The Evolution of Knowledge Production in Capitalist Society

Curry Malott

Epistemology, or the study of knowledge, is at the heart of all teaching, learning and knowing in general. When setting out to examine and understand the knowledge produced by any system, it is imperative that one focus on the most central and underlying assumptions informing the knowledge-production process. Because we are interested in the knowledge produced by both capitalism and neo-liberal capitalism, we will begin our investigation looking at its ideological structure, historically contextualised. We pay particular attention to what knowledge is deemed valid and which knowledges are deemed invalid (Kincheloe, 2005) within the social universe of capital as a central aspect of understanding the role power plays in the validation process.

Competing Conceptions of Social Class 

What defines capitalism more than any other characteristic is that it is a class-based system. At its most basic level, social class can be understood as the hierarchical grouping of people based on similar economic and occupational characteristics giving way to the collective experience of social rank and caste, such as lower/working class and upper/ruling class, and the manifest relationships between and within such stratum. Associated with the notion of class, and especially with caste, is the idea that it is predetermined by government power or noble authority, who loosely determines, by birthright, what occupations are available to which groups.

Because occupation is not judicially determined by birthright in North America — the United States, Mexico, and Canada, among much of the world — the ontological perspective that differences in wealth and power exist not because of social class, but rather, are indicative of the division of labor that roughly represent the natural distribution of intelligence and drive, represents the dominant, hegemonised perspective, which tends to not be overtly stated in the knowledge production process, but rather, is implied. From this perspective, socio-economic difference becomes no more or less important to human diversity than eye color or body type, that is, one of many neutral differences that are entitled to universal respect and dignity. Class difference is therefore not something to be resisted, but rather, tolerated. Within this interpretative framework, through which praxical knowledge about being in the world is produced, the concept of social class, to reiterate, is rarely discussed or included. In other words, within the knowledge production process of the bosses/the ruling class, social class is constructed as non-existent.

As the vast majority of humanity, with varying levels of severity, are oppressed as wage workers by this hierarchal system of neo-liberal capitalism, it should be no surprise that there exists an ancient tradition of knowledge production from working-class/subjugated perspectives, which, in different ways, have argued that the unequal relationship between what we might call bosses and workers is not the natural outcome of genetically-determined endowments and deficiencies but is the result of a long legacy of abuse. We might begin naming this legacy as coercive, brutal, and manipulative manifesting itself in highly concentrated accumulations of wealth and power that are as nearly deterministic as birthright in reproducing class structure and social relations, more generally affirming the central role class plays in capitalist society. Within this paradigm, the concept of social class is most fundamentally represented in the relationship between the vast majority, divested from the means of production, therefore possessing only their labour to sell as a commodity, and the few who hold in their hands the productive apparatus, land, and resources, and the vast fortunes accumulated from purchasing the labor power of the landless multitudes at a price far below the value it generates. In short, this antagonistic relationship between social classes represents the heart of what capitalism is.

Drawing on the insights of Adam Smith, Noam Chomsky (2007), summarising what we can understand to be the ontological perspective of the profiteer or capitalist, notes that, “the ‘principal architects’ of state policy, ‘merchants and manufacturers,’ make sure that their own interests are ‘most particularly attended to,’ however ‘grievous’ the consequences for others” (pp. 41-42). Similarly, outlining the primary self-serving invention of the capitalist, the corporation, Joel Bakan (2004) observes that, “corporations have no capacity to value political systems, fascist or democratic, for reasons of principle or ideology. The only legitimate question for a corporation is whether a political system serves or impedes its self-interested purposes” (p. 88). Because safety and environmental regulations are a cost to production and thus encroach on margins, they are frequently violated as corporations sacrifice the public to satisfy their own self-interests.

Since The Great Depression of 1929 it has been increasingly difficult in North America to externalise these costs to those who rely on a wage to survive. For example, to appease an increasingly rebellious underclass the Bretton Woods system was established in 1944, which, among other things, limited the mobility of capital, and, as a result, weakened the deadly grip of capital. However, with the assistance of an intensified emphasis on the propaganda machine, including schools and the corporate media, that have been designed to manufacture the consent of the working and middle classes to support their own class-based oppression as normal and natural, Bretton Woods was dismantled in 1971, which gave way to an era of unrestricted capital movement, and, consequently, the massive redistribution of wealth upwards (Chomsky, 2008). This focus on the use of consent/the control of ideas/hegemony has resulted in the production of knowledge taking on a renewed importance within American and Canadian settler societies. The struggle over the purpose and goals of the education system has consequently become one of the primary battlegrounds where the working classes and the ruling class vie for political power to determine the course of history.

From this epistemological perspective, as long as social class exists, that is, as long as there are two antagonistically related groups, workers and bosses, rich and poor, or oppressed and oppressors, there will not be consensus on what explains the basic structures of society because what tends to be good for one group tends not to be beneficial for the other. For example, the idea that social class does not explain the inequality rampant in capitalist societies, but is the result of natural selection, is good for the beneficiaries of market mechanisms. At the same time, the notion that the violent class relation that can only ever offer cyclical crisis and perpetual war is at the core of capitalist society has provided much fuel against capitalism. In short, the class struggle that is indicative of capitalism itself is represented in the “fact” that higher wages are good for workers because they increase their standard of living, but hurt the bosses by encroaching on margins/profits.

From here a smart place of departure might be to observe the current post-Bretton Woods economic structure of North America. A look at the data indicates that in the last 10 years in the United States the wealth of the ruling class has exploded while the middle class has simultaneously experienced a steady period of decline as the offshoring trends of the 1980s and 1990s have dramatically effected not just blue-collar manufacturing jobs, but white-collar service sector employment as well. As a result, the ranks of the poor and the pissed off have continued to swell. No longer able to finance a middle-class lifestyle, consumer debt also skyrocketed during this period. Setting off a system-wide pandemic of foreclosures, the bosses assured the public that the economy was fine, largely ignoring the high cost the public was paying. According to Greider and Baker (2008):

In the long run, the destruction of concentrated wealth and power is always good for democracy, liberating people from the heavy hand of the status quo. Unfortunately, many innocents are slaughtered in the process. As the US manufacturing economy was dismantled by downsizing and globalization, the learned ones (Alan Greenspan comes to mind) told everyone to breathe easy — ultimately this would be good for the workers and communities who lost the foundations of their prosperity. Now that “creative destruction” is visiting the bankers, we now observe they are not so accepting of their own fate.

Reflecting on this quote in a personal communiqué Joe Kincheloe observed that, “now that ‘creative destruction’ is reaching the corporate elite, they are not so sanguine about the situation,” which is to be expected because, from the boss’ perspective, “the pain of structural adjustment for the privileged is more distressing than it is for the poor.” It was only a matter of time before the mega-banks collapsed into their own self-made house of cards constructed of worthless defunct mortgages. The current crisis and the government’s attempts to “bail out” the capitalists with an unprecedented 700-billion dollar “bill”, which increased to nearly a trillion dollars before it passed both the Senate and the US House, has exposed the self-destructiveness embedded within the logic of capital.

