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Consciousness-Raising

Almost everywhere across the world, economic inequality has been rising
within and across national borders. The vision of a fairer world embodied in
the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is being assailed by the advance
of conservative ideology aided by vitriolic right-wing populism sweeping
across the globe. Neoliberal ideology has had a profound impact in the
shaping of social work and human services at the front lines.
This book contributes to scholarship in critical practice and theory. It
does so by exploring a practice approach steeped in the critical tradition
that has hitherto received inordinately nominal attention in social work lit-
erature. The book features accounts of consciousness-raising in a variety
of contexts—caste relations, race and religion, gender and sexuality, dis-
ability and social class. The narratives are meant to tease out conceptions
and potential applications of consciousness-raising as an approach for crit-
ical practice. This book will be of interest to practitioners, educators and
students of social work, community development, social development and
social pedagogy as well as those engaged in the promotion of human rights
and social justice.

Nilan Yu is a lecturer in social work at the University of South Australia.
He has been involved in teaching and researching social work and social
development for over two decades. Before joining academia, he was engaged
in community development work in urban communities populated by infor-
mal settlers/squatters in the Philippines. His current research interests are in
the areas of disability, migration and its intersections with disability, aging,
critical practice and policy. He is co-editor of the book Subversive action:
Extralegal practices for social justice (with Deena Mandell, 2015) and Faces
of homelessness in the Asia Pacific (with Carole Zufferey, 2017).
Routledge Advances in Social Work

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Consciousness-Raising
Critical Pedagogy and Practice for Social Change
Nilan Yu

https://www.routledge.com/Routledge-Advances-in-Social-Work/book-
series/RASW
Consciousness-Raising
Critical Pedagogy and Practice
for Social Change

Edited by
Nilan Yu
First published 2018
by Routledge
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British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data
A catalogue record for this book is available from the British
Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Yu, Nilan, 1969– editor.
Title: Consciousness-raising: critical pedagogy and practice for
social change / Nilan Yu.
Description: Abingdon, Oxon; New York, NY: Routledge, 2018. |
Series: Routledge advances in social work | Includes bibliographical
references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2018006421 | ISBN 978-1-138-09177-1 (hbk) |
ISBN 978-1-315-10785-1 (ebk)
Subjects: LCSH: Social change—Study and teaching. |
Critical pedagogy. | Communication in social work
Classification: LCC HM831 .C657 2018 | DDC 303.48/4—dc23
LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018006421

ISBN: 978-1-138-09177-1 (hbk)
ISBN: 978-1-315-10785-1 (ebk)
Typeset in Times New Roman
by codeMantra
Contents

List of figures and tables vii
List of contributors viii
Acknowledgments xii

1 Consciousness-raising and critical practice 1
N ilan Y u

2 Touching the untouchable: Dalit empowerment through
consciousness-raising in an Indian village 14
A rchana K aushik , L E nin R aGhu Vanshi and
Mohanlal Panda

3 Critical consciousness-raising amongst poor Rakhine villages
in rural Myanmar 32
A nthony War E and Vicki -A nn War E

4 Consciousness-raising among rural women in Bangladesh: A
study of the BRAC’s Microfinance Program participants 51
Faraha Nawaz

5 Gendered violence in the Australian context: Feminist
consciousness-raising 65
Carol E Z uff E r E y

6 Colliding identities: Gay Muslim men in a liberal secular society 78
Ella R K ahu and K E ith T uffin

7 “We could have, you know, a revolution”: Consciousness-
raising and self-advocacy for people with intellectual disability
in 1980s Victoria 96
DaV id H E ndE rson and C hristin E BiGby
vi Contents
8 Paulo Freire and education for liberation: The case of the
Landless Rural Workers Movement (MST) 113
W ildE r Robl E s

9 “From the river to the sea”—promoting Palestinian
resistance through praxis 135
M icha E l L aVal E tt E , T racy R amsE y and
Mohamm E d A mara

10 Critical consciousness and social change 152
N ilan Y u

Index 167
List of figures and tables

Figures
2.1 Map of Belwa Village in 2001 16
2.2 Barriers to empowerment 22
2.3 Components of empowerment 23
8.1 Gini index of income inequality in Brazil, 1990–2015 114
8.2 Gini index of land inequality in Brazil, 1967–2006 115
8.3 Number of established agrarian reform settlements, 1985–2015 123

Tables
2.1 Caste-based discrimination 17
3.1 2014 Census data contrasting Rakhine with national
averages (UoM, 2015) 33
3.2 Census data—proportion of Muslims in Rakhine State 35
4.1 2011 Highlights of microfinance program 53
8.1 Distribution of agricultural farmland in Brazil, 2006 116
8.2 Official Brazilian government numbers of agrarian reform
beneficiaries, 1964–2016 117
List of contributors

