The Process is the Outcome

Introducing a Framework for Student "Research as Praxis"

Kyle Feenstra
Coordinator - Learning & Instruction Support
University of Manitoba Libraries

“What is the role of the librarian in the Freirean vision of critical literacy?  ... And what is the librarian’s role as an educator in this process?” (1) 

  • Elmborg, J. (2006). Critical Information Literacy: Implications for Instructional Practice. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(2), 192–199.
  • Jacobs, H. L. M. (2008). Information Literacy and Reflective Pedagogical Praxis. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(3), 256–262.

A framework that serves as a starting point for a critical pedagogy of literacy education in academic library settings... 


Ontological Completion

Dialogue as Reciprocity

Voice as Autonomy

Critical Constructivism

Literacy & Praxis

Post-Formal Thinking

Paulo Freire

Joe Kincheloe

Patti Lather

Nick Couldry

"Ontological stammering...


"We have a chance to [unlearn] in the name of research as praxis...


"... a way to keep moving against tendencies to settle into the various dogmas and reductionisms that await us once we think we have arrived". (2)

"While the problem of humanization has always, from an axiological point of view, been humankind’s central problem, it now takes on the character of an inescapable concern. Concern for humanization leads at once to the recognition of dehumanization not only as an ontological possibility but an historical reality. And as an individual perceives the extent of dehumanization, he or she may ask if humanization is a viable possibility. Within history, in concrete, objective contexts, both humanization and dehumanization are possibilities for a person as an uncompleted being conscious of their incompletion".  (3)

Freire's View of Humanization

As imperfect, unfinished beings we can never become fully human. We can only engage in our ontological and historical purpose of becoming more human.

What makes us human is our ability to "[reflect] and [act] upon the world in order to transform it". (4)

Freirean Ontology

to study of the way we exist in the world

  • Through praxis we encounter ourselves and a constructed reality that is always in process and best understood by its contradictions.
  • By questioning the world's contradictions we reveal the oppressive structures that interfere with one's right to self-affirmation.
  • One cannot speak with authenticity if one speaks alone. Just as humanity is made in praxis, so praxis is made in dialogue.
  • To speak alone is to rob others of their voice.

Freirean Dialogue

"to speak a true word is to transform the world" (5)


  • As we read the world we construct our reality,  which influences how we read written texts.
  • Literacy as "naming the world" is the interpretation and writing of knowledge as an expression of one's situated reality.
  • meaning making processes
  • dialogic processes

& Writing

"reading the word and the world"  (6)

"... a person is literate to the extent that they are able to use language for social and political reconstruction" (7)

Critical Literacy

  • Systems of education tend to reproduce dominant ideologies.
  • Even if students are not the makers of their own social reality, if given space for critical thinking they are able to transcend the dominant discourse and interrogate it.

critical thinking is dialectical thinking

This is "critical consciousness". Mediated by a "language of possibility", we identify contradictions in the world in a process of reinventing culture and power.  (8)

Constructivism   [as epistemology]

Reality is the world of our experiences...  a world of constancies from which we construct knowledge and meaning.  (9)

"What determines the value of  conceptual structures is their experiential adequacy, the goodness of their fit with experience, their viability as a means for the solving of problems..."  (10)

Constructivism   [epistemology informing pedagogy]

Kincheloe argues:

It is the role of the teacher to "introduce [their] students to social and physical world and help them build for themselves an epistemological infrastructure (a process of questioning) for interpreting the phenomena they confront" (11)

The teacher offers to students:

  • an understanding of constructivism as epistemological basis for learning and an ontological basis for 'becoming'. 
  • a framework for critical thinking/questioning.
  • space for constructive dialogue.
  • affirmation of their creativity. (12)

Space for Praxis


“What different politics become possible when [research] projects are put at risk rather than positioned to claim a better vantage point that can ‘emancipate’ some others?" (13)

[theoretically informed reflection and action for social transformation]

Lather's article, Research as Praxis (1986, 2018) ...

