Post-formalism, Pedagogy Lives

As Inspired by Joe L. Kincheloe

by Hans Jansen (Volume editor) Hugo Letiche (Volume editor)
Edited Collection XVI, 206 Pages

Table Of Content

← vi | vii →




Figure 8.1:The Ontological Side of Antenarrative: Before, Bets, Between, and Beneath (drawing by Boje)
Figure 9.1:Living Theory Theses
Figure 10.1:The Semiotic Square
Figure 10.2:Simondon’s Semiotic Square
Figure 10.3:Simondon; Semiotic Square of Social Activity
Figure 11.1:Triangular Relationships
Figure 11.2:The Tetragram Order-Disorder-Interaction-Organization
Figure 11.3:Placing Narrative in the Semiotic Square ← vii | viii →

← viii | ix →




The year 2008 remains a watershed in contemporary history; it is the date that the most fundamental social-economic crisis since the 1930s was unleashed. At first, the crisis seemed solely to be a product of financial capitalism and the scandals of subprime mortgage lending and speculation in derivatives. But with time, it has become clear that the crisis is a much more profound product of economic globalization, the deindustrialization of the USA and much of Europe, and the shifting ecology of our planet. Critical pedagogy 2000 to 2008 fared poorly in the hands of neo-conservative hegemony. The academic elite in education had bought into the ‘knowledge society’ and ‘never again a crisis’ story. Education for them existed to prepare future generations of rich, successful, skilled, and entrepreneurial employees for the post-industrial success story. Impact of educational research was defined in terms of designing the training tools needed to produce future generations of knowledge workers. Conflicts grounded in differences of interests between employers and employees supposedly belonged to the past. Education’s role was to contribute to the development of the skills and attitudes needed to further the ‘free market’ success story. It was a bleak moment for critical pedagogy, which was based on two assumptions: (1) social justice requires attention to the marginalized and socially excluded; and (2) social studies have to be normative in service of fairness, social justice, and human flourishing. The unbridled success of the consumer society had redefined education as a service provider/client relationship, without ← ix | x → any purchase on a critical social conscience. For committed critical thinkers, it was a very difficult period. Universities had redefined themselves as ‘entrepreneurial’, selling themselves as innovation incubators for business. Managerialism dominated. The goal of educational research was to learn to manage the careers of future generations so they would contribute successfully to economic growth. Managing the professional socialization of financial management’s success, of course, was not what critical pedagogy saw as its goal.

Producing a technically skilled, placid and well-adapted capitalist workforce did not inspire scholars like Joe L. Kincheloe. Kincheloe’s work centered on two themes: (1) schooling with inspirational goals focused on the needs of all pupils and especially the socially sidelined; and (2) (re-)defining a pedagogy/educational studies that was self-reflexively normative. Joe L. Kincheloe died totally unexpectedly in 2008. Thus at the moment that the social-economic crisis was revealing itself, while education as a field of study was for the most part hostile to playing a critical role and was unprepared to redefine itself in the light of the needs of the 21st century. This book opens with a description of and tribute to Joe L. Kincheloe’s practical engagement with education and educators. He was the ‘beat poet’ of education; an approachable, amiable, and supporting figure in a cold, technocratic desert. In this book, the radical 1970s of critical pedagogy, where education seemed to have a glorious future grounded in political radicalism, is touched upon. And then the difficult bridge to facing up to the society of neo-liberal hegemony gets addressed. Kincheloe during the last years of his life was on the defensive—trying to protect socially engaged thought within academe. To do so, he had opted for a sort of self-imposed exile; working out of McGill University in Canada.

In the neo-liberal political landscape of the 21st century, new theory is necessary. Kincheloe’s key concept of ‘post-formalism’ needs expanding and redefining. He had developed post-formalism as a critique of non-normative, ethically blind positivist research. For Kincheloe: WHY we educated and WHAT we educated for had to precede the development of techniques and methods. But critical pedagogy’s grounding in the pursuit of social justice, accompanied by a critique of capitalism, had fewer and fewer hearers. Since 2008, the economic and social challenges of globalized capitalism have hit harder and harder. But there has not been a turn to critical thought to address this. The political horizon seems dominated more by populist anger and frustration than by informed critique and creative solutions. In his last work, Joe L. Kincheloe had begun to expand and retool post- formalism to meet the challenges of our times.

To borrow a phrase of Timothy Morton (2013), we now have to address a world of hyperobjects. Pre-2008, we could think separately of schools and universities, factories and banks, R&D and marketing, et cetera. We could thus think ← x | xi → of the world in terms of separate functions that were interrelated but still separable. The part/whole analyses of systems thinking, with different aggregation levels, subsystems, and categories, seemed inclusive enough. But since 2008, we have been confronted with the effects of a global economy and know that we live in an anthropogenic world that we cannot oversee or control. As Morton argues, contemporary hyperobjects are viscous (they stick to us, make us uneasy, and will not leave us alone), non-local (they are everywhere and nowhere, we cannot localize our problems, challenges, or the possible solutions), they are Gaussian (refuse simple time/space emplacement, are everywhere and nowhere, visible and invisible, present and spookily absent), and they manifest themselves interobjectively. Ours is not a world just of human consciousness or ‘corrolationism’ (objects only exist in our minds) but one where all sorts of objects, from worms to people, ideas to ideologies, organizations to institutions, play themselves out. Morton insists that the effects of hyperobjects on our understanding have been radical and disastrous. Thought is currently typified by hypocrisy (we pretend to understand and to be in control when we are not), weakness (our observations or phenomenal awareness just does not measure up to what is ‘there’) and lameness (our societies, cultures and economies seem out of control and are unable to sustain themselves). One can argue that ecopedagogy (Kahn 2010) is the newest, post-2008, radical kid on the block. But its rejection of humanism as an anthropocentric perspective that is inherently exploitive of all other life-forms, is in conflict with critical pedagogy’s commitment to the ‘humanization of experience’. The Freierian approach, with which Kincheloe has always been identified, grounds education and learning in addressing real social issues faced by the communities involved. Fundamental social problem solving, directed to achieving fairness and social justice, is the key motivator. The refusal to learn is grounded in the political irrelevance of what is offered to learn. Relevant learning will be self-sustaining. Ecopedagogy has positioned itself as a political protest movement that makes use of education to further its goals. Freire’s agenda was much more enlightenment driven; it championed awareness and knowledge of real-life problems as the key motivator to learning. Learning and schools are not a political tool, but a fundamental space for developing situational and ethical consciousness. Humanity, aware of itself and its condition, is able to undertake liberator action. Without that self-awareness, politics remains manipulative, with a political elite making use of its followers for its own purposes. Emancipation follows awareness; it does not precede it.

Joe L. Kincheloe was a pedagogical activist, but he was also an academic researcher. Post-formalism has two rather different meanings. On the one hand, it points to schooling that is not protocoled to death. Neo-liberalism’s demand for accountability has destroyed freedom in the classroom. Mastering basic cognitive ← xi | xii → capacities will not produce democratic attitudes, social commitment, or empathetic warmth. Thus what comes after, and is beyond playing it by the rules, or what transcends the formalisms, is what is really crucial. But for Joe L. Kincheloe, post-formalism had a second meaning. In pedagogical research, the definition of knowledge is often counterproductive. Carefully tested conclusions that fit prior hypotheses most often produce circular reasoning and tautology. And the “manipulation of things, concepts or symbols for the purpose of generalizing” (Slesinger & Stephenson, 1930) all too often remains the hermetic ‘manipulation of things, concepts, and symbols’. Too often, ‘research’ is merely the determining of the frequency with which something occurs, with no real addition to knowledge actually attempted. And ‘hypothesis-testing’ does not investigate variables of any practical interest to practice. Not to mention all the epistemological issues. What a ‘classroom’, ‘learning’, ‘motivation’, ‘achievement’, ‘pupil’, ‘teacher’, ‘school’, et cetera are, is very often very unclear. The one ‘classroom’ (et cetera) is just not the other. And the one researcher’s labels are often incomparable with how the other makes use of the same terms. There are post-formal forms of research that are embedded in practice and are at least locally grounded and experientially sound. Case studies, auto- reflective descriptions of practice, and grounded co-research can all be post-formal. Kincheloe forcefully defended the constructivist epistemological position, calling for embedded dialogic investigation. But such projects need critical insights and themes to remain relevant. Their examination of practice is socially and collectively driven, but it is also theory driven. Kincheloe’s post-formalism was meant to defend research embedded in radical practice—that is, in practice aware of life-affirming themes and human flourishing, and to open up new vistas of affirmative action and emancipatory transformation. While Freire’s pedagogy and critical theory’s political-sociological critique had served him well, Kincheloe in the last years of his life was exploring new paths. Both Freire’s political humanism and neo-Marxism’s politics had been overwhelmed by neo-liberal individualism and rabid consumerism. Research as an ethical form of constructivism was marginalized. Knowledge was increasingly a tool of managerialism—i.e., the production of facts to be used to administer teachers, pupils, and schools. Knowledge was merely a tool of governance—i.e., of control and hierarchy. Constructivism had championed polyphony, difference, and dialogue as crucial to research. But fewer and fewer researchers or professionals were willing to take part. Constructivism is participatory—but what do you do if the stakeholders refuse to play along? Increasingly, the workers were voting neo-fascist (see Belgium, Austria, and France) and the educators seemed to be indifferent to equal developmental opportunities for all. Thus, Kincheloe in the last phase of his work, was exploring social complexity theory as a way of addressing the changed conditions. Social complexity theory emphasizes that ← xii | xiii → specific individual actions can be game changers and that emergence will always destabilize every bastion of control. Since 2008, the latter seems clear enough. The pre-2008 assurance that capitalist-driven economic growth is here to stay has obviously been shattered. However, the claim that unique actions can destabilize hegemony, and bring liberatory processes into action, remains questionable. But Kincheloe was not willing to retreat into naïve realism or positivism. Post humanist and ecopedagogy both base their claims on positivist research. They claim, in effect, to scientifically know that the ecological crisis demands radical change if the extinguishment of life is to be avoided. That they still represent a minority position is very unfortunate in their eyes, but it has no effect on the truth quality of their message. But for a constructivist position, what the field thinks is crucial. If one’s research is dialogical, then what the Others think is decisive. Kincheloe was trying to preserve his socially open, democratic and dialogic epistemology while dealing with his minority and even threatened position. How social complexity theory played into his thinking in that effort will be explored in the last two chapters of this book.

Thus, this book presents the living-thought of a scholar who died far too soon.

