Choosing Hope Isn’t Always Easy

Carol A. Hand

There are days when revisiting old stories gathered during my research on Ojibwe child welfare makes me feel like I’m descending into a dystopian world. Sometimes the feeling is intensified when I look out of my front window in winter.


Photo: The View from My Window – January 17, 2016

I once again feel the weight of hopelessness that I felt when I first listened to stories about loss and suffering, and stories about the hopelessness of those hired as healers and helpers. I could walk away from that world, although the next worlds I encountered were not necessarily an improvement. Still, I had the option to leave while they remained.
Now I have the time to revisit those memories recorded in old fieldnotes and look for insights and solutions that I’m certain I missed. I struggle with how to explain the context that gives these stories meaning and significance. Take the issue of substance abuse. There are ingrained stereotypes about “drunken Indians” that are used as an excuse for continued colonial oppression. Here’s an excerpt from an earlier post that presents a more thoughtful analysis.


Many theories have been formulated to explain child abuse and neglect within what is now the United States. Recently, an eleven-year-old Ojibwe youth won an award for an essay he wrote to explain his perspective as a foster child. (Please refer to Endnote 1 for more information about the request to include this work in my writing.) In his attempt to make sense of his experiences, this young man’s essay expresses both his vision of the future and his theory of causality for child maltreatment.


[My community] would be a better place if there was not so much beer and bars. People will have better jobs, more better houses and people will have longer marriages, more food and cars. Kids will be happy and will’nt get into fights and do drugs. Kids will have friends that are nice, that don’t do drugs. Kids will have a nice dog to play with, and parents that be home early, and who take their kids to eat somewhere instead of going out and drinking up their money on drugs and beers. Moms and Dads will be up early instead of being hung over and waking up late in the afternoon. Kids will have a curfew at night and their parents will be there not out drinking and getting high somewhere and coming home about 3:00 in the morning. Kids will have a bike of their own, instead of stealing them of using their friends. The moms won’t need to find a babysitter because she will [be] home, not out using drugs or at a bar. Kids would have fun birthdays, and kids will get to have sleepovers because their mom will be home, not at the bar drinking and coming home late to get into fights with their dads. The parents will’nt be divorced because of BEER. AND IF THERE WAS NOT NO BEER, MOMS AND DADS WILL HAVE A HAPPY FAMILY.

This is a powerful essay on many levels. It is a plea from a youngster for parents who will be there to meet his needs. Like many youngsters, he wants a dog, a bike, and parents who don’t fight. Also like many youngsters, he sees the disruptive power of substance abuse and addiction. His theory echoes that held by many youngsters and adults, both in the general population and within minority cultures and communities. It also mirrors the assumptions in much of the child welfare legislation and those held by many health and human service professionals. This thoughtful Ojibwe youth defines the root problem of child maltreatment as an individual choice made by parents, particularly mothers (to drink or use drugs). His solution is to remove the temptation. The pervasive historical, political, and economic contributors to substance abuse, child maltreatment, and family violence remain hidden from sight. This paper explores theories that attempt to explicate the ways in which colonial domination, forced assimilation, and cultural hegemony have, over the course of five centuries, led to the perpetuation and acceptance of individual deficit explanations for child maltreatment by the very Native American communities who have inherited the social, economic, and politico-structural consequences of this oppressive legacy…

1. The young man’s grandmother and foster parent asked me to include this essay in my work. Although the youth concurred, I have included it with some ambivalence. My analysis of the essay is not what they would have anticipated, yet I am hopeful that my treatment of this thoughtful perspective is both respectful and illuminating. While the name of the author and the name of the community have been omitted to protect confidentiality, the original text is otherwise unedited. (Hand, 1999/2015)


My role as a researcher in the community was to simply ask questions without challenging the reality of those who shared their responses. Sometimes that was difficult. Take for example the present interview I’m editing in the context of recent events in the community. (Please note that all names have been changed to protect identity, and all place names have been removed.)


Research Field Notes Thursday, November 8, 2001

It was a cloudy morning. It had rained during the night, and it was gray and chilly. I was still in pain and tired from my troubled sleep, but I really felt that I needed to keep my appointments, so I took another Tylenol and got ready for the day. I left early (8:40 a.m.) this morning for a scheduled interview with Karen Daley, the alcohol and drug treatment coordinator for the tribe. I was a few minutes early and waited patiently while she took care of some paper work. As I was waiting, I overheard a discussion about a death in the community last night – tribal programs would be closed on Friday as a result. When Karen was ready, she came and led me to her office.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with me, Karen. Can you tell me about child and family welfare issues from your perspective?”

Karen replied. “Dealing with drug and alcohol addiction is the beginning – we need to deal with them first. The substance is still controlling people. They will give up their families before their jobs – jobs provide the income they need to buy substances. Their job is the last thing to go, when they can’t make it.

“Suicide is linked to substance abuse. When sober, people may think about it, but don’t do it until they are high.

