an understanding of internalisation makes sense of the incredible fact
that most external controls work most of the time for most of the people
in society. Society not
only controls our movements, but shapes our identity, our thoughts and
our emotions. The structures of society become the structure of our own
consciousness. Society does
not stop at the surface of our skins.
Society penetrates us as much as it envelops us.’ (Peter
Berger, Invitation to Sociology, 1966: 140).
February 2001, I began an Open University course titled Family and
Community History, mid 19th to late 20th
centuries. In the first
month I learned that in the past men had not always (historically) gone
out to work, been ‘bread winners’ and hunters,
and that women had not always stayed home, raised children and
not participated in paid employment.
I learned that this was a fairly new social construction of
familial socio-economic organisation and that even when this was the
dominant ideological system of family, it had not been the reality for
the majority of people. As
a woman who had struggled long and hard against her so called
‘place’ in life, I was angry. As
a youth and community worker with ten years post qualification
experience, I was shocked. I
had long since learned to question and challenge sexism and biological
explanations of gender based divisions but I had never questioned so
called ‘historical facts’. Such
is the power of internalisation and the social construction of our
realities that even when we are aware of and fight against the
oppressive practices that these processes support and perpetuate we are
still vulnerable to the theories, myths, eternal ‘truths’ and
ideologies that create and are created by, the sociological structures
that have become part of who we are.
Berger is not
alone in seeking to understand the duality of society and the way in
which ‘we create society at the same time as we are created by it’
(Giddens, 1986:4). Many
theorists have attempted to identify the processes involved and the
inequalities they breed. Others
have taken this a stage further and looked at ways of changing the
‘taken for grantedness of every day life’ (Berger & Luckman in
Thompson, 2001:25) as a means of challenging and ending oppression.
be defined as ‘any situation in which ‘A’ objectively exploits
‘B’ or hinders his and her pursuit of self affirmation as a
responsible person’ (Freire, 1993:37) and/or the unequal distribution
of power, status, authority, resources and/or opportunities.
These latter inequalities Neil Thompson describes as being
‘sewn in to the fabric of society’ (Thompson 2001:26) the
stratification of which leads ‘inevitably (to) winners and losers’
(Thompson 2001:26) and he uses an analysis of the way the ‘structures
of society become the structure of our own consciousness’ (Berger,
1966:140) to understand and challenge discrimination.
describes social structure as ‘the network of social relationships,
institutions and groupings’ (Thompson, 2001:17) and claims that people
can be ‘located within the social structure in terms of the
intersection of different social divisions’ (Thompson, 2001:17).
Some of the major groupings/divisions being gender, class, race,
sexuality and disability.
In order to
understand the effects of belonging to particular groupings, the
inequalities and power differences, Thompson developed PCS analysis
which looks at the personal, cultural and structural aspects of everyday life.
Personal insofar as individual feelings, thoughts, values and
attitudes are concerned, cultural as common or shared values and norms
whilst ‘the structural level (is) the network of social divisions and
the power relations that are so closely associated with them – the
socio-political dimension of interlocking patterns of power and
influence’ (Thompson, 2001:22).
PCS analysis Thompson attempts to explain the relationship between the
individual, society and discrimination and argues that although we are
autonomous human beings responsible for our own actions, those actions
have to be seen within the wider social context that both covertly and
overtly affect them. Berger
and Luckman talk about understanding the way the ‘reality of everyday
life is taken for granted as reality – simply there, as self-evident
and compelling facticity’ (Berger & Luckman, 1991:37). PCS
analysis is an attempt to explain how an interpretation of reality gets
to be ‘taken for granted’ and as such is similar to the way in which
Bauman describes the development of ‘common sense’.
According to Bauman ‘common sense’ began when ‘human needs
entered human relations as unarguable starting points’ (Bauman,
1976:79) and that although these developed without intentional
manipulation they were nonetheless human constructs. He argues that ‘once established, they enter in the form of
expectations and demands, in a feedback relation with social reality,
which in its turn lends them some of its appearance of inevitability’
(Bauman, 1976:79). Once
they become ‘common sense’ and taken for granted they become so
embedded in human existence that their ‘human, historically contingent
origin’ (Bauman, 1976:79) becomes more obscure.
