Tomy Ward Education
Education for Critical Times
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Saturday, 04 May 2013 20:16

The role of the organic intellectual in Education

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Antonio Gramsci
Antonio Gramsci coined the term "Organic Intellectual" to describe the important role that successful working class intellectuals played in the process of social change. This PDF interrogates the nature of the intellectual and the relationship of mutual dependency between Threory and Practice (Praxis). The role of  conservative and organic intellectuals are analysed, as is the need for a concrete Other. The imperative of a moral vision embedded in pedagogy is detailed, together with the need to theorise practice in ways that are transformative, and that lead to actual changes in social justice and equity. This piece was originally written as a chapter in my PhD Dissertation, "The Social Construction of An Architectural Reality in Design Education". It was part of a much broader analysis but is included here because of its relevance to the process of social transformation that is espoused by many universities - particularly thiose involved in "community engagement". The University is the arm of the state, and as such is an instrument of its oppressive tendencies. This has become increasingly apparent over the last ten years with the penetration of academia by the corporate world. As states have cut their education budgets and privatised more and more sections of the education portfolio, as Universities have eliminated tenure positions and relied increasingly on low-paid, non-unionised adjunct teaching staff, we have witnessed a marked reduction in both academic freedom and protest. It is a brave academic, who, these days can speak truth to power by (for instance) outlining theories for the abandonment of the free market or of capitalism itself. In this aura or intimidation and fear, the language of academia has become increasingly opaque in order to mask progressive intentions (Ward 1996), and programmes that might have had a potentially transformative agenda have been reduced in many cases to an apology for the status quo power. There are currently innumerable service learning and community engagement courses offered at Universities around the world that aim to serve and help beleaguered communities to achieve social and economic self-determination. But many of them have the opposite effect. Walking the fine line between institutional acceptance and transformative action they opt to bring prestige and kudos to the academic world – giving the impression that they are contributing to the common good, while invariably, through their charitable ethos, they leave the communities they serve increasingly impoverished and dependent because they presume a pre-existent cultural deficit that must be filled. They ignore or delegitimate the existing social, cultural and economic knowledge and skills that are already operating in the community itself and that could and should form the foundation of its emancipatory process. Because of a misguided sense of intellectual or social superiority, these otherwise well-meaning but privileged academic programmes steal from their recipient communities their opportunity to liberate themselves, invariably, using high-academic language that the community members themselves do no understand.


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