Some homework

It’s been a while since I’ve posted any of my homework, but I have been working on this for a while now and thought I’d share.

Basically, this is the first half of an assignment for a seminar on radical pedagogy and Paulo Freire.

One key practice in Freirean pedagogy is ‚??reading the world‚?? when we read texts, write texts, or engage in problem-posing dialogue. Freire emphasizes the need to connect any reading matter(text) to the students‚?? immediate situation(context). Please try to connect text and context vis a vis Freire‚??s books and our current society. In Freire‚??s hermeneutic, ‚??oppression,‚?? ‚??the oppressed,‚?? and ‚??the oppressors‚?? refer to specific historical conditions and actual social groups. Are these terms meaningful in our own context? What does ‚??oppression‚?? mean to you as a social condition in our own time and place? Do we have ‚??oppressed‚?? and ‚??oppressors‚?? in our own society, in your judgment?

Here is my response:

At its broadest, I see oppression as an act, or a series of acts, committed by an institution through which a human subject is deprived of agency and constructed as an object. Obviously, objectification can operate within individuals as well as institutions and exists on a spectrum as different acts operate in different ways‚??with greater and lesser material effects‚??to oppress a person or a group of persons. On one end of the scale, and arguably the most oppressive act, is the act of slavery. While a great many rational people will agree that slavery is an outright oppressive act, it is at the other end of the spectrum where things get fuzzy and a great deal of intelligent and well-meaning people can disagree. I wonder if the act of telling ‚??Blonde‚?? jokes might approximate this sense of objectification with a minimum of material effect. (Of course, I am not a blond woman, so maybe the point is that this end of the spectrum is always contextual and relative and every-shifting.) As such, objectification is very much a part of our contemporary social condition because on a daily basis we are surrounded by and possibly even culpable such acts because the simple, if tragic, fact is that there are innumerable ways to objectify people. What makes oppression a specific form of objectification is that it operates through the institutions that are controlled by a minority. We can make a distinction here between institutions and ideologies. Ideologies can create the specific conditions of oppression, but it is always institutions (and therefore people) who enact oppression. That is why there can be oppression in as politically and culturally disparate places and times as Brazil in the 1960s and the U.S. in the 2000s

Oppression then (or at least this working definition of oppression), has three main components.

1) Oppression is an act. It is not a thought or a wish or a theory or a feeling but a material relationship of power.

2) Oppression is deeply embedded in institutional forms. We must never forget that even the most institutional of institutions is, at least as of yet, made up of individual human subjects making individual ethical decision. Thus, institutions can change. They are often soul-achingly slow to change, to be sure, but the moment we believe that they cannot change is the moment there will be no impetus to make them change.

3) Oppression is enacted upon actual human subjects. A tree cannot be oppressed as it does not have a conscious agency. Oppression does not happen in the abstract or the theoretical. This does not mean, however, that abstract thinking, theoretical discourse, or rhetorical speech cannot be used to perpetrate oppression, because these can and are used for oppressive purposes every day.

Here we come to something of a conundrum. If oppression is an institutional act, then who are the oppressors? At the risk of sounding glib, follow the money. If we follow the trail of money, it is almost inevitable that we will find a minority few who control the means of production, be it material production or cultural production (media, publishing, advertising, etc.). This is as true in ‚??communist‚?? China as it was in the Soviet Union as it is in ‚??free market‚?? democracies such as the U.S. Institutions don‚??t oppress for the sheer sadism of it, but because someone, somewhere benefits from the oppression of others. Thus, oppressors are those who gain material, social, political, sexual, or economic advantage from oppression.

On this day..