Reviews of Paulo Freire's Books

This website, dedicated to Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1921-1997), consists of a collection of reviews of his books and links to other pages on Freire. The books are listed in chronological order. When the book has been translated into English, the first date refers to the original publication. 

The website was created by Daniel Schugurensky, Department of Adult Education, Community Development and Counselling Psychology, The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto (OISE/UT).

Freire, Paulo (1973). Extension or Communication. New York: The Seabury Press.

Review by Jenny Lee (UCLA), 1997

In the essay Extension or Communication, Paulo Freire, internationally renowned educator, applies his philosophy of human consciousness into the domain of rural extension in Latin America. Specifically, he refers to agrarian reform to explain how "extension" is contrary to "communication", thus incomparable with education. Education, according to Freire, is for the purpose of humanizing others through conscious action for the purposes of transforming the world. Whereas communication is characterized as liberating, extension is depicted as enslaving and domesticating, thereby hindering human consciousness and impeding lasting change. Throughout this important essay he details his rationale and compares possible implications of extension versus communication. While his views offer profound insight, his rationale raises some questions, which I hope will provoke further inquiries on to communication issues.

Freire begins with a semantic analysis of the word "extension". He specifically focuses on its usage as extending something to. The role of the extension agent is construed as extending one's knowledge and technical capacities. As opposed to directly improving a given situation, extension, like communication, involves other people and their relationship with the world in order for them to change the world. The point of divergence between these two concepts is that communication involves mutual dialogue whereas extension involves transplanting knowledge, a process Freire describes as a "direct contradiction to a truly humanist outlook" (p. 94). He analyzes the meanings of extension, and explains that those who extend are imposing their understanding of reality upon another. While others might argue that extension is educative, Freire disagrees. He refers to associative fields, which are associative relationships within the field of meaning of words. Some associated fields he derives from the term extension include "transmission", "superiority", and "cultural invasion" (p.95). By way of the association process he determines extension as contrary to education. He states, "...for true education incarnates the permanent search for people together with others for their becoming more fully human in the world in which they exist" (p. 96). Moreover, his version of true education involves "the practice of freedom" (p. 97).

In this analysis, Freire makes some assumptions that warrant further discussion. First, all recipients of extension, according to Freire's own definition of extension, are demeaned as not only passive, but incapable of questioning. His definition of the term 'extension' assumes an inability of the recipients to choose to adopt or to refuse new knowledge. The usage of this term in reference to agrarian reform implies vulnerability in the peasants as being defenseless from any persuasion. Second, the suitability of associated fields leaves room for further questioning. Associated fields explain the term but do not justify the labeling of any activity. First, he negatively labels a given phenomenon (i.e., a method of agrarian reform is extension). Then, he negates the phenomenon by associating the word with similar associated words (i.e., superiority, messianism, cultural invasion, etc). This reasoning is not persuasive. By choosing a word and associating it with other words, the activity is still based on the initial label. Any activity is relative to different labels, depending on the perspective of the participant or observer. The association only helps to understand the term that was used to originally label the activity, but does not justify the usage of the term to explain the activity. Furthermore, Freire does not extend the same process of association to the term "education". One may reason that while extension may not encompass education, education may be understood as a broader term that encompasses extension.

Freire then proceeds to question the staticity of knowledge. If knowledge is not absolute, it should not be treated as a static object. He views knowledge as transforming and a result of continual interaction with the world. The task of knowing is of the subjects, not of the objects, which places both the teacher and the students as subjects and consequently, the object as the mediator between subjects. A necessary question that arises is how does one determine progress, if objective knowledge is relative? Further, the concept of relative knowledge is not necessarily universal and may be offensive to a particular culture's fundamental principle in absolutes. In this case, imposing communication can be viewed as extension. Therefore, communication with any culture would require an assessment of the culture's acceptance of relativistic thinking rather than automatically assumed.

Freire also discusses reasons for resistance to new knowledge. He focuses on the peasant community and magic aspects of their culture. Superimposing another thought stimulates a natural defensive reaction of mistrust and rejection. New techniques and ideas have tremendous implications on changes in the culture, including language and social perceptions. Therefore, Freire stresses the importance of the educator to be familiar with and involved in the learner's view of the world. What may appear as a physical problem to the observer, may be of deeper cultural meaning to the learner. Wrongful extension comes into play when the observer superimposes his/her own equally cultural perception upon the other. Again this begs the question, can't the act of communication itself be viewed as offensive to a culture? And if it is deemed as offensive, would Freire suggest forcing dialogue?

