News Media as Public Pedagogy: An Argument for a Freirean Analytical Framework
News Media as Public Pedagogy: An Argument for a Freirean Analytic Framework
“I consider the fundamental theme of our epoch to be that of domination—which implies its opposite, the theme of liberation, as the objective to be achieved.”
In the wake of the most recent global financial crisis, the ensuing economic turmoil and consequent increases in immense human suffering, debates about current social arrangements, systems of governance and democratic institutions abound. Unequivocally, the mass media plays a crucial role in how people come to perceive underlying causes related to recurring economic patterns, how the public interprets different social phenomenon and how they understand the world in which they live. The media serve an undeniably important educational function. Moreover, mass media can be considered a form of public pedagogy – that is, an institutional system of large-scale public education through which power is exercised and ideologies are propagated.
Educator and philosopher Paulo Freire is widely regarded as the germinal figure in critical pedagogy – that is, a kind of educative practice (praxis) synonymous with a “pedagogy of the oppressed” (to borrow the title from his seminal work). Critical pedagogy is education for emancipation achieved through ethical education based on promoting an awareness of the world in order to transform it. Freire’s work revolutionized pedagogical thought; it also provided a new framework for assaying the role of education in reproducing the dominant ideology and perpetuating injustices, or, conversely, for outlining (education) that promotes critical awareness of ideologies that engender, obfuscate and legitimize conditions of oppression.
In this essay, I discuss in greater detail the concepts mentioned above, first explaining why public pedagogy can be a useful construct for conceptualizing news media. I then outline a Freirean analytic framework for further examining how media can act as forms of public pedagogy, performing critical, radical-democratic pedagogical functions and/or operate as pedagogies of domination by reflecting elite interests, justifying exploitative hierarchies and generating consent for an unjust status quo through dissemination of power-concealing ideology.
To begin, the term public pedagogy has been around since at least 1894, and it has become an oft-referenced concept in a growing body of academic literature (Sandlin, O’Malley, & Burdick, 2011). It can be considered a kind of education beyond formal schooling that differs from both tacit and well-defined curriculum occurring on school sites (Kelly, 2011; Sandlin et al., 2011). Other areas of research are intimately related to public pedagogy but might not explicitly employ the term. These include the concept of the public sphere as a discursive space – or subaltern spaces – for open public discussion regarding matters of civic consequence (Habermas, 1989; Fraser, 1992), public service broadcasting as a means to ensure “citizens are informed educated and also entertained” (UNESCO, 2011; see also Thussu, 2006, p. 220; italics mine), communication for development (Lerner, 1958; Schramm, 1964) and communication for social change (Gumucio-Dagron & Tufte, 2006). All are significant, but all differ enough in their foci to warrant separate lines of inquiry, and thus will not be pursued here.
Few comprehensive reviews specifically attending to public pedagogy exist, but Sandlin et al. (2011) conducted a synthesizing meta-analysis of relevant research borne out of “consternation with the widespread practice of authors citing the term without adequately explicating its meaning, its context, or its location within differing and contested articulations of the construct” (p. 339). Upon combing through the research, several recurring categorical applications of the public pedagogy construct emerged in the Sandlin et al. (2011) review, including citizenship within and beyond schools, popular culture and everyday life, informal institutions and public spaces, dominant cultural discourses, public intellectualism and social activism.
In their meta-analysis of extant public pedagogy literature, Sandlin et al. (2011) identified the major theme of neoliberalism, conceptualized as a hegemonic form of public pedagogy. The term neoliberalism – much like the phrase public pedagogy – has been bandied about by scholars aplenty, and could be the basis for a heuristic literature synthesis itself. It is necessary to understand the main components comprising this dominant paradigm in order to fully grasp the reigning hegemony, how it constitutes a kind of public pedagogy and why a counter-hegemonic critical public pedagogy is absolutely essentially for anyone who takes notions of democracy and social justice seriously.
At its core, neoliberalism refers to the pervasive notion that an unimpeded market should be the goal of public policy, as well as the organizing principle for all political, social and economic life (Giroux, 2005; Mattelart, 2000). Giroux (2002a) declared neoliberalism “the most dangerous ideology of the current historical moment,” and Saunders (2010) suggested it “has become the dominant hegemony in the United States and much of the world” (p. 42). McChesney (1999) deemed it the “defining political economic paradigm of our time” (p. 7). According to Harvey (2005),
Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade. (p. 2)
Chomsky (1999a) said the term implies principles that are new but also based on classical liberal ideas, and called it synonymous with the “‘Washington consensus,’ which suggests something about global order” (p. 19). To the point,
The neoliberal Washington consensus is an array of market oriented principles designed by the government of the United States and the international financial institutions that it largely dominates, and implemented by them in various ways—for the more vulnerable societies, often as stringent structural adjustment. (Chomsky, 1999a, p. 20)
Adjustments typically entail imposing policies of economic liberalization on less developed nations, subjecting them to speculative capital flows while simultaneously (and hypocritically) implementing domestic protectionist measures. Concurrent to the process, a nanny state is maintained exclusively for privileged interests at home whereby major financial institutions make risky investments that (inevitably) implode, requiring taxpayers to fit the bill while CEOs, hedge fund managers and their ilk rake in unprecedented profits as crisis and manufactured national debt provide further ideological justification to reduce federal funding for public services like education (Chomsky, 2010; Chomsky, 2011). Indeed, financialization of the economy is a defining aspect of the new hegemonic order. As critics note, liberalizing trade, allowing (fallaciously labeled) free markets to work their supposed equality-engendering magic, increasing transnational corporate-driven globalization, repressing wages, enacting austerity measures, defunding the public sector, and ensuring wide scale privatization at the expense of democratic decision-making – and usually, the greater welfare of people – are all neoliberal prerogatives (Chomsky, 1999a; Ó Siochrú and Girard, 2002; Harvey, 2005; Klein, 2007; Kapur & Wagner, 2011). The neoliberal restructuring program, or political project, if you prefer, took off in the 1970s, received a deregulatory boost by the Reagan administration in the 1980s, continued apace under Clinton in the 1990s and heretofore has yet to be reversed (Harvey, 2005; Scheer, 2010; Kapur, 2011; Meehan, 2011). Consequences include (but are not limited to) serious environmental concerns, near global financial meltdowns, ever-widening wealth gaps and extreme poverty amidst small concentrated pockets of vast capital accumulation – but these constitute minor externalities within the profit-driven neoliberal framework. Social institutions like education and the media have been profoundly affected by the advent of the regime. Educational sites across the globe have trended toward technical training, systematic defunding, privatization,3 corporatization, and militarization – in addition to skyrocketing tuition and fees,4 especially at the university level (Giroux, 2007; Bernasconi, 2010; Cavieres, 2011; Saunders, 2010). There has also been unparalleled media consolidation and conglomeration in the wake of the neoliberal era (Chomsky, 1999a; McChesney, 1999; Ó Siochrú & Girard, 2002; McChesney, 2003; Pickard, 2007; Thussu, 2006; Di Cicco; 2010).
