The Pedagogy of Cultural Materialism: Paulo Freire and Raymond Williams
This source preferred by Hywel Dix
Authors: Dix, H.
Editors: Grossberg, L. and Seidl, M.
Place of Publication: London
Paulo Freire was one of the most significant radical progressive pedagogues in twentieth-century history. His work in adult education in Brazil, Switzerland, and certain Portuguese-speaking post-colonial societies in Africa was joined with his left-wing socialist aspirations for improving political structures in those societies. Freire’s attitude to education is not separable from his attempt to address political challenges. It was through education that the impoverished peoples of Brazil or Guinea-Bissau would learn to confront the causes of their oppression and hence take the first steps towards being able to alleviate them.
In the work of twentieth-century British intellectual Raymond Williams too, there is an important conjunction between a revolutionary educational programme and the reform of political institutions. Williams, like Freire, worked in adult education during the formative years of his career. Williams sought to demystify political and cultural structures, by emphasising the ordinariness of participation in the cultural sphere. His suggestion that railwaymen and coalminers had made as important a contribution to human culture as painters with princely patronage was made explicitly in order to demonstrate the rightness of universal participation in public cultural and political life.
In the work of Williams and Freire, the boundary between political and cultural activities is systematically eroded. Both writers suggest that participation in the cultural activities most present in daily life and work brings a particular awareness of political needs and political situations. Culture and education, in other words, are themselves political things. The name Raymond Williams gave to this overhaul of the traditional demarcation was cultural materialism.
This paper will consider some important biographical parallels between the lives and work of these two important socialist intellectuals who were also educators. It will go on to compare some of the explicit proposals made for a revolutionary education by both Freire and Williams, and conclude by exploring the ways in which both men examined the connections between a revolutionary political education and the wider crisis in capitalist society.