In chapter 2, Freire further outlines the shortcomings of the extension process. He describes it to be "anti-dialogical" and thus, not equivalent to a true education. He considers an anti-dialogical theory of action as a form of cultural invasion that reduces the people as mere objects rather than subjects of change. This can be understood as an issue of positionality, in which the objects of extension are forcibly domesticated according to the culture and beliefs of the oppressor. In the process, the former culture is nullified and replaced. Freire further states that true humanism requires genuine, loving dialogue, rather than manipulative propaganda or slogans. Through dialogue, there is no one exclusive agent of change. Rather, members of the culture are empowered to make decisions and promote lasting, continual reformation.

In defense of the objection regarding time being "wasted" in dialogue, Freire states such a question is indicative of a lack of faith in people and a false belief that the people's ignorance is absolute. This is a true and appropriate response. On the other hand, what Freire may not recognize is that his own premises from his criticisms on extension are grounded in assumptions about the ignorance in people, namely peasants. As previously mentioned, his opposition to extension is that the oppressor is forcibly imposing his/her own belief systems on vulnerable peoples incapable of discernment. Freire later asserts that such a vertical relationship, in which there is no dialogue, means the peasants' refusal towards dialogue and is indicative of attitudes of mistrust towards those who attempt any dialogue and towards a mistrust of themselves. This appears contradictory. He is opposed to extension and implies, according to its definition, an inability for its recipients to respond. He then later states that a vertical relationship will instigate a negative reaction.

Freire responds to another critique regarding the impossibility of communication on scientific or technical information. In retort, he states that the methods of dialogue are to include a confrontation of technical knowledge to their physical reality it its relation to their lives. In terms of agrarian reform, Freire stresses the intermix of technology and culture. Technical trainers become agents of change as they participate in relationships with human beings and nature. In his own words, "all development is modernization, not all modernization is development" (p. 130).

In chapter 3, Freire stresses intersubjectivity, or intercommunication as the "primordial characteristic of this cultural and historical world" (p. 136). The act of knowing requires a relation of communication between subjects with reference to a knowable object, rather than a simple relation between a subject and knowable object. Interestingly, he points out that the goal of thinking is not the object itself, but the act of communication between subjects. Without communication, the object can not have meaning. Further, he explains that knowledge must be mediated between subjects, rather than one subject depositing his/her thinking into another. The means of communication is linguistic, not necessarily emotional.

Freire warns of two erroneous ways that can produce false views of education. One understands all objective reality as subjective and asserts that each individual creates his or her own reality. The other views humans as uninvolved beings, incapable of transforming the environment. According to these views, education would lead to nothing. Education should be towards a constant process of liberation. A basic preoccupation requires a consciousness of themselves and their relationship with the world. Therefore, the educator can provide options, but can not prescribe them. Otherwise, they would be manipulating and thus, domesticating. He is opposed to what he terms as "technical aid", that is, memorized knowledge, which prevents critical thinking. The difference can be characterized as "domination" versus "liberation". My question at this point is: if Freire is opposed to all reality being subjective and against memorization of technical information, does he propose any required, common foundation in science for dialogue and progress in technology? Or else, is the process of liberation then subjective?

Instead of "technical aid", Freire suggests that the task of the educator is to pose problems and in this act, the educator is problematized as well. Educators are then "re-entered into" the problem, and thus also learning. The problematizing can not isolate the content from reality, but must center on the being and the world. He further states that education is not permanent, except in the sense that it is a permanent process, a constant interplay between cultural permanence and change. In addition, the point of departure of the dialogue is the quest for curriculum. The methodology itself ought to be dialogical. Thus, the content of knowledge springs from the educatees. Unlike animals, humans have the ability to separate themselves from the activity and see it as separate from themselves. Because of this, education should involve "de-coding", or entering into prior perceptions of what is real. This is process peasants recognize themselves as transformers of the world. This an important claim. According to this explanation, Freire proposes constant challenge and growth for both the educator and the educatee. Growth is a constant lifetime process for all participants in discussion. At the same time there remains a question of any hierarchy of knowing. Freire implies the two subjects are on equal levels; there is no expert. Otherwise, one subject can be viewed as further along in knowing and therefore able to transmit, or extend, their knowledge unto the other. If this is the case, there remains the question as to how two subjects can determine progress if knowledge is relative.

In conclusion, this essay not only provides important insight, but also provokes some responses that call for questioning. My closing critique to this essay is this: is not this essay a form of "extension", according to Freire's definition? Can this text be considered just another form of propaganda that makes assumptions and imposes views of communication without actual dialogue with the reader? Perhaps that was the intention of this author, to make assumptions that call for further dialogue. Interestingly, this essay can be viewed as a form of extension or communication, depending upon the reader's response to contemplate and question his views. Overall, Extension or Communication is an important contribution to the field of education and more importantly, to understand and improve the world in which we live.


Back to Main Index

     DS Home Page     Submit a Review