Mohammed Amara is a Palestinian refugee and a political activist who lives
on the West Bank. A long-standing member of Fatah, he served two
­periods in Israeli prisons in the 1980s. He can be contacted via Michael
Lavalette at lavalem@hope.ac.uk.
Christine Bigby is a Professor at La Trobe University and Director of the
Living with Disability Research Centre. She is one of the leading s­ ocial
researchers in disability policy and practice in Australia. She has a na-
tional and international reputation for her research on the social inclusion
of adults with intellectual disability and has published over 100 peer-­
reviewed journal articles and 6 books on disability policy and service
systems. The focus of her work is policy issues, program effectiveness and
frontline practice that support quality of life outcomes for people with
intellectual disability.
David Henderson is a historian and Research Fellow in the Living with Disa-
bility Research Centre at La Trobe University. The Living with Disability
Research Centre is a multidisciplinary research center which promotes
the social participation and inclusion of people living with a disability
and conducts research to improve the effectiveness of health and com-
munity services for this disadvantaged group. Dr. Henderson has exper-
tise in the history of intellectual disability and deinstitutionalization in
Australia. He has a strong command of the techniques and field of oral
history, gained by researching the experiences of people with intellectual
disability in contemporary Australia.
Ella Kahu holds a PhD (Psychology) from and is a lecturer in the School of
Psychology at Massey University in New Zealand. She also holds a half-
time postdoctoral research fellowship at the University of the Sunshine
Coast in Australia. She teaches introductory and social psychology, and
is currently part of an interdisciplinary group teaching and writing on
issues of identity and citizenship in Aotearoa, New Zealand. Her broad
research interests are in social psychology and, in particular, how people
manage their, at times conflicting, social roles and identities.
List of contributors  ix
Archana Kaushik  is an Associate Professor at the Department of Social
Work, University of Delhi. She holds a PhD from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Her area of specialization is gerontological social work. She has under-
taken several studies related to aging, such as determinants of active
aging; vulnerability dimensions of elderly women; distance care of the
elderly, poor and vulnerable aged; elder abuse; and social support for
the aged. She has been a social work academic for almost 12 years. Her
teaching interests include the administration of development and welfare
organizations, social work with the elderly, families and children, and
counseling theory and practice.
Michael Lavalette is Professor of Social Work and Social Policy at Liverpool
Hope University. He has published widely in the fields of social work and
social policy and amongst his latest books include Race, Racism and So-
cial Work (ed with Laura Penketh) (2014, Policy Press) and Schools Out!
The hidden history of school student strikes in Britain (Bookmarks 2016).
He has been researching in, and traveling to, the West Bank for 15 years
and has published several articles and a book (Voices from the West Bank
(with Chris Jones) (2011, Bookmarks)) drawing on his research there. He
is currently the co-editor of the Journal Critical and Radical Social Work.
Faraha Nawaz holds Bachelor of Social Science and Master of Social Sci-
ence degrees in public administration from the University of Rajshahi,
Bangladesh. Working under an Australian Government Scholarship, she
obtained a PhD from Flinders University of South Australia in 2015. She
started her career as a lecturer in public administration at the University
of Rajshahi, Bangladesh, in 2010. Apart from a broad interest in social
science research, she has particular interest in gender equality, poverty,
human rights, social justice, gender-based violence, women’s empower-
ment, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) in development, public
policy analysis, organizational behavior and social capital.
Mohanlal Panda has been working in the field of human rights for over 20
years. He holds a doctorate in environmental diplomacy from ­Jawaharlal
Nehru University. He was Programme Executive in the South Asia re-
gional office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation (FNF), a German
foundation which works with civil society groups in promoting democ-
racy, human rights and rule of law. Mohanlal joined the People’s Vigi-
lance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR) in 2009 as an advisor and
contributed to strengthening the organization’s human rights monitoring
and intervention work. He was instrumental in the establishment of De-
tention Watch, which monitors illegal detentions.
Lenin Raghuvanshi is a human rights advocate and founder of the PVCHR.
He is credited with changing the discourse on Dalit politics in India and
bringing into focus an innovative ‘people-centric’ approach to reclaim
human dignity for the deprived sections in a caste-ridden Indian society.
x  List of contributors
He has received numerous awards in recognition of his work, including
the Ashoka Fellowship for social entrepreneurship (2001), the Gwangju
Human Rights Award (2007) and the M.A. Thomas National Human
Rights Award, 2016, for his contribution to the struggle for the rights of
marginalized communities, particularly the Dalits and Adivasis.
Tracy Ramsey  worked with children, young people and families for over
20 years, before joining Liverpool Hope University in 2013 to lead the
MA Youth and Community Work program. She co-facilitates the de-
partment field trips to Palestine, exploring the context and lived realities
of communities in the West Bank under the illegal occupation. She is
currently undertaking research into young Palestinian’s attitudes (and
understandings of) politics and is carrying this out in partnership with
colleagues from a number of youth centers across the West Bank.
Wilder Robles is a Peruvian-born Canadian scholar educated in Brazil, the
United States and Canada. His teaching and research interests are in the
political economy of development, with a focus on Latin America in gen-
eral and Brazil in particular. He is currently an Assistant Professor in the
Department of Rural Development at Brandon University, Manitoba,
Canada. His most recent book with Dr. Henry Veltmeyer, The Politics
of Agrarian Reform in Brazil: The Landless Rural Workers Movement,
addresses issues of food insecurity, cooperative formation and capacity
building from an interdisciplinary global perspective.
Keith Tuffin is an Associate Professor in the School of Psychology at Massey
University in New Zealand. His research interests include social construc-
tionism, discursive psychology and critical psychology. He has published
extensively in the areas of prejudice and discrimination, and has a particu-
lar interest in the language of racism.
Anthony Ware  is a senior lecturer in Development Studies at Deakin
­University and, until recently, was the Director of the Australia My-
anmar Institute. His current research focuses on international devel-
opment in conflict-affected situations and everyday peacebuilding,
particularly in Myanmar. His research revolves around the impact of
sociopolitical factors on participatory community-led development,
particularly ­p olitical and religious agendas, difference and reform. His
books include Context-sensitive development: How international NGOs
operate in Myanmar (Kumarian 2012), Development in difficult socio-
political contexts (­Palgrave 2014), Development across faith b­ oundaries
(Routledge 2017, with Prof. Matthew Clarke) and Myanmar’s ­R ohingya
conflict (Hurst, forthcoming, with Dr. Costas Laoutides).
Vicki-Ann Ware is a lecturer in Development Studies at Deakin University,
Melbourne. She specializes in arts-based community development, and
her current focus is arts-based approaches to conflict transformation in
List of contributors  xi
Myanmar. She has also worked on issues such as the role of faith and
faith-based organizations in development and schools as sites for build-
ing social inclusion in disadvantaged communities. Her works include
Evaluation practices in participatory arts in international development
(2016, with Dr. Kim Dunphy), Understanding faith-based organizations
(PIDS 2015, with Prof. Matthew Clarke) and Methodological practices in
research on arts for international development (forthcoming, with Dr. Kim
Dunphy).
Nilan Yu (Editor) is a lecturer in social work at the University of South
­Australia. He has been involved in teaching and researching social work
and social development for over two decades. Before joining academia,
he was engaged in community development work in urban communities
populated by informal settlers/squatters in the Philippines. His current
research interests are in the areas of disability, migration and its intersec-
tions with disability, aging, critical practice and policy. He is co-editor
of the book Subversive action: Extralegal practices for social justice (with
Deena Mandell, 2015) and Faces of homelessness in the Asia Pacific (with
Carole Zufferey, 2017).
Carole Zufferey holds a PhD (Social Work & Social Policy) from and is a
senior lecturer in social work at the School of Psychology, Social Work
and Social Policy of the University of South Australia. She has been re-
searching social work, homelessness, home and housing since 2001. Prior
to being an academic, she was a social work practitioner in the field of
homelessness. She has worked as a social work practitioner in diverse
practice contexts in rural and urban locations since 1989 in Australia and
the UK. She has extensive experience as a social work practitioner and
researcher in the fields of home, homelessness and social work.
Acknowledgments