Hans Jansen
Hugo Letiche


Kahn, R. (2010). Critical pedagogy, ecoliteracy, & planetary crisis: The ecopedagogy movement. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Slesinger, D., & Stephenson, M. (1930). ‘Research’: The encyclopedia of social sciences (Vol. IX). New York, NY: Macmillan. ← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | 1 →

Introductions to Joe
(L. Kincheloe)

← 1 | 2 →

← 2 | 3 →


Freire’s Presence in Post-formalism Pedagogy, a Foreword



The reading of this important volume, Post-formalism, Pedagogy Lives, edited by Hans Jansen and Hugo Letiche made me re-live critical moments of the early eighties when Paulo Freire was re-discovered and Critical Pedagogy was germinating in the collective struggle of key cultural workers such as Henry Giroux, Roger Simon, Stanley Aronowitz, bell hooks, and myself among others. Freire was invited to teach a seminar at Boston College, and his presence in Boston served as a catalyst for the launching of what became known in the United States and abroad as Critical Pedagogy. In a memorable dinner at Henry Giroux’s house attended by Stanley Aronowitz, Jim Berger (the publisher of Bergin & Garvey Publications), and myself, Freire and Giroux agreed to be co-editors of the Critical Studies in Education Series, which served as an indispensable launching pad for key books published during the first stage of Critical Pedagogy—books such as Education Under Siege: The Conservative, Liberal and Radical Debate over Schooling by Stanley Aronowitz and Henry Giroux; Critical Pedagogy and Cultural Power edited by David W. Livingstone; A Pedagogy for Liberation by Ira Shaw and Paulo Freire; Literacy: Reading the Word and the World by Paulo Freire and Donaldo Macedo; Women Teaching for Change: Gender, Class, and Power by Kathleen Weiler; and The Politics of Education: Culture, Power and Liberation by Paulo Freire and translated by Donaldo Macedo. ← 3 | 4 →

This early collection of cultural workers, particularly Henry Giroux, not only revitalized Freire, but also helped to re-invent him, as he always wished, given that factors such as gender, ethnicity, and race, which were not directly addressed in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, were being taken up by young authors who were embraced and published by Giroux and Freire in their pioneering Critical Studies in Education Series—a Series that, in terms of publication, one could safely argue, crystallized Critical Pedagogy in the United States.

Against this landscape of enthusiasm, criticism, and hope, Freire would return frequently to the United States to conduct seminars both at Boston College and the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, in the early eighties and participate in dozens of conferences throughout the United States during this hopeful and exciting period. It was during Freire’s second visit to Boston College that I had the pleasure of introducing him to two young admirers who had traveled from Florida to Boston with the sole intent to meet Freire. I still vividly remember Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg meeting Freire and me in Casa Portugal Restaurant (Freire’s favorite restaurant in the Boston area) on Cambridge Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts, not too far from the triple-decker apartment, where he lived with his family for approximately one year during his exile after the coup d’etat that brought the military to power in Brazil in 1964. I remember the excitement on Kincheloe’s face—an excitement that mirrors that of a child in a candy store—as he was imbued by Freire’s words and wisdom. Hence, I am not at all surprised that Joe L. Kincheloe would become a major contributor to what one could call the second phase of Critical Pedagogy in the United States, along with Peter McLaren, Antonia Darder, and others. Kincheloe tirelessly championed Freire’s ideas and ideals—ideas and ideals without which Kincheloe would not have as easily expanded his notion of post-formalism, a framework of analysis that, according to Shirley R. Steinberg, “involves detecting problems, uncovering hidden assumptions, seeing relationships, deconstructing, connecting logic and emotion, and attending to context ” (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1993).

While reading the definition of post-formalist thinking that guided, to a large extent, Kincheloe’s scholarly contributions, one hears Freire’s echo when he unceremoniously challenged educators “to dare so that we never dichotomize cognition from the emotional self” (Freire, 1998b, p. 3)—a challenge that deepens our understanding of Freire, not for his methods of literacy, but for his introduction to the world of the concept of conscientization, which is, according to him, “an attempt at critical awareness of those obstacles and their raison d’être … [in which] conscientization is a requirement of our human condition” (Freire, 1998a, p. 55). Thus, Freire’s goal was never to devise literacy methods for which he became well known throughout the world. It is important to highlight that Freire critically used literacy as a means to conscientization. In other words, no matter from what cultural ← 4 | 5 → and social location we come, “[a]ll of us are involved in a permanent process of conscientization, as thinking beings in a dialectical relation with an objective reality upon which we act. What varies in time and space are the contents, methods, and objectives of conscientization … [when human beings became aware] and made themselves capable of revealing their active reality, knowing it and understanding what they know” (Freire, 1985, p. 172).

Freire used often a story that occurred during his literacy campaign work in Guinea-Bissau. He described a Cultural Circle where peasants were first learning to decodify their world so that they could realize that they could also code the word that reflects their decodified reality and later, also, comprehend that the encoded word can also be decoded. Freire told that a peasant, who was part of the oppressed masses that Portuguese colonialism forbade from becoming literate, got up suddenly and said: “Thank you, teacher,” before leaving the Culture Circle. Freire remained perplexed thinking that he had probably said something that was culturally inappropriate and had unknowingly hurt the peasant’s feelings, who eventually returned to the Culture Circle. When Freire, upon the peasant’s return, inquired why he had left, the peasant, without hesitation, replied: “Teacher, I know now that I can know and I don’t need to come every day to know.” This story reveals a process of fracturing the yoke of Portuguese colonialism that for centuries had inculcated the Guinea-Bissau natives with myths and beliefs regarding their so-called backwardness, savage nature, their inability to read or write, and their incapacity to know—myths and beliefs which were used as yardsticks to present literacy always as the hallmark of White European superiority. This story also conveys the error of learning to ‘bark’ the ABCs without the development of a deeper understanding of the dialectical relationship between the reading of the word and the world, which also implies de-mystifying the process of conscientization—an important point, since many First World educators often attribute magical properties to the conscientization process, “giving it powers that it does not really have” (ibid., p. 171).

Another critical misunderstanding of conscientization is to think of the concept “as a kind of tropical exoticism, a typically Third World entity. People speak of conscientization as an enviable goal for ‘complex societies,’ as though Third World nations were not complex in their own way” (ibid., p. 172). This false dichotomy between the so-called First World and Third World represents yet another sequestration of language designed to lead to a form of mystification—a distraction that functions as a reproductive mechanism designed to create a center or a core of romanticized Eurocentric values while relegating other cultural expressions to the margins. The current attacks on Islam and on Muslims in general are a case in point, where Western media, political pundits, and academics often totalize religio-cultural ← 5 | 6 → extremists and generalize the extremism to all Muslims, framing them all as potential terrorists. At the same time, we conveniently ignore extremists of the West like Evangelist Pat Robertson, who camouflages his bigotry and his constant attacks on women. Take, for example, Robertson’s statement that “(T)he feminist agenda is not about equal rights for women. It is about a socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians” (Robertson, 2013). If one were to substitute Robertson with a Taliban clergyman and switch the words ‘socialist’ and ‘capitalism,’ the Western political class, the media, and other non-Muslim religious leaders would have a field day attacking the primitive nature of Islam and its radicalism while ignoring the diversity within the Muslim world that consists of millions of people from different cultures, classes, and ethnicities. Hence, institutional mechanisms in the West and in much of the world function, by and large, to contain and maintain these so-called primitive Third World cultures that are often submerged into a culture of silence so as to make these ‘silent sections of cultures’ invisible or, at least, situate them outside the parameters of public discussion or debate. Engaging Freire’s conscientization process could help reveal the West’s penchant to engage in the construction of invisibility to keep the submerged cultures invisible and also to hide the West’s own extremism that is no less terroristic than Muslim extremism. How else would we characterize the American savagery in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam that “often extended to the utmost depravity: gratuitous torture, killing for target practice, slaughter of children and babies” (Schell, 2013)—slaughter that pro-life advocate Pat Robertson and his ilk conveniently refuse to address in ethical and political terms. Our inability or unwillingness to engage a conscientization process is why we can easily accept Pat Robertson’s blatant lies about feminism as we embrace the false dichotomy encoded in the distinction between First World and Third World contexts—an ideological distinction that primarily functions to reproduce the Western narrative of Third World ‘savage and primitive’ cultures which, in turn, call for the West’s ‘moral responsibility’ to ‘slaughter children and babies’ so as to save them from themselves—a slaughter justified by an American military superior in the Marines as, “Tough shit, they grow up to be VC [Vietcong]” (ibid.). Too many Americans also remain silent when ‘drones’ and ‘smart bombs’ kill women and children indiscriminately in Afghanistan and Pakistan while the U.S. presents itself as an advocate for women’s rights and freedoms. Western media, political pundits, and most academics also remain silent with respect to the West’s extremism as revealed in “the classic [former secretary of state] Madeleine Albright response of 1996 to the reported 500,000 Iraqi childrencasualties of ‘the sanctions of mass destruction’‘it was worth it’” (Herman, 2013). ← 6 | 7 →

Whether we situate Kincheloe within the post-formalist theoretical framework or not, we cannot deny that “uncovering hidden assumptions, seeing relationships, deconstructing, connecting logic and emotion” is a detour to Freire’s ideas—a detour that Kincheloe and the rest of us in Critical Pedagogy must take, acknowledged or not—a detour that also challenges us to embrace a pedagogy of hope, critical hope that guided and shaped Freire’s thinking and theoretical and educational proposals. In this respect, Hans Jansen and Hugo Letiche, the editors of Post-formalism, Pedagogy Lives, make a great contribution to the deepening of our understanding of Joe L. Kincheloe’s body of work. Their edited volume also reminds readers how Freire’s pedagogy lives through all cultural workers who consider themselves agents of change—cultural workers who, like Freire, understand that a language of critique without hope is not enough to transform socially constructed oppression—oppression that must be deconstructed so that a less discriminatory and more just world can be constructed through a pedagogy of hope steeped in critical radicalism, which, in turn, enables cultural workers, as Freire proposed,

“to convert rebelliousness attitudes into revolutionary ones in the process of the radical transformation of society. Merely rebellious attitudes or actions are insufficient, though they are an indispensable response to legitimate anger. It is necessary to go beyond rebellious attitudes to a more radically revolutionary position, which is in fact, a position not simply of denouncing injustice but of announcing a new utopia. Transformation of the world implies a dialectic between the two actions: denouncing the process of dehumanization and announcing the dream of a new society” (Freire, 1998a, p. 74)


Freire, P. (1985). The politics of education: Culture, power, and liberation. New York, NY: Bergin & Garvey.

Freire, P. (1998a). Pedagogy of freedom. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Freire, P. (1998b). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters to those who dare teach. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Herman, E. S. (2013, February). Beyond chutzpah. Z Magazine. Retrieved from https://zcomm.org/zmagazine/beyond-chutzpah-by-edward-s-herman/

Kincheloe, J. L., & Steinberg, S. R. (1993). A tentative description of post-formal thinking: The critical confrontation with cognitive theory. Harvard Educational Review 63(3), 296–320.