The knowledge being produced about the bailout aired through the corporate media focuses on the ways the bailout will benefit “mainstreet”, that is, the workers of capital, which, in a way, has some element of truth to it because the financial capitalists cannot operate on their own. That is, they depend on other capitalists involved in industry, commercialisation, real estate, etc. to borrow money and invest in human labour as a commodity who actually do the work and produce the wealth that is then appropriated, reinvested, gained, lost, etc. It should, therefore, not be surprising that the majority of representatives of the House and US Senators, in making their case for the bill, stressed, over and over, the benefits that will accrue to the “small people” as justification for their “yea” rather than “nay” votes. But using that indirect “benefit” to obscure the basic antagonistic relationship between labour and capital, which, as long as it remains intact, the majority of humanity will suffer, can be viewed as nothing short than an aplogoy for the inevitable injustices of capitalism.

We might, therefore, say that the mere existence of capitalism, its ruling classes in particular, represents the constant risk of an uprising, and the more powerful the bosses, the greater the inequality between the oppressors and the oppressed, and therefore the greater the probability of an uprising or frontal assault designed to seize control of state and private power. The bosses tend to have this awareness, and it is for this ruling-class class-consciousness that the hammer is always in the background. However, the elite are more interested in avoiding disruption because that kind of instability is not good for business. The ruling class perceive those who rely on a wage to survive as a constant pontential threat because their existence as labour is structually, by definition, set against their own creative human impulse.

From this perspective, labour is always instinctively operating at some level of uprising in their struggle to relieve themselves from the chains that bind them. The objective of the capitalist is, therefore, to keep working class resistance at the lowest possible level through the combined use of force and consent, placing special emphasis, for obvious reasons, on consent, that is, the control of ideas. It has been argued by mainstream progressive sources that the slight hesitation to pass the recent trillion-dollar bailout “bill” represents a victory for democracy because of the public’s overwhelming disapproval and the swelling “crisis in confidence”.

This crisis in confidence does not merely refer to the reluctance to spend money, as the corporate media would have us believe, but runs to the very core of capitalism as a viable economic system. Former United States President George W. Bush alluded to this reading of the world in a special television appearance where he reassured his audience, the “small people”, that “democratic capitalism is the best system that ever existed”. Similarly, White House Press Secretary Dana Perino offered similar reassurance arguing that the United States is “the greatest capitalist country in the world” and that the public only needs to be willing to suffer for a short time so “we” can, once again, “enjoy prosperity”. Of course, the bosses would never offer workers a choice in the matter, so we will suffer unless we fight back and challenge policies that treat the well being of the public as incidental. That is, as long as the basic structures of power remain intact and wealth is flowing to the elite, the well being of the public is not a concern.

Let us now situate in an historical context the ways in which knowledge is and has been constructed to explain and account for these trends and inequalities. The remainder of this chapter examines different approaches to these class-based issues. We end our discussion with critical pedagogy, which has recently begun to emerge as a leading force in emancipatory educational practice.


It is worth restating, risking unnecessary repetition, that social class and related concepts, within western political discourse, have traditionally been articulated along an antagonistically related continuum. On one end, there is the idea that the existence of social class is evidence of the natural evolution of human society increasingly necessary as civilisation becomes more complex and advanced. On the other end of the spectrum, it tends to be argued that the existence of social class is the result of the appropriation of the naturally occurring division of labor, and therefore conceived as an unequal relationship that has been continuously and rather violently forced upon humanity. These two positions do not merely represent both sides, as it were, each possessing equal weight, and therefore embodying independent existences, unaware or unaffected by the other. What is demonstrated below is the intimate relationship between these competing perspectives on social class, one hegemonic, and therefore endowed with the power of the capitalist-state, (supporting the interests of the rich and the powerful), the other, counter-hegemonic, and as a result, historically marginalised by the dominant society, (representing the interests and concerns of the vast majority).

However, there has emerged within the critical conception of social class — and the social more generally — a tradition of thought that challenges the assumption of an external objective reality that the mind can neutrally comprehend with as much accuracy as a mirror reflects objects. As a result, such approaches refocus the debate from questions of accuracy to questions of certainty. While this shift may seem qualitatively insignificant, its ontological implications have immense pedagogical and curricular consequences. That is, if knowledge exists outside the realm of human intervention, then truth can be absolutely known and externally imposed. However, critical pedagogy argues that democracy cannot be pre-scripted because it is not a prescription. Democracy is a way of being in the world informed by common values such as social justice, equality, freedom, responsibility, and so on (Freire, 2005). While the practice of democracy undoubtedly requires complicated theoretical knowledge, it also requires that those insights be actively engaged with the concrete context, making it much more than a way of knowing — again, it is a way of being. These pedagogical issues are discussed in greater detail in the final sections of this paper.

In the process of outlining this dialectical discourse, we have demonstrated the complex and contradictory nature of the concrete context thereby underscoring both the conceptual limitations and benefits of the hegemonic/counter-hegemonic dichotomy outlined above. We begin investigating the assumptions underlying the production of knowledge under capitalism in Europe because it was the European model of class society that was reproduced around the world through the process of colonisation, which, in most regions, such as North America, continues to serve as the dominant paradigm.

Discourse Wars: Knowledge Production within Capitalism

Among the many scholars who have engaged in an in-depth study of the innermost workings of Europe’s model of class society, that is, capitalism, Karl Marx has proven to be the most influential, resilient, relevant, and responded to (both positively and negatively). One of the most widely read constructions of knowledge of all time, the Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848/1978), by Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, has touched, in one way or another, every major revolution around the world rendering its conceptualisation of social class particularly important for the study at hand.

By the end of the Manifesto’s first sentence — a relatively short sentence — Marx and Engels have clearly broken with the idealist romanticism of bourgeois scholarship by firmly situating their analysis of class within an historical dialectics of antagonistically competing interests noting that “the history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles” (p. 473), and taken to its logical conclusion underscores the tenuousness of the present moment. The duo continue, linearly and temporally, from a European-centered perspective, naming what they understand to be the stages of conflicting interests that define human social development situating its beginning in ancient Rome and Greece, which would eventually give way to the modern, capitalist, bourgeois era.

Eurocentric, as suggested by the late Senegalese scholar and scientist, Cheikh Anta Diop, because there is evidence that suggests that capitalism is not, as Marx suggested, a relatively recent human construction because it existed in ancient Egypt. For example, Diop (1955/1974) argues that in rural and urban centers during Egypt’s Middle Kingdom (2160-1788 B.C.) there existed “marginal capitalism” as evidenced by the labour force being “free” and “contractual” and the existence of “a business class who rented land in the countryside and hired hands to cultivate it” motivated by the sole purpose of generating “huge profits” (p. 210). In the cities, Egyptian capitalists engaged in what seems to be very modern business practices such as “interest-bearing loans, [and] renting or subletting personal property or real estate for the purpose of financial speculation” (Diop, 1955/1974, p. 210). While Diop (1955/1974) argues that it was the “inalienable liberty of the Egyptian citizen” (p. 210) that prevented the development of “strong capitalism” with more power over the populous than the state or nobility, the contradictions within Egypt’s hierarchical arrangements did lead to a series of unsuccessful internal revolutions.