I would like to acknowledge my parents who, by blurring gender lines in
everyday practice throughout my formative years, oriented my thinking
away from dominant constructions of gender identity and relations long be-
fore I learned about gender issues in the context of social work. I also would
like to acknowledge my teachers in my undergraduate social work degree
for stoking my curiosity and stirring my imagination toward such seemingly
esoteric concerns as consciousness-raising and critical thinking, which now
form an integral part of my conception of practice.
This book would not have been possible without the generosity of the
contributors who graciously shared their time and knowledge in helping me
realize my vision for the book. They provided substance to what would have
been intangible and abstract notions. To them—a very big ‘thank you’ for
accompanying me in this amazing journey.
I dedicate this book to the disadvantaged and oppressed whose eyes
taught me hope and fortitude, and to Dr. Sue King, from whom I learned
about leadership and teaching.
1 Consciousness-raising and
critical practice
Nilan Yu

Introduction
This book is about consciousness-raising—the awakening of the mind and
body to what is often referred to as, for lack of a better term, social reality.
It features accounts of people’s experiences in transcending dominant ways
of thinking so as to be able to recognize and resist discrimination, disad-
vantage and oppression. Social workers speak of promoting “social change
and development,” “the empowerment and liberation of people” and “so-
cial justice” in partnership with disadvantaged populations (International
Federation of Social Workers, 2014). For the disadvantaged, an important
step toward empowerment and liberation is the achievement of critical
­consciousness: the recognition of the inequality and oppression that shape
their lived experience. Thus, there has been occasional mention of “develop-
ing a consciousness” (Corrigan and Leonard, 1978: 122) or “consciousness-­
raising” (Dominelli, 2009: 52; Moreau, 1990: 53) and the “use of critical
consciousness” (see, for example, Sakamoto & Pitner, 2005: 435) in social
work texts throughout the decades. However, there is a notable dearth of
literature on practical ways by which critical consciousness can be developed
(Barak, 2016). This book is a contribution toward filling this gap by way
of offering accounts of the application of consciousness-raising in various
contexts. It is intended for students, practitioners and educators of social
work, community development, social pedagogy and other forms of critical
­practice aimed at changing the world by addressing structural inequality and
exclusion, whether it be on the bases of gender, class, race, ethnicity, ability,
religion, sexual orientation or other social lines. While the accounts featured
here are of particular groups of people situated in specific parts of the world
at certain points in time, the stories of awakening, empowerment and resist-
ance featured can hopefully provide readers with insights and inspiration in
grappling with the challenges they face in their part of the world today.
There are different ways in which the term “consciousness-raising” is used.
In popular literature, the raising of consciousness is sometimes thought of in
terms of being present in the moment, communing with nature and connect-
ing with one’s inner self through meditation as ways of promoting health and
2  Nilan Yu
well-being. The term is used in this book in relation to understandings of
the human condition and social issues. Within this context, a generic use of
the term is reflected in many definitions offered by popular references. The
Merriam-Webster Dictionary, for example, defines consciousness-­raising as
“an increasing of concerned awareness especially of some social or polit-
ical issue.” These definitions commonly point to a rise in knowledge and/
or interest. Applied in everyday language as well as professional practice,
such definitions can equate the raising of consciousness with the raising of
concern over an issue. Ife (1995: 162), for example, mentioned in passing the
value of consciousness-raising in creating “public awareness” in the context
of community development work. While the raising of public awareness over
an issue has a place, such conception of consciousness-raising does not re-
flect the breadth and depth of the use of the term in critical practice. The
next section outlines what is meant here by the term “critical practice.” This
is followed by a brief discussion of critical theory as a basis for such practice
as well as the notion of consciousness-raising and how it relates to critical
theory and practice.

