The Urban Review

, Volume 49, Issue 4, pp 602–626 | Cite as

Critical Consciousness: A Critique and Critical Analysis of the Literature



The education system has been heralded as a tool of liberation and simultaneously critiqued as a tool of social control to maintain the oppressive status quo. Critical consciousness (CC), developed by the Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire, advanced an educational pedagogy to liberate the masses from systemic inequity maintained and perpetuated by process, practices and outcomes of interdependent systems and institutions. If people are not aware of inequity and do not take action steps to constantly resist oppressive norms and ways of being, then the result is residual inequity in perpetuity. If inequity is likened to a disease or poison, then CC has been deemed the antidote to inequity and the prescription needed to break the cycle. As such, CC is a construct that has important scholarly, practice and policy implications. Scholars, noting the relevance and application of CC to current social problems, have advanced CC theory and practice. However, these innovative advancements have left fissures in the CC theoretical base in need of resolution and consensus to advance a collective and organized body of CC theory. This paper explores the divergent CC scholarship within CC theory and practice articles, provides an in-depth review of the inconsistencies, and suggests ideas to resolve the discrepancies from the literature to support the need for a new, CC-based construct, transformative potential. Without such a review, moving toward conceptual clarity, the lack of a coherent CC knowledgebase will impede the reflection and action needed to transform systems and institutions that maintain and perpetuate systemic inequity that have dehumanizing consequences. If implemented within urban education, theoretical models, grounded in CC theory, could help achieve a system of education that is just, equitable and liberating.


Critical consciousness Oppression Inequity Social justice Health Education 


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter CollegeNew YorkUSA

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