Again, Diop’s analysis, examined next to Marx and Engels’ (1848/1978) history of human social development, underscores the latter’s European-centered perspective. That is, naming what they understand to be the stages of conflicting interests, beginning with ancient Rome, which transitioned into the Middle Ages, and finally giving way to the modern bourgeois era, Marx and Engels (1848/1978) comment: “freeman and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild-master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed” (p. 473). However, while Marx and Engels’ timeline and family tree of humanity might be inaccurate, the conclusion that is drawn from the developmental concept remains highly relevant and instructive: the oppressors and the oppressed “stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended, either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large, or in the common ruin of the contending classes” (p.474).

This observation is particularly relevant, as capital’s current crisis, discussed above, has exposed, in stark relief, that the very existence of capitalism is an elite class war continuously waged in a never-ending quest to increase the bottom line, which can only come from more and more unpaid labour hours put to work grinding up more and more of the Earth’s vital ecosystems. As part of the process of abstracting and distorting these class relations, the stock market is incorrectly presented as the producer of value. Challenging the assumption that the “profits and losses that result from fluctuations in the price of” stocks represent “an index of genuine capital accumulation”, that is, “reproduction on an expanded scale”, Marx (1894/1991), in Volume Three of Capital argues that they are, rather, “by the nature of the case more and more the result of gambling, which now appears in place of labour as the original source of capital ownership, as well as taking the place of brute force” (p. 607-609) or the exertion of labour power”.

With the development of global capitalism Marx (1894/1991) saw financial capitalists or bankers taking on a more central role as “imaginary money wealth” created on the stock market “makes up a very considerable part” of the money economy. As a result, bankers have become “intermediaries between the private money capitalists on the one hand, and the state, local authorities and borrows engaged in the process of reproduction on the other” (p. 609). Providing an analysis of how this system, with its built-in upward pulling gravity, without strict regulations, inevitably leads to an imbalance of commodities to consumer ratio, and therefore to a disruption in the actualisation of value, Marx (1894/1991) observes that “if there is a disturbance in this expansion, or even in the normal exertion of the reproduction process, there is also a lack of credit” creating a crisis in the confidence of the actual value of credit, which is indicative of “the phase in the industrial cycle that follows the crash” (p. 614).

Marx (with Engels), despite his shortcomings, therefore seems to offer what has proven to be a valid observation, that is, human society tends not to stand still — it is always in a stage of development — and as long as the old oppressed class become the new oppressors, society will remain pregnant with a new social order. Returning to the Manifesto, in making their case that the relations of production under capitalism will eventually be burst asunder, Marx and Engels (1848/1978) document the process by which Europe’s (concentrating on France, England, and Germany) bourgeois capitalist class emerged “from the ruins of feudal society” (p. 474) playing “a most revolutionary part” (pp. 474-475) in that transformation.

The massive amounts of wealth extracted from the Americas by European powers led Marx and Engels (1848/1978) to the conclusion that “the discovery of America,” as they called it, was one of the primary driving forces behind “the increase in the means of exchange and in commodities generally” and therefore to the “revolutionary element in the tottering feudal society, a rapid development” (p. 474). The argument is that the small-scale feudal arrangements were not equipped to organise the large armies of labour necessary for transforming the massive amounts of raw materials imported from the Americas needed to meet the exploding European demand for commodities, which was fueled by the influx of unprecedented resources. What is more, unlike Europe’s nobility whose power stemmed from their possession of land, the emerging bourgeoisie, without land, gained their advantage through the accumulation of capital due to the mercantile role they played in the extraction of American and African wealth. Summarising the bourgeoisie’s transformation from the oppressed to the oppressors, Marx and Engels unveil their most feared and celebrated prediction — that the bourgeoisie, who are still in power, like all of the oppressors before them, too will fall. A Marxist analysis might, therefore, view each new crisis of capital, such as the most recent one, part of capitalism’s march toward its own inevitable demise. Consider Marx and Engels’ (1848/1978) description of the capitalist class:

“The bourgeoisie, wherever it has got the upper hand, has put an end to all feudal…relations. It has pitilessly torn asunder the motley feudal ties that bound man to his “natural superiors”, and has left remaining no other nexus between man and man than naked self-interest, than callous ‘cash payment’…. It has resolved personal worth into exchange value, and in place of the numberless indefeasible chartered freedoms, has set up that single, unconscionable freedom — Free Trade.… The weapons with which the bourgeoisie felled feudalism to the ground are now turned against the bourgeoisie itself…. The bourgeoisie forged the weapons that [will] bring death to itself; it has also called into existence the men who are to wield those weapons — the modern working class….” (pp. 475-478)

While the broad strokes painted in the Manifesto of the Communist Party are useful for beginning to understand why knowledge produced by subjugated populations through the lens of Marx’s work continues to be both feared and exalted, we must focus more centrally on his more elaborated work on the division of labor as a transition into the perspectives of his pro-bossnon-solidarity critics, which continue to hold political sway in the contemporary context of global capitalism. In Volume 1 of Capital, Marx’s (1867/1967) discussion of primitive accumulation as part of the historical development of the capitalisation of humanity, which, as alluded to above, began in its “strong” form in England roughly a decade before Columbus set foot in present-day Haiti, is useful here in understanding Europe’s engagement in the Americas in particular, and global affairs in general. Because of the light it sheds on the discussion that follows, a sizable excerpt taken from Volume 1 of Capital (Marx, 1867/1967) is presented here:

The so-called primitive accumulation…is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the producer from the means of production. It appears as primitive, because it forms the pre-historic stage of capital and of the mode of production corresponding with it.
The economic structure of capitalistic society has grown out of the economic structure of feudal society. The dissolution of the latter set free the elements of the former.

The immediate producer, the labourer, could only dispose of his own person after he had ceased to be attached to the soil and ceased to be the slave, serf, or bondman of another. To become a free seller of labour-power, who carries his commodity wherever he finds a market, he must further have escaped from the regime of the guilds, their rules for apprentices and journeymen, and the impediments of their labour regulations. Hence, the historical movement which changes the producers into wage-workers, appears, on the one hand, as their emancipation from serfdom and from the fetters of the guilds, and this side alone exists for the bourgeois historians. But, on the other hand, these new freedmen became sellers of themselves only after they had been robbed of all their own means of production, and of all the guarantees of existence afforded by the old feudal arrangements. And the history of this, their expropriation, is written in the annals of mankind in letters of blood and fire….

The starting point of the development that gave rise to the wage labourer as well as to the capitalist was the servitude of the labourer. The advance consisted in a change of form of this servitude, in the transformation of feudal exploitation into capitalist exploitation….