Critical practice
Critical practice comes with the recognition that the difficulties experienced
by individuals and groups cannot be adequately addressed independent of
any structural disadvantage they are subjected to, including racism, sexism,
social exclusion and institutionalized discrimination (Baines, 2011; Mullaly,
2007). There are countless forms of critical practices out there informed by
various philosophical traditions, but a book about consciousness-raising in
the context of critical practice would be incomplete without a discussion of
the work of Paulo Freire. Freire’s (1972) seminal work Pedagogy of the Op-
pressed provides a very strong foundation for discussions about critical prac-
tice in the way it synthesizes theory and action. At the heart of Freire’s (1972:
15) critical practice was conscientização (Portuguese; roughly translated to
“conscientization” or “consciousness-raising”), which refers to the process
of “learning to perceive social, political and economic contradictions, and
to take action against the oppressive elements of reality.” ­Reflecting on his
life’s work in what was his last public interview in the year before he died,
Freire remarked, “My philosophical conviction is that we did not come [into
this world] to keep the world as it is. We came [in]to the world to remake the
world. We have to change reality.” Although he recognized that his thinking
had evolved over the years, this conviction was as resolute as it was when
his most famous work was published almost three decades earlier. Rather
than seeing the world as a fixed, static order that human beings needed to
conform to and live with, Freire’s philosophy required viewing the world as
an object of change, as a problem to be solved.
The critical practice of Freire involved the act of changing the world with
the aim of exploring possibilities for a fuller life for individuals and for the
Consciousness-raising critical practice  3
collective. But what did Freire mean by remaking the world? What reality
needed changing? The reality that Freire was grappling with when he de-
veloped his critical approach to pedagogy was the oppression and dehu-
manization of the poor masses in Brazil’s countryside. The peasants he was
working with were disempowered within a society dominated by the landed
class. His immediate task as an educator was the promotion of literacy, but
he realized how closely bound literacy and learning were to people’s lived
reality. It was inconceivable for him to speak of promoting literacy without
acknowledging the peasants’ oppression and linking their learning to their
liberation. Literacy had no significance when people were denied the ability
to think, dream, hope and live life to the fullest. The people he was working
with were immersed in a “culture of silence” and stripped of their being
(Freire, 1972: 10). Freire viewed their state of oppression as patently irrecon-
cilable with what it meant to be human. This was the reality that he sought to
change through his critical pedagogy. Freire’s (1972) critical understanding
of the role of traditional education in the subjugation of oppressed peoples
led to a pedagogy aimed at subverting the culture of silence and despair,
and equipping the oppressed with the analytical capacity to recognize and
struggle against injustice. He used literacy training as a vehicle to enable the
poor to read their social reality and write their own future. The aim was to
enable the oppressed to recognize their oppression, understand the struc-
tural arrangements that generate such oppression and transform their social
reality. Freire’s educational praxis went on to influence liberation theology
movements across the world in the 1970s and early 1980s.
Freire was heavily influenced by Karl Marx (Steiner, Krank, McLaren &
Bahruth, 2000). Marx’s life’s work was dedicated to the advancement of the
working class. He dreamed of a mass movement that would bring about a
revolution, leading to a radical change of society. The change Marx sought
was the realization of his communist vision of a classless society. The open-
ing lines of The Communist Manifesto, his most famous work with lifelong
friend and collaborator Friedrich Engels, laid down a key tenet of Marxism:
“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
For Marx, the vital struggle of his time was between the wealthy capitalist
class and the working class. Marx saw the exploitation of the labor of the
working class under capitalism as a fatal contradiction that would inevitably
lead to a revolutionary uprising. His practice centered on the strengthening
of the working-class movement and the propagation of communist ideals.
A key figure in social work was Jane Addams, who is best known for her
work in the settlement house movement. The Hull House, the settlement
house she co-founded with Ellen Gates Starr, supported newly arrived
­European immigrants in the ghettos of Chicago. Their work in the settle-
ment house movement was groundbreaking in terms of the advancement of
human rights and social policy, but Addams’s critical practice went far be-
yond this. Addams, the first female American to win the Nobel Peace Prize,
authored books about democracy and social ethics, education, prostitution
4  Nilan Yu
and human trafficking, and peace, among other issues (Staub-Bernasconi,
2017). She co-founded the American Civil Liberties Union and was at the
forefront in the struggle for women’s suffrage, world peace and civil liber-
ties in the early 1900s (Knight, 2010). She is regarded by many as one of the
founders of social work in the USA (Johnson, 2004).
A discussion of critical practice must go beyond personalities. The work
of Freire and Marx formed part of broader social movements seeking to
advance the rights of landless peasants and workers. There have been count-
less efforts throughout history in various parts of the world toward the
­remaking of social reality anchored on an array of philosophical perspec-
tives. Over the last century, feminist movements, especially in the Western
world, have had broad-ranging and far-reaching effects in the reshaping of
­society, centered on but extending well beyond gender equality. The civil
rights movement in the USA and anti-racist movements around the world
have relentlessly hacked away at the scourge of racial inequality wherever
it is found. Indigenous peoples in many countries have been engaged in
decades of struggle to assert their rights, place and freedom within state
systems imposed upon them. Anti-imperialist struggles in various coun-
tries saw the withering away of colonial power. Disability rights movements
have been persistent in confronting the exclusionary environments, policies
and practices that define and confine the lives of people with disabilities.
­Activists from the ranks of sexual minorities are actively engaged in iden-
tity politics to challenge the preponderant influence of cisgender thinking
and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Certain strands of
social work, variously referred to as critical social work, radical social work,
structural social work, feminist social work, anti-oppressive social work,
anti-­discriminatory social work and Marxist social work, espouse a critical
conception of practice oriented toward challenging structural oppression
and the promotion of social justice (Barak, 2016; Dominelli, 2009; Fook,
2015; Mullaly, 2010). Freire’s philosophy and approach form part of such
conceptions of social work (Fook, 1993; Mullaly, 2010; Reed, Newman,
­Suarez & Lewis, 2011). All these forms of critical practice (that is, practice
meant to reshape the world) are informed by a critical understanding—a
critical theory, if you will—of social life.