Robertson, P. (2013, January 10). Timeless whoppers. The Nation. Retrieved from https://www.thenation.com/timeless-whoppers-pat-robertson/

Schell, J. (2013, February 4). The real American war in Vietnam. The Nation. Retrieved from http://www.thenation.com/article/172264/real-american-war-vietnam ← 7 | 8 →

← 8 | 9 →


Doing Post-formalism with Joe’s Help


Interviewer Hans Jansen



Ana Cruz is a critical scholar and she was a friend of Joe L. Kincheloe. Ana Cruz’s research interests include critical pedagogy, social justice education, multicultural/international education, and music and deafness. Ana was featured as one of the “Important Figures in the Emergence of Critical Pedagogy” in Joe L. Kincheloe’s book Critical Pedagogy Primer (2nd edition). Ana was the chairperson of the AERA Paulo Freire SIG (April 2006 to 2008). In 2008 she was invited to serve on the Founding Scholars’ Advisory Board of the Paulo and Nita Freire Project for Critical Pedagogy. At present, she is the Brazilian Portuguese Articles Editor for the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy (IJCP) and was the Managing Editor of IJCP (Summer 2008 to Spring 2009). She edited a Special Issue of IJCP entitled Paulo and Nita: Sharing Life, Love and Intellect. Other recent publications include: “From Practice to Theory & from Theory to Praxis. A Journey with Paulo Freire” (in Porfilio & Ford [Eds.] Leaders in Critical Pedagogy, 2015); “The Pervasive Influence of Neoliberal Ideology on U.S. Community Colleges and a Freirean View on ‘Reclaiming the American Dream’” (with J. Dorsch in Abendroth & Porfilio [Eds.] Understanding Neoliberal Rule in Higher Education: Educational Fronts for Local and Global Justice Volume II, 2015); “Paulo Freire’s Concept of Conscientização” (in Lake & Kress [Eds.] Paulo Freire’s Intellectual Roots, 2013); “Becoming a Teacher: Fostering a Democratically ← 9 | 10 → Conscious Citizenry through Critical Pedagogy” (in Thomas [Ed.] Becoming and Being a Teacher, 2013); “A Global Culture of Questioning to Confront Neoliberalism. Henry Giroux’s Clarion Call for Collective Agency to Sustain a Substantive Democracy” (in Aula De Encuentro, 2012). That is why I interviewed this powerful and critical woman about the situation of critical pedagogy and about the work of Joe L. Kincheloe, especially about his concept of (pedagogical) solidarity, his supporting relations with critical scholars, and his turn to affect.


HJ: What is the actual situation of Critical Pedagogy?

AC: Critical Pedagogy, although an established field in Education, still resides at the margins. If we take the Annual Meetings of AERA (American Educational Research Association) as a—maybe tentative—barometer, one can see that presentations incorporating Critical Pedagogy are tremendously outnumbered by other-themed presentations. The AERA Paulo Freire SIG (now Paulo Freire, Critical Pedagogy and Emancipation SIG), however, measures a steady increase in membership, which is a good sign that might indicate a growing interest in Critical Pedagogy, hopefully from the ranks of younger researchers, practitioners, and activists. There is also a steady stream of journal articles and books dealing with Critical Pedagogy that keeps the field in the spotlight within the realm of education. Critical Pedagogy, however, as portrayed in the English-language literature, is mainly seen through a North American (here U.S. & Canadian) lens; Critical Pedagogy seems to be associated only with a limited number of researchers and practitioners (particularly from North America). Following Joe L. Kincheloe’s vision, I also believe that it will be important to cross all kinds of borders and to draw out critical pedagogues internationally and from various ethnical and cultural backgrounds to give Critical Pedagogy a stronger voice (Kincheloe, 2008—addressed in the book’s preface). The recent books by Darder, Mayo, and Paraskeva (2016) and Peters and Besley (2014) provide a collection of works in Critical Pedagogy from an international cadre of authors that hints at the critical work carried out at the global scale, but a more systematic assessment of global Critical Pedagogy is still needed. I also want to add here that our current international social, political, and economic situation makes Critical Pedagogy and the work of critical pedagogues more necessary than ever; our goals for social justice and social transformation need to be well grounded on Praxis (as espoused by Paulo Freire). Consequently, any form of activism (and/or liberation movement) to oppose and overcome political-cultural oppressive circumstances in society cannot become mere ‘agitation.’ ← 10 | 11 → It is imperative to have a deeper understanding of the issues, including (but not limited to) social, cultural, and historical contexts; otherwise it would be ‘activism for the sake of activism’ and it could face the danger of becoming action grounded on what Freire referred to as fanatical consciousness, a naive view of the issues resulting in irrational action.1 Therefore, if the goal is transformation—particularly at our present historical juncture, “it is necessary to go beyond rebellious attitudes to a more radically critical and revolutionary position, which is in fact a position not simply of denouncing injustice but of announcing a new utopia (Freire, 1998, p. 74).

HJ: What is the importance of Critical Pedagogy for teachers and students in the age of capitalism and neo-liberalism (the 21st century)?

AC: I believe Critical Pedagogy is crucial in equipping teachers and students with the critical tools and understanding to situate themselves in the world and to understand the influencing factors that really drive their lives, their education, and their future. Understanding this and with a critical mindset they—teachers and students—will be able to influence and become a vehicle for changing oppressive circumstances ‘locally’ and globally, resulting in a better world. Critical Pedagogy is crucial in counterbalancing, opposing, and ultimately overcoming neo-liberalism. Critical Pedagogy is even more important in this respect because otherwise hyper-capitalism and neo-liberalism might be brought down by proto-fascism, which will bring with it another set of oppressive situations.

HJ: What is the importance of the work of Joe L. Kincheloe for teachers and students? How can his work help teachers to perform the ‘good work’?

AC: Joe’s work is important because he showed especially the significance of Critical Pedagogy and how to ‘use’ Critical Pedagogy from a teacher’s, scholar’s, and activist’s perspective; his work aimed to expose students and teachers to Critical Pedagogy and, consequently, spread the reach of Critical Pedagogy. Joe’s work is also important because he strove to add to the edifice of Critical Pedagogy; he worked hard on keeping Critical Pedagogy current. Teachers exposed to Critical Pedagogy will be teachers that can educate students more fully, beyond a prescribed curriculum designed for passing tests; teachers exposed to Critical Pedagogy will enable a more holistic education. Joe’s book Teachers as Researchers (1991/2003) is especially pertinent in this context. I believe this to be a major contribution, laying out for teachers theory and ‘tools’ to carry out practitioner research, to investigate teaching and learning in their classrooms/schools, and to regain agency in schools. This is crucial for the teachers and the students and for quality education. Joe wanted to create a global network of critical pedagogues within which teachers and/or students would have opportunities to understand ← 11 | 12 → Critical Pedagogy, apply it, and improve on it, with the ultimate goal of creating “new forms of interconnection and compassion (Kincheloe, 2004/2008, p. 182) for a more just world.

HJ: What is the meaning of solidarity in educational settings? How can we improve pedagogical solidarity between teachers and students in school?

AC: Solidarity means to be able to engage in respectful relationships, the kind of relationship anchored in responsibility, caring, and an in-depth understanding of freedom. In educational settings this can mean to understand the students, where they are coming from, and what their life situation is; it then means to help these students by equipping them with the critical understanding to analyze their situation in order to counteract oppressive forces that might subjugate them.

HJ: For Joe L. Kincheloe his supporting relationship with critical scholars and critical students all over the world was very important. How can we rebuild his worldwide network of radicalunconditionallove and improve and strengthen it at this moment?

AC: This is a major contribution of Joe’s, unfortunately not fully developed due to his untimely death. As indicated above, there is a crucial need for an international network of critical pedagogues who are able to recognize each other and work together. We should go back and (re)establish the International Journal of Critical Pedagogy (https://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp) as a forum for the Critical Pedagogy International—as it was envisioned by Joe; we need to push the [International]Journal of Critical Pedagogy to a more prominent role within international Critical Pedagogy. I am happy that we were able to publish the first bi-lingual edition of IJCP in 2013 (Cruz, 2013a), a mix of Brazilian and U.S.-Canadian contributions, with an additional contribution from Spain. This special edition and the first issue of IJCP remain the only ones with a predominance of international authors; otherwise, authors from North America (U.S. & Canada) predominate. When Joe moved to McGill University in Montreal, he established with Shirley R. Steinberg The Paulo and Nita Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy. The aim was to build an international critical community and to provide an archive detailing the history and evolution of Critical Pedagogy. The project website was quite lively, with video interviews, films, resources on Critical Pedagogy, and an active blogosphere. The IJCP was an integral part in this endeavor. To commemorate the death of Joe, a Bellagio-style conference was established to bring together an international group of critical pedagogues in an informal setting to network, support, critique work, and develop shared research projects. The Paulo and Nita Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy morphed into The Freire Project: Critical Cultural, Community, Youth, and Media Activism ← 12 | 13 → (www.freireproject.org) (not housed anymore at McGill University)2 and the latter developed into The International Institute for Critical Pedagogy and Transformative Leadership. Keeping both projects going is certainly a lot of work, and Shirley R. Steinberg deserves accolades for her agency in keeping these projects thriving. The International Institute for Critical Pedagogy and Transformative Leadership, especially, continues its purpose in bringing together international critical pedagogues, thereby supporting the establishment of an international Critical Pedagogy community—following the vision of Joe. However, I believe that in following Joe’s vision we continue with the challenge of not only creating possibilities for connecting through the Critical Pedagogy International but also nurturing this connectivity with true open-mindedness and opportunities for open dialogue; it is only through open dialogue that we can avoid the danger of dogmatism. As Joe advocated through his work on post-formal thinking, individuals—in this case critical pedagogues—should constantly engage in expanding self-awareness and consciousness (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1993).3It is in openness to the world that [one] construct[s] the inner security that is indispensable for that openness (Freire, 1998, p. 120). Hence, “openness to approaching and being approached, to questioning and being questioned, to agreeing and disagreeing (Freire, 1998, p. 119). Critical Pedagogy International cannot afford to become only a blip in history, we need a long-lasting network of critical pedagogues. However, a network of radical love, anchored in openness and solidarity, can only sustain itself if love does not become a ‘commodity’ and if love is unselfish, authentic, ethical, and respectful.

HJ: For Joe L. Kincheloe, his connection with feminism, radical pedagogy, and indigenous peoples was very inspiring. Their way of radical thinking causes a turn to affect for Joe. What does this mean for the theory of Critical Pedagogy? How do these radical influences change the theory of Critical Pedagogy?

AC: Critical Pedagogy, based on the work of Paulo Freire and elaborated by Henry Giroux, is a solid theoretical edifice; it needs to honor its roots and keep its foundation, but it should not be immutable. Adding/incorporating other aspects and theoretical considerations into Critical Pedagogy will keep it vibrant—although I personally believe Critical Pedagogy never will become stale: there will always be a place for Critical Pedagogy as long as an oppressor-oppressed relationship exists. Joe was very open to other theoretical considerations, such as feminism, indigenous knowledges, radical pedagogy, and critical psychology, and he was a driving force adding these to Critical Pedagogy, thereby moving Critical Pedagogy forward, his notion of evolving criticality; for him “this evolving notion of Critical Pedagogy sought a new humility (Kincheloe, 2004/2008, p. 168). Joe saw that ← 13 | 14 →(t)he ways of seeing, the ways of being, and the affective dimensions (ways of feeling)” derived from these ‘alternative’ theoretical considerations “can change the world (Kincheloe, 2008, pp. ix–x).