The expropriation of the agricultural producer, of the peasant, from the soil, is the basis of the whole process. The history of this expropriation, in different countries, assumes different aspects, and runs through its various phases in different orders of succession, and at different periods. (pp. 714–716)

From Marx’s work we can begin to read or construct the entire modern world as mediated and dictated by the westernised process of value production through the capital-labour class relation. In other words, we can understand the entire process, from the on-going need to primitively accumulate and expand, to the establishment of petrol-chemical industrialism, as a form of class struggle that began as a counter-hegemony, but has since developed into perhaps the most oppressive, destructive, and irresponsible hegemony in recorded history. Put another way, capitalism was initiated by Western Europe’s bourgeoisie against their feudal lords, some of the last remnants of Europe’s “Dark Ages”, but now rule with more barbaric force than ever before imagined. Ultimately, it has been the vast majority of humanity, disconnected from the soil and therefore from their indigenous culture, who have suffered from centuries of bourgeois pathology. In his examination of the historical development of class relations, Marx points to the division of labour as offering a place of origin.

Marx argues that during the early stages of human development the division of labour was a naturally occurring by-product of age- and sex-based physical difference, but also, and we would add, it is the result of the non-hierarchical creative diversity/multiple intelligences unique to human consciousness, as well as to the unpredictable nature of complex events, such as the establishment of purposeful economic systems. Within the division of labor, from this perspective, reside the most basic structural roots of organised society. Commenting on the division of labor Marx (1867/1987) notes:

Within a family, and after further development within a tribe, there springs up naturally a division of labor, caused by differences of sex and age, a division that is consequently based on a purely physiological foundation, which division enlarges its materials by the expansion of the community, by the increase of population, and more especially, by the conflicts of different tribes, and the subjugation of one tribe by another. (p. 351)

The issue of one tribe subjugating another will be taken up later. For now I would like to focus on the context Marx situates this naturally occurring division of labor in. Marx (1867/1967) hones in on the place-specific nature of tribal communities commenting that “different communities find different means of production, and different means of subsistence in their natural environment” (p. 351). In other words, the development of technology is informed by the specific characteristics of physical place or geography such as climate, terrain, arable land, game, waterways, distance and accessibility to other human communities, and so on. As a result, human societies have developed vastly different technologies based on geography, which constitute the original source of commodities, that is, products produced in one context and consumed in another. For example, civilisations that emerged close to large bodies of water have tended to create ship-building technology, whereas those communities whose traditional lands are covered with ice, such as in the Arctic, have developed technology conducive to more efficiently navigating the snow such as sleds and snow shoes.

In the following analysis Marx begins to break, however slightly, from his Eurocentric, linear analysis, acknowledging the persistence of ancient communities in the “modern” era. As an example, Marx (1867/1967) points to “those small and extremely ancient Indian communities, some of which have continued down to this day, are based on possession in common of the land…and on an unalterable division of labor” (p. 357). However, “each individual artificer” operates independently “without recognising any authority over him” (Marx, 1867/1967, p. 358). Marx attributes this independence, in part, to the fact that within these arrangements products are produced for direct use by the community and therefore do not take the form of a commodity and therefore avoiding the value-generating process associated with it. As a result, the alienating division of labor engendered by the exchange of commodities is also avoided. Marx defines commodities as products consumed by others rather than those who produced them, and those who produce, under capital, are not independent craftsmen, but externally commanded.

Marx (1867/1967) quickly returns to Europe and goes on to argue that the guilds, who more or less laboured independently, resisted the bourgeoisie’s commodification of production and therefore “…repelled every encroachment by the capital of merchants, the only form of free capital with which they came into contact” (p. 358). Marx notes that the guild organisation, by institutionalising stages of production as specialised trades separate from one another such as the cattle-breeder, the tanner, and the shoemaker, for example, created the material conditions for manufacture, but “excluded division of labor in the workshop”, and as a result, “there was wanting the principal basis of manufacture, the separation of the labourer from his means of production, and the conversion of these means into capital” (p. 359). Marx stresses that the process of value production is unique to capitalism and is therefore a “special creation of the capitalist mode of production alone” (p. 359), and therefore not an original or natural aspect of the division of labor. Driving this point home, Marx critiques the “peculiar division” of manufacture, which “attacks the individual at the very roots of his life” giving way to “industrial pathology” (p. 363). Because of the forcefulness and accuracy of much of Marx’s work, many proponents of capitalism have been forced to attempt to refute the idea that capitalism is a form of pathology, and that the capitalist relations of production, the relationship between what we might crudely call bosses and workers, is negative or harmful for those who rely on a wage to survive, the vast majority of humanity. What follows is therefore a brief summary of some of Emile Durkheim’s pro-capitalist constructions that continue to dominate official knowledge production in the western world, which, with slight variations, are all capitalist.


Widely influential French sociologist Emile Durkheim is considered to be one of the “fathers” and founders of sociology and anthropology. Through the late 1800s Durkheim challenged much of Marx’s analysis, setting out to demonstrate that the deep inequality between social classes that drew much attention from critics such as Marx — a central aspect of the Industrial Revolution that began in England — was a natural product of the development of human societies, and should therefore not be resisted, but encouraged through such sorting mechanisms as schools. Essentially, what Durkheim (1893/2000) argues is that humanity (those relegated to the status of worker) would be wise to divest itself of any illusions of maintaining an independent existence and rather “equip yourself to fulfill usefully a specific function” (p. 39) because society requires it, that is, to bend ourselves to fit within the system that exists, to submit ourselves to the labour it requires. What Durkheim suggests is that the bourgeoisie, rather than a ruling class that embodies its own negation, represents the end of history and therefore the manifestation of the final and most advanced stage of human social evolution.

However, Durkheim could not ignore the class antagonism highlighted above by Marx, due, in part, to the intensity of the class struggle of his time and the recent memory of the worker’s Paris Commune of 1871. Acknowledging the human need of not being made a slave or being externally controlled, while maintaining his belief that inequality serves a necessary function in advanced societies, Durkheim notes that “moral life, like that of body and mind, responds to different needs which may even be contradictory. Thus it is natural for it to be made up in part of opposing elements…” (p. 39). In effect, Durkheim tells us that “progress” has a price — a price that tends to cause distress within the individual — but that is the nature of the universe, and it is not wise to challenge laws of nature. Building the foundation for this “functionalist” approach to sociology in his dissertation Durkheim (1893/2000) theorises:

We can no longer be under any illusion about the trends in modern industry. It involves increasingly powerful mechanisms, large-scale groupings of power and capital, and consequently an extreme division of labor…. This evolution occurs spontaneously and unthinkingly. Those economists who study its causes and evaluate its results, far from condemning such diversification or attacking it, proclaim its necessity. They perceive in it the higher law of human societies and the condition for progress. (pp. 37-38)

Again, Durkheim does not stop here in his analysis of objective reality as he reaches ever deeper into the grandiose, going on to argue that the division of labour does not just occur within the realm of economics, but can be identified within every aspect of life, and within all forms of life, rendering it a “biological phenomenon,” and therefore a law of nature. By claiming that capitalism happened “spontaneously” and “unthinkingly”, Durkheim effectively rewrites history erasing the long struggle against the commodification of humanity that was anything but spontaneous or without thought. Essentially, Durkheim takes Marx’s idea of the naturalness of the division of labor and divests it of its independent and communal nature, and replaces it with the notion that inequality and subservience to power are necessary manifestations of the advanced development of the division of labor.