Critical theory
Plato’s allegory of the cave illustrated how people’s understandings of the
world can be shaped by the limits of their lived experiences and senses, and
how such understandings can potently bind them in place. People can thus
end up as prisoners of their perceived reality. Unaware or resistant of other
possibilities, they can become instruments of their own enslavement. A
“critical theory” is a way of understanding social reality that unmasks dom-
inant ideology—systems of ideas that legitimize and are legitimized within
unequal social milieus—which, in the process, enables people to challenge
Consciousness-raising critical practice  5
the abuse, exploitation and oppression that disadvantaged members are
subjected to. The insight offered by a critical theory is itself emancipatory
for the disadvantaged in the way that the recognition of their suffering as
being structurally rooted frees them from self-blame and opens them up to
other possibilities.
The work of Karl Marx is arguably the foundation of modern critical
theory. Marx’s key paradigmatic contribution was the recognition of the
exploitative relations between social classes as the material foundation of
capitalist societies. In the place of homogeneity and commonality of inter-
ests as propounded by a functionalist conception of society embedded in
dominant ideology, he saw irreconcilable conflicts of interests. He advanced
the revolutionary proposition that societies are made up of different social
classes in which the advancement of the interests of dominant groups is con-
tingent on the economic exploitation and repression of subjugated social
classes sustained through laws, culture, institutions, political systems and
various dimensions of social life. This occurs as the material (economic)
base brings forth legitimized ideas, institutions, systems and processes
while systematically marginalizing others. Gramsci (1971), bearing heavy
influence from Marx, saw the social, political, cultural, ideological and
economic influence of dominant classes in society as hegemonic control. In
his philosophy of praxis, such hegemonic power exercised through various
means, including culture, is to be critically interrogated and challenged. The
so-called Frankfurt School of social research, following Marx but critical
of orthodox Marxism, was instrumental in establishing critical theory as a
discrete discipline and expanding its application beyond the bounds of clas-
sical Marxism (McLaughlin, 1999). The philosophy and practice of Paulo
Freire bear the unmistakable imprints of Marx’s and the Frankfurt School’s
influence (Gur-Ze’ev, 1998).
While closely associated with Marx and the Frankfurt School, modern
critical theory forms part of a long tradition of thought around the gaining of
an understanding of the social world beyond what is immediately apparent.
The ancient Greeks recognized the significance of critical consciousness—­
conceived in terms of the capacity to “stand back from humanity and nature,
[and] to make them objects of thought and criticism” rather than allow one-
self to be “enslaved to custom, tradition, superstition, nature, or the brute
force of political or priestly elites” (Thornton, 2006: 3–4). Critical theory
links what C. Wright Mills (1970) called private troubles with public issues.
This seemingly simple proposition was a radical idea. In suggesting that the
personal difficulties experienced by individuals are intrinsically linked to
society and the social order (thus the notion of public issues), critical theory
renders political what may be thought of as personal, which opens up what
could be thought of as private issues to critical interrogation. Marx’s analyt-
ical breakthrough created avenues for critically thinking about many other
dimensions of social life, such as gender and race relations. The word crit-
ical describes a process of inquiry that lays bare doctrinal assumptions in
6  Nilan Yu
challenging dominant systems of ideas and ways of thinking (Agger, 2013).
These include patriarchy, white privilege, ableism and cisgender heteronor-
mativity. Critical theory requires the active questioning of knowledge by
identifying and problematizing those that gloss over differences in and con-
flicts of interests. It mandates the interrogation of handed-down knowledge
in line with its emancipatory agenda. The goal is to emancipate people from
the shackles of dominant ideology.
Dominant systems of thinking promote representations of social reality
that hide from view differences in and conflicts of interests, and nurture
a mass consciousness that is oblivious to or ignorant of disadvantage and
exploitation. Dominant ideology promotes the idea that inequality is a nat-
ural part of life. The fact that some are rich while others are poor is seen as
normal. A widely held assumption is that economic advancement can be
achieved by anyone by virtue of luck, divine will, talent and/or hard work.
Poverty arises from the absence of any of these factors. An implied and of-
ten uninterrogated assumption is the inherent fairness of the system; hard
work and perhaps a bit of luck will give everyone a chance to get ahead in
life. Marxists speak of this as false consciousness—understandings of soci-
ety blind to the structural inequality that characterizes social relations. In
the context of capitalism, such so-called false consciousness ignores how
class-based exploitation serves as a vital element of capitalist political econ-
omies. The preponderance of this worldview helps sustain the subjugation
and exploitation of the working class by capitalists and the ruling class. It
was in this light that Marx spoke of the significance of class consciousness—
the recognition by members of the working class of their exploited and op-
pressed condition, their collective position within society and the common
interests that they hold as a group. Such recognition of class identity and in-
terest enables exploited classes to engage as a collective in a struggle against
their oppression. It is only through class struggle that the working class can
emancipate themselves from the unequal and exploitative relationships that
define their being. Relevant to this, Freire (1972: 15) spoke of the develop-
ment of “critical consciousness,” which refers to the capacity to understand
as well as the understanding of social reality that recognizes the inequality
and oppression that governs social relationships.