HJ: The turn to affect for Joe was focused on injustice and repressive practices in schools. Joe wants to free teachers and students from their subaltern position. What do his political and social actions mean for critical workers, especially those workers in urban schools? Have we learned something? Do we perform the same kind of critical actions or are we paralyzed by the pressure of the educational elite (also called educational mafia)?

AC: Joe’s political and social actions, his engagement and drive, and his convictions are signposts that can guide and be examples for others to follow for decades to come. He embodied the notion that there cannot be any disassociation between the life of an educator and the political and social persona. Probably rooted in his childhood and early adulthood in Eastern Tennessee, Joe had a continuous drive for social justice coupled with a quest to question the production of knowledge. He had the preacher’s drive to ‘make people understand.’ He established, especially for critical workers and students, the bricolage concept to see and to research the world, to create knowledge that is not dominated by and reproduced through the Western view but incorporates also the views and experiences of indigenous and other marginalized groups. With his post-formal thinking he moved away from Piaget’s justification to remove emotions from analysis of cognitive structures. I already mentioned above Joe’s work on teachers as researchers, which was explicitly designed to educate teachers (and students) in ways to enable them to free themselves from subaltern positions. The struggle for change, especially in urban school districts, will not become easier, but giving up and giving in to the educational elite is not an option. Continuing to engage in critical actions will result in change, which might be slow, but change for certain will happen. Elites are elites, but as history demonstrates, no elite is forever. As Freire would say, we—educators—should be moved by hope and not by fatalism.

HJ: The turn to affect had consequences for Joe. It politicized his thinking and theorizing of capitalism and consumerism. Capitalism and consumerism give teachers and students no freedom and will oppress them at the end of the day. Has this situation changed in schools or is there still a lot of work to do for critical teachers and students? What kind of actions do we have to perform and what kind of stories do we have to tell teachers and students?

AC: The situation described in the question did not change in schools (and in everyday life). We are still on the battleground with exacerbated capitalism and consumerism. This does not mean, however, we should give up; the smallest changes ← 14 | 15 → in each individual classroom at any given time can add up to significant change. What is necessary, though, is an increase in numbers of critically educated teachers in schools. It is in schools where changes can start! Beginning with teacher education programs, where an ever-increasing number of critical pedagogues as professors (that is the hope) will educate future teachers in criticality and social analysis to become agents of change and who will, consequently, teach students criticality in elementary, middle, and high school. Capitalism and consumerism are ideologies that devalue the state of being human and life itself. Life is not a commodity and it is not for sale! It is only by educating students about the importance of being ethical and the importance of taking responsibility for one’s own actions that we will be able to create a world in which freedom is not understood as a lack of limits. Freedom only exists when one is able to recognize the limits within which one’s actions might interfere with the rights of others to exist and to live. “The great challenge for the democratic-minded educator is how to transmit a sense of limit that can be ethically integrated by freedom itself (Freire, 1998, p. 96).


1. Freire (1974/2005). A more recent reflection on Paulo Freire’s notion of consciousness is provided by Cruz (2013b).

2. This site also links to The International Institute for Critical Pedagogy and Transformative Leadership. The aims of The Paulo and Nita Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy were spelled out on the original website and are also summarized in the Preface to Kincheloe (2008).

3. A tentative description of post-formal thinking. This important paper outlines Joe’s conception of post-formalism. It is reprinted in Leistyna, Woodrum, and Sherblom (1999) and in hayes, Steinberg, and Tobin (2011).


Cruz, A. L. (Ed.). (2013a). Paulo and Nita: Sharing life, love and intellect. International Journal of Critical Pedagogy, Special Issue, 5(103), Available from http://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/issue/view/87.

Cruz, A. L. (2013b). Paulo Freire’s concept of conscientização. In R. Lake & T. Kress (Eds.), Paulo Freire’s intellectual roots: Toward historicity in praxis (pp. 169–182). New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic – Continuum.

Darder, A., Mayo, P., & Paraskeva, J. (Eds.). (2016). International critical pedagogy reader. New York, NY: Routledge.

Freire, P. (1974/2005). Education for critical consciousness. New York, NY: Continuum. ← 15 | 16 →

Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

hayes, k., Steinberg, S. R., & Tobin, K. (Eds.). (2011). Key works in critical pedagogy: Joe L. Kincheloe. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.

Kincheloe, J. L. (1991/2003). Teachers as researchers: Qualitative inquiry as a path to empowerment. New York, NY: Routledge.

Kincheloe, J. L. (2004/2008). Critical pedagogy primer. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Kincheloe, J. L. (2008). Knowledge and critical pedagogy: An introduction. New York, NY: Springer.

Kincheloe, J. L., & Steinberg, S. R. (1993). A tentative description of post-formal thinking: The critical confrontation with cognitive theory. Harvard Educational Review, 63(3), 296–320.

Leistyna, P., Woodrum, A., & Sherblom, S. A. (Eds.). (1999). Breaking free: The transformative power of critical pedagogy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Educational Review Reprint Series No. 27.

Peters, M. A., & Besley, T. (Eds.). (2014). Paulo Freire: The global legacy. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

← 16 | 17 →


Radical Love


Interviewer Hans Jansen



Shirley R. Steinberg was co-author with Joe L. Kincheloe of the theory of post- formalism. This theory argues that while twentieth-century educational psychology has made important advances, a time for reassessment has arrived. Steinberg contends that recent years have seen the rise of neo-Vygotskian analysis and situated cognition within the discipline of cognitive psychology. Steinberg and Kincheloe expand upon these theories to develop the specific connections between the social and the psychological dimensions of learning theory and educational psychology. Post-formal thinking, according to Steinberg and Kincheloe, concerns questions of meaning and purpose, multiple perspectives, human dignity, freedom, and social responsibility. Curriculum and instruction based on post-formalism involves detecting problems, uncovering hidden assumptions, seeing relationships, deconstructing, connecting logic and emotion, and attending to context.

At this time (2014) we already know a lot about the theory of post-formalism and the work and life of Joe L. Kincheloe. We can read his books and there are also many secondary publications and diverse websites1 giving all kinds of information, especially the site The Freire Project: Critical Cultural Community, Youth, and Media Activism (www.freireproject.org).2 We do know a lot about Joe’s (and Shirley’s) work, but not ‘everything’. That is why I interviewed Shirley R. Steinberg to ← 17 | 18 → enhance our understanding of the thinking of Joe L. Kincheloe. She has written a lot of important books and articles about critical pedagogy3 and she shared her life with Joe for a very long time.


HJ: My first question is about post-formal thinking/post-formal pedagogy.4 That was a theory of yours and Joe’s. Why is that theory important?

SRS: Our first work on post-formalism was published in the Havard Educational Review in 1993 (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 1993). We wrote the book on post-formalism in 1999. Until that time people thought that formalism and the ideas of Piaget5 were the only way to look at how cognition was formed. We said at that time that especially the theory of Piaget was outdated. His stage theory and his positivistic labels on what children do and how children think were the basis of his formal theory. We asked ourselves: What is missing in his thinking, what is not there? We thought that the way of thinking about the development of children should be tentative. Meaning: it can always change. It was the first time that you could see that we were tentative in an article. Still people don’t do that. So they look to critical pedagogy and ask: What are the rules? We want to see and to know them. And there are no rules. Things change all the time. Look how Vygotsky looks at the situation and the socio-cultural area. And Lave talks about the situated cognition: cognition moves and the theory of cognition has to be tentative. So with this statement in mind, we started our article.

HJ: When Joe was writing books, what was his writing style, the way he wrote books? First one book and after that another book or more books at the same time?

SRS: His writing up till 1992 or 1993 was … he had a book, he made an outline and he would write it. And he would lie on his belly on a futon. That is how he wrote. And then I typed it for him and I edited his work. Then, in about 1993, he bought me as a present a hard drive for a computer. That was the time that WordPerfect came on the market. And I learned to use a computer, because Joe didn’t work with computers, and I thought: what is it that makes word processing so good? I realized that it was cutting and pasting. That was a great concept.

We had a lot of books, and Joe was always very tidy with them, because he would always hand copy everything. I talked to him and said: “Why don’t we recreate what you are doing with the help of a computer (by the way a computer works), and you can still do the same?” Because he still wanted to write by hand. We bought a photocopier, and I said: “There is a lot we can do on a computer and I think you should cut and paste.” ← 18 | 19 →

Instead of writing everything out like a bibliographer, you have to cut and to paste those texts and formulate your text that way. And he loved to do that. The most important things in his life were a photo copier, scissors, and rolls of tape. And he would tidily tape all his things. Then he started to realize that he was getting so much stuff that he needed to catalogue it. So he started to catalogue all his pieces of text. And the next twenty years he catalogued everything he wrote. When he died he had hundreds of binders with pages he had cut and pasted. And what would he do with these? Well if he would write an article or book about you, Hans Jansen, he would write about your notion of schooling and he would paste texts about schooling in that story. And he would go further, and after some time he would label that text as Jansen 1.0 and the next story or the next article would be Jansen 1.1. He was so precise and almost mathematical in that.

Then he started to write his texts in columns. If you looked at the piece of paper in front of him, you would see that he used an intense kind of writing. He had approximately ten columns on a piece of white paper and on each column there would be a heading. For formal thinking there would be Piaget, grounded theory, situated cognition, and schools. That would be a line and each line would contain some words. So, if I ‘say’ cultural, this ‘system’ would ‘say’ 14.3.6. That is the way Joe was working. A working piece of paper of Joe’s would probably have three hundred entries with all those columns and his intense writing. Joe worked all the time in this way. By 1996 or so he was perfecting a kind of technique. What you would find if he was preparing to write a book was that he had maybe ten binders full of text around the most important issues in that book. That was his research. And then he started writing that book. He used the binders as his references. He was always very organized. When I first met Joe I didn’t quit understand what writing a book was. And he said: I wrote ten pages today. I didn’t understand that kind of language. I understood that later. Joe was a counter. He had a rule that he had to count all the time. He wrote probably eight hours a day. He would say: I have to write so many pages today. When he started writing he could finish a book very quickly.

HJ: Joe was a hard worker and he worked every day.

SRS: He worked every single day. The only time that he took off during the weekend was for travel or during football season. Some of us write to live, Joe lived to write, writing was his way of breathing. He was compelled to write, he was never finished. ← 19 | 20 →

HJ: When Joe was looking at the research activities of scholars he was very strict.

SRS: Yes, he was very strict about rigor. Because we were in the middle of a war in methodologies, with those saying that qualitative research was not as rigorous as quantitative research. We had to prove ourselves all the time. And after six months of research, the way Joe did it, he almost had written a new doctoral dissertation. He started to write about vocational education, because there weren’t so many books about vocational education. He came out with two books in two years. He wrote the books as if he had a doctorate in vocational education. Joe never wrote just without notes. He became an expert in every field. I would say that by the time that he died he was probably an expert with the equivalent of a PhD for maybe thirty fields.