“Here, kids – teens – are supposed to be men. Their parents are getting drunk on binges for days, and they are locked out of the home for three days. Who’s monitoring them? Kids can’t control their environment. They don’t want to be pulled out of their homes. They take care of the family – they feel responsible for helping their parents with their substance abuse problems. Kids feel responsible for “keeping the secret” that everyone else knows about the abuse.

“A community member, 50 years old, died last night. One of her daughters held a funeral ceremony yesterday.

“An ICWA [Indian Child Welfare Act] client was in court yesterday trying to get her kids back. It would be great for the mom to get her kids back – she is doing well. I hope the court can make the right decision.

It seemed important to know more about Karen’s background, so I asked her when she began working for the tribe.

“I started part time in 99. Case managing is a big part of the job. I put in six billable hours per day in case management. The clients I see have a problem that is identified by social services, by court orders for operating a vehicle while intoxicated, or schools. Only one client is a self-referral. I was working with ICW trying to place kids when there was no ICWA worker. A list of Native American foster homes in the state would be helpful, and even in the surrounding states. Now we have to call every county, every tribe, trying to plug kids in the right place.

“In patient treatment for kids is easy. We send kids to a tribal treatment center in South Dakota. The regional IHS [Indian Health Service] staff has been very helpful. Now, we send adults to a tribal treatment center in the state – moms can bring up to three of their children and can stay with them. Women don’t have to go to treatment or leave early because of kids. The tribal treatment center helps arrange school and has on-site nurses. It is arranged like a college campus. Singles are separated from moms, and they receive treatment in the on-site out-patient center. They provide a continuum of care. The centers fax us reports weekly. It is easier to know where to pick up treatment when they come back.

“We are working on a new phone book of clinic and other providers – the environmental building, economic support, social services, domestic violence. It will help us integrate services or do wrap around. We will be better able to help the whole family with all of their needs. So much of the service provided by the system is shame-based. We are interested in finding ways to make people feel good – to succeed. In my last job, I was working on a pilot project with a health care provider in this part of the state.”

Karen shared copies of the assessment and service forms she developed to help identify needs and track follow-up and outcomes. She also shared a number of other materials, some AODA and some general service delivery.

At this point in the interview, I stopped taking notes. Karen began speaking of her own family’s history of substance abuse, as well as her own use in the past. She began talking about her mother’s recent death and her relationship with her siblings. She was very upset, and often in tears as she related the history. It seems that the death of the community member yesterday reawakened memories and the interview provided her with a safe environment to share her pain. I listened and comforted her as best I could.

She also spoke about a gathering she holds at her house, located on the river in a nearby town. She described it as “a Native American-like ceremony for healing.” She is not happy with her home because of a bothersome neighbor and doesn’t seem to want to stay here. She is from the southeastern part of the state and misses it.

She seemed genuinely relieved to have someone safe to talk to, and as we walked out at the end of the interview, she said she would like to get together for dinner some time.

I left feeling ambivalent about the non-Indian professionals who find their way to Native American communities. Sometimes, they are wounded and unhappy and seem to be looking for something to believe in, and people who are even more powerless that they can save.

Perhaps things will change as spring comes. I wonder if there is the possibility for this tribal community to develop a stable political environment and a clear and compelling future vision that brings community factions together to work toward a common purpose – the well-being of future generations. Yet, even this begins to sound like judgmental and empty rhetoric. I wish Karen well and know that her job is challenging.


It continues to trouble me when I encounter professionals who don’t transcend the narrow boundaries of their discipline to understand how their own life experiences affect the types of services they provide or the crucial influence of socio-cultural contexts on clients’ ability to benefit from what they provide. As I revisit this interview, what seems to be missing is an understanding of ecosystems theory, described in an earlier post.


The elegance of Uri Bronfenbrenner’s (1979) approach to human development rests in both its multidimensional complexity and its emphasis on the transactional and reciprocal nature of relations between people and their changing environments. As illustrated in figure 1 below, which somewhat oversimplifies Bronfenbrenner’s model, individuals are “nested” concentrically within a series of environmental relationships.

ecology of human development

Figure 1: The Ecology of Human Development

The “microsystem” includes those immediate aspects of the environment “that are most powerful in shaping the course of psychological growth”: “a pattern of activities, roles, and interpersonal relations experienced by the developing person in a given setting with particular physical and material characteristics” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 22). For infants, the primary microsystem is usually their home setting with primary caregivers, simple activities, and a limited set of roles. Development through childhood and beyond involves an increase in the number and complexity of roles, relations, and activities, as well as the addition of new microsystems, such as daycare, preschool, school, etc., in which a developing person is embedded. As individuals move into additional settings, linkages are created between microsystems, resulting in what Bronfenbrenner (1979, p. 25) refers to as “mesosystems,” or “a system of microsystems.”

While the developing individuals directly participate in both microsystems and mesosystems through their relationships with parents, teachers, and other significant persons, their development is indirectly influenced by systems outside their own experience. Parents, teachers, and other relatives are all embedded in a series of settings (for example, parents’ work, parents’ networks of friends, teachers’ unions, local school boards, etc.) that influence how they relate to the developing individuals. This indirect, external set of influences is labeled the “exosystem” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 25). All of these systems are embedded within the “macrosystem”, defined as “consistencies, in the form and content of lower-order systems (micro-, meso-, and exo-) that exist, or could exist, at the level of the subculture or the culture as a whole, along with any belief systems or ideology underlying such consistencies” (p. 26). Macrosystems are the blueprint, or the overarching cultural paradigm (Fleras & Elliott, 1992), which determines the content, structure, and goals of the lower level systems in which individuals are embedded.