In effect, neoliberalism has enabled greater concentration of political-economic power, and as a major ideological apparatus reflecting market forces, the commercial media system has augmented the process while also experiencing related changes within the industry that have amplified and reproduced those dominant trends. Yet, the media are not one monolithic institution. Neoliberalism as a unique socio-historical phenomenon is far more variegated than the last couple of paragraphs might suggest. These opaque areas are where the public pedagogy construct yields tremendous explanatory power, and that is a point to which I will now turn.
Explicating Neoliberalism as the new Hegemony and Pop Culture as Public Pedagogy
Neoliberalism can be conceived of as an epochal hegemonic process; hence the preponderance of uses in the public pedagogy literature. Hegemony, in the Gramscian sense, refers to
the cumulative emergence over decades and centuries of multi-faceted national cultures of mass political consent—cultures that are not rigid carapaces, or mutually interchangeable, but which shift and develop over time and whose weave may be rent apart and even disintegrate at times of social crisis. (Downing & Brooten, 2007, p. 540-541)
Hegemonic “cultures of consent” are constantly (re-)generated, maintained, resisted and contested (Downing & Brooten, 2007), which partially explains why Gramsci (1971) believed “every relationship of hegemony is an educational one” (p. 350; as cited in Sandlin et al., 2011). That is the notion upon which much of the relevant public pedagogy research rests. H.A. Giroux, whose work comprised a full 15% of the relatively large sample of public pedagogy literature synthesized by Sandlin et al. (2011), has written extensively on neoliberalism and on the role of popular culture as public pedagogy, often theorizing the latter in the Gramscian model “as a site of both domination and contestation” (p. 345). Similarly, hegemony entails contradiction (Downing & Brooten, 2007); neoliberal capitalist policies are nothing if not exceedingly contradictory (Harvey, 2005; Chomsky, 2010), and in the neoliberal era paradoxes and contradictions abound in an enabling and constraining nexus of power.
Critical Public Pedagogy
Drawing on the seminal work of Stuart Hall, Giroux (2000) commented on how cultural workers in a host of different pedagogical sites can challenge authoritative institutional conventions that reproduce dominant ideologies and pedagogies of oppression. Some researchers refer to resistance education in these informal educational spheres as a general public pedagogy, but others prefer the term critical public pedagogy, accentuating the critical and emancipatory features of the sites (p. 347). In the first place, “critical pedagogy subjects structures of power, knowledge and practice to critical scrutiny, demanding that they be evaluated” (Denzin, 2009, p. 381). As an educative process “which interrogates dominant or received understandings and can encompass teaching and learning in a variety of settings,” critical pedagogy “is as important as ever” (Fletcher, 2008, p.23) considering the ascendancy of neoliberalism and the well-documented social affects of its associated amoral, unbridled markets. Sandlin et al. (2011) claim most discussion in the literature on critical public pedagogy asserts it is primarily the purview of critical intervention, usually reserved for formal institutions of education where individuals can be taught how to critically read, analyze and deconstruct texts. The role of the intervening critical public intellectual, in accord with Said’s (1994) view of intellectualism, is often referenced and valorized (Sandlin et al, 2011), but Mayo (2011) suggests the era of neoliberalism offers a “splendid opportunity” (para. 13) for students and teachers to join together to co-create a new form of public pedagogy.
The Media as Public Pedagogy and Neoliberal Hegemony
In recognizing resistance as a “multi-layered phenomenon” that takes “diverse and complex forms” (p. 9), Giroux (2003) acknowledged the “significance of extending the meaning of pedagogy into other cultural apparatuses such as the media” (p. 9). Mass media remain a near-ubiquitous terrain of hegemonic contestation. As a microcosm of the larger hegemony necessarily influenced by and – at least in part – complicitous with the neoliberal agenda, the media industry is ripe with contradiction and characterized by dialectical struggle. This is especially the case when the term media is used broadly to encompass all new and emergent forms of mass communication. Researchers have discussed various media productions as public pedagogy, but again have primarily concentrated on pop culture and entertainment media (Anderson, 2006; Bates, 2007). Giroux (2001, 2002b, 2008) discussed ways in which film functions pedagogically, and Giroux (2010) assailed the major media conglomerate Disney for its insidious effects on youth. There is a significant amount of critical media studies research in which the term public pedagogy is not explicitly used, but erstwhile authors have examined the prima facie pedagogical process of generating consent through dissemination of dominant ideology (Hall, 1979; Hallin, 1984, 1986; Herman & Chomsky, 1988/2002; Schiller, 1991; Chomsky, 1999b; Kennis, 2009). As Gitlin (1980) wrote, “To put it simply: the mass media have become core systems for the distribution of ideology” (p. 2). Understanding media productions as pedagogical texts can, then, open them up to new areas of inquiry, shedding light on subtle ideological functions (Sandlin et. al, 2011). Importantly, it can also reveal how media performance might be counter-hegemonic, serving as a kind of critical public pedagogy (Sandlin & Milam, 2008).