HJ: Joe, in his last years, was experimenting with complexity theory.

SRS: Yes, he was looking at the context of complexity theory, but actually he was mostly interested in alternative cognition. There were no other books except those of people like Terence McKenna6 on the use of LSD and on what it is like to have cognition altered by drugs. His goal was to find a way to treat cognition without drugs and have the same results. He was reading a lot of work from Buddhist monks and poets.

HJ: Joe edited a book with Peter McLaren about the current situations of critical pedagogy. Were there also new ideas about the direction critical pedagogy has to go to?

SRS: The book asked where critical pedagogy was going. This was an important question, asking how to move with the times, be inclusive, and where the notions of critical pedagogy were found. Certainly, it has moved, and indeed, McLaren and Joe disagreed on many aspects of critical pedagogy. Joe saw critical pedagogy as an anti-orthodoxy and without ‘rules.’ He did not agree with McLaren’s insistence of including Marxism within every beat of a mention of critical pedagogy. I believe they did little work together after this book; it seemed to expose huge paradigmatic differences between Joe and McLaren, mostly based on McLaren’s obsession with Marxism, and his lack of acknowledgment in alternative ways of knowing.

HJ: Which people were very important and interesting for Joe?

SRS: Black blues artists. Probably among the most important books in his life was the book by Albert Murray called The Blue Devils of Nada.7 He loved the blues aesthetics. He thought that that was very important. Willie Morris,8 the author who wrote North Towards Home and many other books about the problematic notion of loving the South and hating the South. Henry Giroux and definitely Paulo Freire. Also, John Dewey—he probably started Joe’s way of thinking. The Frankfurt theorists9 … some of the feminists. I think Dewey and Freire were his grounding. ← 20 | 21 →

Text Box 1: Blue Knowledge

Joe L. Kincheloe (2005) speaks about blue knowledge10 to describe the knowledge of oppressed and subordinated people in opposition to academic knowledge, the knowledge scientific researchers develop. In and through blue knowledge oppressed and subordinated people tell, sing, and dance—designed in a blues—the pain they feel when they try to survive in our society. These days, young oppressed and subordinated people prefer the use of hip-hop to make themselves understood by and visible to their friends. In hip-hop there is room for dancing (break dance), art (graffiti), DJing,11 Emceeing12 and for the fifth issue: activism. Discussions with and between oppressed and subordinated people and working with oppressed and subordinated people become within blues and hip-hop jam sessions. In those ‘sessions’ one person will remain silent to give the other person the opportunity to improvise on the theme both participants have chosen. Sometimes we see a kind of romancing of the pain by blues and hip-hop ‘performers’. These ‘performers’ show us their pride in their long tale of misery, their passion, or their past in crime. Others who lack those experiences are excluded from performing.

Text Box 2: The Frankfurt School

The Frankfurt School made (before, during, and after the Second World War) a critical analysis of bourgeois capitalistic society. The Frankfurt theorists stressed power, culture, and ethics issues. They wanted not to give an explanation of the current reality, but rather to change that reality. Max Horkheimer composed in 1937 a programmatic manifesto, called Traditionelle und kritische Theorie. The Frankfurt theorists wrote and write about neo-Marxist and critical theory. They oppose positivistic research methodology.

The Institute of the Frankfurt School was shut down with extreme force in 1933 by the Nazis. The members of the Frankfurt School escaped from Germany and Horkheimer founded a ‘new’ Frankfurt School at Columbia University in New York. During their exile, Adorno and Horkheimer worked on an inquiry into the authoritarian character of the German society. That authoritarian character was for them the basis of German fascism. Max Horkheimer and Theodor W. Adorno wrote from 1944 until 1947 a collection of essays, titled Dialektik der Aufklärung. The members of the Frankfurt School returned to the University of Frankfurt in 1950. The Frankfurt theorists wanted and want to defend democracy in Germany after the Second World War. The most important members of the Frankfurt School were Max Horkheimer, Theodor W. Adorno, Herbert Marcuse, ← 21 | 22 → Erich Fromm, Leo Löwenthal, and Walter Benjamin. The Frankfurt theorists were very important during the university protests in 1968. Present members of the Frankfurt School are Jürgen Habermas and Oskar Negt.

HJ: There was a connection between Joe and music.

SRS: For his whole life, there was that connection with music. Being a Southerner he was raised in music, being raised in a Christian church, born in Kingsport, Tennessee, singing a lot of gospel songs all the time. Being raised in the South means that he met a lot of Black music and Black influences. He learned to play piano from his mother. By the time he was fourteen he decided to form a rock and roll band. He was in a band with three white guys and a Black singer, Bill. Joe played in a band from high school to university, to university, to university … all through his degrees. Then he played in a band wherever he lived. In 1970, he and some friends formed a band and he was in that band for twenty years. When he died, he had been playing in a band with professors of critical pedagogy for 10 years.

HJ: Why did you both leave New York some years ago and go to McGill University in Montreal?

SRS: Joe had a spectacular job in New York, but we saw that there were a lot of people coming in who weren’t critical at all. Some well-known names were hired and actually claimed that the Urban Program Joe had co-founded was “too Black, too Urban.” They were racist and positivist, clothed in their “liberal” closed-minded views. It was appallingly clear that both Joe (deputy-director) and his close colleague Phil Anderson (director), would have to get out as soon as they could. Ironically, this was Joe’s program, he wrote the curriculum, designed the courses, recruited the students.

Joe was offered a great job in Montreal. The dean was a drummer. Joe had visions of playing rock and roll with the dean, and that happened the first year. Unfortunately, the dean left and we were stuck in Montreal. We were not happy at McGill University, but we did have the resources to create The Freire Project.

HJ: You and Joe were not happy in Montreal?

SRS: Well, we loved our students. But it was not a good place to be. And it was very hard to be there as Anglophones. It was also politically conservative. It is not a place where we should have been. We should have stayed in New York, but then again, we did end up in the safety of Canada, socialized medicine, and a non-Hawkish government. Joe built a music studio, and we had a large home in the Laurentian ← 22 | 23 → mountains, which became a bit of a retreat for colleagues, students, friends, our kids, and many musicians.

HJ: For you and Joe it was always very important to help oppressed people.

SRS: From the day Joe became a professor, and he published books for his students and with his students, he encouraged his students to become the best they could be. When we taught at Penn State, he said during every course he taught: “My commitment is that during every doctoral course I teach, I will 100% support my students.” And he carried that through. We both wrote several books in which we invited graduate students to publish with us. That was the way Joe worked. I was more community based. Joe did speeches, while I actually worked in the community. And Joe came to visit those communities. We each had our strengths; he was more fruitful with writing, and I did a great deal of media and on-the-ground work.

His greatest attribute was that he loved everybody all the time. And love makes you laugh, makes you happy. Love brings music.

HJ: But life killed him at the end.

SRS: I think that people killed him. I mean the negativity, the bullying, jealous people, and his own desire to always be there for everyone.

The academic world was brutal, and many were jealous of Joe’s successes, and at the same time, disliked him because he truly was working class and from the South; to many American academics, that was unacceptable. He wasn’t of the right “breeding.” And his ability to be present for everyone, that was problematic. He didn’t know how to say no, how to move on without bringing many other peoples’ problems with him.

HJ: You and Joe were always supporting people who were ‘killed’ by the system because of the things they were saying. That was also our connection.

SRS: Yes, we really noticed that a lot of times … of course not for everybody … that if you work hard for them, like Joe did, it doesn’t always work out in a nice way. Joe brings people in, gives them a scholarship, gives them a chair and three months later they dump you and they go to someone else. Because that is what they really want to do. You publish their stories and then they write their next book and publish it with someone else. I think we had a rate of 50% … 50% of loyal people who really appreciated the help that we gave them. ← 23 | 24 →

HJ: Is that the case because the real story of critical pedagogy is hard to understand for a lot of people?

SRS: I think the notion of critical pedagogy is appealing and looks nice, but a lot of people don’t want to take the critical actions critical pedagogy asks for. I see people saying that they are critical and work as true critical pedagogy workers, yet the moment they see a secretary or a waiter or a housekeeper, they treat them like servants, the lower class. That is not how Paulo Freire was. Critical pedagogy is about love, a radical love. In São Paulo, in 1996, Joe and I had dinner with Paulo at his home. It was the second time he had discussed the notion of radical love. Joe and I went on to speak and discuss the idea of radical love, and I have continued to use it in my work as an activist and community educator. Critical pedagogy should be about love, should be about hope and it should be about empowerment. It is not about egos. Too many people are involved in working for their own ego. You know, Paulo was not loved by all. Indeed, Harvard School of Education repeatedly refused to host Freire. It was the Harvard Divinity School who invited him to visit and speak. What an irony. The greatest educator of our times, and the arrogance of Harvard School of Education … fools. Paulo Freire was a humble, yet confident man. This too, was Joe L. Kincheloe.

HJ: How do you explain in this framework what radical love is?

SRS: Radical love is a way to be. We take the complexity of emotions, of love we identify with a partner, our children, and our world. We carry them into our public life, our community work, our activism, our pedagogy. It is about passion, I think of Alfred Whitehead’s notion of romance in Education. Blending with Paulo’s way of looking at love, our personal and public selves are engaged in acts of love.

HJ: What will be the future of critical pedagogy?

SRS: I hope that it becomes equitable within, diverse, and global. I am still fully capable of being critically pedagogical. I think women often have more power when they speak than men, but of course, we still have men who don’t give us the chance to speak. People still identify this work with white men, but do not see those men having connection with non-white men. We have to make critical pedagogy more universal. I believe many white men in critical pedagogy have moved from the desire to being rock stars to being facilitators and mentors to women and people of color; at least I hope this to be true.

HJ: What will be your place in the future of critical pedagogy? ← 24 | 25 →

SRS: I will just be a teacher and a facilitator. And definitely, not a vulgar Marxist. Well to be honest, all my work comes from Marx. But I see an uncomfortable Marxist trend with some people in critical pedagogy, blindly following Marx, prioritizing class over race, gender, sexuality; screaming and yelling about neo-liberalism and neo-rationalism; yet not going to schools, not talking with children, adults, parents, and teachers, not doing the work, and most importantly, not listening to anyone but themselves. Of course everybody in critical pedagogy has read Marx, but we also have to act critically. It is much more complex than traditional Marxism. Hey, he’s dead, we need to get over it. It’s also about living our philosophy, being what I believe. I don’t need or want a “place” in the discourse of critical pedagogy, but I want to continue to have a venue to work and to have the dialogues.

HJ: It is not only telling ‘important’ messages…

SRS: No, it is walking the talk. You can talk a lot, but if you don’t walk the talk—don’t do it. Don’t talk about feminism and have at the same time an affair, with your wife still in your home. Don’t do that. Don’t talk about LGBT rights and be homophobic. Don’t talk about racism and treat the guy next door as an intruder because he is not white. Be inclusive, not exclusive, be generous, not self-indulgent.