Consciousness-raising
In the context of critical practice and theory, the term consciousness-raising
refers to the development of critical consciousness. Lundy (2011: 172) char-
acterized consciousness-raising as a process that “involves both reflection
on and an understanding of dehumanizing social structures and includes
action directed at changing societal conditions.” The development of critical
consciousness involves the “unmasking” of oppressive structures to emanci-
pate those who experience disadvantage and oppression (Barak, 2016: 1779).
Critical consciousness represents the ability to pierce through the veil of
Consciousness-raising critical practice  7
dominant ideology that shapes widely held understandings of the world, so-
ciety and the human condition. Links between individual difficulties and
societal structures are recognized. The personal is linked to the political.
The role of the political economic environment—how power, resources and
opportunities are distributed, and how society is ordered—in generating
poverty and dysfunction in certain members of society is given full regard.
Personal shortcomings or inadequacies are no longer seen as self-evident ex-
planations for the want and suffering of many. The disadvantage of many in
relation to a few ceases to be considered natural, just and incontestable. The
shift in worldview opens up possibilities—alternative social arrangements,
relations and realities—that once were previously inconceivable. Think of
modern-day democracy in medieval Europe. What once was the only way
to live becomes just one of many. What was nature-ordained truth becomes
unsettled. People realize that they do not have to live the way they do and
that there are other ways of living life. Being disadvantaged, abused or ex-
ploited need not be their daily, immutable reality. It is then that they see the
need and possibility for change.
Ife (1995: 64) saw consciousness-raising as an “educative process” that
increases people’s power by helping them “to understand the society and the
structures of oppression,” thereby giving them “the vocabulary and skills
to work towards effective change.” Lundy (2011: 172) viewed consciousness-­
raising as being “fundamental in the work of moving from a position of
powerlessness, internalized oppression, and alienation to one of empow-
erment and individual and social change.” Both regarded consciousness-­
raising as an empowerment strategy, with Ife (1995: 210–211) considering it
to be one of the key “educational roles” of a social practitioner.
It is clear from the foregoing discussions that the remaking of social
­reality—of the social world—is the aim of consciousness-raising. Without
this, consciousness-raising would be in vain. What needs to be emphasized
at this point is that the change sought is not just the immediate social re-
ality of individuals. Beyond educating people to enable them to break free
from their subjugation and oppression, Freire’s vision of his “pedagogy for
revolution” was the development of a just society (Taylor, 1993: 2). He saw
consciousness-­raising as a key component in societal development (Ife, 1995: 95).
In other words, consciousness-raising is meant to lead toward broad, encom-
passing social changes.
Freire (1972) was concerned with how oppressed peoples could break out
of the culture of silence. The culture of silence among the oppressed ena-
bles the maintenance of inequality and disadvantage by denying the nar-
ratives of the oppressed and leaving generous space for dominant voices.
As an educator, Freire found his answer in critical pedagogy. His critical
pedagogy eschewed traditional education characterized by a hierarchical
teacher-­student relationship and employed dialogue and praxis in providing
oppressed peoples with a tool by which they could achieve a critical under-
standing of their disadvantage and oppression, gain a voice and liberate
8  Nilan Yu
themselves from the bondage of dominant ideology that had served to sub-
jugate and “imprison” them (Haviland, 1973: 281). Freire (1972) believed
that human beings, no matter how immersed they are in ignorance and the
culture of silence that engulfs their lives, are capable of critically analyzing
their world and interrogating dominant perceptions of social reality through
dialogical encounters with others who share their experience. In place of
what he called the banking method of education, his approach called for a
learning process facilitated through dialogical encounters with peers rather
than a “teacher” holding a privileged position. This process enables people
to gain an awareness of their selves, find their voice, reclaim their sense of
dignity and embrace hope (Freire, 1972).
Drawing on Freire’s pedagogical philosophy, Augusto Boal (1979, 1998)
developed theatrical methods to promote critical consciousness among mar-
ginalized populations. These theatrical methods were designed to playfully
engage marginalized populations in exploring experiences of oppression,
thereby minimizing anxiety and resistance, with the view of evoking critical
insight and collective action for social change (Auslander, 1994; Boal, 1992).
Barak (2016) provided vivid details of how consciousness-raising along
the lines of Boal’s approach can be undertaken at the human scale and ar-
gued how the underlying processes and principles of Boal’s “Theatre of the
­Oppressed” can be adopted by social work professionals for direct practice
with clients.
Consciousness-raising was as much a part of the feminist movement. Ac-
cording to Western (2013), consciousness-raising was one of the first and most
important methods employed by women during the second wave of feminism
in the 1960s and 1970s. MacKinnon (1989) regarded consciousness-­raising