Praxis  [as reciprocity]

Students should be free to question whether theory & pedagogy:

  • shed light on lived experience, 
  • account for human struggle, and
  • respect the intellectual capacity of the dispossessed. (14)

For dialogic praxis to be mutually affirming research participants must be given the right to speak for themselves. All participants share the process of testing the usefulness of theory and constructing new meaning.

Praxis  [as reciprocity & informing pedagogy]

Pedagogy that accepts:

  • Allowing students a voice will always be political.
  • Emerging processes are messy experiences involving many "returns and reversals".
  • learning takes place in the social tensions that "structure [praxis] towards the production of new practices", knowledge, and theory.
  • theory is neither imposed on the student nor used to simplify their lived experience and knowledge.
  • the ontology of the student is allowed meaning and value.
  • critical (dialectical) thinking exposes the contradictions in dominant discourses that fail to serve the interests of the student.
  • students are invited to critique "the [teacher's] account of their worldview".
  • the teacher participates in "theoretically guided action". (15) 

Makes space for a methodology where:

Voice  [as "giving an account of one's life"]

the process of articulating the world from a distinctive embodied position. (17)













We must never reduce our concept of voice to mere "speech acts"... Voice is... (16)

Voice (17)





  • Relies on shared resources (i.e. language).
  • "Giving an account" as a meaning making process is only possible through the interconnectivity of human narratives.
  • Voice is a form of agency.
  • Can be conceived of as more than discourse or speech acts because it is connected to the whole of human action, including our past and present selves. 
  • Voice is a unique (and limited) embodied experience.
  • We understand our own experiences through sustained attention to a plurality of social narratives.
  • Voice requires a form.
  • If forms of expression do not belong to the student as something they can "adapt or control" the authenticity of their voice is undermined. 

Creating Space for Voice  

It cannot be assumed that because we do not ideologically oppose the presence of marginalized voices in the library that we have made space for voice. 

Many "strategies such as student empowerment and dialogue give the illusions of equality while in fact leaving the authoritarian nature of the student/teacher relationship intact". (18)

We must attend to the ways that power is embedded in and gives shape to narrative spaces. This is especially true for academic libraries where student voices are not often incorporated into literacy processes.  

Voice   [what counts?]

  • Whose voices are recognized? 
  • Who are the "good students"?
  • Whose language is considered an acceptable medium to express voice?
  • What are the accepted forms of human expression? 

"Responsibility for the legitimization of voice shifts to the listener" (19)

Listening is always an act of power. 

How can the library make space for the voice of the learner, ensuring that it is visible and validated as a meaningful expression alongside the privileged voices of academics, and broader university discourses?


