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Wednesday, 14 May 2014 08:57

Capitalism and Community Health: An Indigenous Perspective

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The two papers included here deal with both the theory and practice of education in the context of Community Engagement. They were written for delivery at a Conference in Greece in June 2014. The Conference - Critical Education in an Era of Crisis - draws attention to the fact that we stand on the brink of a human and planetary catastrophe in which all of our systems - economic, environmental, social and cultural are in danger of collapse. The point of the conference is to interrogate what place education might have in preventing this collapse and in bringing about a more equitable, just, sustainable and kind world. In this, it presumes that education has itself played a critical part in the creation of the world we now inhabit and indeed in the crises we now face. From a Critical Education Theory viewpoint, eduation in its present form both embodies, reflects and promotes the ethic of capitalist development. It is one of the primary hegemonic instruments of capitalism, having played a major role in the process of colonisation and resource exploitation. It therefore stands to reason that in order to "save the planet" both of these causative elements - capitalism and capitalist education - must change. There ios no alternative.

The jargon of Community Engagement, on the other hand, seeks to bring about social and economic change while leaving the structure and operation of capitalism intact. These two papers interrogate this contradiction. Looking at the issue from an indigenous perspective allows us to dig beneath the rhetoric and to understand the underlying systems and processes that are at the root of our crises. But the papers go further. They offer a conrete example of the essential relationship between theory and practice in education and in community engagement that is necessare to realise the changes that are needed.



“The most odious form of colonisation, and that which has brought with it the greatest pain for the colonised – (is) the colonisation of the mind” - Frantz Fanon

“Only now, in the Twenty-first Century, are European peoples just starting to appreciate the value of indigenous knowledge(s) about health, medicine, agriculture, philosophy, spirituality, ecology and education” - Joe Kincheloe


The late Joe Kincheloe draws our attention to the value that the cultures of colonised but unbowed indigenous communities have for us in our present world crises. Building upon the work of more than 40 years across indigenous cultural boundaries this paper critically explores precisely what indigenous cosmologies have to offer to us. Using the fields of community health and development as a metaphor the paper contrasts our modern capitalist health systems with those that existed in pre-colonial times, and which in many cases persist down to the present.  The contrast develops into an informed critique of not just capitalism, but of western materialism and capitalism that is implicit even in suggested socialist models for its replacement.

The paper is in two parts. 

PART 1: THE THEORY explores the theoretical underpinnings of western materialism insofar as it has shaped our conceptions of personal and community health. From this critique there emerges an alternative model that borrows from indigenous concepts. It interrogates the process of colonisation on multiple levels – in the theft of land, destruction of productive capacity, the criminalisation of native leaders and healers, the destruction of indigenous languages and knowledge systems through forced Eurocentric education, and the imposition of racist and self-justifying theories of intellectual and cultural superiority. It also challenges progressive theories of community health, seeing them as still locked into Enlightenment rationalities. It acknowledges the profound wisdom of indigenous conceptions of life and health and connects these to an imperative for direct action to address our current crises and to reinstate the health of our communities and of planet earth.

PART 2: THE PRAXIS describes the engaged practice of this model in a small New Zealand town with a large indigenous (Māori) community. This praxis draws on indigenous models of health, and involves the design of a community facility using a critical pedagogy in a School of Architecture design studio project.

For more examples of Critical Education Theories click here.


For more examples of Critical Education Practice and Community Engagement click here.

Read 10495 times Last modified on Wednesday, 14 May 2014 09:39

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