Bronfenbrenner (1979, p. 26) notes that the macrosystems which exert influences on developing individuals “differ for various socioeconomic, ethnic, religious, and other subgroups, reflecting contrasting belief systems and lifestyles, which in turn help to perpetuate the ecological environments specific to each group.” Individuals not only sustain the blueprint, or ‘macrosystem’ in which they are embedded, but are also capable of modifying its content and structure.

Bronfenbrenner does not speak to the relations among macrosystems, nor does he note power differentials between competing “blueprints” which exist among different social classes or ethnic groups within or among nations. Power, in his conception, is located within a macrosystem and manifested in “roles” or “power settings.” At the level of roles, he hypothesizes that: “The greater the degree of power socially sanctioned for a given role, the greater the tendency for the role occupant to exercise and exploit the power and for those in a subordinate position to respond by increased submission, dependency, and lack of initiative” (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, p. 92). (Hand, 1999/2015)


Given the layers of connection that influence people’s beliefs and behaviors, I doubted that Karen’s interventions with individuals would ever successfully address an understandable, although unhealthy, coping mechanism that temporarily numbs pain in a fog of euphoric forgetfulness. The consequences of oppression and losses are palpable here – an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.  Of course, it is easier for professionals to “treat” individuals than it is to “heal” collective historical trauma and effectively resist ongoing colonial oppression that affects every person in the tribal community.

So today, I’ll continue to return to an earlier dystopian time. Even though the view from my window is similar to the one a few days ago, I can remember the view on a summer’s day.


Photo: The View from My Window – Summer 2015

The memory of creating gardens where little grew a few years ago helps me find hope. Transformation is possible – even in the places where we once saw only futility…

Works Cited:

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development: Experiments by nature and design. Cambridge, MS: Harvard University Press.

Fleras, A. & Elliot, J. (1992). The ‘nations within’: aboriginal-state relations in Canada, the United States, and New Zealand. Toronto, Canada: Oxford University Press.


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51 thoughts on “Choosing Hope Isn’t Always Easy

  1. inspiring research & reflections, Carol.
    if only there were wise leaders supported
    by energized community members
    acting together with clear
    visions of well being,
    taking compassionate actions,
    especially forgiveness
    for the benefit of all
    without discrimination.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. “Chasing hope isn’t always easy” After reading your posting, I can see why you chose this title.

    As I read this, I felt completely overwhelmed by first, the child’s essay, and second, the case worker’s own issues. and knowing, in a personal way (as a child), what harm, especially to children, alcoholism and drug addiction can bring. And added to this is the fact that your people (our people) have been brought into this state of substance dependence by foreigners (people like me) who brought this disease, along with many others, with them, over five centuries ago.

    I don’t believe I could handle what you do, even if I were of Ojibwe descent. I couldn’t separate me from the equation long enough to be of any assistance to anyone else. I would be worthless.

    So I thank you, Carol, for being willing to take this great task, this great service, on. And in my own way, I understand why you may have time when hope is hard to find!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I like your title (chasing hope) better than mine (choosing hope), Sojourner 🙂 It’s a much more accurate description of what I sometimes feel…

      But seriously, I’m deeply grateful to you for sharing your thoughts and feelings about the consequences of oppression. One of those consequences for me is the ability to both feel intensely and regain objective distance – like the “catfish and the eagle.” It’s a strength for a teacher or researcher, but terribly dysfunctional when it comes to interpersonal relationships.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I did get the title wrong. A lucky Freudian slip, perhaps?;-)

        “It’s a strength for a teacher or researcher, but terribly dysfunctional when it comes to interpersonal relationships.”

        I think I understand what you mean. It seems we all have gifts that can be of service to others, whether big or small, and yet some of these helpful gifts seem to end up becoming, to some extent, a detriment in our own lives.

        I admire your ability to reason and have some control. By “some control,” I realize no one has complete control of their state of being, all of the time.

        As a child, I seemed to be completely surrounded by dysfunctional adults, including many, beyond my parents, who were alcoholics.

        I know I share little in common with the child who wrote the essay (I had a much easier life as a child), but, in looking back, I could relate to what he had written.

        Life should not be this way for any one of us! And hopefully, someday, this will all become a distant memory, a distant nightmare.

        Thanks, Carol!

