Criticaleducational theorists view school knowledge as historically and socially rootedand interest bound. Knowledge acquired in school or anywhere, for that matteris never neutral or objective but is ordered and structured in particular ways.It’s emphasis and exclusions partake of silent logic. Knowledge is a social constructiondeeply rooted in a nexus of power relations. When critical theorists claim thatknowledge is socially constructed, they mean that it is the product ofagreement or consent between the individuals who live out particular juncturesin time. To claim that knowledge is socially constructed usually means that theworld we live in is constructed symbolically by the mind through social interactionwith others and is heavily dependent on culture, context, custom and historicalspecificity.
And this particularreferential field will influence how symbols generate meaning. There is no puresubjective insight. We do not stand before the social world; we live inthe midst of it. As we seek meaning ofevents we seek the meanings of the social. We can now raise certain questionswith respect to the social construction of knowledge, such as: why do women, dalitsand minorities often view social issues differently than upper caste males?CriticalPedagogy asks how and why knowledge gets constructed the way it does and howand why some constructions of reality are legitimated and celebrated by the dominantculture while others clearly are not.
Critical pedagogy asks how our everyday commonsenseunderstandings our social constructions or ‘subjectivities’ get produced andlived out. Let’sput this in the form of further questions: What is relationship between socialclass and knowledge taught in school? Why do we value scientific knowledge overinformal knowledge? Why do we have teachers using ‘Standard English’ or in otherwords academic English? How does school knowledge reinforce stereotypes about women,dalits, adivasi’s, minorities and disadvantaged peoples? What accounts for someknowledge having high status while the practical knowledge of ordinary people ormarginalized or subjucated groups is often discredited and disvalued? Why do welearn about the great ‘men’ in history and spend less time learning about the contributionsof women and dalits and the struggles of people in lower caste castes andclasses? How and why are certain types of knowledge used to reinforce dominantideologies, which in turn serve to mask unjust power relations among certain groupsin society? Hegemony Thedominant culture is able to exercise domination over subordinate classes or groupsthrough a process known as hegemony. Hegemony refers to the maintainance of a dominationnot by the sheer exercise of force but primarily through consensual socialpractices , social forms, and social; structures produced in specific sitessuch as the schools, family, media, political system.
Social forms refer to theprincipls that provide and give legitimacy to specific social practices. Forexample, the state legislature is one social form that gives legitimacy to thesocial practice of teaching. Hegemonyis struggle in which the powerfull win the consent of those who are oppressed,with the oppressed unknowingly participating in their own oppression. Hegemonyrefers to the moral and intellectual leadership of a dominant class over a subordinateclass achieved not through coercion or willful construction of rules andregulations, but rather through general winning of consent of the subordinatecaste, class to the authority of the dominant caste class.
IdeologyHegemonycould not do its work without the support of ideology. Ideologypermeates all of social life and does not simply refer to the political ideologiesof socialism, liberalism, communism, ambedkarism, rationalism. Ideology refersto the production and representation of ideas , values and beliefs and themanner in which they are expressed and lived out by both individual and groups.
(Giroux, 1983)Simplyput, ideology refers to the production of sense and meaning. It can bedescribed as a way of viewing the world, a complex of ideas, various types of socialpractices, rituals and representations that we tend to accept as a natural andcommon sense. It is the result of the intersection of meaning and power in thesocial world.
Ideology include both positive and negative functions at anygiven moment. To understand the negative function of ideology, the concept mustbe linked to a theory of domination. Domination occurs when relations of powerestablished at the institution level are systematically asymetrical; that is,when they are unequal, therefore privileging some groups over others. Accordingto John Thompson, ideology as a negative function works through four differentmodes: legitimation, dissimulation, fragmentation and reification.
Legitimationoccurs when a system of a domination is sustained by being represented aslegitimate or as eminently just or worthy of respect. For example by legitimizingschool system and its curriculum as a just and meritocratic, as giving everyonethe same opportunity of success, the dominant culture hides the truth of thehidden curriculum. The fact that those whom schooling helps most are those whocome from the most affluent families. Dissimulation results when relations of dominationare concealed, denied or obscured in many ways. For instance, the practice ofinstitutionalized tracking in school purports to help better meet the needs ofgroups of students with varying academic ability. However describing trackingin this way helps to cloack its socially reproductive function:that of sortingstudents according to their social locations.
Fragmentation occurs when relationsof domination are sustained by the production of meanings in a way whichfragments groups so that they are placed in opposition tone another. Reificationoccurs when transitory historical states of affairs are presented aspermananet, natural and commonsensical as if they exist outside of time. (Thompson, 1987)Thishas occurred to a certain extent with the current call for a nationalcurriculum based on acquiring information about the ‘great books’ so as to havea greater access to the dominant culture. These works are revered as highstatus knowledge since purportedly the force of history has heralded them assuch and placed them on book lists in respected cultural institutions such asuniversities. Here literacy becomes a weapon that can be used against those groupswho are ‘culturally illiterate’, whose social class, caste gender renders theirown experiences and stories as too unimportant to be worthy of investigation.
That is a pedagogical tool, a stress o the great books often deflects attentionaway from the personal experiences of students and the political nature ofeveryday life. Thedominant curriculum separates knowledge from issue of power and treats it in anunabashedly technical manner; knowledge is seen in overwhelmingly instrumentalterms as something to be mastered. That knowledge is always an ideological constructionlinked to particular interests and social relations generally receives little considerationin education programs.
Thework of French philosopher Michel Focault is crucial in understanding the sociallyconstructed nature of truth and its inscription in knowledge/power relations. Focault’sconcept of ‘power/knowledge’ extends the notion of power beyond its conventionaluse by philosophers and social theorists who, like Americal John Dewey, haveunderstood power as ‘the sun of conditions available for bringing the desirableend into existence.’ (Dewey, 1939)DiscoursePowerrelations are inscribed in what Focault refers to as discourse or a family of concepts.Discourses are made up of discursive practices that he described as,Abody of anonymous, historical rules, always determinedin the time and space that have defined agivenperiod , and for a given social, economic,geographical,or linguistic area, the conditions ofoperationof the enunciative function. (Foucalt, 1972)Discursivepractices, then refer to the rules by which discourses are formed, rules that governwhat can be said and what must remain unsaid, who can speak with authority andwho must listen.
For education discourse can be defined as a ‘regulated system ofstatements’ that establish differences between fields and theories of teachereducation and curriculum. It is not simply words but es embodied in the practiceof institutions, patterns of behavior, in curriculum and in forms of pedagogy.’Fromthis perspective, we can consider dominant discourses as ‘regimes of truth’, asa general economies of power/knowledge, or as multiple forms of constraint. Ina classroom setting, dominant educational discourses determine what books wemay use, what classroom approaches we should employ, and what values and beliefswe should transmit to our students. This follows the discussion that knowledgeis socially constructed. And how through the formation of the curriculum the sociallyconstructed knowledge helps the dominant groups in the society.