This basic formula, with roots in Platonic epistemology that views intelligence as naturally and unevenly distributed, continues to exist in contemporary hegemonic discourses of the ruling elite — it is the presupposition informing the entire foundation of ruling class policy and practice. As a side note, the current crisis in confidence, discussed above, can, in part, be understood as stemming from the seeming incompetence and confusion coming from the political bosses in Washington and elsewhere. Not only does Durkheim support this idea of a naturally-occurring hierarchical conception of class within societies that undergoes intensified scrutiny during times of crisis, but he ranks civilisations/nations on a similar scale. Essentially, Durkheim argues that there is a tendency among societies that demonstrates that as they grow larger, the division of labor grows more specialised and entrenched, and as a result, they become more advanced. However, confronted with the existence of larger non-white nations, Durkheim argues that there are exceptions to this rule, which seems to stem from his belief in racial hierarchy. Consider:

The Jewish nation, before the conquest, was probably more voluminous than the Roman city of the fourth century; yet it was of a lower species. China and Russia are much more populous than the most civilized nations of Europe. Consequently among these same peoples the division of labor did not develop in proportion to the social volume. This is because the growth in volume is not necessarily a mark of superiority if the density does not grow at the same time and in the same proportion…. If therefore the largest of them only reproduces societies of a very inferior type, the segmentary structure will remain very pronounced, and in consequence the social organization will be little advanced. An aggregate of clans, even if immense, ranks below the smallest society that is organized, since the latter has already gone through those stages of evolution below which the aggregate has remained. (p. 49)

Durkheim’s implied white supremacy was not his own invention, nor was the idea of a natural hierarchy among Europeans represented within the division of labor new to him either. However, it is beyond the scope of this essay to trace the origins of those ideas. What follows, rather, is an analysis of how hegemonic conceptions of the division of labor have influenced policy in the United States situated in a more contemporary context from Lippmann to Friedman. Beginning with Lippmann we investigate how the idea of a natural hierarchy represented in the existence of rank-able social classes informed his ideas and practice concerning both domestic and foreign affairs.

Propaganda and Capitalism in the United States

Walter Lippmann was a highly influential architect of this discursive model contributing significantly to the implementation of its practice, a point Noam Chomsky (1999) has consistently given much attention to. For more than 50 years Lippmann was perhaps the most respected political journalist in the United States “winning the attention of national political leaders from the era of Woodrow Wilson through that of Lyndon B. Johnson” (Wilentz, 2008, p. vii). However, within the western tradition of hegemonic philosophy and practice, Lippmann’s ideas tended to fall on the liberal end of this distorted continuum. That is, while he believed it was the paternalistic responsibility of democratic government, comprised of those endowed with a naturally superior intelligence, to mould “the will of the people”, it must be for the common good and carried out without the conscious manipulation of propaganda. Set against what he believed to be the crude tactics of McCarthyism and the Red Scare, Lippmann was concerned with purifying “the rivers of opinion that fed public opinion” (Steel, 2008, p. xv).

Like Durkheim before him, Lippmann too, discounted the ideals of democracy (such as the notion that the will of the people does not need to be externally commanded) as an “illusion” referring to it in Public Opinion(1922) as “the original dogma of democracy”. As we will see, Lippmann constructed a theory of humanity, assumed to represent the objective reality, as being too ignorant and steeped in prejudice and bias to be able to achieve the necessary competence to know what is best for themselves rendering the theoretical idea of democracy a fantastic vision, but not conducive to the imperfect reality of human depravity. Lippmann biographer Ronald Steel (2008), in his foreword to the recently re-issued Liberty and the News (1920/2008), reasons that:

The horrors of World War I had shattered his optimism about human nature. His propaganda work, reinforced by the repressive activities of the government’s propaganda bureau, the Committee on Public Information, had made him realize how easily public opinion could be molded. He had always believed that a free press was the cornerstone of democracy. He still believed that, but with a new qualification. (pp. xii-xiii)

That “qualification” was his assertion that democracy itself is an unachievable ideal. Contributing to his belief in the inferior intelligence of the general public was his engagement with the emerging field of psychology that reinforced his beliefs about the nature of human perception rendering most people unfit to participate in the democratic process. For example, in The Phantom Public (1927) Lippmann argues that “man’s reflexes are, as the psychologists say, conditioned. And, therefore, he responds quite readily to a glass egg, a decoy duck, a stuffed shirt, or a political platform” (p. 30). Lippmann was clearly informed by the idea that the public is limited to perceiving the world only as it has been trained to. As a result, there tends to be a great gap between what is believed about the world and the actual world, or, objective reality.

Highlighting the persistence of this paternalistic attitude, the US House of Representatives recently discounted the people of the United States’ overwhelming objection of the trillion-dollar bailout bill, arguing that the public is unable to comprehend the severity of the problem, and thus only see clear skies blind to the approaching storm. According to Lippmann (1927), not only is the public inherently limited in its sense of perception, but in its desire to know commenting that “the citizen gives but a little of his time to public affairs, has but a casual interest in facts and but a poor appetite for theory” (p. 24-25).

Summarising his position Lippmann (1927) concludes that it is false to “…assume that either the voters are inherently competent to direct the course of affairs or that they are making progress toward such an ideal. I think it is a false ideal. I do not mean an undesirable ideal. I mean an unattainable ideal…” (pp. 38-39). Lippmann therefore viewed education no more suitable to achieve democratic ideals than any other false sense of hope. As it turns out then, the United States, which has long presented itself as the world’s leading proponent of democracy, has a history of being influenced by thinkers who believe in hierarchy and supremacy and therefore view the theoretical context of democracy as not representative of the concrete context of human nature, and therefore an unwise goal to pursue.

Of course, men like Lippmann, armed with their superior capacities, do not suffer from the afflictions of inadequacy. From this perspective, the division of labour is largely based on the naturally occurring unequal capacities of men rendering some more fit to lead and design the social structure, while the most useful function for the vast majority reside in their physical ability to follow direction and labour — as passive spectators rather than active participants. The responsibility of those most fit to lead, the responsible or capable men, is therefore to regiment the public mind as an army regiments its troops. This is the boss’s moral and paternalistic “commitment”, as Lippmann (1943) referred to it. Because Lippmann’s conception of class was based on the assumption of a natural hierarchy, he was logically able to claim a moral relativism as well, which stands in stark contrast to Marx’s privileging of democratic relations over the unjust relationship between labour and capital, that is, between the oppressed and their oppressors. In making this case — a case ultimately against democracy — Lippmann (1927) proclaims, “It requires intense partisanship and much self-deception to argue that some sort of peculiar righteousness adheres to…the employers’ against the wage-earners’, the creditors’ against the debtors’, or the other way around” (p. 34).

