Last week, my friend Chris Blantern, told me about Dr Stephen Brookfield and I’ve been learning more about his work online. I am finding his views about critical theory and pragmatism fascinating!
Brookfield believes that the Western education system is one of the primary contributors of the modernist way of thinking called logical rationalism, i.e., a deductive way of seeing and knowing the world. He refers to this a scientific hypothetical-deductive way of thinking, where what counts as knowledge involves the generation of hypotheses and then trying to disprove these. In this paradigm, whatever we can’t disprove through scientific means, is knowledge that we can have confidence in.
Brookfield encourages us to widen our perspective (and indeed subvert this worldview) through critical thinking and pragmatism. I love his explanation of these terms and I’m very interested to see how I can incorporate them as research methodologies in my doctorate research.
For Brookfield, a critical thinker is someone who is able to discern that our ‘taken-for-granted assumptions’ of how the world works, not only shapes but also reinforces what we believe to be normative.
For change to happen, therefore, we need to be alert to how power works in society as well as in the micro realities of family, peer groups, communities and workplaces.
He really struck a chord with his assertion that critical research has the potential to illuminate social processes that make inequality seem normal. For me, this is the starting point for the co-creation of better social worlds.
Brookfield’s view of a pragmatist is someone who sees knowledge as something that is constantly emerging, re-invented and re-interpreted. Someone who is open to new and creative ways of thinking, and to changing what we do (and believe) based on new information. He famously said,
“Pragmatism is the pursuit of beautiful consequences, such as democracy, inclusion and connections”.
Check him out for yourself. This clip is an hour long but well worth it!