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Marxism, Alienation and False Consciousness

miaashley's picture

This week there was a strong presence of Marxist thought in both the Education and French literature courses. In last weeks conversation in French we discussed written language as the embodiment, the production and the perpetuation of colonial tools and epistemology for language communication—where the idea of a ‘written’ documented language is one brought by colonizers. In the same way that written language is discussed in post-colonial literature as the very essence of its contradictions, Marxism can be thought of similarly in the context of its presence in the Global South. What was essentially a western ideology permeated deeply into Global South nations and had/has a profound effect on much of the literature we are reading in our 360 course. In Cultural Action for Freedom the quote that stood out to me was, “His alienated culture prevents him from understanding that his thinking and world-expression cannot find acceptance beyond his frontiers unless he is faithful to his particular world.” It is interesting how Paolo Friere uses the ideas of alienation, false consciousness, power and class to discuss access to education and how to educate those we are marginalized and illiterate yet writes in an academic elite jargon that is only comprehensible to an esoteric population.  His writing reminded me greatly of The Power Elite by sociologist C. Wright Mills--the idea of forces larger than the individual controlling knowledge and access to the creation and attainment of truth. Mills discusses how the ‘power elite’ control knowledge, media, public information, etc.


In thinking about how to move forward, what questions to raise and what action can be taken, Friere wrote a quote that speaks at large to this: “Only to the extent that he reflectively feels and knows his own particular world for having experienced it as mediation of a collective transforming praxis will his thought and expression gain significance beyond that world.” I think it is interesting in terms of literacy, ideology and belief to think about how one can emancipate the self from alienation and false consciousness through the idea/act of praxis. In a very marxist framework, if we are to consider the modes of production, etc and the objectification of the self in work, it is an interesting point to raise that praxis will allow for new meaning and significance. In order to know how to act and in what way to act, do we first need to know? Or, do we know by action? In moving forward, I think we can apply these ideas in our own courses in trying to understand who writes, for what audiences and with what intentions. Knowing that there are larger frameworks (as we also read for psychology about the ‘macrosystem’) will help us be more cognizant and less naïve in what we believe, learn and internalize. 


alesnick's picture

"knowing that there are larger frameworks . . ."

I appreciate very much this macro-oriented post.  I would say that praxis is a way of knowing, ongoingly, that turns on dialogue, study, action, and reflection -- and not necessarily in that order!  I've always be interested in how no one person or group is ever completely free to judge another's consciousness as false.  This seems to render knowledge static, to take it out of praxis.