Hence my belief that women working outside the home for wages was
a relatively new social phenomena.
and manipulation of dominant ideas is another theme followed by Thompson
and he argues that because we live in a society that has various
stratifications, differential groupings and divisions, inequalities
exist and because these inequalities tend to benefit one group to the
detriment of another, those that hold power are able to employ certain
practices, processes and explanations in order to maintain their
position and justify their actions. One
such process being ideology.
refers to the power of ideas to maintain existing structures and social
relations’ (Thompson, 2001:27) and Thompson describes it as the
‘glue that binds the levels (of PCS analysis) together’ (Thompson,
2001:30). Thompson argues
that ideologies set the standards or norms for society, clearly
identifying what is acceptable and what is not, what is natural and what
is not. He states
that ideology is one of the tools that are used by people in power to
explain and justify their position and cites ‘the masking of the
economic and socio-political dimensions (of old age) under the guise of
a biological or natural decline is an ideological device, parallel with
the ‘biology is destiny’ axiom of sexism and the ‘racial
superiority’ fallacy of imperialism’ as examples. (Thompson,
2001:28). For Gramsci this
represented the psychocultural dimensions of ‘hegemony’ which he
suggested demonstrates how ‘the dominant classes were able to convince
those who were being exploited that their situation was natural and thus
universal, which meant that things could not be changed.’ (In Berger,
respect it is possible to see that whereas the use of violence and fear
are overt methods of silencing witnesses to oppression, hegemony is a
more covert, pervasive and coercive way of achieving the same outcome.
Williams explains this in describing hegemony as going beyond concepts
of ideology and culture in that it is ‘the whole lived process as
practically organised by specific and dominant meanings and values’
(in Berger A, 1995:63) and as such Berger says ‘hegemonic domination
is thus more widespread, more hidden or disguised and more complete than
ideological domination which has parameters that can be located and
addressed’. (Berger A,
understanding of the organisation of dominant social classes is an
example of hegemony in that it ‘involves the successful mobilisation
and reproduction of the active consent of dominated groups’ (Thompson,
1998:26) in other words, for example, we continue to provide our labour
for production in exchange for wages that are not a true representation
of the value of same. We
therefore continue to contribute to the profits and therefore wealth of
the ruling classes and their ability to dominate and oppress us as
working classes. Not only
do we actively consent to this process of inequality, we buy into the
idea that we too can become wealthier if we only work harder, save up
and invest wisely. We actually aspire to be like them.
example would be the way in which oppressed people are treated as the
source of the problem. We
problematise blackness instead of problematising whiteness.
We ask what is
it like to be a black person in Britain instead of asking what is it
like to be white. In this
respect ‘Whiteness is equated with normality and as such it is not in
need of definition’ (Solomos, 1996:22) and Solomos points out that
‘one must insist that whiteness is a political definition which
regulates the consent of white subjects within the context of white
supremacy’ (Solomos, 1996:24).
Mooney talks about the hegemony involved in the oppression of women
being perpetuated through the idealised natural ‘family‘ and that
this does not suggest a rejection of ‘the human need for intimacy,
sexual relations, emotional fulfilment and parenthood; rather what she
considers to be oppressive is the ideological assumption that such needs
can only be met through the conventional family system’ (Mooney,
education as another process that maintains institutional order and
perpetuates inequality and he proposes that ‘Education as the exercise
of domination stimulates the credulity of students, with the ideological
intent (often not perceived by educators) of indoctrinating them to
adapt to the world of oppression.’ (Freire,1993:59).
Likewise Emile Durkheim describes education as ‘simply
the means by which society prepares, in its children, the essential
conditions of its own existence’ (Giddens, 1972:203) and he suggests
that we cannot as individuals deviate from it without ‘encountering
the strong resistance which counters the erratic impetus of
disaffection’ (Giddens, 1972:205).
All of which
would suggest that what Berger is actually talking about is the way in
which power imbalances are maintained.
The power of
one group or groups to intentionally sustain a system of inequality
swayed in their favour.
Russell defines power this way when he says that power is the
‘production of intended effects’ (in Jeffs & Smith, 1990:5), the
more intended effects you can create, the more powerful you are. Franklin
& Franklin describe power not as ‘an attribute of individuals but
an expression of a relationship between them’ (in Jeffs & Smith,
1990:5) and claim that everyone has some power in some situations.
slightly different to Marx’s theories around power in so far as he saw
it as being held exclusively by dominant groups, i.e. the ruling
classes, and is more reminiscent of Foucault
who suggests that ‘people do not ‘have’ power implicitly; rather
power is a technique or action which individuals can engage in. Power
is not possessed; it is exercised’ (www.theory.org.uk/ctr-fou1.htm,
2002:1). In this way it can
be understood as a ‘relatively fluid entity that is open to change and
influence’ (Thompson, 1998:50) which requires the understanding and
analysis of individual instances as opposed to a more general theory.
