Brookfield’s Critical Theory An overview presented by Deborah Weatherspoon
Brookfield’s Theory • “A critical theory of adult learning should have at its core an understanding of how adults learn to recognize the predominance of ideology in their everyday thoughts and actions and in the institutions of civil society” (Brookfield, 2001, pp. 20-21).
Ideology • Succinctly stated critical theory asserts that Western democracies are unequal societies among race, class, and economic levels that are maintained through the dissemination of dominant ideology (Brookfield, 2005). The chief function of the ideology is to convince all participants that it is for the good of society, even if in reality it is a mechanism for control.
Mooney & Nolan (2005) • Ideology includes • the rules, • habits, • and beliefs structured by society.
Hegemony “a concept that emphasizes that adults are active learners of ideology and willing partners in their own oppression” (Brookfield, 2005, p. xiii). • works by consent; • participants believe that the ideology represents their best interests.
Challenge the Status Quo • The central ideas of Brookfield’s theory are to challenge ideology and contest hegemony (Merriam et al, 2007).
Power • A post-modernist, Michel Foucalt, asserts that power is a part of all social situations, including adult education (Brookfield, 2005). • Unmasking the “power in our lives and ways it is used and abused” and overcoming alienation to learn to liberate adults from dominant ideology allows for the possibility of freedom (Brookfield, 2005, p.56). • Once this occurs, Brookfield asserts that reason may be reclaimed and the “partially functioning ideal” of democracy may be realized (Brookfield, 2005, p. 65)
Contesting Hegemony • Freire asserts that hegemony can be overcome through praxis • Synchronized reflection and action, or praxis • study of what knowledge is, • who decided the knowledge, • and how it came to be accepted as knowledge. (Mooney & Nolan, 2006)
Critical Theory Applied • This critical analysis, a means of recognizing the what, who, and how of knowledge development may illuminate ideology that leads to oppression and subordination of marginalized groups of people, including nurses.
Mooney & Nolan • Literature review (Bennett-Jacobs et al., 2005; Berry, 2004; Narayanasamy, 2003; Peter et al, 2004) • supports the claim that nurses are oppressed • leading to a loss of self-esteem • reduction of autonomy • stems from years of nursing education based on unquestioned ritualistic bio-medical practices that ignored nursing knowledge
Criticism • Attempting to apply the concepts only makes it worse • The more you talk about it the more power you give it
Ellsworth (1989) • Disagrees with the concepts of critical theory as being “repressive myths that perpetuate relations of domination” (p.298). • In her attempts to encourage open discussion regarding student experiences of oppression, few were comfortable participating. • Fear of disclosing too much or being vulnerable prevented authentic discourse
Collard (1995) • supported Ellsworth’s findings stating that any discourse simply perpetuates the same ideology in a different format. • Merriam and colleagues (2007) propose that while critical theory leads us to uncover the use and abuse of power, it is difficult to put into practice (p.258).
Grace (1996 ) • uses critical theory to examine andragogy as a theory of adult learning. • deconstructs the assumptions of andragogy to demonstrate contextual weaknesses • considers the distorted view of individual freedom associated with individualism. • Critical theory is used to consider the impact of organizational and societal structures in shaping individual freedom and constituting democracy.
Brookfield’s Theory well grounded on the work of • Gramsci, • Marx, • Marcuse, • Habermas • and other leaders in adult education.
Jack Mezirow • An influential contemporary theorist of adult learning proposes “that ideology critique is appropriate for critical reflection on external ideologies such as communism, capitalism, or fascism…or other taken-for-granted cultural systems” (Brookfield, 2005, p. 13). Mezirow cites conditions of adult interaction that promote “authentic” discussions in his transformative learning theory (1995).
Power is everywhere and learning to recognize it is a primary step in harnessing it. .
References Bennett-Jacobs, B., Fontana, J., Hidalgo Kehoe, M., Matarese, C., & Chin, P. (2005). An emancipator study of contemporary nursing practice. Nursing Outlook, 53(1), 6-14. Brookfield, S. (2001). Repositioning ideology critique in a critical theory of adult learning. Adult Education Quarterly, 52, (1), 7-22. Brookfield, S. (2005). The power of critical theory: liberating adult learning and teaching (1st Ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Collard, S. (1995). Remapping adult education: Beyond social movement and professionalization. Proceedings of the 36th Annual Adult Education Research Conference). Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta. In Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Ellsworth, E. (1989). Why doesn’t this feel empowering? Working through the repressive myths of critical pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review, 59(3), 297-324. Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of mind: The theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books. Grace, A. P. (1996). Taking a critical pose: Andragogy-missing links, missing values. International Journal of Lifelong Education, 15, 382-392. Merriam, S. B., Caffarella, R. S., & Baumgartner, L. M. (2007). Learning in adulthood: A comprehensive guide (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Mooney, M., & Nolan, L. (2005). A critique of Freire’s perspective on critical social theory in nursing education. Nurse Education Today, 26, 240-244. Narayanasamy, A. (2003). Nurses must start fighting for higher status as a profession. British Journal of Nursing, 12, 893. Peter, E., Macfarlane, A., & O’Brian-Pallas, L. (2004). Analysis of the moral habitability of the nursing work environment. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 47, 356-367