        Liked by 2 people

        1. I appreciate the honestly and depth of your thoughtful comments, Sojourner. Like you, I hope that life will someday be different. Yet as I look back at my own life, I wonder who I would have become had I not suffered. There may be truth in Hemingway’s observation – “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” He also adds, though, that life kills the very good and the ones who cannot be broken. As you say, it should not be so …

          Liked by 2 people

  3. Carol:
    I hope I understand what your story and research reveal. That the external societal forces – not to exempt individual responsibility – create a legacy of human failures and suffering. For no other reason it helps reveal parallel similarities expressed by Ta-Nehisi Coates when speaking of African-American reparations. I cannot see how America can prosper, let alone survive without confronting a perpetuated mythic origin. Your ethnography is compelling to read.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Steve. I appreciate the connections you have made to the consequences of systematic oppression for African Americans, and for the soul of a nation that chooses to deny or redress historical atrocities.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is an extremely complicated issue that will not easily be resolved. I understand your distress and the unavoidable feeling at times that the situation is hopeless.

    It very much is an ecological issue resulting from the deliberate ecological destruction of First Nations, and what we are witnessing in effect is the aftermath and consequences of that original and ongoing destruction.

    Seeing things for what they are, through the prism of the intellect and not that of the emotions, these dislocations are really the death agonies of peoples who were once self-reliant, well integrated into their natural environment, and who understood and were able to maintain the multidimensional relations and interactions that kept them alive and gave them their cultural orientation in a meaningful world.

    All of that has been taken from them under conditions of brutal genocidal war, further undermined by the residential schooling system, and as survivors still hounded and marginalized for the crime of having been expropriated, they haven’t yet been able to regain their communal footing, and this on an independent economic foundation that they continue to be denied.

    To my mind, although the experience of it has by now been largely forgotten in the mists of time, the same thing happened to the peasantries of Europe in the times of the great land enclosures, people being pushed off of ancestral plots of land by the millions, utterly expropriated by the rising European bourgeoisies.

    The dislocations experienced by those peasantries, the social and psychological traumas, were very much similar if not quite identical to what you are witnessing, i.e., shattered bonds of community, rampant alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and so on, the repercussions of which are actually still in evidence today.

    Even the educational system created for the working class, which is still in effect today, was largely in my opinion designed to ensure a cleavage between the generations by reducing to a minimum all interactions between parents and children from the earliest ages possible, so as to further reduce the potential for the spontaneous reconstitution of strong bonds of solidarity that could make for a large restive and even revolutionary underclass. The residential schools, such as the ‘Carlisle Indian Industrial School,’ served an analogous function with respect to the First Nations peoples, killing the Indian while saving the man, so to speak.

    So like you, I don’t think a solution to the social problems confronting the communities at hand are going to be resolved by an approach that places the emphasis – by design and as a tactical obfuscation, in my opinion – on the individual and the “misguided” choices he or she makes.
    The troubles have deeper roots, and so the cure, if it materializes, will have to be both radical and systemic.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Just an edit to the next to last paragraph:

      So like you, I don’t think a solution to the social problems confronting the communities at hand is going to be found in an approach that places the emphasis – by design and as a tactical obfuscation, in my opinion – on the individual and the “misguided” choices he or she makes.

      The troubles have deeper roots, and so the cure, if it materializes, will have to be both radical and systemic.

      Liked by 3 people

    2. Such a powerful comparison of the experiences of First Nations and the peasants of Europe, Norman, and the ways in which successive generations have continued to be socialized (indoctrinated) to accept their social positionality. I agree with your conclusion – “The troubles have deeper roots, and so the cure, if it materializes, will have to be both radical and systemic.” I wanted to follow up on my research by working with a tribal community to explore popular theater as a means for raising community awareness about the dimensions of oppression as a foundation for developing a shared vision for change. Maybe someday I’ll have an opportunity …

      Liked by 2 people

      1. I think theater would be an excellent medium through which to help people explore both the reality of what they are living through and the real underlying causes of that reality.

        In other words, the goal of the theatrics should not merely be cathartic, a mere acknowledgement of suffering, as important as that may be, but should drive at making explicit the insight that the manifestations of community breakdown are absolutely not the result of people being irresponsible, but of dysfunctions both inherited from past acts of extreme violence inflicted upon the tribes and perpetuated today by, on the one hand, factors of spontaneous psychological internalization that childhood cannot possibly resist and, on the other hand, a socio-politico context that continues to subordinate and marginalize the community. In this way, dignity and self-respect are re-appropriated, and the mind begins to be set free to attend to the actual business of living, of prioritizing actions according to needs and to what is actually feasible in terms of actions aimed at improving the quality of everyone’s life.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Elegantly described goals, Norman. I actually began developing a proposal with members of one tribal community, but the timing wasn’t right. I had hoped to focus on gathering interviews about the experiences of Ojibwe people of different ages with educational systems, scripting a play and finding tribal members to put on a performance for the whole community. I hoped it would become a foundation for community dialogue that led to the development of a plan to create the system they would like to see in the future.

          Education has been used as a tool of assimilation, shaming generation after generation. Parents and grandparents feel powerless to fight this oppressive system because too many have internalized the message they’re stupid and inferior. Understanding that they are not to blame for what was done to them is a crucial first step.


        2. Hi Carol,

          To my mind, the educational system, such as it is and was, is designed to have most students — and especially those whose socio-economic circumstances are less than favorable — precisely internalize that “they’re stupid and inferior,” and what is perhaps worse, unloved.