In my first
year at university we were taught that power was held by oppressors and
that oppressed people had no power.
Therefore only white people could be racist because black people
had no power. But what I remember clearly from my early university years is
that one group of black students within our year group held a
considerable amount of power in the classroom situation, whether or not
they realised this and that I found those early terms an incredibly
oppressive experience. This
was probably the result of what Foucault saw as the conflict inherent in
all power relationships, conflict which he saw as both constraining and
enabling. For if the exercise of power can be seen as dominance, then
‘such dominance can be challenged through acts of resistance, through
the use of countervailing power’ (Thompson, 1998:54).
As Foucault saw power existing in every day human interactions
then it would follow that opportunities to challenge dominating
practices also exist every day.
like Foucault’s ‘ideographic’ approach to understanding power and
social structure as I find the Berger quotation a little absolutist.
Taken literally Berger would appear to be suggesting that we are
solely the product of our socialisation which would leave us unable to
think independently and there are some who would describe this as the
product and intent of hegemonic principles.
In fact some would go so far as to suggest that any opposition to
hegemonic principles are not truly opposing ‘only illusory; (as) it
still takes place within the framework of what is allowed by the
dominant culture’ (Berger, A, 1995:64).
Legislative practices that on one hand appear to assuage the
demands of oppressed groups but do not actually go as far as is
necessary in enforcing them would be one example that would appear to
support this. We have had
laws concerning sexism in employment and the right to equal pay for
equal work for many years now and yet only recently has the debate taken
place concerning the right of women to find out what their male
counterparts are actually being paid.
But if Berger
and others are right and if hegemony is so powerful, insidious and
pervasive, how do we know this. If every thought, action, feeling, emotion and value is
determined by the hegemony with which we live, what possible scope for
change and understanding of difference is there.
Why was it that as the eldest of four children living with a
father who was openly racist and bigoted, did I not grow to adulthood
reiterating and repeating these views as my brothers and sister did? Why
don’t I fit this sociological pattern of learned behaviour?
I believe the answer lies in the fact that in order to
theorise about they way we live our lives it has been seen as necessary
to confine people to various categories, to put them into groups and
label them as this or that and then expect them to behave in similar
raises this issue in relation to the concept of ‘women’ and
‘gender’ and asks ‘is the construction of the category of women as
a coherent and stable subject an unwitting regulation and reification of
gender relations?’ In
other words are feminist theories concerning gender just as confining
and exclusionary as the patriarchal culture they hope to abandon?
In seeking to confine people to specific groupings, are we in
danger of repeating the oppressive practice of objectification whereby
people are seen as objects instead of self determining human beings.
about ‘the oppressed’ as one homogenous group and confines his
argument to that of class, missing the reality of multiple oppressions
and ignoring issues around race and gender.
In fact in reading his work I found his insistence on referring
exclusively to men incredibly distracting from the importance of his
ideas. Something Sandra Tan
picks up in her review of his work.
‘Freire’s discourse of oppression serves as a poignant
reminder of the normalising effects of dominant ideology on the
socio-cultural practices and thinking of a given time’ (Tan, 2002:3).
appears to be a lack of understanding concerning the different
experiences of people within oppressed groups and fluctuations in power.
My experience as single parent who owns her own home, has a car
and a career, is very different to that of a single mum living on
benefit in council housing. As
a woman in my work, I am actually in an incredibly powerful position in
that I created the project that I manage although I have also faced
discrimination in working with outside agencies and individuals who have
insisted on talking to my deputy (male) at meetings instead of talking
to me. As a fat person, I
have a lot in common with other fat people in terms of the
discrimination they face on a daily basis and I feel powerless, ungainly
and unnatural when attending the gym and yet I do not see being fat as
the major description of who I am.
But in being a fat woman, I am subjected to oppression on two
levels, that of being fat and that of being a woman.
In the same way that being a black woman raises issues of both
race and gender, it is necessary to see the two forms of oppression as
intrinsic to that persons experience as only by ‘making such links
(can) a true understanding of how oppression structures an individuals
life be obtained’ (Dalrymple & Burke, 2000:17).
therefore exercise power whilst being in turn controlled by power at
different times and in different situations.
