This paper was presented at the
National Seminar on
Indian Psychology: Theories and Models

SVYASA, Bangalore,
December 26 - 28, 2007



 Critical Consciousness

Neeta Arora — University of Delhi, Delhi


The way we perceive ourselves and understand the world is the consequence of internalizing many aspects that subtly seep in through ordinary discourse, the way language is used, the way systems function. All that goes around us largely determines our psyche quite unconsciously, both at individual and cultural levels. Since we all are [all] living in a societal, economic and cultural context, a person inevitably sees the world from the vantage point of that position. Each of us is affected by the living context, which in turn is coloured by some dominant views and imbued by the spirit of the time.

A dominant ideology sustains its hold and reproduces itself at both macro and micro levels through various modes and keeps the privileged so and marginalized at disadvantage. Critical constructivists understand and reveal the mechanisms, processes and discourses through which power motives subtly maintain the gaps and power structure. They envision an egalitarian and just world.

Critical Constructivism arose as protest against dominance, top-down power relations, logic of hierarchy and distance. It attempts to find new ways of organizing self, knowledge and the contemporary world. It is a theory of social action for personal and social transformation. 

Initiating change at one level brings about changes at other levels also (as everything is interconnected). The transformation at societal level, against system of dominance is sought through change in consciousness. The idea generates from the belief that self is both structured by forces and a structuring agent.

Critical consciousness is the starting point to emancipation of self, for more democratic society and to construct our own reality and our own meanings. Witnessing and understanding how we think and what all has led to our ways of thinking, feeling and acting, whose interests does it serve.

The awareness of how we are constructed helps us break free from the set standards and transcend the limited perspective.  Opening to the unfamiliar, ununderstood perspectives helps us learn more, it may be a different interpretation of the same thing, it may lead to relating diverse views. Through new contexts, new understandings and perceptions emerge new ways of being and living. The identities evolve in their individual directions, to their inclinations, not monologically. Plurality, multiplicity, diversity enrich a society and differences are respected and valued, not seen as mark of deficiency or inferiority. Such a society is healthy and just where all voices are expressed and heard.  The approach promotes democracy, justice, inclusion, lateral interrelationships, flexibility, harmony and cooperation. (Heterogeneity defies organization and clear categorization.)  It requires embracing the differences, being ready to rethink, reconstruct, reflect and practice accordingly. It entails learning from mistakes, being responsible for errors, no final rules, chaos, ambiguity, complexity. All life situations are new and complex, so there can’t be certain, standard, universal knowledge that can be applied to them. 

The vast resource for development arises from the interconnections, interactions between the diverse perspectives and leads to pushing the boundaries of humanness, expanding the selfhood.

Self-development, thus, means better ways of being human. It means reconstructing self in a creative self-reflective manner. Identity is never complete, unified or stable. There is no having arrives point in the ontological quest.

The concept of self seems close to Indian concept of self in some aspects and suits the multicultural setting here. Yet it seems to imply different selves than any common element in human beings. Also the construct of ‘consciousness’ is limited to being critically self-aware of power dynamics; not any levels or layers of consciousness. Perhaps Indian context and theories have a lot to add on to this open evolving ‘self’.

Email the author, Ms. Neeta Arora, at tani26@