Kelly (2011) argues news coverage of social, political and economic issues should be viewed as “public policy pedagogy” (p. 185), but until now most of the research looking at media as pedagogy has not focused on news media. This is a gap in the literature that needs to be addressed, even as contemporary mass media continue to blur the lines between information, entertainment, advertising and circus-style shit show. Journalistic notions of objectivity and professionalism developed when major US media shifted away from being more partisan, persuasive, moderately informative and pluralistic to more heavily reliant upon advertising for revenue (McChesney, 2003). This occurred concurrently with other cost-cutting measures that continue today in part due to greater consolidation, concentration and oligopolization of the industry. Quasi-market forces impel media adherence to professional ideals of objectivity operating as instruments of social control (Herman & Chomsky, 1988/2002), purportedly presenting balanced news and analysis, but all-the-while completely oblivious -- or so it seems -- to their own ideological roles in constructing pseudo-reality through normative newsgathering routines that actively determine who and what the public should be tuned in to. Professional objectivity now services powerful interest better than before, going beyond bullshit conventions that set the terms for debate, deciding in effect what constitues the two serious sides to an issue or event. Now the supposedly value-detached, unbiased news fit to print and/or broadcast is also increasingly detached from what is empirically verifiable -- it exists only within the establishment echo chamber in which most people's cognitive frameworks for understanding the world are now ensconsced.
Inarguably, alternatives exist -- although it is naive to believe the stranglehold of the powerful media conglomerates in the evolving capitalist paradigm is no longer relevant. The Internet and other new media technologies do have the inherent infrastructural potential to open up the "bounds of the expressible" (Chomsky, 1999b). This seems especially true if, as has been adduced, we live in a "network society" (Castells, 1996) with capacities for "mass self-communication" that has "deeply modified the gatekeeping capacity of the programmers of mass communication" (Castells, 2011, p. 780) opening the corridors for resistance and exercise of "counterpower" (Castells, 2007). We have recently seen a "rapid maturation of the digital media sector" (Goodman, 2012, p. xvii) that has been used quite consciously by alternative media and movements to organize, mobilize, disseminate, share, represent, proliferate and otherwise oppose dominant conceptions of the world traditionally handed down from on high by the Beltway-tethered corporate media apparatus. But best not to wax euphoric or succumb to premature intellejaculation at the thought of orgiastic new media possibilities just yet. Research suggests believability ratings for major news organizations have suffered broad-based declines for the second time in a decade (Pew Research Center, 2012a), and a recent news consumption survey conducted by the Pew Research Center (2012b) indicates more Americans now get their news online and from mobile sources than from print newspapers or radio -- yet the majority still watched TV to try to stay informed. Further, "most socialized communication is still processed through mass media, and the most popular information Web sites are those of mainstream media" (Castells, 2011, pp. 780-781). Thus, the need to analyze mainstream news media remains.
However, even when news media text is the artifact for analysis, culture should not be artificially extricated from the analytic process. Research on media and social change has hitherto had too little cultural contextualization (Downing, 2008). Yet, many cultural studies approaches to hegemony exaggerate oppositional readings (Raphael, 2000). Closed, functionalist models of hegemony can imbue a unitary dominant ideology, overlooking spaces for resistance and ignoring media texts that go beyond tactical critiques. Positing media as public pedagogy demands an analytic that takes into account the larger socio-cultural context within which news and events are situated. Understanding the different ideological processes at work requires consideration of culture, as well as the entertaining – and educating functions of news media.
Application of Freirean theory/method
Sandlin et al. (2011) rebuked the use of the public pedagogy construct by researchers without accompanying theoretical frameworks to explain how and why pedagogies are enacted. Citing a salient exception, Giroux (2001) used a Freirean theoretical framework – among other modalities – to explicate popular culture as a political-pedagogical site of struggle and hegemonic negotiation. Expatiating on that theme, I suggest using a Freirean framework for analysis of news media to compliment the public pedagogy construct. De Lima (1979) noted Freire never expanded his theory to media (as cited in Downing, 2001, p. 46), but when asked by a student during a dialogue at UCLA if he thought the media should be studied as a powerful educational system, Freire replied, “I agree with the answer that you already have” (Regents of the University of California, 1986).5 By putting “oppressive structures and political engagement against them at the center of the communication process” (Downing, 2001, p. 45; see also McLaren & Lankshear, 1994), Freirean theory “can serve as a core philosophy” for analyzing media, thereby proposing “a democracy of the communication process” (Downing, 2001, p. 46). To wit, Freire (1992/1998) averred communication, in its most authentic, anti-authoritarian form implies dialogism, which is more than a mere tool. Indeed, “only through communication can human life hold meaning” (Freire, 1970/2000, p.77); communication is “a requirement of human nature” (Freire, 1992/1998, p. 92). It is “life and vector for more-life,” and integral to any pedagogical “democratic stand” (p. 92). Downing (2001) emphasized alternative media applications for Freire’s work, but, clearly, Freirean theory could be used complementarily with the public pedagogy construct to analyze a plurality of news discourses and illuminate ideological functions within the given hegemonic (con)text. Specific methodological application of a Freirean analytic for such purposes will be discussed further after first clarifying the theoretical basis for the proposed approach.6
Freirean theory as method in analysis of news media as public pedagogy.
Synthesis of public pedagogy literature led Sandlin et al. (2011) to conclude more research is needed on the process of public pedagogy. While researchers have provided “robust analytic accounts of the sites studied,” glaringly absent “are studies of how these educational sites and practices actually work to teach the public,” prompting Sandlin et al. (2011) to urge scholars to “examine what makes them pedagogical” (p. 359). For this, a Freirean theoretical underpinning is ideal. Freire understood women and men as historical beings always in the process of becoming (Freire, 1970/2000), and education as a never-neutral process (Freire, 1973; Freire, 1992/1998). Education either functions to promote conscientização, i.e., conscientization – the “development of the awakening of critical awareness” (Freire, 1973, p. 19) and the “deepending of the attitude of awareness characteristic of all emergence” (Freire, 1970/2000, p. 109) as in critical pedagogy, or it operates hegemonically. Neoliberal hegemony is also a process, albeit highly contradictory, endeavoring to obscure conditions of oppression through ideology that fixes meaning, thereby supporting the status quo, which itself is a perpetual process of constant co-optation, capital accumulation, domination and immiseration of the oppressed (Freire, 1970/2000; Freire, 1992/1998).