          ‘Education’ in our society is, as you suggest, very much a tool of oppression.

          When I read your second paragraph, I couldn’t help it: I was overwhelmed by a profound feeling of sadness that even brought me to tears. I can put it down to outrage and to remembering experiences of my own, as well as to a sharply felt condemnation of the lasting miseries that working class people are made to endure as a result of having been “schooled.”

          Even Chantal, my wife, who has been a teacher for thirty-plus years and is a person truly dedicated to her work and the children, knows and understands this: the context cannot but hurt children more than it helps them, emotionally and intellectually. Of course, it’s not just about how the school setting is in-itself detrimental to the psychological welfare of the child, but also about, and perhaps more importantly so, how children are daily literally both uprooted from their homes, their safest environment, and denied for years upon years, in their most vulnerable years, the crucially nurturing contact that they need from the people who matter most to them. Is it really such a wonder that most people are so fucked up? Humans, especially young children, are not biologically programmed for separation but for attachment.

          I’ve been thinking about this particular issue for a long time and you are motivating me to gather my thoughts and to try to write about this thing we call ‘childhood schooling,’ to say what I think I have to say about it.

          Perhaps over the coming weeks and months the frequent desultory brooding that I engage in over this particular issue can be concocted into a readable meditation.

          It’s late. I should try to get some sleep.

          Take care, Carol. And a hug.


          Liked by 2 people

        3. I appreciate your thoughtful and deeply felt comments about education and look forward to reading your meditations on this issue, Norman.

          My own experiences with education have been mixed. Actually, my elementary school experiences overall made my childhood livable. I was able to escape the unpredictability of my father’s emotional volatility and violence, my mother’s learned helplessness, and my brother’s self-centeredness. I loved the chance to learn and most of my teachers encouraged my curiosity. It was a different time, of course. Without tracking and stigma, we were free to work at our own pace and level. That changed in upper grades, but somehow those early approaches helped me when I taught college and university classes. Intuitively, I worked from a liberatory praxis approach before I discovered Freire’s work – perhaps because it fit with Ojibwe culture or just my personality. It didn’t make me popular with most of my colleagues, though.

          I’m sharing this because I’m not convinced families can educate children on their own in these times. I think it really does take a community that cares about children and supports exploration to create safe learning environments. These are certainly not values in the US now (or in the past) except in rare isolated places or specific classrooms.

          Well, it’s late for me now, too, but I did want to reply as soon as I could. I send my best wishes, Norman, and again, my thanks for such thoughtful dialogue.

          Liked by 2 people

        4. I entirely agree that dysfunctional families cannot meet the needs of their children and that something else must in such cases intervene on the child’s behalf, to provide the child with an environment qualitatively more adequate to his or her needs. The school, as it currently exists, although it is true that it can and does fulfill that requirement somewhat, of being more adequate, it still falls a great distance short of what that child really needs.

          As for Paulo, I am of one mind with his philosophy, if I have understood him correctly, that the biggest failure of education, its largest breach of responsibility, from the standpoint of the oppressed, is to forgo a leading approach aiming to awaken in students an abiding curiosity about their circumstances and the reasons for those circumstances. In other words, teachers have a crucial and morally obligatory role to play in politicizing and radicalizing the minds of the masses. Education must serve the goal of radical emancipation.

          I think that in many respects we are on the same wave length.

          Best to you, too, Carol.

          Liked by 1 person

        5. I always struggle with assigning blame to individuals or families when we’re all caught in a web of oppression, perhaps something else Freire helped me clarify. It’s true we all have choices, but depending on so many factors (education, socio-economics, geography, war, etc.), not all are life-enhancing. Some are merely to survive as best we can. So we’re back to the question of where to begin with social transformation. Education is a key, yet how do we shift the old paradigms of structures and policies, teachers and parents, while vested interests want to protect the status quo?


        6. “. . . yet how do we shift the old paradigms of structures and policies, teachers and parents, while vested interests want to protect the status quo?”

          What will be an unsatisfactory answer, but the only thing I have to offer at the moment:

          Under the impetus of our dialogue, I’m re-reading “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

          It makes a lot more sense to me now than it ever did, simply because I’ve been reading a lot of what Marx has written firsthand (albeit much of it in translation), and an understanding that was not quite there before seems to be both emerging and quickly firming up for all of my efforts.

          The key to change, according to Marxist theory and of which Freire is very much an exponent, is, methodologically speaking, roughly as follows: A) . . . critical reflection ( which results in the piecemeal breaking down of our mental conditioning, beginning with making “real oppression more oppressive still by adding to it the realization of oppression”); having in this way become more acutely aware of one’s oppression, . . .B) . . . one begins to actively explore both the structure of that oppression and ways of dismantling it in a manner that might attenuate it – this is the ‘praxis’ part of the ‘method’ to emancipation, and it may involve nothing more, at least initially, than sharing insights or dialogue with whoever might be interested; inevitably, as the ‘praxis’ is elaborated and solutions are hit upon that are more or less effective and progressive, the ‘praxis’ itself becomes inverted, that is, crystalized in ideological and institutional forms that either become bulwarks to reactionary regressions, depending upon their actual progressive content, or obstacles that will in turn . . .C). . . have to be reworked or dismantled, depending upon their actual reactionary content, which is discovered in a return to ‘critical reflection.’
          It’s not a magic bullet and it’s cumbersome, but our reality, the facts of what we are as individuals and collectives, would seem to dictate that this is the only way forward.

