Remembering Paulo Freire

Image: Wendy Wei


Men become aware and free themselves by investigating themselves

“In societies whose structural dynamics lead to the domination of consciences, the “dominant pedagogy is the pedagogy of the dominant classes”. The methods of oppression cannot, contradictorily, serve the liberation of the oppressed. In these societies, governed by the interests of dominant groups, classes and nationalities, “education as a practice of freedom” necessarily postulates a “pedagogy of the oppressed” (Ernani Maria Fiore [1])

“Dialética y Libertad” is the title of a “working document” that I wrote in 1967, when I participated as a “young apprentice” in a research – alongside Maria Edy Chonchol and Marcela Gajardo – led by Paulo Freire, on “the universe theme of Chilean peasants”, held at the Institute for Research and Training in Agrarian Reform (ICIRA/FAO), based in Santiago de Chile. This research was carried out at the same time that Paulo Freire wrote his classic work, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1967-1968) that he used to discuss – almost daily – with his research team and with other colleagues from ICIRA itself.

In 1973, this small introductory text to our research, which was commissioned by Paulo Freire himself, was included in a book published in Bilbao, Spain, alongside two articles by P. Freire and EM Fiori. My text was originally written in Spanish, but as I reread it now, after 54 years, I decided to translate only a portion and freely republish it, not for its intrinsic value, but as a document of an era that can be useful to scholars of Paulo Freire's education and life, and as a way of remembering and honoring Paulo, who was for me an unforgettable teacher, a humanist, and a lifelong friend, despite the geographical distances and despite our generational difference. The years have hardened my ideas and my hopes, but I will never be able to forget Paulo's perennial optimism, and a lesson he taught me when we first met: “never be afraid of your own ideas, even when they change over time”.

Dialectic and freedom

No human action can be understood outside the historical context of its social and cultural relations, and its structural determinations; relations of men with the world, and of men with other men, throughout the world. Therefore, human action is always interaction, communication and transformation. It does not exist without a subject that intends it, and without an object that is “intentioned”. It is “praxis” and, as such, it has a “finalist” dimension that is defined and guided by values ​​that are dynamically interconnected, and that constitute the essential content of all action.

Despite its immense complexity, it is possible to speak and classify human actions into at least two major types, according to the hierarchical position of the actor: “massifying or dominating actions” and “awareness-raising or liberating actions”. In the former, man is the object of man himself, occupying the place of “instrumental mediator” between man and the world. In the others, men are constituted and constructed dialogically as subjects of an “object world”. In one case, the contents and purposes are imposed by one man on another, and by one group on another. In the second case, the contents and purposes of the action are sought and carried out jointly by the two “poles” involved in each and every relationship or concrete situation.

The original inspiration of this research on “peasant consciousness”, and of this broader project of pedagogical action proposed by Paulo Freire, is born from the recognition of this fundamental dichotomy, but not from a passive recognition – on the contrary, from a clear and defined option for the oppressed . A transformative pedagogical action project that starts with investigating the changing reality of the people involved and then returns to these people, thematizing and problematizing their most crucial problems and challenges. Therefore, in this pedagogical conception, investigation, thematization and problematization succeed each other and are dialectically articulated as a moment of the same process of analysis, synthesis and overcoming. A cultural action that starts, therefore, from a dialogical pedagogy that begins in the very investigation of the “thematic universe” of the people.

Then it continues with the thematization of this universe to return to the people in the form of problematic contents. This process is continually restarted and refounded, as the people overcome their experiences in the world, reflecting on them and integrating them into an ever more comprehensive and critical vision, and into an increasingly broad and inclusive transforming action. Reflection and praxis, therefore, appear in this pedagogy as poles that are involved and mutually imply a continuous overcoming.

From this point of view, education is not something that is thought and structured in a world empty of metaphysical meditations. It is an action and an intervention that cannot take place outside the concrete relationships of men throughout their world. And in this sense, the pedagogical action cannot escape the dichotomy proposed at the beginning of this text. Pedagogy is situated in the world of human actions and relationships, and, in these terms, it is either massifying or liberating, and it cannot be both at the same time.