Because education can never be neutral, analyzing news discourse as public pedagogy through a Freirean lens exposes the faux notion of journalistic objectivity (farcically conceived as neutral reporting), positing news as ideology-infused praxis (action and reflection), that “requires theory to illuminate it” (Freire, 1970/2000, p. 125). Journalistic praxis (also theory and practice) becomes objectified in articles, and by actualizing praxis as a critical researcher informed by Freirean thought, one performs a transformative, pedagogical act through analysis of text and subsequent writing. That analysis, of course, entails constant reflection. Freirean theory, grounded in the critical tradition – arguably the (pen?)ultimate epitome of critical philosophy – presupposes that theory and practice (and action and reflection) are simultaneous, mutually determinant and inseparable.
The importance of dialectics in Freirean theory.
In the same vein, and as alluded to before (see footnote #4), Freirean method/theory represents a unifying dialectical relationship, and it is similarly a theory/method premised on a dialectical approach. Freire and Faundez (1989) noted it is the “dialectical unity between theory and practice,” which enables “a more rigorous understanding of reality” (p. 49). Freire (1970/2000) remarked that “the subjective aspect exists only in relation to the objective aspect (the concrete reality,7 which is the object of analysis)” (p. 38). And so it is that, “subjectivity and objectivity thus join in a dialectical unity producing knowledge in solidarity with action” (p. 38). When applied within the proposed framework, a critical-dialectical approach allows for exploring and fleshing out ideologies at work within news text – a process I will proceed to outline.
Freire (1992/1998) explained the importance and role of dialectics thusly: “It is only in a dialectical perspective that we can grasp the role of consciousness in history, disentangled from any distortion that either exaggerates its importance or cancels, rejects it” (p. 100). Further, as Freire (1992/1998) points out, “changing language is part of the process of changing the world. The relationship, language-thought-world, is a dialectical, processual, contradictory relationship” (pp. 67-68). Mindful of this, we can understand extant neoliberal hegemony – contrary to insidious insinuation of its concomitant ideology – as not at all immutable. Indeed,
The dialectical view indicates to us the incompatibility between it and an inevitable tomorrow… The dialectical view is incompatible with the notion that tomorrow is the pure repetition of today, or that tomorrow is something ‘predated,’ or … a given datum, a ‘given given.’ (Freire, 1992/1998, p. 101)
Neoliberalism, that “immobilizing ideology of fatalism,” insisting “we can do nothing to change the march of social-historical and cultural reality because that is how the world is anyway” (Freire, 1998, p. 26) when objectified (reified) in media discourse, can thus be objectively8 unveiled. Contrary to Marx’s (1859) statement: “It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness” (para. 6),9 Freirean theory posits consciousness – be it collective, individual, micro, meso or macro in size and scope – as transitory, transformative and (potentially) revolutionary. To that end, Freire (1970/2000) proffered: “the materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, forgets that it is men that change circumstances” (p. 53). Freire (1992/1998) propounded,
the dialectical view indicates to us the importance of rejecting as false, for example, a comprehension of awareness as pure reflex of material objectivity, but at the same time the importance of rejecting an understanding of awareness that would confer upon it a determining power over concrete reality. (pp. 100-101)
It is because consciousness is not simply determined by social existence, but because it exists and (inter)acts dialectically with the social world through our being that it also becomes possible to use dialectical Freirean theory to unpack how language functions. Attending to notions of ideology, consciousness, socio-historic circumstances and mutability of language (and hegemony), such an explicitly dialectical approach to textual analysis can unveil embedded contradictions and expose how elements of discourse propagate worldviews antithetical to greater ethical-critical apprehension of oppressive material conditions. Perhaps it bears repeating – or perhaps not, and the theoretical conversation is now bordering on redundant – that a Freire-influenced dialectical analytic can also evince critical public pedagogical functions of news articles in much the same way. Specifically, how are these tasks accomplished? I will tell you; or, to put it less pompously, I will offer another facet of Freirean theory-method that I think applicable in this regard, with every intention that what I write should be subjected to criticism, reflection, permutation and appropriation by future researchers, readers and revolutionaries in their quests for greater human liberation.
Here again, the dialectical motif is paramount. To conduct an analysis undergirded by Freirean theory, I think, presupposes a modicum of conscientização,10 which should also imply awareness of the unfinishedness of one’s own being as well as opportunity (necessity) for further development of one’s critical sensibilities. (Those critical sensibilities can be further developed through this analytic research, object-world-self reflexivity and concomitant action.) It helps to remember “consciousness is a totality—reason, feelings, emotions, desires; my body, conscious of the world and myself, seizes the world toward which it has an intention” (Freire, 1997, p. 94). Grasping one’s consciousness as a totality, one can then attempt to comprehend the relationships among objects in the social world, with news text constituting a (re)mediated apotheosis of an object with both overt, subtle and (at times well-concealed) sub-textual connotations and interrelations.
An example might elucidate the matter. Freire (1992/1998) recounted an experience in which educators were speaking to workers, but the former
were getting lost in the view of reality that I am wont to call ‘focalistic,’ while what they [the workers] wanted and needed was an understanding of the relationships among the component ‘partialities’ of the totality. They were not denying the salt, it was just that they wanted to understand in its relationship with the other ingredients that constituted the seasoning as a totality. (p. 71)
To relate that vignette to contemporary struggle as I perceive it, the capitalist totality bespeaks oppression. Extreme polarization of wealth and political power has reached a tipping point under neoliberalism. Conditions of oppression are now so widespread and egregious they are undeniable and readily felt – in degrees that differ appreciably among populations and should not be downplayed – by all but the smallest slice of the global population. Even the latter, inured to all the suffering endured by the masses of people because of their (increasingly) dominant positions in an (increasingly) unjust world order, still feel the effects of an invidious system. Freire (1970/2000) pointed out that “the situation of oppression is a dehumanized and dehumanizing totality affecting both the oppressors and those whom they oppress” (p. 47), but it is the profoundly oppressed class of people “who must, from their stifled humanity, wage for both the struggle for a fuller humanity; the oppressor, who is himself dehumanized because he dehumanizes others, is unable to lead this struggle” (p. 47). Anti-dialectical, domesticated consciousness keeps the oppressed from fully affirming the process of revolutionary praxis and putting it in motion. That lack of critical awareness is perpetuated by dominant pedagogy in formal educational settings, and by dominant (now neoliberal) methods of public pedagogy, be it on the part of intellectuals (e.g., researchers) or news media producers, both of whom generate ideological content serving elite interests by propagating ideational content conducive to maintenance of the hegemonic system.
