Is there a role for Critical Pedagogy in Language/Culture Studies?

An interview with Henry A. Giroux

BY Manuela Guilherme

Centro de Estudos Sociais
Universidade de Coimbra

Henry Giroux became established as a leading figure in radical education theory in the 1980s. Not only did he revive the arguments for civic education proposed by the main educational theorists of the 20th century, namely Dewey, Freire and others such as the reconstructionists Counts, Rugg and Brameld, but he also advanced their theories by expanding them into the idea of a ‘border pedagogy’. His proposal can be viewed as the application of a post-colonial cosmopolitan perspective to the North American notion of democratic civic education. Giroux provides us with a vision for education that addresses the challenges which demographically and politically changing western societies are facing at the beginning of the 21st century. The longer it takes for policy makers in education to take his guidance seriously, the more time and possibilities we will all be wasting and missing. In fact, educators at all levels of the educational system and all over the world are experiencing growing de-motivation and even frustration because they feel they have been forced backwards lately instead of moving forwards in challenging themselves, both as professionals and citizens, to meet the needs of our fast-changing societies. Giroux has urged educators and academics to react against these paralysing pressures and to be critical, creative and hopeful about the potential that both they and their students offer, in order to counter the conservative political tendencies which have been imposing a definition of excellence in education that means submission to market pressures rather than educational excellence in terms of innovative intellectual production. Giroux argues for both critique and possibility in education and advocates independence and responsibility for teachers and students, that is, he claims dignity and respect for educational institutions, teachers and students. Giroux has bravely recovered the political nature of the everyday labor of educational researchers and of educators themselves. Furthermore, Giroux has also eloquently theorized a critical pedagogy of Cultural Studies based on what was proposed by the educationalist Raymond Williams himself. In fact, the field of Cultural Studies has been problematised, and is itself problematic, although very rich and promising, since it has broken down the barriers between disciplines. Therefore, it needs to be fully theorised in order to describe its goals, as well as the bases of its knowledge and processes. Giroux has made important contributions to these processes by mapping the relationships between language, text, society, new technologies and underlying power structures. He has thus responded to its critics and to those academics who have adhered to it in order to follow fashion or find a way out of their now neglected traditional disciplines. In addition, he has indicated new paths that go beyond recuperating Williams’ and Hall’s politically committed and scientifically founded new field of Cultural Studies and move into examining the implications of new technologies in the exchange and re-creation of new knowledge within new power relationships. It is nonetheless worth mentioning that Giroux has also been successful in identifying new modes of representation and learning.

Giroux has indeed advanced a new school of thought and inspired both educational theorists and practitioners into action with his powerful, vibrant and committed voice. By advocating a pedagogy of responsibility, he has himself taken responsibility for his own political and social role as an academic. He has focused his sights on redefining and strengthening the notion of ‘the public’ with regard to knowledge, education and civic life, mainly by incorporating into the construction of those fields the concepts of ‘public time’ and ‘public arena’. While most educational theorists have focussed on the influence of society on the educational context, Giroux, although critically unveiling the political and economic forces that threaten academic and school independence and creativity, is more daring and clearly draws our attention to the transformative potential of the academy and the school within wider a society. In doing so, he recaptures the political in the pedagogical. Finally, even though he focuses his discourse on general education, civic education and cultural studies, Giroux’s proposals for educational theory and practice offer language and intercultural communication theorists and practitioners a basis for renewing their visions and practices. Having made these points, in an attempt to contextualize Giroux’s statements below, it is now time to let his voice emerge.


posted at 15:42:48 on 05/29/10 by nursing - Category: Theoretical


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