Stephen Chan: Political thought on the just rebel­lion, part 8. In an ear­li­er tele­vised ren­di­tion of these lec­tures, I talked about lib­er­a­tion the­ol­o­gy, some­thing which had both a reli­gious and a gen­uine­ly spir­i­tu­al ele­ment to the idea of ris­ing up. But this idea of ris­ing up, even when applied to the same audi­ence does not nec­es­sar­i­ly have to have spir­i­tu­al and reli­gious ele­ments put up front.

So today we’re going to have a dis­cus­sion about what I call lib­er­a­tion ped­a­gogy. And by this I mean a sec­u­lar ver­sion of lib­er­a­tion the­ol­o­gy which takes for­ward the same val­ues. The same val­ues of inde­pen­dence, the same val­ues of cre­ativ­i­ty, the same val­ues of the integri­ty of the indi­vid­ual per­son, even if that per­son is a peas­ant, even if that per­son is illit­er­ate, even if that per­son is not ful­ly formed in the mod­ern sense.

In oth­er words, talk­ing about par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Latin American cir­cum­stance about rur­al peo­ple who all the same have a wish to reclaim their authen­tic­i­ty and to cre­ate for them­selves an auton­o­my that will with­stand the pres­sures of mod­ern life and the pres­sures of mod­ern gov­ern­ment that hap­pen often to be oppres­sive and deny­ing them the priv­i­lege of edu­ca­tion. Systems of life in which school­ing, in which oth­er social pro­vi­sion is not avail­able to them.

The work of peo­ple like Ivan Illich, the work of peo­ple like Paolo Freire is very very impor­tant here. The whole idea that you can gain an edu­ca­tion, you can become an autonomous crea­ture, an intel­lec­tu­al­ly autonomous crea­ture, even though you do not have the kind of for­mal edu­ca­tion that you might wish to aspire to, even though—particularly if—you’re with­in a con­di­tion where soci­ety has deschooled you. If you are a deschooled per­son, can you be schooled in a way which is sym­pa­thet­ic all the same to your own experience?

Now, peo­ple like Illich, peo­ple like Freire, went to great extents to try to demon­strate that there were sym­pa­thet­ic ped­a­go­gies that could reach out to a peas­ant, to a rur­al pop­u­la­tion, embrace their expe­ri­ence, and use that very expe­ri­ence as a means of edu­cat­ing them not only towards lit­er­a­cy but towards self-understanding, towards being able to under­stand the wider world, and to be able to under­stand how to lib­er­ate them­selves from that wider world. In oth­er words, how to declare them­selves as being with­in an autonomous realm not only intel­lec­tu­al­ly but with the capac­i­ty to orga­nize them­selves autonomous­ly in polit­i­cal terms. The ped­a­gogy of the oppressed,” as Freire called it, was a rev­o­lu­tion­ary state­ment, some­thing which could not be made in a met­ro­pol­i­tan coun­try. But some­thing which cer­tain­ly had a pro­found influ­ence when it was refract­ed back to the metropol from the expe­ri­ence par­tic­u­lar­ly of Latin America.

There has been in more recent years, par­tic­u­lar­ly as we enter the 2000s, a curi­ous phe­nom­e­non in Latin America—in this case in Mexico—involving very key ele­ments of what Illich and what Freire were talk­ing about, what they tried to prac­tice. But allied to a form of rebel­lion that also involved a cer­tain mil­i­tary upris­ing. And here we’re talk­ing about the Zapatista upris­ing in Chiapas Province in Mexico. 

This was a very very curi­ous com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors and a very curi­ous com­bi­na­tion of per­son­nel. It was led, at least sym­bol­i­cal­ly, at least in terms of pub­lic rela­tions, by some­one who was clear­ly a met­ro­pol­i­tan intel­lec­tu­al. He had as it were a bat­tle name, Comandante Marcos. He has nev­er been for­mal­ly iden­ti­fied, although many sus­pect who he might actu­al­ly be. And if these sus­pi­cions are true, then he was a met­ro­pol­i­tan aca­d­e­m­ic from Mexico City.

But on cam­era, on the so-called bat­tle­field, he always wore a bal­a­cla­va. He also had oth­er lit­tle tropes that he car­ried around with him, almost as qua­si ref­er­ence points to but he might be. The idea of car­ry­ing with him a lit­tle mas­cot, a stone tor­toise which he used to stroke—a ref­er­ence to the ancient Greek sto­ry that the tor­toise might not be very fast but in the end it always beats the hare. The idea of smok­ing cig­ars. The lan­guid nature of lying back in his ham­mock while all around shells from gov­ern­ment forces were falling. This kind of calm amidst chaos, this kind of ref­er­enc­ing a care­less­ness, built an aura—a very roman­tic aura—around him and around the Zapatistas who were those who were involved in help­ing the peas­ants of Chiapas to rise up against a government—a cen­tral­ized gov­ern­ment in Mexico and a provin­cial gov­ern­ment in that part of Mexico, which had not pro­vid­ed for the rur­al population.

But a lot of this was high­ly sym­bol­ic. It was sym­bol­ic in the sense that although the Zapatistas were militarized—they were able to present them­selves as a guer­ril­la group—there were in fact nev­er any sus­tained, full-scale mil­i­tary clash­es with the Mexican army. Everything was a polite engage­ment, almost as if it were script­ed or chore­o­graphed before­hand. The shells would always land just short of the Zapatista encamp­ment. The Zapatistas would nev­er actu­al­ly ambush the Mexican gov­ern­ment. It was as were if not chore­o­graphed then a game of chess, in which one side moved to one posi­tion in such a way that the oth­er side was able to move to anoth­er position.

This kind of sym­bol­ic mil­i­tary action, this kind of mil­i­ta­rized pos­tur­ing, brought the Zapatistas a cer­tain amount of space in which they could par­tic­i­pate in, direct, and encour­age par­tic­u­lar­ly a ped­a­gogy that would ben­e­fit those who were oppressed. So that the key social ser­vices under­neath the guise of launch­ing a mil­i­tary upris­ing that was facil­i­tat­ed by the Zapatistas, was one of edu­ca­tion, it was one of com­mu­ni­ty orga­ni­za­tion, it was one in which the com­mu­ni­ty was able to bring for­ward its own spokesman and spokes­woman. It was able to ref­er­ence mod­ern aspects of moder­ni­ty such as gen­der equal­i­ty, for instance. It was able to learn a voice by which the peo­ple of Chiapas could speak to the met­ro­pol­i­tan gov­ern­ment in Mexico City.

In a way it was a very strange devel­op­ment of the kinds of doc­trines put for­ward by peo­ple like Paolo Freire. What it did was to take the ped­a­gogy of the oppressed away from a roman­ti­cized and iso­lat­ed, very very much self-contained and almost intro­spec­tive view of what the world could be for those who were marginalized—in oth­er words away from the view that you could have auton­o­my with­in your mar­gin­al­iza­tion. And took it to the point where those who were mar­gin­al­ized could con­sid­er them­selves capa­ble of hav­ing an auton­o­my with­in the mod­ern state.

Further Reference

Course infor­ma­tion

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