In contrast, positing news as public pedagogy, and dissecting it as such with dialectically-enriched Freirean theory, can further catalyze the collective conscientização awakening I consider to be underway despite – nay, due in part to – the neoliberalization of all aspects of life. A reflective dialectical approach attuned to a greater totality, but not adrift in it, relates particulars to each other and makes the myriad co-determinant systemic forces transparent. This transparency can widen the critical public pedagogical scope of broader intellectual culture, stimulating dialectical, totality-comprehending sensibilities among people, thereby contributing to the emerging conscientização revolution. This dialectical research method can also serve to point out topical events in news texts that do not deny the salient salt, but also help the public “to understand it in its relationship with the other ingredients that constituted the seasoning as a totality” (Freire, 1992/1998, p. 71).
Dialectical Dialogism: Freirean Theory-Method and Analysis of Text
Dialectical recognition of the interdependence and interaction of parts in a totality is also intrinsic to Freire’s concept of dialogism, tantamount to what A.M.A. Freire (1992/1998) called “Freire’s theory of dialogical action” (p. 206). Both ideas are major tenets of my proposed theoretical fusion of the news text as public pedagogy construct and Freirean theory. Quoting Freire (1997):
as a matter of method, I never directly focus my attention on the object that challenges me in the process of knowledge discovery. On the contrary, by taking epistemological distance from the object, I proceed to approach it by encircling it. ‘Taking epistemological distance’ means taking the object in hand in order to get to know it; in my ‘epistemological encircling’ of it, I seek to decipher some of its reasons for being in order to appropriate its substantiveness better. In the epistemological encircling, I do not intend to isolate the object to apprehend it; in this operation, I try to understand the object, the interior of its relationship with others. (p. 92)
As human beings, we share innate capacities for attaining and creating knowledge. Those capacities are intimately linked to our intrinsic curiosities. Freire (1997) explained, “without the curiosity that makes us beings in permanent availability for questioning … there would be no gnoseological activity, a concrete expression of our possibility of knowing” (p. 94). Certain underdeveloped “spontaneous” and “naïve” curiosities we humans express, do not lack method, “for there cannot be curiosity without method” (p. 95); in fact, they compel and permit us to take “epistemological distance” from objects – one could think of news texts here – in order to know them better. Yet, it is that encircling, epistemological exercise that involves and augments critical evaluation leading to new knowledge creation. In “overcoming naïve curiosity” the epistemological process “makes itself more methodically rigorous” (pp. 96-97), and “it is this methodical rigor that takes knowledge from the level of common sense to that of scientific knowledge” (p. 97). Such methodological assiduousness should be undergirded by theory. Freire (1997) asserted “the appropriate context for the exercise of epistemological curiosity is the theoretical one,” because “in a theoretical context, we take distance from the concrete one in order, while objectifying it, to examine what takes place in it critically” (p. 96). Freirean theory has tremendous explanatory power for critically examining ideological discourses as part of a social fabric totality embedded in the contemporary period of neoliberal hegemony. The theoretical potency is axiomatic and has heretofore been partially outlined, but I will attempt to clarify in what follows, building on the epistemological concept.
I would call it a near truism that engaging one’s “epistemological curiosity” is necessary for perceiving what Freire (1970/2000; 1992/1998) called “untested feasibility” (p. 102; p. 9). A.M.A. Freire (1992/1998) noted the latter concept is “little discussed,” and “little studied,” but it “embraces a whole belief in the ‘possible dream,’ and in the utopia that will come once those who make their own history wish it so” (p. 205). In order for one to substantively transform history and proceed on the path toward the “possible dream,” one has to put “epistemological curiosity” to use in critically apprehending what Freire (1970/2000; 1992/1998) termed “limit situations,”; essentially obstacles, obstructions or barriers in people’s personal and social lives (A.M.A. Freire, 1992/1998). These “limit situations” can be regarded in a multitude of ways, some fatalistic, but others critically apperceptive. A.M.A. Freire (1992/1998) explained what occurs when people identify and critically comprehend “limit situations,” recognizing them as assailable barriers and feeling challenged “to solve these problems of the society in which they live, in the best possible manner, and in an atmosphere of hope and confidence” (p. 205). A.M.A. Freire (1992/1998) continues,
To this end, these persons have separated themselves, epistemologically, taken their distance from, that which was objectively ‘unsettling’ and ‘encumbering’ to them, and have objectified it. Only when they have understood it in depth, in its essence, detaching it from its contingent factuality, from its sheer concrete ‘being there,’ can it be seen as a problem. As something ‘perceived’ and ‘detached’ from daily life, it becomes the ‘detached-and-perceived,’ or the ‘perceived detached.’ As such, it cannot, it must not abide. (pp. 205-206)
These concepts are applicable to news text analysis in several respects. First, for the researcher, it means coming to see the article to be studied as the exemplar material embodiment of “limit situation(s).” The article is a communicative object filled with language characters that when compiled in certain ways convey particular ideologies, many perforce supportive of the status quo, others more critical and counter-hegemonic. As such, that article also represents an epistemologically curious “limit situation” for a critical researcher to overcome through what Freire (1970/2000) labeled a “limit act” (p. 100; see also A.M.A. Freire, 1992/1998, p. 206). This limit act would involve detaching, encircling, dialectically perceiving vis-à-vis sociopolitical-historico-cultural context, assaying, assailing, deconstructing and reconstructing text in the co-creation11 of new knowledge. That analysis (knowledge, in processual research phase form, or textually objectified write-up form) is undertaken with the express intent of bringing the “untested feasible” closer to reality, by illuminating neoliberal – for that is the present historical period in which our consciousnesses are currently submerged – “limit situations” and the remediated manners and methods by which they are perpetuated and/or exposed. The illumination is performed for future readers of the researcher’s work,12 but per critical-ethical precepts, also for the emancipatory project corresponding to women and men’s raison d'être.