The peculiar nature of Lippmann’s political relativism is further brought to the fore in his discourse on US foreign policy where he draws on the notion of “justice” as it pertains to the use of force. Lippmann’s analysis in U.S. Foreign Policy (1943), seems, in many ways, to be a direct response to the arguments presented in the highly publicised War is a Racket (1935/2003) by anti-war activist, World War I veteran, and Brigadier General Smedley D. Butler. Summarising his position on war Butler (1935/2003) comments:

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. (p. 23)

Reflecting on the United States’ involvement in the First World War, Butler (1935/2003) notes that “we forgot, or shunted aside, the advice of the Father of our country. We forgot Washington’s warning about ‘entangling alliances’” (p. 26). In U.S. Foreign Policy: Shield of the Republic, published eight years after War is a Racket, Lippmann (1943) invests a significant amount of time making an argument against the pacifism alluded to in War is a Racket, without, however, referring directly to Butler or his work. Like Butler, Lippmann too draws on the legacy of General George Washington, but draws almost opposite conclusions. Consistent with his usual style, Lippmann (1943) paints a picture of the benevolent leader whose responsibility it is to protect the national interest — the interests of the rich — which he must have the military capacity to do. Otherwise, through his vulnerability, he is inviting his enemy’s provocation, and therefore irresponsibly putting those who rely on his paternalistic protection at unnecessary risk.

Washington did not say that the nation should or could renounce war, and seek only peace. For he knew that the national “interest, guided by justice” might bring the Republic into conflict with other nations. Since he knew that the conflict might be irreconcilable by negotiation and compromise, his primary concern was to make sure that the national interest was wisely and adequately supported with armaments, suitable frontiers, and the appropriate alliances. (Lippmann, 1943, p. 51)

Lippmann’s reasoning here is simple enough: an empire, such as the United States, will not survive without room to grow and the muscle needed to protect its “interests”, that is, the interests of the rich or responsible men which include the subjugation of their own population during crises of confidence and the extraction and concentration of wealth. The essence of his argumentation lies in the same age-old paternalistic guardianship and moral relativism that allows questions of justice to be freed from issues of domination and subjugation. In making his argument Lippmann cites the Monroe Doctrine of 1823 as evidence of the United States’ “commitment” to extend its “protection…to the whole of the Western hemisphere” and that “at the risk of war, the United States would thereafter resist the creation of new European empires in this hemisphere” (Lippmann, 1943, p. 16). Monroe’s doctrine has come to be interpreted as “professing a unilateral US ‘right’ to circumscribe the sovereignty of all other nations in the hemisphere” (Churchill, 2002, p. 335) influencing its aggressive dealings with Indigenous sovereigns within its boundaries and those within its hemisphere such as Cuba and Jamaica and all other Latin American and Caribbean nations (Malott, 2008, 2007; Cole-Malott & Malott, 2008).

The context Lippmann situates US foreign policy in provides a useful lens for understanding the nation’s current policies, such as those concerning not only Cuba, but globally. After all, it is the responsibility of the more capable men to make decisions for less capable men, and any illusions concerning democratic principles only restricts the natural development of the division of labor worldwide. As we will see below, Milton Friedman (1962/2002) picks up on this line of reasoning arguing that restrictions on the extraction and accumulation of wealth and the further entrenchment of class antagonisms only threatens the freedom of “progress”, that is, capitalism, and of men and women pursuing it.


Milton Friedman, pro-capital, economist extraordinaire, received worldwide recognition in 1976 winning the Nobel memorial Prize in Economic Sciences and has been touted as the world’s most influential economist of the twentieth century. Friedman has drawn the attention of the likes of internationally-renowned political analyst and activist Noam Chomsky (1999) who referred to him as a “neoliberal guru” while vociferously critiquing his (1962/2002) Capitalism and Freedom for hegemonically equating “profit-making” with being “the essence of democracy” and that “any government that pursues antimarket policies is being anti-democratic, no matter how much informed popular support they might enjoy” (p. 9).

Friedman’s supposition that the surest way to freedom is through capitalism is informed by the ancient hierarchy of intelligence paradigm that views economic competition the playing field most conducive to fostering the environment that will encourage and enable the superior individuals to rise to the top and assume their place as leaders and decision makers, that is, capitalists. Attempts to legislate against exploitation and abuse to ensure a functioning democracy, from this approach to knowledge production, is viewed as an attack on freedom because it prevents the naturally endowed masters from assuming their biologically determined place within the hierarchy. This construction is an unquestionable aspect of objective reality. Informed by this logic, the primary responsibility of government is therefore to “preserve the rules of the game by enforcing contracts, preventing coercion, and keeping markets free” (Friedman, 1955, p. 1). Connecting Friedman’s philosophy to practice Chomsky (1999) observes:

Equipped with this perverse understanding of democracy, neoliberals like Friedman had no qualms over the military overthrow of Chile’s democratically elected Allende government in 1973, because Allende was interfering with business control of Chilean society. (p. 9)

In order for government, and society more generally, to fulfil their scripted functions, reasons Friedman (1955), they require social stability, which is not possible without “widespread acceptance of some common set of values” and “a minimum degree of literacy and knowledge” (p. 2). Friedman (1955) reasons that the government should subsidise these basic levels of education because it “adds to the economic value of the student” (p. 4) and capitalists should invest in their labour just as they invest in machinery. The public is therefore viewed as a resource to be manipulated by the natural leaders for the common good. Making this point, Friedman (1955) argues that education “is a form of investment in human capital precisely analogous to investment in machinery, buildings, or other forms of non-human capital” and can be justified as a necessary expenditure because “its function is to raise the economic productivity of the human being” (p. 13). For Friedman (1955) then, knowledge production as an actively engaged endeavour is reserved for the elite, rendering the vast majority subject to the necessary “indoctrination” needed to ensure the widespread acceptance of “common social values required for a stable society” even if it means “inhibiting freedom of thought and belief” (p. 7).

As one of the world’s leading theoreticians of free market capitalism, it should not be surprising that Friedman (1955) was a strong supporter of the privatisation of, and thus the corporate control over, public education, masking it with a discourse of choice. In more recent times, he acknowledged that the testing-based No Child Left Behind Act touted as the surest path to increasing achievement was really designed to lend weight to the choice and voucher movement by setting schools up to fail and then handing them over to private managing firms such as Edison Schools (Kohn, 2004). Critical educator Alfie Kohn (2004) has commented that “you don’t have to be a conspiracy nut to understand the real purpose of NCLB” (p. 84). That is, NCLB is nothing more than a “backdoor maneuver” (Kohn, 2004, p. 84) constructed around conceptions of choice allowing private for-profit capitalists to take over public education. Friedman’s theory paved the theoretical pathway for these neoliberal tendencies of the public realm being handed over to corporations to be realised.

Friedman’s theory is based on the assumption that the competition for education dollars would push, out of the necessity to survive, education investors to offer superior products to attract customers. Schools that offered a sub-standard product would not be profitable, and would therefore be forced to either improve or close. Again, The No Child Left Behind Act of George W. Bush has served as a standards-based approach to usher in Friedman’s desire to privatise public education, which has had disastrous results on the knowledge production process. As a result, a major blow was leveled against the practice of education as an active engagement designed to understand the world and to transform it, taking aim specifically at the labour/capital relationship and its manifest hegemonies such as white supremacy and patriarchy.

