The work of the Brazilian educator has provided the ground for many community participatory projects in Africa, Asia and Latin America from the 1970s onwards. Although the authors of ‘We want (u) to know’ and ‘Breaking the silence do not mention him—nor his friend Augusto Boal’, another key figure in such movement—it is nevertheless such ‘lineage’ that lies at the core of the two projects. With a major difference, however: ‘Conscientisation’ is no longer to be achieved against a dominant class controlling education and culture but against a far more pervasive—and elusive—enemy, the repressed. One foresees the issues that such shift from the field of class struggle and anti-imperialism to the field of psychoanalysis raises. It implies a leap between individual memory and memory as collective and social consciousness. Personal healing and social reconciliation are made the two faces of the same coin. It downplays political and ideological contextualisation at the profit of cross-cultural depiction. Is it not like forcing the witness on an unfitting Procrustean bed: too specific for global consumption, too universal for local reception?
From oppression to repression: creating hybrid witnessing
Could ‘silence’, as mentioned in the two projects, be rather a reference to the concept of ‘culture of silence’, central to Paulo Freire’s seminal ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed’ (1970)? Silence inhibits a person’s ability to reflect and act on her society. It is only through ‘conscientisation’, outcome of a joint process through which teacher and student teach each other, that the person becomes able to intervene against oppression (Byam 1999, pp. 21–24).