The (Im)possibility of Education: Theory and Method in Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Gayatri Spivak’s Righting Wrongs

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Fredrik Svensson


Postcolonial critics Paulo Freire (1921–1997) and Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak (1942–) have both made attempts at offering pedagogical formulas that take into account the student’s experiences in order to oust oppressive tendencies from the classroom, and at first glance, many of their ideas seem close to identical: Freire speaks dismissively of “banking” education (75), and Spivak rejects rote learning (“Righting” 551); Freire argues that a reconciliation of the teacher-student contradiction is a prerequisite for proper education (all participants need to be “teachers and students” simultaneously [53]), and Spivak exhorts the educator to “learn to learn from below” (548). In other words, both scholars advocate a pedagogy whose “very legitimacy lies in…dialogue” (Freire 109), and they both undertake what this text labels a methodological leap from theory to practice. The aim of this article, then, is to find out how or to what extent Freire and Spivak render their pedagogical theories practicable and whether they manage to circumvent the danger of transference, of imposing the educator’s agenda on the learner. The article’s response to this question is no, in Freire’s case, and yes, but only provisionally, in Spivak’s. When Freire puts his teacher in charge of deciding what voices in the classroom should be heard and what voices should be gagged, he leaves the door open for renewed oppression and a mere turning of the tables, clearly against the grain of his own line of argument. Spivak, on the other hand, leaves no loopholes for oppressive tendencies in her methodology; however, as she usually shuns “the production of models [of practice] as such,” withdraws her own formulas, and uses deconstruction as a “safeguard against the repression or exclusion of ‘alterities,” her settling for a certain praxis can only be temporary and provisional (“Can the Subaltern” 103, Norton 2110).

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How to Cite
Svensson, F. (2024). The (Im)possibility of Education: Theory and Method in Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and Gayatri Spivak’s Righting Wrongs. Dialogic Pedagogy: A Journal for Studies of Dialogic Education, 12(1).
Author Biography

Fredrik Svensson, Gävle University, Sweden

Fredrik Svensson received his PhD from Karlstad University, Sweden, but spent one of his doctoral years as a Fulbright Visiting Student Researcher at University of California, Santa Barbara. Exploring how critics have realized the affordances of American author Cormac McCarthy’s ambiguous ecocentric prose, Svensson’s dissertation, Ideology and Symbolism in the Novels of Cormac McCarthy (2020), seeks to answer the question as to what these realizations reveal about current views of human-world relationships. A certified senior high school teacher with experience in teaching all ages from six-year-olds to adults, Svensson works at Gävle University, Sweden, where he teaches everything between didactics and literary theory. Contact:


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