          The movement of the dialectic, then, and to recapitulate, approximates to this: the first moment in the series, the place from which everything must begin, is the fact of cultural reification; the second moment is becoming aware of that reification inside our heads and breaking down at least a portion of what is the unreflective or ossified thinking in our mindset, so as to better grasp our reality; the third moment is undertaking action that we have reasoned will be emancipatory, that is, trying to institute (make a collective habit of) a new set of practices on the basis of the insights achieved in the previous moment; in the next moment, we have the inevitable ‘inversion of praxis,’ that is, the conversion of the previous moment’s ‘conscious activity’ into unreflective (institutionalized) activity that may or may not be conducive to furthering the project of human emancipation. At this point, we go back and do it all over again, to attempt to further dismantle what in institutionalized, indoctrinated cultural practice yet needs to be dismantled to further advance the cause of humanizing ourselves.

          In a nutshell, albeit and admittedly very abstractly stated, that is my sketch of both Marx’s and Freire’s method of revolution or emancipation.

          BTW: If you don’t see any sign of me over the next few days, it’s not that I don’t have you in mind; it’s that I’ll be re-reading Freire and another work by Paresh Chattopadhyay, titled “THE MARXIAN CONCEPT OF CAPITAL AND THE SOVIET EXPERIENCE: Essay in the Critique of Political Economy.”

          I’m very much enjoying Paresh because his manner of reading or interpreting Marx is akin to my own, or so I imagine it to be, and don’t we all like being confirmed in our views, be they delusional or not.

          Best regards,


          Liked by 1 person

        7. An excellent, understandable synopsis of complex works, Norman. I look forward to hearing more about what you’re reading when you emerge again.

          Unlike you, I’ve been slow in responding and unable to read other blogs as much as I’d like because my focus has been on writing when I can bear revisiting old research notes. I’m almost at the halfway point for the book I’ve been working on. It’s so tempting to go back to the beginning to edit. But I know if I do, I may never finish.

          Still, some days when I am sipping my morning coffee, I feel compelled to write other things that come into my thoughts. I have learned that if I don’t give voice to these thoughts, my days won’t be productive any way…

          I send my best wishes to you 🙂


        8. From Paulo, a piece of advice that I am often guilty of infringing when in conversation with someone who might not quite be attuned to, to borrow a term from Paulo, his or her ‘submergence,’ if the goal is, as it should be, to awaken his or her ‘critical faculties, advice that as it so happens would also be pertinent to one’s choice of ‘themes’ and how to ‘codifiy’ them so as to optimize the likelihood of stimulating ‘reflection.’ (Of course, you are already adept in the method, familiar with this pedagogical approach, so I bring up it more for myself than for your benefit, to underscore it for myself):

          Quote begins:

          The first requirement is that these codifications must necessarily represent situations familiar to the individuals whose thematics are being examined, so that they can easily recognize the situations (and thus their own relation to them). It is inadmissible (whether during the process of investigation or in the following stage, when the meaningful thematics are presented as program content) to present pictures of reality unfamiliar to the participants. The [sic] [i.e., there shouldn’t be a break between this paragraph and the one that follows . . .)

          Latter procedure (although dialectical, because individuals analyzing an unfamiliar reality could compare it with their own and discover the limitations of each) cannot precede the more basic one dictated by the participants’ state of submersion, that is, the process in which individuals analyzing their own reality become aware of their prior, distorted perceptions and thereby come to have a new perception of that reality.

          An equally fundamental requirement for the preparation of the codifications is that their thematic nucleus be neither overly explicit nor overly enigmatic. The former may degenerate into mere propaganda, with no real decoding to be done beyond stating the obviously predetermined content. The latter runs the risk of appearing to be a puzzle or a guessing game. Since they represent existential situations, the codifications should be simple in their complexity and offer various decoding possibilities in order to avoid the brain-washing tendencies of propaganda. Codifications are not slogans; they are cognizable objects, challenges towards which the critical reflection of the decoders should be directed.

          quote ends.

          Freire, pp.47- 48., in the PDF version, which you can find here:

          Click to access freire_pedagogy_oppresed1.pdf

          What is also interesting for me is that this approach is one at which Chantal is very proficient. I do know that she has not read Freire, so either she hit upon it through her own reflection or it has been introduced by the back door, so to speak, by someone mentoring the teachers of Chantal’s school board, although Chantal is forever complaining that her peers and the so called pedagogical experts just do not understand how to teach.

          Much to think about as well as highly stimulating.

          Well, it’s back to reading what in places is a very turgid, because deliberately obliquely written text, as it had to be, given the political context in which Freire was writting.

          Here and there, however, the purpose and the approach leap out with unmistakable clarity. I’m going to have to read the little book at least one more time before I take another hiatus away from it.