HJ: At this moment, we live in a dangerous period for education, for children, for everybody. That’s why critical pedagogy is very important at this moment. How can we tell that story to other people? How can we involve them?

SRS: By doing the good work.13 By going into the community, creating learning communities. Instead of saying we have a school here and a community there, we have to build a bridge between school and community, between university and school … not as a professional development school, we need to be global citizens, instead of just a schoolteacher or a community activist. We need to cross over. We need to have activism. We need to politicize our work. Make it accessible, so people understand it.

HJ: With governments like that in the U.S.A or in the Netherlands, that isn’t so easy to do. You see that economic issues are more important than social and human ones.

SRS: We are subjects of a corporation. It is terrifying.

HJ: You see more and more Tea Party-like institutions.

SRS: Yes, a corporate mentality is like the Tea Party. Joe and I were always committed to sol­idarity.14 Having each others’ backs was always helpful. It is not about popularity, but it is about having people’s backs and knowing that they are going ← 25 | 26 → to tell you the truth, to not defend the dehumanized corporation, but one another. Solidarity is the most important word.

HJ: I speak in this case about pedagogical solidarity.15 Pedagogical solidarity is not something exclusive to a teacher, but it is part of the teacher, of the students and of the pedagogical situation. It’s almost everything. It’s not what you do, but who you are. Your performativity. Most teachers don’t understand that.

SRS: No, not at all … they don’t. How do we make complexity theory for this people ‘visible’? How do we make things deeply meaningful?

HJ: So we have a lot of work to do?

SRS: Yes, there is a lot of work. We are just starting.

HJ: OK, let’s go to pedagogical action. Thank you for this interview.


1. See for example https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joe_L._Kincheloe; http://www.virginia.edu/woodson/courses/aas102%20(spring%2001)/articles/kincheloe.html; http://dbpedia.org/page/Joe_L._Kincheloe; http://www.joekincheloe.us/index.html.

2. The Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy is working on the construction of an international society focusing on making social justice a reality in diverse cultural contexts. The participants in this project perform critical research on social, political, and pedagogical issues. Their attention is focused on deprived, discriminated, subordinated, and indigenous populations/communities. They struggle against power relations in pedagogy and in education. Their basis is the work of Paulo Freire.

3. See for example hayes, Steinberg, and Tobin (2011), Kincheloe, Steinberg, and Stonebanks (2010), Macedo and Steinberg (2007), Steinberg (2001, 2009, 2011), Steinberg and Cannella (2012), Steinberg and Cornish (2010), and Steinberg and Kincheloe (1998, 2004).

4. Post-formal thinking and post-formal pedagogy compose—as mentioned before—a theory of Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg. They tell us that educational psychology is dominant in the educational thinking and in the scientific educational research of the twentieth century. We need an evaluation of that situation and of the educational psychology. Post-formal thinking is based on questioning and inquiring into the meaning and goals of education, multiple literacy, human dignity, freedom, and social responsibility. Educational scholars and teachers have to inquire and to explore educational problems, have to make hidden presuppositions visible, have to see all kind of relations in the educational world, but also, in society, have to deconstruct oppressing texts, situations, and constructions; have to be connected with the affections and emotions of students, and must pay attention to the educational context. ← 26 | 27 →

5. For the formalism of Piaget, see http://www.fondationjeanpiaget.ch/fjp/site/biographie/index_photos.php?thumb_page=2.

6. Terence Kemp McKenna was an American philosopher, psychonaut, ethnobotanist, lecturer, and author. He spoke and wrote about a variety of subjects, including psychedelic drugs, plant-based entheogens, shamanism, metaphysics, alchemy, language, culture, technology, and the theoretical origins of human consciousness.

7. See Text Box 1 about blue knowledge.

8. William Weaks ‘Willie’ Morris was an American writer and editor born in Jackson, Mississippi, though his family later moved to Yazoo City, Mississippi, which he immortalized in his works of prose. Morris’s trademark was his lyrical prose style and reflections on the American South, particularly the Mississippi Delta. In 1967 he became the youngest editor of Harper’s Magazine. He wrote several works of fiction and nonfiction, including his seminal book North Toward Home, as well as My Dog Skip. See http://www.olemiss.edu/mwp/dir/morris_willie/index.html.

9. See Text Box 2 about the Frankfurter Schule.

10. See Murray (1996).

11. Hip-hop DJs select and play music using multiple turntables to back up one or more Emcees/rappers and perform turntable scratching to create percussive sounds. They are often songwriters and/or music producers who use turntablism and sampling to create backing instrumentals for new tracks.

12. MCing is the art of rapping with the Emcee (master of ceremonies, microphone controller or master controller). Early rappers used to simply host parties before their art turned into a profession pursued by young people nowadays (source: http://www.ask.com/question/what-is-mcing; http://4hiphopelements.tripod.com/MCing.html).

13. We must, according to Kincheloe (2003/2004), ground our praxis of learning in school in our notion of good work, an inclusive community, citizen-to-citizen solidarity, and hope. We must imagine our schools as places where students learn and work together to realize and to perpetuate the socio-economic conditions to make individual freedom and social empowerment possible. Teachers have to, according to Kincheloe, become critical constructivist teacher researchers. Kincheloe liked to empower teachers for that purpose with the help of action research, executed by the teachers themselves. The critical constructivist teacher researchers of Kincheloe are “… passionate scholars who connect themselves emotionally to that which they are seeking to know and understand.” (p. 64) and “In the spirit of hope, possibility, and anti-determinism, critical constructivist researchers seek to liberate themselves from … determinism by taking control of our perceptual abilities, by transcending what the context permits. In this way we emancipate ourselves from the constraints of the Cartesian dualism.” (p. 68). Teachers as researchers become active producers of knowledge and meaning and not just consumers of the knowledge of the so called scientific researchers. Teachers as researchers operate in a culture of good work opposite to the culture of bad work of the neo-positivists, with their guiding principles being: “the principle of self-direction; the principle of the job as a place of learning; the principle of work variety; the principle of workmate cooperation; the principle of individual work as a contribution to social welfare; the principle that play is a virtue which must be incorporated into work” (pp. 25–27). ← 27 | 28 →

14. Pedagogical solidarity supports individual and collective awareness of one’s own and others’ oppressed situation. But it also supports planning and performing pedagogical actions. Supportive but not automatically sufficient. Butler (2001) mentions that a notion of solidarity is necessary. Kincheloe (2007) takes one step more. He calls for critical solidarity: “a call for critical solidarity in an era that might be described as ‘less than friendly’ to many of our perspectives on social, cultural, political, economic, epistemological, ontological, psychological, social, theoretical, and pedagogical issues of the day” (p. 10). Butler (2001, p. 276) supplements this statement with: “By sharing in lived oppression … possibilities emerge beyond those of individual resiliency. Solidarity allows people to be intolerant of oppression because they can take collective risks to dismantle its mentalities and structures. Risk-taking becomes thinkable within the collective because of the energy and support of the shared experience and organized resistance.” And Furness (2007) tells us that we should introduce “new ideas into public discourse, by critiquing institutions of power, by documenting cultures that exist under the radar of popular/consumer culture, by promoting participation, and by encouraging solidarity with others who have similar beliefs about how the world should work” (p. 193).

15. See Jansen (2011, 2013).


Butler, M. A. (2001). Transformative hope: A pedagogical vision. In S. R. Steinberg (Eds.), Multi/intercultural conversations: A reader (Vol. 94). New York: Peter Lang (Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education).

Furness, Z. (2007). Alternative media: The art of Rebellion. In D. Macedo & S. R. Steinberg (Eds.), Media literacy: A reader. New York: Peter Lang.

hayes, k., Steinberg, S. R., & Tobin, K. (Eds.). (2011). Key works in critical pedagogy: Joe L. Kincheloe (Vol. 32). Rotterdam: Sense Publishers (Bold Visions in Educational Research).

http://4hiphopelements.tripod.com/MCing.html. Retrieved on 2014, April 18.

http://dbpedia.org/page/Joe_L._Kincheloe. Retrieved on 2014, May 10.

http://www.ask.com/question/what-is-mcing. Retrieved on 2014, April 18.

http://www.bing.com/search?q=Kincheloe&mkt=nl-NL&rf=0&x=149&y=17&first=21&FORM=PERE1. Retrieved on 2014, May 10.

http://www.fondationjeanpiaget.ch/fjp/site/biographie/index_photos.php?thumb_page=2. Retrieved on 2014, April 13.

http://www.joekincheloe.us/index.html. Retrieved on 2014, May 6.

http://www.freireproject.org/. Retrieved on 2014, May 10.

http://www.olemiss.edu/mwp/dir/morris_willie/index.html. Retrieved on 2014, May 5.

http://www.virginia.edu/woodson/courses/aas102%20(spring%2001)/articles/kincheloe.html. Retrieved on 2014 May 10.

Jansen, H. (2011). Van apathie naar bewustwording. In H. Jansen (Red.). Verbondenheid in beeld. 10 jaar School Video Interactie Begeleiding (Vol. 3), Amersfoort: Uitgeverij Agiel (Retro Perspectief). ← 28 | 29 →

Jansen, H. (2013). De betekenis van Hermen J. Jacobs. Naar een kritisch ethische pedagogiek. In J. Brandsma (met een bijdrage van Jansen, H.), Hermen J. Jacobs, pionier en strijdmakker binnen het buitengewoon onderwijs (Vol. 5). Amersfoort: Uitgeverij Agiel (Retro Perspectief).

Kincheloe, J. L. (2003/2004). Teachers as researchers: Qualitative inquiry as a path to empowerment. London: RoutledgeFalmer.

Kincheloe, J. L. (2005). Critical Constructivism. Primer. New York: Peter Lang.

Kincheloe, J. L. (2007). The theoretical dimensions of critical pedagogy. In J. L. Kincheloe & Peter McLaren (Eds.) Critical pedagogy: Where are we now?. New York: Peter Lang (Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education).

Kincheloe, J. L., Steinberg, S. R., & Stonebanks, C. D. (Eds.). (2010). Teaching against Islamophobia (Vol. 346). New York: Peter Lang (Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education).

Macedo, D., & Steinberg, S. R. (Eds.). (2007). Media literacy: A reader. New York: Peter Lang.

Murray, A. (1996). The blue devils of Nada: A contemporary American approach to aesthetic statement. New York: Vintage International.

Steinberg, S. R. (Eds.). (2001). Multi/intercultural conversations: A reader (Vol. 94). New York: Peter Lang (Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education).

Steinberg, S. R. (Eds.). (2009). Diversity and multiculturalism: A reader. New York: Peter Lang.

Steinberg, S. R. (Eds.). (2011). Kinderculture: The corporate construction of childhood. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Steinberg, S. R., & Cannella, G. S. (Eds.). (2012). Critical qualitative research: Reader (Vol. 2). New York: Peter Lang (Critical Qualitative Research: Critical Issues for Learning and Teaching).

Steinberg, S. R., & Cornish, L. (2010). Taboo: Essays on culture and education. New York: Peter Lang.

