable illness, injury, and disease — capitalist
social relations — need to become the ‘‘primary cares’’ of medicine. As David
Sanders, MD, argued, the fundamental causes of ill health are out of the control
of [the biomedical profession], and ‘‘indeed, any open recognition of the real causes
would call into question the very system that allows [medical professionals] to own
and market their commodity’’ (Sanders, 1985: 117; see also Len Saputo and
Belitsos, 2009). A social medicine curriculum, in the tradition of Freire, would
follow Rudolf Virchow’s lead when he said ‘‘medicine is a social science, politics
by other means,’’ and surgically intervene in social science and critical pedagogy
while questioning the dominance of pathophysiology and biomedicine.
What is education for? Capital accumulation and professional careers? Or edu-
cation for the practice of freedom?

Denouncing and announcing

There is no liberation without a revolutionary transformation of the class

society . . . (Freire, 1970)

In his last publication, the posthumous Pedagogy of Indignation (2004), Freire

spoke of the revolutionary fight: ‘‘Denouncing and announcing, when part of the
process of critically reading the world, give birth to the dream for which one fights.

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McKenna 467

This dream or vision, whose profile becomes clear in the process of critically
analyzing the reality one denounces, is a practice that transforms society, just as
the drawings of a unit factory worker. . .makes possible the actual manufacturing of
the unit’’ (Freire, 2004: 18).
Yes, poverty must be vanquished. But how can we achieve health and liberation
without naming and renaming the world theoretically, over and over, on higher
planes of action and reflection, ad in fin? When we do, we more clearly recognize
that poverty is part of a darker constellation of forces that resists being fully
named. And we understand that violence is a cultural phenomenon as much as it
is material.
The dominant culture today has descended into an abyss. The powerful
have succeeded in creating a social structure that profoundly reinforces passivity.
The corporate state has created a race of debtors mired in profound anxiety about
the future. Its intellectuals deny the existence of class and shout down anyone who
uses the word. But class warfare survives, even when its cultural knowledge is
suppressed. It hemorrhages massive human suffering. Its sequala of trauma,
inequality, now stands at Great Depression levels in the US. A preponderance of
evidence now implicates class struggle as the primary factor in a crippling health/
wealth dialectic that results in shortened lives, premature death, and a severely
diminished quality of life for the majority of citizens. One can plainly see that
the US Constitution’s promise to ‘‘promote the general welfare’’ is virtually
dead. We live amidst the ‘‘twilight of the social,’’ whereby nearly everything defined
as ‘‘public’’ is being defunded or dismantled: public health, public libraries, public
education and public universities. It is very difficult to ‘‘see the totality’’ of our own
culture in such a way as to recognize its frightening depths and deadly tendencies.
But left unchallenged, and unnamed, our culture is rapidly sowing the seeds of
Naming requires that one challenge those in power even when that is unpopu-
lar and risks censure or marginalization. One who questions and often stands
alone is Ezili Danto, Founder and President of the Haitian Lawyers Leadership
Network. She is an organic intellectual and artist who was born in Port au
Prince. Her organization once awarded a medal to Paul Farmer, but today she
is one of Dr Farmer’s most vocal critics. Danto cites Freire to inform her prac-
tice, choosing a quote to countermand Farmer’s focus on ‘‘true charity’’ work.
Here is the quote, ‘‘Transformation is only valid if it is carried out with the
people, not for them. Liberation is like a childbirth, and a painful one. The
person who emerges is a new person: no longer either oppressor or oppressed,
but a person in the process of achieving freedom. It is only the oppressed who, by
freeing themselves, can free their oppressors’’ (from Freire, 1970). In short, there
is a major conflict (mostly unreported in the anthropology literature) between
two leading Leftist intellectuals on Haitian health and politics, Paul Farmer and
Ezili Danto. Both cite Paulo Freire to justify their positions. Clearly, an inde-
pendent assessment to ascertain the strength of their respective arguments is
called for. As anthropologist Victor Braitberg said, ‘‘I don’t think we

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468 Critique of Anthropology 33(4)

(anthropologists) really understand the sociocultural impact and the broader

political-economic dynamics that are bound up with Paul Farmer’s work and
PIH more generally. I think it would be worthwhile to critically and ethnograph-
ically examine the impact that this organization is having in the Haitian context
as well as the other contexts where they operate. What is the relationship of PIH
to local organizations, other NGOs, the public health institutions of the country,
etc. In other words, what is the political-economy of Paul Farmer and PIH in the
context of international health as a global field of actors with competing interests
where, like it or not, poor sick people are often defacto symbolic and economic
capital on a global stage’’ (Danto, 2011).