These developments, however, are well documented. For the purposes of this discussion we will turn our attention to the larger Eurocentric vision of Friedman’s discourse, which is equally relevant as we approach a potentially new era in knowledge production in North America. That is, the potential Democratic presidency of Barack Obama, while pro-capitalist in principle, on their homepage, claim to “believe” that “teachers should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests” (Obama Biden). The manifestation of this desire would provide critical pedagogues much needed breathing room to engage in counter-hegemonic knowledge production and critical praxis after this long period of Friedman-inspired privatization.

Friedman leaves little room for misinterpretation regarding his conceptualisation of democracy and social class, which, we will see, is, in many ways, almost the exact opposite of Marxism, underscoring, in a sense, a testament to Marx’s continued relevance in terms of directly and indirectly informing popular democratic movements challenging basic structures of power and therefore demanding a response by the architects of contemporary US public hegemonic discourse and policy. Within his paradigm Friedman (1962/2002) situates capitalism as the central driving force behind human evolution and therefore responsible for the “great advances of civilization” such as Columbus “seeking a new route to China” (p. 3), which consequently led to the emergence of vast fortunes generated by Europe’s colonialist empire building, slavery, genocide/depopulation and repopulation, and on a scale so massive, so horrendous and so utterly barbaric as to render comprehending its manifestation as a criminal act carried out by real living, breathing, feeling people almost unimaginable (Malott, 2008). Friedman, therefore, does not seem too different from his predecessors. That is, describing Columbus coming to the America’s as one of the great advances in civilisation can only be understood as callous and thoroughly Eurocentric.

But again, Friedman draws on the example of Columbus for the “advances” that have resulted from the “freedom” to pursue private “economic interests,” and therefore as evidence to support capitalism. Friedman (1962/2002) goes so far as to argue that free market “capitalism is a necessary condition for political freedom” (p. 10). Friedman’s thesis can be understood as a direct response to the popular support for nationalised economies designed to promote an equal distribution of the wealth generated by the productive apparatus arguing that “collectivist economic planning has…interfered with individual freedom” (p. 11). Individual freedom, for Friedman, stems from unregulated market mechanisms “stabilised” by a limited government whose function is to “protect our freedom both from the enemies outside our gates and from our fellow citizens: to preserve law and order, to enforce private contracts, and to foster competitive markets” (p. 2). Friedman points to the Soviet Union as an example of what he argues is the coercive tendency of government intervention in economic affairs. It is not surprising that Friedman does not mention the infinitely more democratic and egalitarian nature of Cuba’s centrally-planned economy compared to the US-supported free-market systems in the Caribbean and Latin America (Malott, 2007).

The “law and order” referred to by Friedman can best be understood as the way in which “the descendants of European colonizers shaped…rules to seize title to indigenous lands” (Robertson, 2005, p. ix) and to “enforce” these “private contracts”. Similarly, the Monroe Doctrine, touted by Lippmann (1927) as bound by “law” and “custom,” can be understood as extending the United States’ “sphere of influence” to the entire western hemisphere. That is, to ensure the resources and productive capacities of not only this region, but much of the world, would be controlled by US interests. These self-endorsed “commitments” of the United States have been upheld with deadly force explaining the US’s simultaneously open and hidden war against the Cuban Revolution and Castro’s trouble-making in the hemisphere (Chomsky, 1999; Malott, 2007). While the hegemony of US power has seemed all but total, it has not been without critique and resistance from not only Cuba and Latin America, but within the US as well. At the heart of this counter-hegemony has been the ongoing development of critical pedagogies, one of the primary philosophical influences of which can be traced to both Southern and Northern Native America.

Critical Pedagogy and Indigenity: Democratic Praxis against Social Class

Although he is certainly not the first critical pedagogue, the late Brazilian radical educator, Paulo Freire, is, however, the practitioner credited with the founding of what we have come to know in North America ascritical pedagogy with his first book being published in Brazil in 1967. Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, initially published in the United States in 1970, is arguably the seed from which critical pedagogy in education in North America has sprouted. Freire and other critical theory-trained Latin American, critical pedagogues were highly influenced by liberation theologists such as Leonardo Boff (1971/1978) and Clodovis Boff (1987) of Brazil, Peruvian Gustavo Gutiérrez (1973/1988), and world-renowned Archbishop Oscar Romero (1988/2005) of El Salvador, who was assassinated in 1987 after becoming “known across the world as a fearless defender of the poor and suffering” earning him “the hatred and calumny of powerful persons in his own country” (Brockman, 1988/2005, p. xv). What is common among these leaders is that they all practised (practice) and developed their theologies with the poorest and most oppressed sectors of their societies, who, wherever indigenous peoples are found, tend to be indigenous peoples. Within these theologies of liberation we can therefore find the democratic impulse that can be treated, risking romanticisation, as a common characteristic among a diverse range of traditional indigenous communities.

Critical pedagogy has always been concerned with challenging the discourse of hierarchy that legitimises oppression and human suffering as indicative of the natural order of the universe. Rather than viewing intelligence as unequally distributed and therefore the practice of democracy extremely limited, critical pedagogy is based on an armed love and radical faith in people’s ability to tend to their own economic and political interests in the spirit of peace and mutuality. In a recent series of interviews with David Barsamian, Noam Chomsky (2007), describes the characteristics of what he understands to be the praxis of democracy, that is, widespread political participation.

There can’t be widespread structural change unless a very substantial part of the population is deeply committed to it…. If you are a serious revolutionary, you don’t want a coup. You want changes to come from below, from the organised population. (p. 121)

This unyielding democratic impulse of western-trained, North American critical pedagogy can be largely attributed to the generous philosophical gifts of not only Native South Americans but Native North Americans such as the Haudenosaunee. According to Donald A. Grinde (1992) in ‘Iroquois Political Theory and the Roots of American Democracy’, many of the “founding fathers” of the U.S., Benjamin Franklin most notably, rejected the anti-democratic European model drawing instead on the brilliance of the Iroquois system of shared governance designed to ensure democracy and peace by putting power and decision-making in the intelligent hands of the people united in a confederation of nations and not in the divine right or assumed superiority of a ruler. Grinde and others in Exiled in the Land of the Free (Lyons & Mohawk, 1992) document, in great detail, the generosity of the Iroquois leaders in assisting Euro-Americans, before, during and after the American Revolution, in creating a unified Nation composed of the original 13 colonies as the foundation for long-term peace, freedom, liberty and democracy in North America. Putting the American Revolutionary war in a context foreign to traditional social studies instruction, Grinde (1992) notes that “the first democratic revolution sprang from American unrest because the colonists had partially assimilated the concepts of unity, federalism, and natural rights that existed in American Indian governments” (p. 231). It is abundantly clear that the gift of democracy received by the United States government by the Haudenosaunee has all been but subverted. For examples of the democratic tradition in contemporary times, outside of Native communities themselves, we have to turn our attention to the highly marginalised critical tradition.