Steinberg, S. R., & Kincheloe, J. L. (Eds.). (1998). Students as researchers: Creating classrooms that matter. London: FalmerPress.

Steinberg, S. R., & Kincheloe, J. L. (Eds.). (2004). 19 urban questions: Teaching in the city (Vol. 215). New York: Peter Lang (Counterpoints: Studies in the Postmodern Theory of Education). ← 29 | 30 →

← 30 | 31 →


The Blue(s) Road of Knowledge



“And this was really the way that my whole road experience began, and the things that were to come are too fantastic not to tell.” (Kerouac, 1957, p. 7)

“To become a seeker of new knowledge and new ways of being we must be willing to sometimes be seen as the fools of the gods. In a Western culture that moves many of us to become obsessed with popularity and the approval of others, this becomes a lot to ask of a twenty-first century student or teacher. But a critical pedagogy must, nevertheless, ask it of such individuals. One must also be willing to take to the road, in much the same way Jack Kerouac did in the 1950s. [I]t … might mean traveling the path laid out by subjugated knowledge, exploring a wide variety of data sources excluded by the standardized elementary and secondary school curriculum and the corporatized university course of study” (Kincheloe, 2008, p. 19)


With his text on becoming a seeker of new knowledge, Joe L. Kincheloe wants to catch the attention of teachers and students, who are often anesthetized by consumerism and hyperreality’s saturation of their minds, as well as by marketing’s overwhelming iconography. He wanted to write for his audience in the style of a beat poet in order to get his readers to think about the issues of knowledge and the ways they shape our lives and everyday existence (Kincheloe, 2008, p. 20). ← 31 | 32 →

According to Kincheloe, what appears to be unexplainable in one linguistic community, in another may be easily articulated. The need for multi-logicality, multiple perspectives, multiple languages, and multiple methods, “rears its head” (ibid., p. 216). For example, he writes that an emotional notion that is hard to express in psychological or pedagogical languages may be effortlessly articulated in an aesthetic one. And once such an emotion is expressed, it exists. The artist has created it and therefore it lives in a personal way among those who have read the poem or viewed the picture. Consequently, the language of poets, novelists, painters, musicians, and other artists is important and can produce fresh contexts (ibid.). Hereby we recognize that “knowledge must be enactedunderstood at the level of human beings’ affect and intellect” to be meaningful (Kincheloe & McLaren, 2005, p. 315).

Like a novel,” write Kincheloe and Steinberg, “science is ‘written’; both the novel and science operate according to the arbitrary rules of a language game” (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 2011, p. 53). They are, of course, referring to Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jean-François Lyotard, who developed the idea of ‘language games’. One form of language game corresponds to making a new move (i.e., a new argument) within the established rules; the other corresponds to inventing new rules. In other words, making a change to be able to create a ‘new game’ (Lyotard, 1984, p. 43).

Joe L. Kincheloe described his ‘new game’ as post-formal thinking, or as getting “behind the curtain of ostensible normality” (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 2011, p. 63). Kincheloe’s critical pedagogy tries to take all that is commonplace and to uncover the secrets of its construction, in order to compel us to broader questioning. Crucial is exposing the beneficiaries of ‘just the way it is’ and urging us to envision and work toward a better world. There is a commitment here to illuminating ideological crevices and to making us rethink our own praxis; as we begin to think of education in terms of social justice.

Post-formal thinking creates situations that “bring hidden assumptions to our attention and make the tacit visible” (ibid.). These situations bring insights that can involve the apprehension of structures not attainable to the explicate order of reality. He refers to the Swiss Expressionist painter Paul Klee, who asserted that artists don’t reproduce the visible, instead they make things visible (ibid.). Post-formal knowledge teaches us that like in fiction, social studies or science, is text. Text that “produces ‘truth’ no more absolute than the truth of the artist—it is an inventive act, a creative cognitive process” (ibid., p. 68).

Post-formalism challenges the hegemony of the Cartesian-Newtonian assumption of linear causality and cause-effect rationality. The post-formal perspective assumes reciprocity and holism, and therefore connects logic and emotion. Based on feminist theory, the role of emotion in learning and knowing is acknowledged. ← 32 | 33 → It is clear, argues Kincheloe, that an appreciation of the continuum of logic and emotion, mind and body, self and other, and individual and nature, is a valuable source of insight in the attempt to achieve higher levels of understanding (ibid.).

Turn to Affect

This theoretical engagement with emotions and affectivity has been identified by many scholars as the ‘affective turn’ (Clough & Halley, 2007; La Caze & Lloyd, 2011). The ‘turn’ to affect takes distance from the rationalist traditions of study, which are often characterized as ‘Cartesian’, signifying that they are cognitive or reason-based. The ‘turn to affect’ leads “us to rethink the frameworks of scholarship and research that have separated the mind from the body” (Clough, 2010, p. 222). The ‘turn to affect’ celebrates non-dualist accounts of the self. Affect theorists understand that “affect and cognition are never fully separable” (Seigworth & Gregg, 2010, pp. 2–3). The ‘turn to affect’, as inspired by Merleau-Ponty’s (2005) understanding of embodied intentionality, centers on lived perception and rejects both the empirical subject (the subject understood as mere body), and the idealist subject (the subject of pure mind). In short, the turn to affect is a turn away from the philosophical separation of body and mind and towards non-dualist ontologies.

“Seeing” lived experience requires sustained involvement with the moment-by-moment details of local practices. This participation of the researcher with the sensitivities and problems of others requires affective engagement. Affect is one of the most important contributions of non-Cartesian approaches to knowledge (Bargiela-Chiappini, 2009). Methodologically, the integration of affect and emotion with pragmatics leads towards a holistic framework or theory of interpersonal communication in context (Kopytko, 2004).

For Joe L. Kincheloe, the ‘turn to affect’ was inspired by feminism and radical pedagogy’s focus on (in)justice and the social practices of repression. His ‘self-other’ construct was inherently politicized by his identification of ‘un-freedom’ with capitalism, and assumption that this link determines affect. The affective turn is a key element in Kincheloe’s post-formal mode of thinking. Important characteristics within the ‘turn to affect’ include: contextualization, honoring lived experience, feeling the rhythm of everyday life (or the particular), developing an aesthetics of affect, and the exploration of the complex relation between power, subjectivity and emotions. Indeed, these are his starting points in understanding the lived world of institutions, such as schools.

Patricia Clough, in 2010, raised the question in her “Afterword: The Future of Affect Studies” (a chapter in a special issue of Parrhesia on the ‘Affective Turn’) of ← 33 | 34 → how to engage with and (re-)present affect. She suggested that the solution should be to pay attention to marginalized knowledge, attending to the figure of the artist and the rhythm of his/her art and music. Kincheloe had already indicated this answer with his post-formal mode of thinking. He championed the ‘turn to affect’ by using the language of poetry and music to explore the complex paradoxes of ‘both/and’ relationships, and not just the binaries of ‘either/or’.

It was in his 2005 book Critical Constructivism Primer that Kincheloe made the connection between the characteristics of the ‘affective turn’ and those of the artist, described with the metaphor of ‘blue knowledge’ (Kincheloe, 2005a, p. 144). With the idea of ‘blue knowledge’, Kincheloe’s ‘turn to affect’ not only showed how to engage affect methodologically, but also showed his own struggle with the continuum of logic and emotion, mind and body, self and other, and individual and nature. For Kincheloe, ‘blue knowledge’ challenges the conventional oppositions between reason and emotion, and discourse and affect. His goal was to explore and reconfigure political and ethical (mis-)appropriations of emotion occurring in the complex relation between power, subjectivity, and emotion. With the metaphor of ‘blue knowledge’ we glimpse Kincheloe’s passion that “fueled his struggles against inequality, oppression in all of its varied forms, and the stupidification of education” (Steinberg, 2011, pp. xii–xiii). ‘Blue knowledge’ is Kincheloe’s lens on the world.

Blue(s) Knowledge

The idea of ‘blue(s) knowledge’ comes from the improvisational essence of the blues. The blues as a music form has its roots in African American communities, primarily in the ‘Deep South’ of the United States. It originated around the end of the nineteenth century from musical styles, including spirituals, work songs, and popular ‘minstrel’ songs. The blues genre—ubiquitous in jazz, rhythm and blues, and rock and roll—describes relationships and events in sad lyrics, but always with a hope for another day. The best way to look at the context of the blues is to see the blues as a music of complaint; many see the blues as an expressive tool permitting one to detail feelings about life in general, or about the nature of one’s own life in a passionate way (Weissman, 2004).

Lyrically, Kincheloe explains, “the blues project a confrontation of life’s raw existential realities.” “Though they refuse to run from the hardships of life,” he goes on, “the lyrics of the blues are ultimately a celebration of human agency, the ability of groups and individuals to persist despite the obstacles thrown in their way” (Kincheloe, 2005a, p. 161). This impassioned spirit appealed to him and shaped his life, from when he first comprehended it (ibid.). Even though there are the ever-existing dominant ← 34 | 35 → powers that subjugate; there is another day. His love of the blues serves as a metaphor for his own powerful struggle as a child, out and beyond originating in a subordinated group (Blake, 2008).

According to Kincheloe, critical educators and ‘intellectual rebels’ can learn a great deal from ‘blue knowledge’. As in the blues, ‘blue knowledge’ is always complex and subjective, grounded in ambiguity and entertaining intersecting narratives of tragedy, comedy, melodrama and irony. ‘Blue knowledge’ reflects concern with oppression and power, and embraces the notion of crazy wisdom, celebrates immediate coping abilities, and requires the improvisational finesse to incorporate an understanding of power and the cultivation of human agency in relation to it (Kincheloe, 2005a, p. 165). The blues idiom is about the “power of difference, subjugated knowledge and the importance of the view from below” (ibid., p. 162). Kincheloe offers up ‘blue knowledge’ as a kind of ‘improvisational’ readiness on the edges of one’s thinking (Blake, 2008).

Following the African American literary and jazz critic Albert Murray, Kincheloe argues that in the blues aesthetic, “jouissance is power” (Kincheloe, 2005a, p. 163, emphasis in original). According to Kincheloe, Murray provides insight into the power of the blues idiom and the symbolism of particular performers in their social and political context. According to Murray, the blues idiom is a very powerful metaphorical structure, offering a response to the human condition that is significant, meaningful, and individually stylized. As a performative construction of identity and community, the blues also creates the capacity to function in situations of confrontation. The blues offers a disruptive and creative counterstatement to the ideology of the dominant culture (Jones, 1999; Murray, 1996). The blues provides a model for life and knowledge that expresses that life is affirmative. The blues artist, through the interplay between the individual and tradition, as well as between persons and groups, is able to move beyond the binaries inherent in the dominant ideological stance, in order to gain an understanding of subjugated knowledge (Murray, 1996).

