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A sociology of law Review of Pedagogy of the Oppressed 

  • Dec 01, 2022

A sociology of law Review of Pedagogy of the Oppressed 
By Paulo Freire, Herder and Herder,1970 

An introduction to sociology of law through understanding how to transform lived experiences into knowledge-making. The lawyer, thus should go through a multitudinous understanding of experiences – while staying relevant to the various intersectional positions within society. 


Freire calls out the human vocation as an ontological vocation as a subject who transforms his world by acting upon and thereby transforming his world which transits the life of the human subject into a fully independent life, also collectivising it. The book shapes an understanding of every human being fully capable of looking or perceiving the world critically, thereby taking part in a dialogical process as Freire would state it. He was an educator, who taught how to transform one’s own lived experience into knowledge by teaching reading and writing skills to the illiterate workers in Brazil and was jailed for it. His writings are critical in linking the culture of silence to the politics of culture and having a critical democracy. The book is divided into four parts bearing epistemological relationships between each other. A class analysis can be culled out looking at the way the book has been divided into four parts namely very briefly: oppression and the oppressor, banking concept of education and education as a tool for liberation, dialogics and the essence of education as freedom and lastly, the theory of dialogical and antidialogical analysis. However, Freire’s work has been significantly omitted from certain educational curriculums, an act of variable omissions. 

What the reader encounters in the first chapter of the book is the human vocation of thwarting injustice, exploitation, discrimination, and oppression. The struggle of humanization is for the emancipation of labour, whereby dehumanization becomes a historical fact. He further states that an unjust social order exists on multiplicity of death, despair and poverty. It’s thus the oppressed who understand the necessity of liberation. Here, Freire points out that the very structure of the oppressed person’s thoughts is structured into the concrete of the oppressor themselves. This phenomenon is called “adhesion” to the oppressor from the oppressed. Even revolution has to confront this relationship which is formed between the oppressed and the oppressor. The oppressed adopt the structure of domination in which they themselves are immersed and this entails that for freedom, there needs to be a critical consciousness at the oppressed individuals disposal. This duality within the oppressed is what then becomes alienation between being a spectator or the used to being an actor / active agent of oppression itself. 

Further, a change in objective reality of the situation confronts the oppressed wherein reality becomes fictitious and opaque while the oppression continues, more pronounced from when it formally began. The contradiction widens when one class of oppressors join the oppressed class. This chasm, nourished by the oppressors themselves is enabled by the unjust order, societal and otherwise. In their alienation, Freire opines that the oppressed want to imitate and to act as the oppressors themselves. 

The second chapter takes us through the educational apparatus that the unjust social order follows from time to time. Education, here, becomes banked. The student becomes a subject wherein information is punched in and out as an input, and the knowledge is then supposed to be stored within the student’s mind. There is a narrative sickness, in Freire’s understanding – a system where the teacher parrots the teachings, and the student merely repeats it. Exposing how the punching of information inputs happen within this unjust order, the student merely fills the blank spaces left out by the teachers. They are containers or receptacles to be filled. And they merely fill in the information, as is “deposited” to them. The oppressive society banks on the ideation that the teacher knows everything and the student knows nothing. This approach of education will never encourage students to approach reality through a critical lens. The “blank-clerk” teachers fail to realize that they serve to dehumanize the students rather than humanize them. Humanization would occur with criticality and awareness. He further states that only through communication does human life hold any meaning. Thinking that is concerned about reality, therefore does not happen in isolation but as he states, happens through communication. 
Education here becomes an exercise of domination and control. Here he talks about a Liberatory education which looks at reality through critical acts of cognition and not in transferable data of information. The contradiction between the teacher-student needs to resolve itself for any liberatory education to take root. Dialogical relationships are impossible between a teacher-student without communication about how, where when and why questions of any situational reality that is been discussed during the lessons inside and outside the classroom. The point of departure thus lies with the people themselves. It can only begin to move with the change in perception. 

In the next chapter, Freire points out that the human existence cannot be a silent spectator of falsity but only truth is the ultimate thing that can prevail. To say the truth, for him, is the praxis. The encounter between people, which is mediated by society and the world, is dialogue for him. It is an encounter of transition and transformation. It is, according to him, an act of creation. It should not be a tool for domination or discrimination. It has to exist with empathy and humility. These the values that hold true for him in an just social spatially ordered world. If it is founded on humility and faith, it becomes an horizontal relationship in the society. The dominant narrative uses its politics to make the oppressed more submerged and passive in their subjectivities. The task here for the humanist is to make the oppressed realize the dualism that is subjected on them, also by themselves. 

Freire concludes in the following chapter stating that any liberatory action is dialogical in nature and nurture. What happens in anti-dialogical action is the desire of the oppressor to make a conquest. In other words, oppressive reality is always anti-dialogical. For Freire, salvation thus, can be reached only when in tandem with others. In order to transform the world, people meet in dialogical action constituting an idea of cooperation and faith between each other. People’s view of the world, many a times is miscalculated by revolutionary leaders. Dialogue is the way to navigate realities, multiple and collateral. At any given historical moment, the solution lies in the synthesis – looking at the question, and also posing the question back on themselves. 

Freire notes that till the time the oppressor internalizes and imitates the oppressor, they cannot construct a theory of liberatory action. It can only be built in communication and in praxis. 

This particular piece is an example of how the work of a socio-legal thinker can be juxtaposed into understanding the various established institutions and how dialogical action can be an legal exercise in the making. Law students can acquire a dialogical – action taking attitude towards intersectional perspectives and explore the social fabric of how order is maintained in society. Doing a sociology of legal education would thus require an understanding of the caste-class-gendered sensibilities – of both the lawyer and the aggrieved person/community. The notions of doing the sociology of how lawyers interact with the community at large still comes from an understanding of being seen as “experts” or “professionals” – thus social location is largely not seen as an important parameter of doing law.