However, we might say that this democratic tradition, commonly associated with European critical theory (i.e. Marxism), is an appropriation because the Native American source of these generous gifts, in the contemporary context, tends not to be cited. For those already engaged in the life-long pursuit of knowledge, this is an easily amendable flaw — requiring of such western-trained critical theorists/educators an active epistemological and material engagement with Native Studies and Indigenous communities the world over (Ewen, 1994; Kincheloe, 2008). We might say that the critical theoretical tradition, rooted in indigenous conceptions of freedom and liberty, represents a rich history of opposition to anti-democratic, authoritarian forms of institutionalised power — private (corporate), federal (state), and religious (Church/ clergy) — for it is this unjust power that poses the greatest barrier to peace. The example of the Haudenosaunee is relatively indicative of this tradition, which stands in stark contrast to the anti-democratic model perpetuated by Durkhiem, Lippmann, Friedman, and the like.

Questions of Certainty, Issues of Pedagogy

Questions of absolutism and certainty also become epistemologically central in the realm of pedagogy and the theory of our educational practice. Postmodern analyses challenge us to question the deterministic absolutism characteristic of enlightenment science. However, it would be foolish to take these critiques as an excuse not to consider what seem to be the more useful conclusions of modernist social science in regards to the role power plays in the legitimation process. For example, Marxists and other Enlightenment science radicals have gone to great lengths to quantify and reduce social trends concluding that the doctrinal system of the elite consistently portrays a distorted imagine of reality as neutral and therefore just how it is. This has been accomplished in the contemporary era through the establishment of a ruling class-controlled propaganda machine, employing schools, the government, and the mass media, which serves the function of maintaining social control. Some scientists argue that this control must be established, by either force or consent, whenever people are oppressed, because the species has a predetermined propensity for freedom and democracy, which is therefore built into the genetic design as an endowment.

Sceptical of any absolutisms regarding the highly complex and little known phenomena of consciousness and free will, that is, the human condition, we might argue that it only appears that humans are naturally democratic because the values of democracy have long been accepted and internalised by the vast majority of humanity rendering it easy to confuse that which has been socially constructed for a biologically determined characteristic. Rather than attempting to make a deterministic case for the human condition, as either democratic or competitive, we might argue that behaviourism has demonstrated that humans’ socially constructed schema are vulnerable to external manipulation suggesting more of a blank slate orenvironmental theory. Instead of putting this knowledge to work in the service of domination as the behaviourist tradition has done, we evoke it here to raise caution against anti-democratic practice.

However, we take issue with the radical or progressive scientific tendency to treat either of these analyses asmore or less accurate representations of objective reality even when they are grounded in the facts and not based on a desire to oppress and dominate. Following the postmodern insights of critical constructivism we therefore challenge the assertion that there is an objective reality that exists independent of the senses because it is the schemas of the mind that constructs ideas, explanations, and guides the practice of choice. Pedagogy based on the presupposition of an external objective reality can too easily lead to a form of anti-democratic critical banking and therefore not inclusive of the multitude of subjugated knowledges based on the multiple positionalities of oppression. We argue, on the other hand, that students should be actively engaged in the process of discovery or knowledge production based on a dialectical relationship between their own experiences and the theory of the social that suggests that there exists a macro-structural hegemonic power base that represents the common class enemy of the vast majority, despite the vast epistemological diversity found within human culture and individuality.

Again, it is not our aim to challenge critical descriptions of capitalism, especially those coming from the Marxist tradition, but to reframe them not as objective reality but as social constructions that, for now, do seem to best represent the phenomena in question (Kincheloe, 2005), that is, neol-iberal capitalism. In so doing, we invite learners to become actively engaged in the discovery process, or the process of naming and renaming the concrete context through the production of knowledge. Ultimately, the epistemological goal of critical pedagogy is not only to construct accurate and useful knowledge about the concrete context and the self, but to construct knowledge about how to transform the self as part of the process of transforming the world. For Marxists this means challenging and dismantling the labour/capital relationship and creating new relationships between people based on an inherently different set of values and ideals that challenge the hierarchies of antiquity that continue to dominate. We might understand this critical approach to knowledge production as part of the democratic process of becoming.


Reflecting on the current crisis of capitalism, working people, as always, will bear the burden because the bosses will not pay the costs if they can defer it to “the simple people”, as US Congressmen and women so often paternaliistically refer to the American people as. So they pay. But sometimes it takes a trillion-dollar reward for systemic irresponsible deception — the loving touch capitalism has always afforded “the bewildered herd” — to waken the sleeping giant of those who rely on a wage to survive. The crisis in confidence is the sleeping giant waking up, which goes much deeper than the reluctance to spend/consume. That is, the questoining goes to the heart of the modern world — the process of value production and its dehumanised underlying driving force, which is the quest for profit, whatever the consequence. While thesleeping giant metaphor can be useful and powerful, however, the risk is that it is a form of reductionism. That is, reducing the infinitely vast diversity of consciousness to a single entity flattens out the richness of all the contributing parts. We therefore must be careful not to confuse the individual parts for the whole (Kincheloe, 2005). To illustrate this point we might say that while the left pinky toe seems to effectively stimulate the epistemological curiosity of many people, it alone cannot account for the complexity of the entire giant.

As critical pedagogues it is within these instances of overt crisis that is our time to shine and do what we do: teach and engage with democratic principles, that is, help that big old giant stand up, become self-actualised, reach its full non-deterministic potential, and mature gracefully. Pedagogy is always critical at this juncture because the dominant paradigm does not recognise that we are all unique free wills and not things to be directed because it can’t. If the system did, it would not be what it is. It would be something different, and that is what we want. What will life after capital be like? Who knows? Maybe we’ll decide to call it Fun Style. Who is against fun? To be successful we must continue to rigorously strive to name the world, as it currently exists. We might call this the struggle over the meaning of our language, and thus, the meaning of the world and ourselves.

For example, despite the central role social class plays in determining the conditions of human life in capitalist society, it is a concept that receives very little attention in corporate media outlets. On rare occasion when it is introduced, it tends to be treated as the objective state of falling within a particular income bracket and is therefore just one of the many ways people are diverse, no more or less special than being male or female, or short or tall, for example. What is implied is that inequality is the natural state of humanity, and that any centrally-planned attempts to democratise the distribution of wealth is therefore unnatural because it limits the individual’s freedom to create his or her own economic destiny, allowing the cream to rise to the top, as it were. The entire history of coercion, propaganda, genocide, and conquest that paved, and continues to pave, the way for class society to exist, and the on-going resistance against it, tends to be left out of these discussions, almost without exception. Making a similar observation Chomsky (1993) plainly states that “in the United States you’re not allowed to talk about class differences” unless you belong to one of two groups, “the business community, which is rabidly class-conscious” and “high planning sectors of the government” (p. 67).

It is therefore not saying too much that the class-perspective found in the work of Durkheim, Lippmann, and Friedman has greatly influenced the business press, which tends to be “full of the danger of the masses and their rising power and how we have to defeat them. It’s kind of vulgar, inverted Marxism” (Chomsky, 1993, p. 67). What we find is that this self-serving perspective of those who benefit from class-based inequalities, in mainstream, dominant society, is presented as objective reality — as normalised and naturalised. However, because our humanity can be limited, but never completely destroyed, hegemony cannot be complete, and the less so, the more serious we take the wisdom of those who counter-hegemonically came before, and those who continue to generously contribute to the critical tradition.


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