The blues provides a poetic ability to confront what is important by illuminating problems “that are directly involved in the affirmation and justification of human life as such” (ibid., p. 219). The blues style of music and poetry are the language “to process (which is to say to stylize) the raw native materials, experiences, and the idiomatic particulars of everyday life into aesthetic (which is to say elegant) statements of universal relevance and appeal” (ibid., p. 77). This occurs while learning something about intellectual and artistic sincerity (Murray, 1990). Derived from the African American culture as an expression of life’s raw existential realities, the blues inspired many ‘white crossovers’. The loose, democratic, group-centered structure of the blues, fueled white America’s attempt to unite its body with its ← 35 | 36 → mind (Ignatiev, 1996). One of the white artists who was drawn to this expression of black culture was the Beat poet Jack Kerouac. He wrote that he wanted “to be considered as a jazz poet blowing a long blues in an afternoon jazz session on Sunday” (Creeley, 1995, p. xi).

Kincheloe’s theory of ‘blue knowledge’ originates in this aesthetic context “in much the same way Jack Kerouac’s [writing] did in the 1950s” (Kincheloe, 2008, p. 19). Kincheloe strove for his work to be comparable to that of a jazz musician (Kincheloe, 2005b), expressing himself in the way the Beat poets did (ibid.), by bringing different dynamics together in ways that produce a synergistic interaction. Kincheloe intended to bring hidden assumptions to our attention, and to make the tacit visible (Kincheloe & Steinberg, 2011), by giving voice to the end of oppression in education. He described ‘blue knowledge’ as a road experience of driving “down on Highway 61” (Kincheloe, 2005a, p. 165), known as the ‘Blues Highway’.

Kincheloe tried to articulate critical understandings of education, calling for multi-logicality, multiple perspectives, multiple languages and multiple methods, to jam with the Other. But Kincheloe’s authorial ‘I’ has none of the aliveness or passion of the Beats, nor the rawness and local embeddedness of the Tennessee blues he performed all his life. Bakhtin described the struggle against an authoritarian imposition of a single, unitary voice as polyphony. He claimed that good art creates a struggle of language against unitary discourse (Bakhtin, 1981, 1984). The simultaneous expression of multiple voices, and hence multiple ideologies, supposedly gives the author optimal conditions for new perceptions. It is this polyphony that Morris describes as a ‘creative border zone’ (Morris, 1994, p. 5), characteristic of the blues and jazz (Tally, 2001), which is capable of creating the articulation of physicality and its effect between writer and reader (Trudeau, 2006). But did Kincheloe’s polito-sociological writings aim for or achieve polyphony? Wasn’t Kincheloe in his pedagogical writings monologic—that is, writing about the exploited and repressed from a single sociological perspective?

In a polyphonic text, the author takes a less ‘authoritative’ role. Above all, in dialogical authorship, different logics not only coexist, but also shape and inform one another. On the other hand, in monological authorship, only the narrator’s logic is present. As described by Morson and Emerson: “In a monologic work, only the author, as the ‘ultimate semantic authority’, retains the power to express a truth directly.” Conversely, in a polyphonic work “the author ceases to exercise monologic control,” it “demands a work in which several consciousnesses meet as equals and engage in dialogue that is in principle unfinalizable” (Letiche, 2010; Morson & Emerson, 1990, pp. 238–239). Kincheloe in the classroom or seminar was polyphonic; Kincheloe as a Blues man was polyphonic. Live, he communicated with and to the Other. Here the tempo and rhythm of expression and interaction allowed ← 36 | 37 → him to be the Beat figure he aspired to. But in his writing, polyphony remained more aspiration than realization (Kincheloe, 2003). In seminars, his polyphony connected with the avant-garde jazz musicians who performed polyphony as a collective improvisation, in which every musician has his own ‘voice’. And this connects with Kerouac’s On the Road, which can be seen as a polyphonic pursuit of an unfinalizable (but politically and historically very weak) self. With this connection we come to a crucial point in Kincheloe’s ideas about post-formalism. An essential argument raised by critics of polyphony, critics of the ‘turn to affect’, and critics of the counter movement is that either one gets poetic polyphony or one gets historicized (social) development and change, but one never gets them both.

The Artist and the Researcher

A central point of criticism that one can raise on the notion of ‘blue knowledge’ and its ingredients—i.e., the ‘turn to affect’, the improvisational essence of the blues form, and the performance of polyphony—is that it posits an individual who passionately rebels against repressive norms, but at the same time depends on “an endless spiral of subjection and subjectivation, resignification and subversion, and power and pleasure” (Athanasiou, Hantzaroula, & Yannakopoulos, 2008, p. 14). In the attachment to critique, it is difficult to distance oneself from the affects of anger, protest, and moral self-justification. Already Kerouac faced this dilemma. And in regard to contemporary reincarnations of the Beat Generation, one can reject the very possibility that there could be “such a thing as a true ‘counterculture’” (Bennet, 2005, p. 180; Martinez, 2003). Beat countercultural can be criticized as so much posturing and theoretical naiveté. And, it is this criticism that ‘blue knowledge’ has to face. So, does this leave the road trip of Kerouac and Kincheloe without a future?

According to music critic Jim Fusilli (2010), the future of the blues has to be built on new modes of expression. For artists and audiences, the blues must not be merely a form, it has to be lived emotion. It is the Beat artist’s expression of lived perception that creates the revolutionary energy that the Beat Generation unleashed. Beat counterculture may have been less revolutionary than many believed it was, but it was more powerful than its critics contend. The ‘rebel’ remains relevant. Kincheloe’s ‘blue knowledge’ had to negotiate its precarious location on the liminal edge between the ‘square’ culture that it rejected, and the alternative ‘blue knowledge’ that it tried to create. What new multiple logicality, multiple perspectives, multiple languages, and multiple methods or perspectives can best illuminate the complexity of ‘blue knowledge’? How can Kincheloe’s ← 37 | 38 → critical pedagogy be expanded to include a wider range of voices, living experiences and texts, and how can this canonical reconstruction alter our understanding of ‘blue knowledge’?

The renewed expression of ‘blue knowledge’ would both entail the restoration of the living experience of critical pedagogy and an impulse for reflection. Its effects cannot be anticipated if we take post-formalism seriously. Thought, of course, is grounded, socially embedded, polyphonically disputed, and constantly debated. The ‘audience’ is crucial: Who are the active interpreters, who are trying to invent their own interpretations in order to appropriate the story for themselves and make their own story? Who are the new ‘post-Beats’?


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← 40 | 41 →


Introduction to Post-formalism as a Way of Life



The term ‘post-formalism’ comes from Joe L. Kincheloe and Shirley R. Steinberg, 1993. As in much critical social studies dating from the late twentieth century, the term is epistemological. One way of knowing—that is participatory, emancipatory, and focused on social justice—is compared to another—which is objective, technocratic, and focused on control. The epistemological divide mirrored a political divide. One of Joe L. Kincheloe’s gifts was that he made complex arguments look effortless and that he communicated successfully with practitioners. Of course, Kincheloe had enormous academic legitimacy via a huge number of publications and a prestigious Chair at a top North American university (McGill). But the issue now is what lives on from his stimulus. His was a living pedagogy; that is, a way of life with others. He welcomed others to his house, was open for dialogue, and was generous with his ideas and inspiration. Post-formalism was a not very formal way of getting along with people, despite all the accomplishments and status. This book is inspired by his work, but even more by his way of being, which shines through his work. It asks the question: where can we, and even do we, now go with post-formalism? To introduce the theme, I will go back to my own baptism in post-formalism and tell how I became linked to Joe, his work, and his way of life.

Let’s start with a typical commentary of Joe’s: it is not easy for teachers and students to work in a school these days1 because we are living in “the bizarre educational cosmos of the twenty-first century” (Kincheloe, 2005, p. 7). There is a severe ← 41 | 42 → pedagogical crisis in our world. Teachers and students act like pedagogical zombies (Giroux, 2011) with an empty gaze (the eyes of teachers and students don’t meet). Their gazes are cold, without words, without emotions, and without affect. Pedagogical energy can only be generated in interaction between teachers and students, and can become palpable, if there is pedagogical sensitivity. But the perspective of curriculum studies and the attitude of traditional teachers (with their ‘teacher gaze’ filled with arrogance and disinterest) destroy this energy and transform students into learning machines. Standardized school curriculum operates in such a way that students roll “off the assembly line so they can become replaceable, low-paid employees in the free market-driven workplace of the globalized economy” (Kincheloe, 2007a, p. 6). Traditional teachers try most of the time to control and to steer the students and their gaze (ibid., p. 22). Students don’t look teachers in their eyes, they don’t speak with their eyes, and they don’t tell stories when they meet teachers. Their eyes are cast down without gleam, because they are in survival mode when they are in the pedagogical jungle of the school. There is an asymmetrical power relationship between teachers and students. We can compare the situation with the traditional relations between men and women.2 In the pedagogical dance (between teachers and students) it is possible to use pedagogical energy to disrupt the one-sided ‘(anti-)pleasure’ of the teacher’s gaze. It is a traditional gaze where we see no understanding or comprehending of pedagogical sensitivity, because the perspective of that gaze is the perspective of top-down control without cooperation (a sort of hand clapping, with only one hand). Students can resist “being co-opted by the conventions and expectations of the controlling and oppressive teacher gaze” (Ann Daly in Risner, 2007, p. 967). They can escape from the traditional teacher gaze, by using their pedagogical power and by creating within the dominant pedagogical structures a counterculture/subculture,3 in effect starting a pedagogical revolution.4 The teacher’s gaze—based on the traditional teacher-student binary divide (Thomas in Risner, 2007, p. 968)—does not take students seriously. The teacher’s gaze pretends to be objective in the classroom. But observation is always conditioned by the perspective and the expectations of the observer (Devereaux, 2004b, p. 382), and the teacher’s gaze contains the threat of control, possession and oppression.5 The teacher’s gaze denies the possibility of an innocent eye of just looking. Control of the student’s gaze (Seppänen, 2006) by teachers seems to be necessary in traditional pedagogical/educational settings. And in these settings, the teacher’s gaze is patriarchal and a part of a social system based on the supremacy of the teacher (the controlling and punishing father/mother), and the legal dependency of the student (the insignificant child). Students are defined as dependent for their status, privileges and identities. This arrangement oppresses students on a symbolic and on a materialistic level (Devereaux, 2004b, p. 382). The ← 42 | 43 → pedagogical/educational discourse of the teachers ‘teaches’ students to reproduce the hierarchy in school. The traditional pedagogical canon is politically repressive and oppressive (ibid., p. 383).6


XVI, 206
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2018 (February)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2017. XIV, 206 pp., 8 b/w ill.

Biographical notes

Hans Jansen (Volume editor) Hugo Letiche (Volume editor)

Hans Jansen is Emeritus Professor of Pedagogical Innovation and Ethics at the University of the West of England. His Drs. is from the University of Amsterdam and his Ph.D. from the Universiteit voor Humanistiek. Hugo Letiche is Professor of Organization and Complexity at the University of Leicester and Visiting Professor at École de Mines: TEM Paris. His Drs. is from Leiden University and his Ph.D. from the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.


Title: Post-formalism, Pedagogy Lives