as the feminist method. In their largely Western model of practice, women
shared stories of their lives as women, including experiences of sexual har-
assment, sexual assault, domestic violence and inequality in the workplace
as well as the feelings that came with these (MacKinnon, 1989). It was as sim-
ple as “going around the room” and giving an “example from their own life
on how they experienced oppression as a woman” ­(Brownmiller, 2000: 21).
But the sense of shared experience that came out of those conversations had
the profound effect of making the personal political.
Depictions of consciousness-raising in literature generally point to these
common outcomes: the ability to discern disadvantage and oppression; recog-
nition of the links between personal problems and the sociopolitical c­ ontext;
and resistance and/or challenging of dominant ideology, s­ ystems and practices
(Allan, Pease & Briskman, 2009; Fook, 2012; Fook & ­Gardner, 2007; Reed
et al., 2011). Freire (1972) provided a few vignettes of different experiences he
had using this approach. On the whole, however, the literature offers very scant
details as to how consciousness-raising is undertaken (Barak, 2016), especially
with the broad range of people social practitioners work with. The accounts in
this book are meant to add to the literature in this area as well as allow us to
map out the applications of consciousness-raising in critical practice.
Consciousness-raising critical practice  9
About the book
This volume outlines experiences of consciousness-raising in the context of
social inequality and social justice. The chapters contain stories of people
who struggled with dominant ways of thinking that legitimized and engen-
dered structural inequality and oppression. The accounts include experi-
ences with gendered violence; class-based exploitation of landless peasants
and workers; and discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion,
caste, ability and sexual orientation. It is hoped that these accounts can help
spark the imagination and open readers up to new realms of possibilities
in efforts to create a more just world. The authors of each chapter endea-
vored to explore the following questions in giving an account of people’s
experiences with consciousness-raising: What dominant ways of thinking
influenced the lives of the disadvantaged population? How did these domi-
nant ways of thinking shape their well-being and life chances? What changes
occurred in their own ways of thinking that represent the raising of con-
sciousness? How did these changes happen? What has been the impact of
these changes on their lives?
In the first feature chapter, Archana Kaushik, Lenin Raghuvanshi and
Mohanlal Panda explore the practice of untouchability through the experi-
ence of one Indian village. Though constitutionally outlawed, the practice
is deeply ingrained in Indian culture. It has its roots in the caste system,
a traditional form of apartheid. “Dalits,” who are at the lowest rung of
caste hierarchy, typically experience discrimination and social exclusion
in a myriad of ways. The Dalits in the village lived in thatched houses at
the periphery of the village, and their children were denied immunization,
supplementary nutrition and schooling because upper-caste health care
and education workers dread the prospect of sullying their spiritual purity
through physical contact with the Dalits. The chapter recounts the experi-
ence of the P ­ eople’s Vigilance Committee on Human Rights (PVCHR), a
nongovernmental organization (NGO), in breaking down the barriers that
hindered the Dalits from enjoying their most basic rights through the mo-
bilization and empowerment of the Dalits to voice their concerns and fight
for justice.
In the third chapter, Anthony Ware and Vicki-Ann Ware write about
their experiences in Rakhine State, Myanmar. Rakhine State is the home
of the repressed Rohingya Muslim population and has become the poor-
est part of the country over the past decade. Almost two million ethnic
­Rakhine, virtually all Buddhists, live alongside Rohingya Muslims in
grinding poverty, suffering from government neglect. The chapter exam-
ines the consciousness-­raising efforts that were undertaken as part of a lo-
cally led, community-driven development program among ethnic Rakhine
Buddhist communities in two of the poorest rural townships: Mrauk-U
and ­Kyauktaw. The local NGO Community Development Education had
trained and resourced facilitators from rural villages to mobilize and lead
10  Nilan Yu
their communities in small-scale, asset-based community development
planning and action. What local leaders learned about human rights, the
human rights of “the other” (their Rohingya Muslim neighbors) and the
implications of these are explored.
In Chapter 4, Faraha Nawaz outlines the significance of consciousness-­
raising in addressing the challenges faced by some disadvantaged women
in Bangladesh. The account is set in the context of the microfinance pro-
gram of the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), a large
nongovernmental development organization. Alongside the provision of
microcredit, the program is meant to engender a critical understanding of
cultural practices and beliefs that disadvantage rural populations, espe-
cially women, who face a variety of challenges within their sociocultural
and personal contexts. Based on a qualitative study of the experiences of
selected female participants in BRAC’s microfinance program, the chapter
details how consciousness-raising was facilitated through the microfinance
program, the key issues that formed the focus of consciousness-raising, the
shifts in thinking away from some traditional beliefs and values around