Problem-posing Public Pedagogy vs. Banking Method Public Pedagogy
Freire (1970/2000) differentiated two main theories/methods of education, diametrically opposed – one tied to a pedagogy of the oppressed, the other to a pedagogy for oppression. The latter, “as the exercise of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to adapt to the world of oppression” (Freire, 1970/2000, p. 78). Freire (1970/2000) described the “‘banking’ concept of education” (p. 72) that involves “an act of depositing,” whereby students become storage boxes of information who “memorize mechanically the narrated content” (p. 72). The banking model assumes “a dichotomy between human beings and the world” as it “begins with a false understanding of men and women as objects” (p. 77). It “serves the interests of oppression” because it purports a “mechanistic, static, naturalistic, spatialized view of consciousness” (p. 77), that “transforms students into receiving objects” (p. 77), “into ‘containers,’ into ‘receptacles’ to be ‘filled,’” leaving them “alienated like the slave in the Hegelian dialectic” (p.72), engendering a “negation of their ontological vocation to be more fully human” (p. 74).
Because dominant, oppressive, banking pedagogy obstructs the ontological vocation for human liberation, Freire (1970/2000), made “problem-posing education” (p. 79), a central part of his critical pedagogy.
Whereas banking education anesthetizes and inhibits creative power, problem-posing education involves a constant unveiling of reality. … Whereas the banking method directly or indirectly reinforces men’s fatalistic perception of their situation, the problem-posing method presents this very situation to them as a problem. (Freire, 1970/2000, p. 81, 85)
Contrary to the constant dichotomizing inherent in the banking concept, problem-posing pedagogy “breaks with the vertical patterns” (p. 80), and enables people to “develop their power to perceive critically the way they exist in the world with which and in which they find themselves; they come to see the world not as a static reality, but as a reality in process, in transformation” (p. 81). It “bases itself on creativity and stimulates true reflection and action upon reality” (p. 84), and is a “humanist and liberating praxis” (p. 86). Recapitulating the critical pedagogy tenet far better than I could, Freire (1970/2000) surmised,
Problem posing education is revolutionary futurity. Hence it is prophetic (and, as such, hopeful). Hence it corresponds to the historical nature of humankind. Hence, it affirms women and men as beings who transcend themselves, who move forward and look ahead, for whom immobility represents a fatal threat, for whom looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future. (p. 84; see also Macedo, 1997, p.8)
If the public pedagogy paradigm is applied to media text, Freirean theory would then suggest posing news discourse as a problem to be objectified. This analytical problem-posing must always be, to some degree, dialectical and dialogical. It must consider the text as a particular in the (as of now) neoliberal-hegemonic totality. It also must consider (the text) in relation to the other threads that make up the broader social fabric. In addition it must call upon the subjectivity-objectivity dialectic to identify the contradiction(s) within news media discourse by posing the text as a problem to be overcome, initiating a “limit act” to illustrate how the media affirm or problematize the “oppressor-oppressed contradiction” (Freire, 1970/2000, p. 52), regarding it as eternal truth or dehumanizing ephemeral systemic situation to be reconciled. So through theoretically attentive problem-posing that is both dialectically and dialogically attuned to the social totality, potential reader interpretations, and the structures constraining/enabling people’s agency, this mode of textual analysis can investigate whether media discourse performs or promotes problem-posing of news for the public. In other words, does the news under analysis function as a form of critical public pedagogy?
Conceptualized as public pedagogy, one can ask, does the objectified media text use language in a way that allows readers to perceive events as particular problems related to other problems? The critical public pedagogy of research using the Freirean theoretical architecture that I am suggesting accompany consideration of news as public pedagogy should involve problematizing elements of news artifacts, followed by more problematizing until interrelations are realized and themes emerge that show how the language works to liberate or domesticate. That is to say, when examining multiple news articles, dialectical-dialogical problem-posing analysis continues until the epistemological concern for the object (text), its material referent(s), and the neoliberal epochal totality reveals thematic relationships among the different artifacts. The question then becomes whether those thematic relationships are emblematic of dominant, banking-style public pedagogy for a given news source, or whether the relationships indicate patterns concordant with a critical public pedagogy for a media organization’s news coverage. Needless to say, that strict dichotomization may not always be the preferred way to describe the complex ideological functions of news articles.
Freire’s “generative themes” and their appropriation for media analysis.
At this juncture I think it imperative to evoke Freire’s (1970/2000) concepts of “generative theme” and the “thematic universe” (a.k.a. “meaningful thematic” and “universe of themes” – Freire had a thing for synonymous expressions) (p. 96, 101). The notion of the “thematic universe” refers to the matrix of “generative themes” (Freire, 1970/2000, p. 101), the latter which can be thought of as layers of ideology, or perhaps particular ideologies constitutive of an ideological totality precluding conscientização. Freire (1970/2000) noted how humanity’s historicity can be divided into “epochal units,” which – again, contrary to neoliberal dogma – “are not closed periods of time, static compartments within which people are confined”; rather, they “interrelate in the dynamics of historical continuity” (p. 101). Comprising dominant and antagonistic ideational constructs “striving towards plenitude” (p. 101) part and parcel with “limit situations” militating against fuller humanization, we find epochal themes. These themes are generative because, as Freire (1970/2000) adduced, “they contain the possibility of unfolding into again as many themes, which in their turn call for new tasks to be fulfilled” (p. 102) – put another way, for “limit situations” to be critically perceived and emancipatory “limit acts” to be engaged.