  • Bartolomé, L. (1994). Beyond the Methods Fetish: Toward a Humanizing Pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review, 64(2), 173–195.
  • Bryson, C. (2014). Understanding and developing student engagement. Milton Park, Abingdon, Oxon ; New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Budd, J. M. (2003). The Library, Praxis, and Symbolic Power. The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, 73(1), 19–32.
  • Couldry, N. (2009). Rethinking the politics of voice. Continuum, 23(4), 579–582.
  • Couldry, N. (2010). Why voice matters: culture and politics after neoliberalism. London: SAGE.
  • Dale, J., & Hyslop - Margison, E. J. (2010). Paulo Freire: The Philosophical Influences on the Work of Paulo Freire. Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
  • Doherty, J. (2014). Towards Self Reflection in Librarianship: What is Praxis? In A. Lewis (Ed.), Questioning Library Neutrality. Duluth: Library Juice Press.
  • Elmborg, J. (2006). Critical Information Literacy: Implications for Instructional Practice. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 32(2), 192–199.
  • Elmborg, J. (2012). Critical Information Literacy: Definitions and Challenges. In C. Bruch & C. W. Wilkinson (Eds.), Transforming information literacy programs intersecting frontiers of self, library culture, and campus community. Chicago: Association of College and Research Libraries. 
  • Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary ed..). New York: Continuum.
  • Freire, Paulo. (1987). Literacy: reading the word & the world. South Hadley, Mass.: Bergin & Garvey Publishers.
  • Freire, Paulo. (1989). Learning to question: a pedagogy of liberation. New York: Continuum.
  • Freire, Paulo. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: ethics, democracy, and civic courage. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Giroux, H. A. (1997). Pedagogy and the politics of hope: theory, culture, and schooling : a critical reader. Boulder, Colo.: WestviewPress.
  • Giroux, H. A. (2012). Higher Education Under Siege: Rethinking the Politics of Critical Pedagogy. Counterpoints, 422, 327–341.
  • Jacobs, H. L. M. (2008). Information Literacy and Reflective Pedagogical Praxis. The Journal of Academic Librarianship, 34(3), 256–262.
  • Kincheloe, J. L. (2003). Teachers As Researchers: Qualitative Inquiry As a Path to Empowerment (2nd ed..). London: RoutledgeFalmer.
  • Kincheloe, J. L. (2005). Critical constructivism. New York: Peter Lang.
  • Kincheloe, J.L. & Steinberg, S.R. (2011). A tentative description of post-formal thinking. In K. Hayes et. al. (Eds.), Key works in critical pedagogy.  Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. 
  • Lather, P. (1986). Research as Praxis. Harvard Educational Review, 56(3), 257–278.
  • Lather, P. (2018). Thirty years after: From Research as praxis to praxis in the ruins. In H. J. Malone, S. Rincón-Gallardo, & K. Kew (Eds.), Future directions of educational change: social justice, professional capital, and systems change. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • McLeod, J. (2011). Student voice and the politics of listening in higher education. Critical Studies in Education, 52(2), 179–189.
  • Roberts, P. (1998). Knowledge, Dialogue, and Humanization: The Moral Philosophy of Paulo Freire. The Journal of Educational Thought (JET) / Revue de La Pensée Éducative, 32(2), 95–117.
  • Roberts, P. (2000). Education, literacy, and humanization exploring the work of Paulo Freire. Westport, Conn: Bergin & Garvey.
  • Salazar, M. del C. (2013). A Humanizing Pedagogy: Reinventing the Principles and Practice of Education as a Journey Toward Liberation. Review of Research in Education, 37, 121–148.
  • Von Glasersfeld. (2007). Key works in radical constructivism. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers.


Kyle Feenstra
Coordinator, Learning & Instruction Support

University of Manitoba Libraries
Winnipeg, Canada

  1. This question was first posed in Elmborg (2006) and refernced in Jacobs (2008).
  2. Patti Lather (2018), p. 80-81.
  3. Paulo Freire's opening to Pedagogy of the Oppressed (2000), p. 43.
  4. Peter Roberts (2000).
  5. For Freire a “true word” is authentic expression, in other words “true” to one’s ontology. (2000).
  6. Freire (1987) define’s “the world” as one’s reality. For Freire reading the world always precedes reading the word.
  7. Freire  (1987), p. 159.
  8. Freire (1987).
  9. Ernst Von Glaserfeld (2007) argues, the reliability of conceptual information shapes the way we construct knowledge. This includes the reliability of dominant discourses.
  10. Jean Piaget quoted in Von Glaserfeld, (2007).
  11. For Kincheloe, (2005) it is the role of the teacher in the process of learning to introduce an epistemological framework that operates as a space for praxis.
  12. Kincheloe (2005).
  13. Lather (2018), p. 80.
  14. Lather (2018) referring to theory that informs and is created from the research process.
  15. Lather’s (1986, 2018) view of praxis as reciprocity provides a starting point for breaking down the power dichotomy between teacher and student.
  16. Julie McLeod (2011) broadens the concept of “voice”.
  17. Couldry (2010).
  18. Ellsworth quoted in Mcleod, 2011, p. 184.
  19. McLeod (2011), p. 185.


*All images from Wikimedia Commons or Unsplash unless otherwise noted.