          Liked by 1 person

        9. Thank you for sharing these crucial foundations of Freire’s work, Norman. I especially appreciate your observations that the political situation necessitated the challenging obscurity of his writing. That never occurred to me as I sat with an unabridged dictionary on my lap when I read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, penciling definitions in the margins of every page.

          But like Chantal, I probably had internalized the basic respectful, egalitarian principles of liberatory praxis that Freire describes by witnessing how my mother treated staff and residents in the nursing home she owned and administered when I was in junior and senior high school. I spent a lot of time helping out there and hanging out with elders. Given those and other lessons, it just seemed natural to see the best in people, to take time to understand who they were and learn how to relate on their level.

          The connection to popular theater came later when I saw the performance of Vera Manuel’s play, the Strength of Indian Women, performed in Edmonton at a conference for Indigenous Peoples (Healing the Spirit Worldwide).There was not a dry eye in the room when the play ended. Most were sobbing with a grief that had remained hidden for a lifetime, and trained crisis counselors made the rounds to make sure everyone would be okay. The stories about the legacy of trauma passed on through generations as a result of Indian residential schools were recognizable, suddenly framing the culprit in news ways. No longer were parents or tribal communities to blame. There was hope that community members could come together to understand how colonial oppression had affected cultures and decide what they would like to do about it as a united community.

          But it’s not an easy undertaking to try to work in an inclusive egalitarian way with members of oppressed, divided communities to create and perform popular theater.


        10. Wow. I guess I’m really tired. In part of what I wrote, I mean’t to say:

          “…advice that as it so happens would also be pertinent in popular theatre, to one’s choice of ‘themes’ and the codifying of them so as to optimize the likelihood of stimulating ‘reflection.’ (Of course, you are already adept in the method, familiar with this pedagogical approach, so I bring up it more for myself than for your benefit, to underscore it for myself):

          Sorry for making a mess . . .

          Liked by 1 person

        11. Thank you for adding these important observations about popular theater, Norman.

          When I replied to the first part of your comments, I was assuming that you were reading Pedagogy of the Oppressed. I found Freire’s (1998) Pedagogy of Freedom: Ethics, Democracy, and Civic Courage a far more readable book. I think it was important for me to read both in the order I did, but the second (“Freedom”) helped clarify a lot of his ideas.

          Liked by 1 person

        12. You assumed correctly, Carol. I’ll take note of this second title and put it on the ‘to read’ list. Thank you.

          Just an aside and a bit of therapeutic whining:

          Probably because I’m tired, I’m experiencing a moment of exasperation with everything.
          On the one hand, I can see how messed up our collective perceptions are of what it is we live under, and that getting ourselves merely to TRY to dig our way out from under all of the layers of our mystifications is in itself a complicated matter; and then not only would we have to TRY, but we would have to arise to an awareness of the mystifications specific and inherent to capitalist culture, a necessary pre-requisite to the kind of mass rebellion needed to topple the monstrosity.

          On the other hand, It doesn’t seem that difficult to grasp, especially that most of the effort has already been undertaken and completed to a very satisfactory degree. Read Marx, eh. “Capital Volume One” will be more than sufficient. You will understand the game in its essentials; you will grasp its essential mystification, i.e., that of the commodity; you will ‘get’ why ‘for profit’ production cannot but stagnate in a cycle of permanent economic decline; and the violence of expropriation by military and other means will stand revealed as the underlying kernel of ‘rationality’ behind the whole sordid affair.

          And yet, and yet, although I say and believe that, when I compare notes with how others read and interpret Marx’s Capital Volume One – which isn’t actually that hard to understand if once you grasp that all he is doing is lifting the veil on the mystifications that make ‘commodity exchange’ and ‘wage labour’ possible – after all, why would Section 4 of Part 1 be titled “The Fetishism of Commodities and the Secret Thereof,” that is, the “fetishism of,” you know, the “illusion of,” the “delusion of” – well, I am simply bowled over by what they ‘read into’ a text so plainly written and accessible. Indeed, I begin to doubt myself and wonder whether the projection is all my own. But then I reason that it can’t be because otherwise the text would at some point loose its coherence for me, as in fact it does for these other readers of whom I speak, for whom all manner of confounding perplexities multiply and abound.

          And then today I came across this brilliant if brief disquisition by Stan Grant, and listened to on its own, abstracted from the IQ2 debate from which it was excerpted, it really nails the grotesquery of Western culture. But then I tried listening to the whole of the debate and couldn’t bring myself to listen to it to the end, it was so nauseating in its celebration of the fictive equality of opportunity that would be possible under the ‘system’ just as it is if not for the prevalence of racism. And this is all presented to us as discourse from the “left.” “Are you fucking kidding me!” is the phrase I blurted out in disgust when the realization began to dawn on me what this “testimonial” was all about – and such a fine speech by Grant. Makes you wonder: naïve or willing participant in the charade.

          So it’s all fucked up and, yes, sometimes the whole situation seems utterly hopeless. But I’ll get some badly needed sleep tonight and everything will be different tomorrow. The world will be just as fucked up but the hope will be that it can be improved upon or maybe even fixed.