The likelihood of limit act engagement is, as suggested before, also related to the deepening of antagonisms “between themes which are the expression of reality,” which is related to “a tendency for the themes and for reality itself to be mythicized, establishing a climate of irrationality and sectarianism” (Freire, 1970/2000, p. 101). Irrational myth creation then “becomes a fundamental theme” (p. 102). The task of the critical public pedagogue (researcher) then is to realize her or his praxis in the “opposing theme, the critical and dynamic view of the world” (p. 102), by endeavoring to “unveil reality, unmask its mythicization, and achieve a full realization of the human task: the permanent13 transformation of reality in favor of the liberation of people” (p. 102). The investigatory task for the media studies researcher is then to inductively analyze (epistemologically encircle textualized “limit situations,” dialectically and dialogically posing as problems) the generative themes residing in news discourse – degenerating them, if you will – to unveil the nuanced semantics propagating irrational, reality-obviating ideology (themes). And, axiomatically, the researcher equipped with a Freirean theoretical lens should attempt to pinpoint where and how articles approach critical public pedagogy. In my mind, this entails fleshing out how some news texts unmask, and engender unfolding, of violently oppressive generative themes through counter-hegemonic linguistic gradations that expose, or begin to expose, “limit situations,” discursively problematizing or negotiating the aforementioned (metaphorical – and tasty!) salt-seasoning dialectic. In sum, the researcher must perform critical public pedagogy via research-writing-educating praxis to address the “tormenting [meta-]theme” (Freire, 1970/2000, p. 103) afflicting the human race.14 Thus, “it is absolutely necessary to surmount the limit-situations in which people are reduced to things” (p. 103). Hence, it is necessary to explore how language – which “cannot exist without thought” (p. 96) – both of which refer to a structure – operates within news pieces to either sustain or subvert (or do something that defies hard dichotomization) the hegemonic conceptual edifices related to “the structural conditions in which the thought and language of the people are dialectically framed” (Freire, 1970/2000, p. 96).
Final Thoughts, Limitations, Future Research and the Forthcoming Conscientização Epoch
According to Macedo (1997), Freire once told him, “I don’t want to be imported or exported. It is impossible to export pedagogical practices without reinventing them. Please, tell your fellow American educators not to import me. Ask them to recreate and rewrite my ideas” (p. 3). Accordingly, that is what I have attempted to do. Using a Freirean method/theory for analytic investigation of how news media text functions represents a profound break from conventional appropriations of Freirean thought. It also represents an important newfound application of the public pedagogy construct that holds tremendous promise for elucidating generative thematics reified in text that tend to either bank (alienate) or conscientização-atize with respect to en masse educational-ideological dissemination of current events.
Concordantly, when conversing with Freire on the issue of methodology, A. Faundez questioned the legitimacy of what is “wrongly called” Freire’s “method,” adding, “a lot of people think that your method is basically a model. I don’t think you ever considered your method to be a model” (Freire & Faundez, 1997, p. 30). Freire responded: “No, never” (p. 30). He added, “I always say that the only way anyone has of applying in their situation any of the propositions I have made is precisely by redoing what I have done, that is, by not following me. In order to follow me it is essential not to follow me!” (p. 30).
Now plainly, Freirean philosophy served as an indispensable guide for me while formulating this framework, and I would think it wise for any researcher attempting to analyze media as public pedagogy to continue to draw from his corpus of ideas. When quoting Freire directly to enunciate different elements of my approach, I tried to avoid misappropriating his words in ways that might distort the essence of their original emancipatory meaning. Further, while the qualitative architecture I outlined bears the mark of his indelible insights, engaging in revolutionary research praxis would involve, for me anyway, explicit referencing of his work at germane analytical junctures.
However, I did not dogmatically adhere to Freirean thought when constructing this working paradigm, and I would not adhere dogmatically to anything Freire said or wrote during an actual analytic evaluation of news text as public pedagogy. Freire is alleged to have been a studious reader who borrowed immensely from a plethora of sources, collating myriad strands of knowledge to compile his radical testament to the human quest for liberation (Taylor, 1993). I think it fitting for any critical researcher looking to apply the ideas espoused here to similarly emulate Freire by transcending his work, amalgamating many other theories and sources to make greater sense of the “universal themes” dynamically reproduced – and also ruptured – through the mass media. As A.M.A. Freire (1998) remarked in regards to techniques for confronting “limit acts”: “the ‘untested feasible’ then, when all is said and done, is something the utopian dreamer knows exists, but knows that it will be attained only through a practice of liberation—which can be implemented by way of Freire’s theory of dialogical action, or of course (since a practice of liberation does not necessarily make an explicit appeal to that theory), by way of some other theory bearing on the same ends” (p. 206; italics mine).
Limitations and Future Research
Admittedly, limitations to what I have outlined in this essay abound. For that reason, I will leave it to the reader to pick apart my manifold foibles as I highlight only the central identified shortcomings that leave ample room for new, heuristic directions in research. First, my focus was on analysis of news text; I did not explicitly address the obvious opportunities for enlightening dialogue with the people who would be interpreting the news text, and in some cases (e.g., as with many alternative media outlets) actively participating in the newsgathering and content-creating process. Conjoining examination of news media text as dominant/critical public pedagogy with media-attentive dialogue with people, perhaps in accord with “Freire’s theory of dialogical action” resembling what was described by Freire (1970/2000) in Pedagogy of the Oppressed would be the most authentic praxis. Second, dialoguing with other researchers about one’s project could be the key to unlocking other aspects of study, and it would be in accordance with a central tenet of Freirean philosophy. Researchers in fields like political science, educational studies and sociology could all benefit from adopting, adapting and adding to that which has been only partially covered here. Inter-disciplinary cooperation coupled with democratic deconstruction of academic (and social) hierarchies in this regard will prove fruitful. Trans-disciplinary dialogue would further augment conscientização. The same holds for a combined (networked) world systems analytic perspective to better account for structural constraints, crises and fissures that illuminate opportunities for critical public pedagogy in new and old media spheres to counter bank(ster/ing) modes of mass domination. Horizontal dialogic communication about research should be encouraged in all domains. Collaborative work can unleash untold knowledge upon the world, stripping away layers of clouds that conceal oppressive “limit situations,” helping humanity to rise above them. Additionally, there should be on-going dialogue among students, teachers and community (whose roles should all be interchangeable depending on context) about social issues, how they are perceived, underlying causes of issues, factors structuring perception and the pedagogical role of media in the entire process.
