Paulo Freire’s Philosophy of Education in Contemporary Context

From Italy to the World

by Jones Irwin (Volume editor) Letterio Todaro (Volume editor)
©2022 Edited Collection XVI, 200 Pages


Whither the seminal thinking and practice of Paulo Freire in contemporary times? If Covid 19 is the most seismic health crisis in living memory, it is also just as much an unprecedented crisis for education and society. While Paulo Freire’s work so often calls attention to the deprivations and exploitations suffered by the weakest in our society, at no stage does Freire’s work succumb to a negativism or a pessimism about the possibilities of transformation. To the contrary, Freire’s work is always animated by a strong and fundamental affirmative spirit which calls on people to join together to make change, as opposed to simply waiting around for it to happen.
This text on Freire’s contemporary importance thus seems a timely intervention. Originally a conversation between engaged interlocutors at a University of Catania symposium, this discussion then broadens out to include connection to the particular rendering of these issues across different national and international contexts.
Including essays by established and new thinkers in the Critical Pedagogy perspective, the book also includes up to date and exciting interviews with contemporary practitioners of Theatre of the Oppressed and related social-therapeutic approaches in Italy.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the editors
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Series Editors’ Preface: Freire and Our Very Contemporary Malaise
  • Introduction
  • 1 ‘Authority and Freedom in Freire’: Freire’s Significance as an Educational and Political Philosopher (Jones Irwin)
  • 2 Italy Meets Freire: The Rationale for a Promising Encounter in the Critical 1970s (Letterio Todaro)
  • 3 Exploring Some Tensions in Freire’s Educational and Political Philosophy (Jones Irwin)
  • 4 Paulo Freire’s Emancipatory Education: From Problem-posing Education to Interculturalism (Marco Catarci)
  • 5 ‘This School Called Life’: The Adult Education of Paulo Freire amid Risk and Extraordinary Effort (Elena Marescotti)
  • 6 The Thought of Paulo Freire as Emancipatory Practice in Education (Stefano Salmeri)
  • 7 Understanding Freire’s Thought in a Postmodern Context (Jones Irwin)
  • 8 Freire in Italy Again Today: An Interview with Paolo Vittoria
  • 9 ‘Plurality, Listening and Awareness’: An Interview with Ilaria Olimpico
  • 10 Theatre of the Oppressed in Italy after Freire and Boal: An Interview with Roberto Mazzini
  • Epilogue: From Italian Autonomism to Freire in Italy
  • Bibliography
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Index
  • Series index

←x | xi→


Jones would like to acknowledge his colleagues and students in the Institute of Education, Drumcondra, for support and collegiality in the educational journey. My understanding of Freire is still a work-in-progress and much renewed by the fruitful and challenging discussions of the classroom. Thanks to Tony at Peter Lang and Stephen and David for editorial inspiration. This book would never have come to fruition without Letterio’s original invitation to me to speak on Freire in Catania and I send my gratitude for all his hospitality and insights on the Italian context. Jones would also like to thank his family and friends for their strengthening love, especially through the last, challenging year and a half of ‘lockdown’.

Letterio would like to acknowledge the CAHD research group involved in the Departmental project Pia.Ce.Ri.2020–22 of the University of Catania to which this work is related. This book would not have been realised without Jones’ strong determination and highly motivating encouragement. Letterio hopes this book may increase the interest of Italian readers in Freire’s thought and pedagogical outcomes, especially in a historical time often characterised by uncertainty and distrust of the future.

←xii | xiii→

Series Editors’ Preface: Freire and Our Very Contemporary Malaise

This Peter Lang Series New Disciplinary Perspectives on Education was created so as to respond to what we saw as a universal and global contemporary moment of crisis. At the heart of that vision for new perspectives and critique in education was the enabling vision of Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and his legacy in the movement of Critical Pedagogy.

Born in Brazil, Freire’s original work in literacy education in the 1960s led to a political critique of acute social injustice in his homeland. As a backlash, and against the growing social movements seeking change in Brazil, a military coup sought to regain control of the means of production for the elite. Freire’s progressive work in education and in politics was singled out as socio-politically ‘dangerous’ (threatening a redress of endemic injustice and illiteracy for the poor), and he was to spend nearly thirty years in exile.

Perhaps one of the unintended offshoots of his exile was that his work and influence spread to a much wider public internationally, and including Europe. In 1968, when he published his seminal Pedagogy of the Oppressed in English, a footnote on the very first page notes the seismic revolutionary events of May ’68 happening outside his window. These events seem to mirror the very conflicts and dilemmas (social and psychological) which he delineates in the book’s very pages. The footnote could be translated as ‘Look, I told you so!’ with a Leninist question ‘What is to be done?’