          But it’s really all so crazy, isn’t?

          Liked by 1 person

        13. It is crazy, Norman.

          Grant’s talk was honest and powerful, but many people couldn’t go there with him. They didn’t have the necessary historical and experiential knowledge to grasp unimaginable suffering and loss, not even their own.

          Liked by 1 person

    3. “To my mind, although the experience of it has by now been largely forgotten in the mists of time, the same thing happened to the peasantries of Europe in the times of the great land enclosures, people being pushed off of ancestral plots of land by the millions, utterly expropriated by the rising European bourgeoisies.

      The dislocations experienced by those peasantries, the social and psychological traumas, were very much similar if not quite identical to what you are witnessing, i.e., shattered bonds of community, rampant alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and so on, the repercussions of which are actually still in evidence today.”

      I have wondered about this myself, with my remedial knowledge of world history.

      To put this in biblical terms; it is the curse being passed down from one generation to the next, from one people to the next, ever spreading like a virulent disease.

      We need to seek and find the cure!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Yes, a curse handed down through the generations, but not for any ‘sin’ that may actually have been committed, unless being a victim is blameworthy.

        I know, of course, that that’s not what you are implying Sojourner, in terms of who is to blame, but Biblical language tends to construe hardship as deserved and righteous punishment from on high.

        It’s a ‘blame the victim’ narrative and one of the reasons I’ve come to shun all such religious outlooks. It makes for a mind weighed down by a sort of metaphysical guilt and thereby keeps the person afflicted in this manner in a mood of self-condemnation and even extreme self-loathing. It’s not healthy and certainly not fun. I like to have fun though I do not shrink from acknowledging the world for what it is.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Could not agree more. In fact, you just described my life for almost fifteen years.

          On this, I am an expert. I joined a fellowship that came out of “The Campus Crusade for Christ” movement of the 1970s. And this particular fellowship leaned towards a more intellectual pursuit, if you will, a more theological approach, to the bible. In fact, I actually took a couple of first year, college level theology courses.

          This is what drew me in from the beginning. There was none of the spiritual mumbo jumbo I had suffered through as a child, when I had been forced to “go to church.” .

          But in the end, it was the same old lie.

          Curse, in the way I intended it here, was meant as a curse brought down on the vast disenfranchised majority by the psychopathic, powerful few.

          Liked by 2 people

        1. With Norman, I’m not certain that it is back and forth. I can barely keep up;-)

          We need more Normans, and we need more Carols!

          Liked by 1 person

  5. You are right, Carol, choosing hope is not always easy. I’m so sorry you or anyone else had or has to endure such things. Man’s inhumanity to man is always UGLY and HURTFUL. I found much healing in my garden too and am so glad you have found a measure in yours. Love and hugs, N 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for your kind and thoughtful comments, Natalie. Gardens do help us heal – not only ourselves but our surroundings as well. And yours are so beautiful, dear friend. ❤


  6. WIthout hope there is only despair. Thank you for choosing hope. I believe that glimmer of hope that resides in each of us (no matter how deeply buried) is the key. The ability to nurture it in others is a gift. We each have struggles, hope keeps us moving forward.

    No matter how harsh the winter I know there is a spring.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you for sharing such crucial insights with such eloquence, Maria. It is a choice to see beauty and hope even during harsh winters, one that many of us have to make repeatedly. During those times, it is good to remember spring…

      Liked by 2 people

  7. The little boy was able to imagine the world he wanted, though he didn’t know how to get there. People (social services people) offer what they’ve been trained to give and what they know how to give. So what you propose, e.g., the theatrical program? — is community organizing that provides an education in the history and consequences of oppression and leads to activism? I guess you’d have to start with small objectives. In such fragile communities, people need some victories, don’t they? instead of more evidence that nothing they do will make a difference. Though I also believe that just focusing on a shared project empowers people whatever the outcome. Carol, it’s so damn hard. Thank you for all you do and all the hard thinking that goes into your work.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Such crucial points about what social services (and medical services) people are “trained” to provide.

      Here’s what I just wrote as a response to Norman’s discussion about the goals of popular theater.

      I actually began developing a proposal with members of one tribal community, but the timing wasn’t right. I had hoped to focus on gathering interviews about the experiences of Ojibwe people of different ages with educational systems, scripting a play and finding tribal members to put on a performance for the whole community. I hoped it would become a foundation for community dialogue that led to the development of a plan to create the system they would like to see in the future.

      Education has been used as a tool of assimilation, shaming generation after generation. Parents and grandparents feel powerless to fight this oppressive system because too many have internalized the message they’re stupid and inferior. Understanding that they are not to blame for what was done to them is a crucial first step.

      In my work with tribes, I saw the ways educational systems extinguished curiosity, self-esteem, and hope. And I remembered the powerful impact watching the play “The Strength of Indian Women” had for me and others in the audience in Edmonton. It occurred to me that creating a performance based on community experiences (both tragic and funny) might be an effective way to reach people. I have no illusions that this would be an easy task…


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