Concluding thoughts on news media as public pedagogy, a Freirean framework for analysis and the burgeoning Conscientização revolution.
In sum, considering news media as public pedagogy with a Freirean analytical lens offers an innovative new way of conceptualizing of mass media research that, if rigorously implemented in a research project, could make a viable contribution to not only media studies but also a diverse body of critical scholarly literature in the name of social justice. With neoliberal globalization in full force, putting on unprecedented display the grand dynamism of dehumanizing capital and the massive suffering it ensures, strong critical opposition is needed now more than ever. Un-wrapping oppressive ideologies in the social milieu and evincing their features and functions inscribed in mass mediated content remains a strong counter-force to the amoral ethos typifying the current epoch. Counter-hegemonic struggles taking place within institutions like the media, and in society writ large, have already opened up hegemonic fissures. Vast discrepancies between the increasingly oppressive material conditions besetting more and more people and the web of particular thematics that render those realities indecipherable have pried those fissures even further apart. This has paved the way for a conscientização revolution that I believe will be made all the more apparent as the associated collective praxis process unfolds through action, reflection, theory and practice. If concerned people continue to perceive “limit situations” and participate in “limit acts” to transcend previously deemed insuperable structures and systems, our “untested feasibility” might soon become reality. I sense we are on the cusp, but it largely depends on our praxis going forward.
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1 As cited in Freire (1970/2000, p. 103)
2 As cited in Freire (1997, p. 56).
3 Arguably tangential to this paper, but inarguably hilarious, one of the main architects of neoliberal policies, economist Milton Friedman, “was attending a conference on the benefits of privatizing public education” (Harold, 2004, p. 200) when a young member of a group that came to be known as the “Biotic Baking Brigade” (BBB) emerged from the crowd shouting, “Mr. Friedman, it’s a good day to pie!” (p. 200). The BBB member then “heaved a coconut crème pie into the face of the famous Chicago-school economist” (p. 200).
4 Self-financing, a covert form of privatization (Saunders, 2010), serves another propitious function for elite interests and the ruling order.
5 Freire went on to explain how the experience of teaching teaches educators to recognize questions whose authors do not yet have answers in contradistinction to questions whose answers the authors already have.
6 It is important to note that within the proposed framework, theory and method are inextricable. Indeed, they are symbiotic parts of the same (analytic) praxis-process. Nevertheless, rhetorical separation will be made in this paper – with some reservations regarding inadequate space for qualification – in order to explicate one possible application of the framework provided by this researcher. Freire-inspired analysis can and should vary depending upon a researcher’s subjectivities, specific project goals, resources, historico-social situatedness and myriad other factors.
7 I would emphasize that this reality is processual; it is (r)evolutionary, always in flux. The reality process is also always affected by human reflection-action, so long as human existence remains constant. And if women and men were no longer of this world, “there would be lacking a consciousness of the world which necessarily implies the world of consciousness” (Freire, 1970/2000); although the material, objective world would exist, there would be no sentient beings to consciously objectify it and name it. Thus, there would be no world in any meaningful sense.
8 That is, objective not in the sense of putatively apolitical neutrality, but objectively in a dialectical sense interacting with the notion of subjectivity, wherein the researcher exercises a degree of conscientização, conceptualizing of her/his self, the text and society all as interrelated objects for reflection, critique and transformation through fusion with action (praxis).
9 This is not to say Marx did not think dialectically, or that Marxist theory and analysis are anti-dialectical – just the opposite, in fact. At the most recent Isaac and Tamara Deutscher Memorial Lecture in London, historian David Harvey explained Marx’s use of dialectical method in Capital for critiquing the classic political economist thought (FOURMANFILMS, 2011). Moreover, Freire (1970/2000) cited instances when Marx (along with Engels) expressed the importance of a dialectical view of the world (p. 51, 53), and much in Freirean thought borrows heavily from Marx (Taylor, 1993).
10 Citing text from the work of Alvaro Vieira Pinto, Freire (1970/2000) adduced that on a basic level, consciousness itself should be conceived as a method (p. 69).
11 It is a co-creation due to the ineluctability of inter-textuality. More transparently, it is a co-creation of knowledge because of the theoretical armature invoked for the analytic-creative process. There are additional dialogic reasons it would literally be overtly co-creative, but these will discussed later on.
12 This work can be – and in most cases should be, if the research takes his or herself seriously as a critical scholar – another form of critical public pedagogy. Although publishing completed works in elite mainstream journals with limited availability, especially for non-academics, can serve justifiably pragmatic purposes depending on circumstances, making the work available to as many people as possible through freely accessible scholarly publications would, in the main, be more consistent with the ethical ideals of a radical-democratic critical public pedagogy. Similarly, using ideas derived from research to augment counter-hegemonic lectures and writing in the public sphere would be another kind of critical public pedagogy.
13 Freire’s use of the word “permanent” requires qualification, in my view. Although a veritable conscientização revolution and concomitant emancipating praxis could fundamentally transform the world, thereby altering the course of history “in favor of the liberation of people” (p. 102), I am not sure I would go so far as to say the heightened critical awareness and revolutionary material changes ipso facto imply historical permanency. There are too many unknown, impossible-to-foresee variables it would be ill-advised to definitively prophesy an immutable existence of liberation, but his point is well taken. The epochal rupture would unquestionably be in humanity’s favor – that much one can say.
14 The possible double-entendre of this word with regard to humanity speaks volumes in this context, given the competitive contemporary connotations associated with the word “race,” and the alienating, hyper-individualist, ethos of a self-destructive, competition-based social order characteristic of not only the neoliberal paradigm, but to the imposed capitalist world system generally.
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