Conclusion: the dialectic of education versus service

Radicalization involves increased commitment to the position one has chosen, and thus
even greater engagement in the effort to transform concrete, objective reality. (Paulo
Freire, 1970)

That ancient promise of schooling, independent thinking, is in sharp abeyance.

‘‘Open thinking,’’ said Adorno, ‘‘points beyond itself.’’ In opposition to those
who would hang the thinker out to dry, Adorno said that ‘‘the uncompromisingly
critical thinker, who neither signs over his consciousness nor lets himself be terror-
ized into action, is in truth the one who does not give in. Thinking is not the
intellectual reproduction of what already exists anyway. As long as it doesn’t
break off, thinking has a secure hold on possibility. Its insatiable aspect, its aver-
sion to being quickly and easily satisfied, refuses the foolish wisdom of resigna-
tion. . .. Whatever has once been thought can be suppressed, forgotten, can vanish.
But it cannot be denied that something of it survives’’ (Adorno, 1963: 293).
Following Gramsci’s discussion of ideological hegemony, we need to better
understand how we give consent to meanings and practices which actually assist
in our own oppression. In other words we must challenge the naming of things. As
Giroux puts it in Zombie Politics and Culture in the Age of Casino Capitalism,
‘‘If successful, the language of oppression and cruelty becomes normalized,
removed from the sphere of criticism and the culture of questioning. Such a lan-
guage does more than normalize ignorance, illiteracy, and irrationality; it also
produces a kind of psychic hardening and deep-rooted pathology in a society
increasingly willing to eliminate the policies that enable the social bonds and
protections necessary for a substantive democracy’’ (Giroux, 2010, 50–51).
Clarity versus charity? Freire privileged clarity. This does not mean, of course,
that service and charity are not vital as well. Given the historic context of main-
stream anthropology, often disparaged as ‘‘the study of exotics by eccentrics,’’ Kim
and Farmer are to be commended for emphasizing public service in restrictive intel-
lectual contexts. However, as Freire argued, radical education – critical pedagogy –
intertwined with rigorous theory and democratic organization – is the fundamental

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McKenna 469

project for social transformation. A cure of a physical illness does not create the
conscientization necessary to transform the world. ‘‘True generosity,’’ Freire said,
‘‘consists precisely in fighting to destroy the causes which nourish false charity.’’
‘‘If educators are to revitalize the language of civic education as part of a
broader discourse of political agency and critical citizenship in a global world,’’
says Giroux, ‘‘they will have to consider grounding such a pedagogy in defense of
militant utopian thinking’’ (Giroux, 2010a: 74). This is the kind of thinking
revealed in parts of the Occupy Movement.
Extraordinary efforts must be made, again, towards a public anthropology that
recreates ‘‘common sense’’ for our age. Taboo topics must be drawn and quartered
and actions prescribed in a gnosiological cycle of action and reflection. Time is
running out. Today, after forty years of ascendancy, the powerful underpinnings
of neoliberalism are congealing, wrapping their tentacles around the country.
Something darker is emerging. Incessant critique and critical action are called
for. This will be risky in every sphere of existence – cities, universities, departments,
medical schools, and professions – as the reigning gods and their acolytes will not
play fair with the critics. Paulo Freire and the critical pedagogues offer a way.

I want to thank Dr Hans Baer for his helpful critique of this article. All errors are my own.

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Author Biography
Brian McKenna, PhD, is a medical/environmental anthropologist and journalist
with nearly three decades of experience as a public anthropologist. In the 1980s he
worked in Philadelphia as a health policy analyst for a number of non-profits
including Temple University’s Institute for Public Policy Studies and the United
Way’s Community Services Planning Council. Later he was the developmental
specialist for NPR’s Fresh Air. He worked for six years in medical education
(1992–1998) as an evaluator for the Kellogg Foundation to create community-
oriented primary care practitioners, the topic of his dissertation. He’s written for
more than a dozen journalistic outlets including CounterPunch, CommonDreams,
The Free Press, The New York Guardian, Philadelphia City Paper, Michigan’s
Ecology Center and Lansing’s City Pulse, where he was the weekly environmental

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McKenna 475

health columnist. McKenna coordinated a study on Lansing, Michigan’s environ-

mental health for the Ingham County Health Department between 1998 and 2001
which was later released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility
(PEER). In 2002 he received an environmental achievement award from the
Ecology Center for his government whistleblowing and journalism. He is currently
writing a book entitled, Reinventing Anthropology for the End Times. He is an
Associate Professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.

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