By postulating an education that is born from the people and defines its contents and purposes with the people, Paulo Freire defends a pedagogy “of the people”, and not “for the people”. “A pedagogy in which the oppressed are able to reflexively discover and conquer themselves, as the subject of their own historical destiny.”1 A pedagogy that, by investigating and thematizing the world together with the people, makes the world of the people a “continuous retake of reflective of their own paths of liberation”.2 Ultimately, a pedagogy that raises awareness, assumes and defines itself fully as a “demassifying” and liberating action, and as a research that proposes to be dialectical and political, to the extent in which he places liberation as an ethical objective and a permanent quest.

The basic proposal of Paulo Freire's research is to carry out an investigation that is pedagogical, and a pedagogy that is at the same time investigative. The educational process, according to Freire, involves investigation and transcends it at the same time, but insofar as investigation is part of the educational process, it must also be conceived and thought dialectically. For this very reason, research never tries to enclose reality in a limited space of time; on the contrary, he seeks to adapt his method and techniques to the dynamic movement of reality itself. Proposing the objective of historically capturing a society that is in permanent movement, it engages with the very movement of this society, contrary to traditional anthropology and the classical methodology of empirical sociology.

Without ever accepting the “objectification” of men and their world, by proposing the need to make the people themselves “pseudo-investigated”, the true subject is an investigator of their world and their way of thinking about this world. The investigation, by capturing and objectifying together with the community its own situations and strategic existential challenges, allows the community itself to objectify and criticize its own situation in this world through dialogue and the exercise of critical reflection.

First, certain existential situations are codified, which are then projected and discussed in the “research circles”. Afterwards, it is the very thinking of the people exposed through the dialogues that is recoded in the form of “recurring themes” and crucial that are re-presented and proposed for discussion by the group in new and successive “culture circles”. And it is in this way, through existential encodings and dialogical decodings, that the investigation advances, seeking to dynamically insert itself into the community and historical reality of the group. In this way, the “research circles” and the “culture circles” follow each other continuously, constituting the method by which research and pedagogical activity advance together, coding, decoding and recoding the life of the community and the community. “external” world, together with the researchers.

In this way, the distinctions between the two types of “circles”, imposed by the very chronology of the investigative and educational process, progressively disappear, transforming the research and culture circles into a single reality, into a single “circle”, in which research and education take place at the same time and in the same place.

The participants of the “investigation circles”, on the other hand, when discussing their existential situations, begin to distance themselves and criticize their own thinking and their vision of their own world, which is being objectified and questioned in its way of being prior to the beginning of the investigative-educational process. Thus, the participants, together, end up objectifying their own previous way of expressing their world, assuming a new awareness of themselves and the world around them, without seeing or being able to say what they were actually living. In this way, the community assumes itself as an investigator of itself, and this new attitude develops more and more in the “circles of culture”, where the critical community reflexively overcomes its own immediate conditions, enabling itself to transform together your real world.

Paulo Freire would say that the community emerges from its “naive conscience”, assuming more and more the proper posture of a “critical conscience”. This would be a reproduction, on a smaller scale, of the universal process of the dialectical constitution of consciousness itself, as a historical consciousness moved by the existential and historical drive of freedom. Therefore, the investigation activity must already be – in itself – interactive and transforming, making the “investigated” men subjects of their own overcoming and realization. And that is why it can be said or proposed that men become aware and free themselves by investigating themselves.

From this point of view, the role of the “professional” investigator ends at a given moment, but the investigation continues towards the future, in the hands of the investigated community itself, and of the pedagogues who will follow along with the community, researching and educating themselves while transforming themselves. the world. And it is in this sense that it can be said that “thematic research” becomes a permanent practice of freedom. That is, the investigation and education process prepares men for successive decision-making. But there is a previous decision that inspires all the research and that is present in all the stages of this process that we try to describe: the option and the decision of permanent development of the critical conscience and liberation of the oppressed men.[2]

* Jose Luis Fiori Professor at the Graduate Program in International Political Economy at UFRJ. Author, among other books, of Global power and the new geopolitics of nations(Boitempo).


[1] FIORI, Ernani Maria. “Learning to say your word”. In: Freire, P.; Fiori EM and Fiori JL Liberating Education. Bilbao: Zero SA, 1973, p. 9.

[1] FIORI, José Luís. “Dialectics and Freedom”. In: Freire, P.; Fiori EM and Fiori JL Liberating Education. Bilbao: Zero SA, 1973.


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