such issues as dowry and early marriage, and the extent to which this has
led to community engagement and social action.
Carole Zufferey reflects on her intellectual and personal journey as a
feminist in Chapter 5. Since the early 1970s, feminist activism and feminist
consciousness-raising have enabled women to articulate their diverse expe-
riences of oppression. Practices such as the public sharing of personal and
private reflections allow women to recognize their shared experiences of op-
pression, arming them with courage to challenge self-blame, fight gendered
injustices and contribute to social change. Zufferey explores her experiences
of gendered violence as a white woman in the Australian context and traces
her own engagement with feminist thought and how this has enabled her
to question gender inequalities that sanction gendered violence and com-
promise women’s citizenship. She highlights how feminist consciousness-­
raising has challenged her understandings of gender and power relations. In
particular, she reflects on her engagement with feminist literature and how
feminist consciousness-raising made visible the entrenched gender inequal-
ity that perpetuates men’s violence against women in Australia today.
In Chapter 6, Ella Kahu and Keith Tuffin examine the unenviable posi-
tion of gay Muslim men amidst restrictive social and cultural milieus. The
act of declaring gay sexual orientation is complicated in a society domi-
nated by normative heterosexual assumptions and reinforced by religious
strictures. For young gay Muslim men, the balance between the emerging
sexual identity and religion-based cultural norms on sexuality can be ex-
tremely precarious. This chapter reports a study of the experiences of young
gay Muslim men living in New Zealand, where gay rights are enshrined in
legislation. The narratives of participants who were interviewed about the
ways in which they managed the tensions and pressures in their lives told
of a process starting with denial, followed by acceptance and, finally, the
Consciousness-raising critical practice  11
renegotiation of their Muslim identity. Managing the tensions is a delicate
balancing act involving appeasing families and friends, and the feigning of
identity markers, such as sexual orientation and religious devoutness.
In Chapter 7, David Henderson and Christine Bigby explore the role of
consciousness-raising in the development and work of Reinforce, one of the
oldest self-advocacy organizations in Australia. This self-advocacy move-
ment involved people with intellectual disability working together to im-
prove the social position of people with intellectual disability in society. The
account is based on primary data drawn from qualitative interviews with
members of Reinforce around the meaning of self-advocacy and the role
that it played in their lives. The stories of the self-advocates highlight the
various ways in which self-advocacy was used by people with intellectual
disability as a vehicle for consciousness-raising with their peers to mobilize
them to voice their concerns and struggle for a more just and inclusive so-
ciety. The chapter examines the role that self-advocacy played in enabling
people with intellectual disability to gain a deeper understanding of the way
in which structural oppression and inequality hindered their full inclusion
in society.
Chapter 8, written by Wilder Robles, examines the influence of Paulo
Freire’s critical pedagogy on Brazil’s Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem
Terra (landless rural workers’ movement), more popularly known by the ac-
ronym MST. Specifically, it examines the theoretical and practical use of
Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy in the context of their struggle for land in the
Brazilian countryside. This movement has organized, educated, and mobi-
lized poor and oppressed communities toward asserting their fundamental
human rights. In the process, it has helped hundreds of thousands of people
gain access to basic resources to achieve decent lives. A key challenge faced
by the MST was enabling landless peasants to transcend dominant ways
of thinking, including conceptions of landownership, social relations and
rights, and embrace alternative visions of society and their role and place in
it. The raising of critical consciousness through critical pedagogy formed an
important part of their work.
The last feature chapter by Michael Lavallette, Tracy Ramsey and
­Mohammed Amara tells of the inspiring community development work in
two youth and community centers on the Palestinian West Bank. Their work is
set in the context of the Palestinian struggle for freedom from the brutality
and oppression of Israeli occupation. The chapter examines these projects
to explore the role and impact of consciousness-raising approaches in sup-
porting the silenced and oppressed to resist dehumanization and enabling
them to envision and work toward a different future. The work of the centers
aims toward helping young people understand the historical and political
roots of their condition, and gain an appreciation of their rights as human
beings and as a people. This involves the challenging of Israeli authority
over Palestinians and of dominant narratives propounded in mainstream
historical accounts and the Israeli state.
12  Nilan Yu
The concluding chapter examines the different accounts of consciousness-­
raising experiences in terms of the contexts and issues, approaches and
strategies, processes and roles, and aims and outcomes, and explores its po-
tential applications to contemporary practice challenges, with a focus on
social work and other forms of social practice.

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