Italy was no exception to the complex events emerging in Europe at this time. The ‘68’ events went on longer in Italy than anywhere else. As Letterio Todaro notes in this volume, in Italy it was to become the ‘long 68’, not coming to an end until the late 1970s (Murphy & Mustapha, 2005: 2). The Left/Right divide, exacerbated by the ’68 events, is nowhere more evident than in Italy, but also the internal schisms of the Leftist ideology and respective parties. This was to have horrific consequences in Italy of the late 1970s, with the kidnapping and murder of Aldo Moro by the ‘Brigate Rosse’ (Red Brigades) in the latter’s vehement opposition to the ‘historical ←xiii | xiv→compromise’ which Moro, as he president of the Christian Democrats, was seeking with the Italian Communist Party. As part of the backlash against Moro’s murder, a highly repressive state regime emerged and 12,000 Left-wing activists were jailed for up to twenty years. Many more fled into exile (included amongst those incarcerated were many ‘Autonomist’ theorists and activists, such as Antonio Negri) (Lotringer, 2007: v).

That was then, and part of the task of this book will be to explore some of this complex genealogy. But what about now, the contemporary situation? We write this at an extraordinary time in contemporary world history. We are currently in ‘lockdown’ again and the successive waves of the Covid 19 pandemic show no signs of abating, although we are also witnessing the first vaccinations of our country’s populations. In Freirean language, we might say there is genuinely hope on the horizon. And yet this pandemic has only highlighted more than ever the extreme disparities in power and resources which weaken our societies immeasurably. The shocking impact of the pandemic on our poorest communities has also been accompanied by the rise of political movements and figures who seem intent on widening this divide, while claiming to be ‘populist’.

On Wednesday 6 January 2021, a group of pro-Trump militants burst through an outer barrier of the Capitol building in Washington DC. In an earlier incendiary speech, Trump had told his supporters ‘Be there, will be wild’. In the ensuing riot, this group of protesters stormed the debating chamber, ransacked offices and fought with police. In the aftermath, five people were dead, including a police officer. As the Observer editorial noted, ‘Trump’s attack on Congress was an attack on America and all who hold its values dear. It was a desperate bid to cling to power by a weak, ignorant and selfish demagogue who has shown himself an enemy of democracy, a friend to tyrants and unfit to be president’ (Observer, 10.01.21).

This is a view which epitomises the yearning of bourgeois liberalism for a return to a normality which Trump himself and everything he represents had rendered impossible. If the events on Capitol Hill were shocking, one can hardly say that they were surprising. Rather the overrunning of the Capitol building by pro-Trump supporters, some wearing Nazi symbols, was a perfectly logical continuation of the last four years of the President’s tenure. This was a consummation of a presidency founded on, and fuelling, acute division, of blatant xenophobia, racism and misogyny, driven ←xiv | xv→by conspiracy theories that once would have rendered a person beyond the pale of basic democratic values and norms. Moreover, Trump’s Presidency represents a shift to reactionary nativist nationalism, often in alliance with religious fundamentalism that we are now seeing across the world from Orbán in Hungary, to Erdogan in Turkey, to Modi in India and Duterte in the Philippines. Looking specifically at the Brazilian context, one can see the strong mutual support which Trump and Jair Bolsanaro have engaged in. All the while, Bolsanaro has tried to undo the social justice legacy of the Worker’s Party in Brazil, in politics and in education. Freire’s legacy and influence has most especially been singled out as a target for Bolsanaro’s destructive education policies and curricula.

If the latter targeting is itself testimony to Freire’s significance in the current political wars between Rightist and Leftist ideology across our world, it is also a sign of how urgent it is to develop and translate Freire’s work into the present time of crisis. Freire continually stressed the need to adapt philosophy and pedagogy ‘in a manner in keeping with the times’. Freire always argued for the singularity of historical and cultural-social context because he saw the need in his own post-colonial Brazil to understand the residual aspects left in the society and in the psyche of Portuguese colonial exploitation. In our own period, it is essential for the Left to understand the reasons why Right-Wing populism and religious nationalism have in recent times triumphed by symbolising a more secure and stable past, in the face of the destruction of the fabric of civil society and democratic life wrought by the rampant individualism and the relentless logic of the marketplace. More than ever, we need to understand the significance of Freire’s insight into the extent to which all politics is itself a pedagogical project. It is a philosophical and educational insight which we should keep at the forefront of our mind when looking at the detail of this book on ‘Freire in Italy’. Engaging with the fundamentals of Freire’s ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ also allows us to see how this politics and pedagogy has taken on very particular aspects, in response to the demands and the perspectives of the contextual interlocutors. In this, we will see how Freire in Italy is both completely familiar to us and also completely surprising.

Jones Irwin and Stephen Cowden, June 2021


XVI, 200
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2022 (February)
Paulo Freire Critical Pedagogy Italian Education and Politics Paulo Freire’s Philosophy of Education in Contemporary Context Jones Irwin Letterio Todaro
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien, 2022. XVI, 200 pp.

Biographical notes

Jones Irwin (Volume editor) Letterio Todaro (Volume editor)

Jones Irwin is Associate Professor in Philosophy and Education at Dublin City University, Republic of Ireland. Letterio Todaro is Associate Professor in History of Education at University of Catania, Sicily, Italy.


Title: Paulo Freire’s Philosophy of Education in Contemporary Context
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