I am therefore capable behaving oppressively at the same time as
being oppressed. I would
argue that this is the case for the majority of people.
Black men can
oppress women, black women can oppress disabled women, middle class men
can oppress working class men who could in turn oppress gay men etc.
There therefore exists within each of us the possibility and
reality of being both oppressor and oppressed.
therefore exist under the exclusive domain of one particular group. If socialisation is a process that deliberately sustains
inequalities and oppressive practices, then we are all capable of using
it when it suits our own intentionality.
individuals do not exist in isolation and society is built on an alleged
system of co-operation, in other words we need other people to behave in
a predictable manner for most of the time.
But it is in the nature of that behaviour that communities are
either built or destroyed, are experienced as either cohesive or
divisive and within which intentionalities are often created.
Our role as community educators is to enable people to develop a
sense of community in which the intentionality is based on mutual
respect and understanding and not on socially constructed discourse.
In other words education based on the principles of
Burke say that ‘anti-discriminatory practice – means recognising
power imbalances and working towards the promotion of change to redress
the balance of power’ (Dalrympole & Burke, 2000:15).
They propose that we should actively work towards change because
if we don’t then we may simply perpetuate the inequalities inherent in
agrees, ‘there is no middle ground; intervention either adds to
oppression (or at least condones it) or goes some small way towards
easing or breaking such oppression’ (Thompson, 2001:11).
It is with
considerable discomfort that I have come to realise that my day to day
practice is more an intervention that condones oppression than one which
Part of my
role and that of the staff for whom I am responsible, is to enable young
people to develop independent living skills including budgeting.
We work with them on developing skills and techniques that help
them manage on low wages and insufficient benefits week after week.
And whilst this is important we, as workers, do not question nor
do we encourage young people to question the inequalities inherent in a
benefit system that says that because they are under 25, they are
entitled to less money than those over 25.
We only teach them that this is the way of the world and enable
them to live with it. Freire
says that ‘one of the gravest obstacles to the achievement of
liberation is that oppressive reality absorbs those within it and
thereby acts to submerge human beings consciousness’ (Freire,
1993:33), we are currently aiding this process which is something
I intend to change.
proposes that instead of teaching young people to cope with the
inequalities inherent in their lives we should instead ‘help them to
develop a more critical perspective on their situation and to have some
sense of alternative possibilities in their lives’ (Smith, 1994:65).
Something Freire would agree with as he proposes the abandonment
of ‘banking’ education, which simply sees students as empty vessels
waiting to be filled with knowledge, in favour of ‘problem-posing’
education which encourages people to critically examine the world so
they may ‘perceive the reality of oppression, not as a closed world
from which there is no exit, but as a limiting situation which they can
transform’ (Freire, 1993:31).
In this way community education is about encouraging people
to question the reality of their every day lives, to breakdown the
‘taken for grantedness’, the assumptions, the values and the
stereotypes not only of who other people are but of who we are, in such
a way that it challenges the reality of both oppressed and oppressors. If
we can do this and encourage people to see that ‘different than’
doesn’t mean ‘less than’ then we may truly be able to promote a
participatory social justice that has principles of inclusion and
empowerment at its heart.
this we must be capable of questioning and challenging our own socially
constructed versions of reality not only remembering the need to be ever
vigilant of our own socialisation, the prejudices and the misconceptions
that we bring with us to our work but also those inherent in the social
and political structures that surround us.
Thompson says of this ‘anti-discriminatory practice is an
attempt to eradicate discrimination and oppression from our own practice
and challenge them in the practice of others and institutional
structures in which we operate’ (Thompson, 2001:34). Being able to identify and challenge the ideologies that
support and perpetuate oppression together with active reflection on,
and evaluation of, practice are key components in the process of
addressing and ending oppression.
definition of community education of which I am particularly fond is
that it is ‘facilitated learning from each other’.
As such it
echoes more of Freire’s work on the use of education as a tool of
liberation whereby students and teachers learn from each other in such a
way that ‘students – no longer docile listeners – are now critical
co-investigators in dialogue with the teacher’ (Freire, 1993:62).
In this way education is a shared journey of discovery
whereby individuals are both student and teacher.
we applied the same principle to groups, where communities were able to
learn from each other in an egalitarian atmosphere of mutual
understanding and respect, where difference and diversity were accepted
and valued, then together we could create a world of cohesive
coexistence where oppression and discrimination were the exception
rather than the rule.
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