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Who is the oppressor?

"If you can hook teens when they're young, you have a customer for a lifetime," said Matt Britton, chief of brand development at Mr. Youth, a marketing firm.

Reading Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970), I was constantly struggling with the idea of a global human love, people loving each other, working with each other and fighting alongside others for their collective liberation. How utopic; but also how very depressing! It’s depressing because the world seems to be so far away from such ideals that you would come to think, even be convinced, that there is no such thing as human goodness or purely altruistic acts. Is love really absolute? Might humans ever agree on a single notion of love? If not, how do claims for collective liberation become justified? In other words, is it possible to achieve a un

ified vision of liberation or would someone’s views still be oppressed along the way? I am venturing away from thinking that such a vision is even useful and am now coming to see that there might be no singular way for liberation. Collective liberation might be a collective act in and of itself with individuals liberating themselves in idiosyncratic ways…

I, for instance, could really identify with Freire’s work and relate it to my current research. It is amazing how Pedagogy of the Oppressed, written in 1970, could be applicable to diverse educational, social, political issues still facing our world today. To give you some background about my research work, I would say that it is grounded in a critique of neoliberalism as an oppressive body. In our RAD book club, we started our discussion with a question: who are the oppressed? This question automatically presupposes an opposite counterpart which I will begin with here: who is the oppressor?

Is the oppressor an individual, physical persona that people can point their fingers at? Or perhaps, as I am increasingly coming to believe, the oppressor is a hegemonic force that we have become oblivious to. Consider the movie The matrix, wherein the oppressor is a structure that is distributed, dissipated it in every facet of people’s lives, so interconnected and diffused in a way that people don’t realize they are living in it. Are we living under such conditions too? When situations become oppressive, people begin to have “focalized views” (Freire, 1970) of their daily struggles, blaming the other, advocating for external change, and unwilling to change their own conscientazao. Indeed, as Freire highlights, the world exists only in human consciousness and, as a result, transformative actions need to begin in human consciousness through what he calls praxis: human reflection + action. Because reflection without action is verbalism and action without reflection is activism, reflection and action are intertwined and human liberation is dependent on both.

Following his line of argument, I could begin to see links forming with our work around preparing students as active citizens in democratic societies through involving them in research-informed activism on socio-scientific issues. Socio-scientific issues encompass issue at the intersection of science, technology, society and environment. Some examples of this include: fast food, car pollution, cell phones, make-up, etc. Through research-informed activism, students are invited to see their role as agents of change against networks that reinforce neoliberal attitudes and values such as individualistic learning, competitiveness and excessive consumption.

Education as the practice of liberation becomes synonymous with teaching citizens who stand against social injustice and environmental degradation caused by transnational companies and governmental bodies who are only concerned with capital gains. We are primarily leading the fight against the mentality that “market is the democracy” (Sleeter, 2009), liberating students/citizens from the tentacles of excessive consumption and from living in a hyperreal world. Mc Laren (2000) argues that “education has been reduced to a subsector of the economy, designed to create cyber citizens within a tele-democracy of fast-moving images, representations and life-style choices” (p.28). In contrast, we work for an education that embraces grassroots initiatives by citizens for citizens as they become activists in their lives, restoring their stolen agency and empowering them as active participants in knowledge production and decision-making on socio-scientific issues.

Through our work, we stress that students should not take actions until they have deconstructed a socio-scientific issue that is personally relevant to them. We thus try to emulate praxis as reflection+ action by engaging students in critically reflecting on socio-scientific issues, identifying stakeholders and hidden actants that might negatively affect the wellbeing of individuals, societies and environments. Following this critical reflection, students are encouraged to take actions that bring greater awareness on a socio-scientific issue and even drive social/political change.

I stop here to consider again the notion of universality. How might science education for citizenship be reproducing neoliberal values? In other words, should we be preparing citizens or a collective citizenship? How do we reconcile the notion of ‘acting for the common good’ with meeting students’ individual needs and interests as we push for more democratic spaces?


Paulo, F. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. First Published in USA by Herder and Herder.

McLaren, P. (2000). Che Guevara, Paulo Freire, and the pedagogy of the revolution. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Sleeter, C. (2014). Multiculturalism and education for citizenship in the context of neoliberalism. Intercultural education, 25(2), 85-94.

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