The Process is the Outcome

A Framework for Student "Research as Praxis"

Kyle Feenstra - Education Librarian
University of Manitoba - Winnipeg, Canada

“What is the role of the librarian in the Freirean vision of critical literacy? Is the library a passive information bank where students and faculty make knowledge deposits and withdrawals, or is it a place where students actively engage existing knowledge and shape it to their own current and future uses? And what is the librarian’s role as an educator in this process?” (1)

"Ontological stammering...

[uncertainty allows for new ways of thinking and doing]


"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)

The current discourse of critical literacy in LIS literature frequently overlooks Freire's primary concern for student ontology. 


A framework for student ontology 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




Paulo Freire

Joe Kincheloe

Patti Lather

Nick Couldry

"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)


  • Literacy as "naming the world" involves the interpretation and authorship of knowledge.
  • How we read the world, our constructed reality,  will shape how we read written texts.
  • meaning making processes
  • dialogic processes

& Writing

"reading the world and the word"  (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)

[as process]




Ontology &

Literacy &


Agency &






Learning Theory & Pedagogy

Constructivism   [as learning theory]

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

"What determines the value of the 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   [as pedagogy]

The constructivist teacher is not only concerned with the learning processes that allow for the construction of knowledge but also how information and their sources are validated and prioritized. 

This leads to an immediate concern with the role power has in the construction of knowledge and culture. Critical constructivists always ask:

Whose interests are served by the pedagogy shaping learning in schools & universities and their libraries? (11) 

Constructivism   [as pedagogy]

Kincheloe argues:

It is the role of the teacher to "introduce [their] students to the social and physical world and help them build for themselves an epistemological infrastructure for interpreting the phenomena they confront". (12)

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.
  • space for constructive dialogue.
  • affirmation of their creativity.

Space for Praxis

Praxis  [as reciprocity]

“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?" (14)

Lather's article Research as Praxis (1986) provides a framework for reciprocity in information literacy education. In the same way that  Kincheloe (13) sees teaching learning and research as interconnected processes, I remove the distinction between Lather's view of research and the constructivist notion of learning.

theoretically informed reflection and action for social transformation

Praxis  [as reciprocity]

Theory is useful when it:

As we rely on theory
to shape research and learning
we must
also rely on research
and learning to inform theory.

  • sheds light on lived experience, 
  • accounts for human struggle, and
  • respects the intellectual capacity of the dispossessed. (15)

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]

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.
  • intellectual theory is neither imposed on the student nor used to simplify their lived experience and knowledge.
  • the ontology of the student is allowed meaning.
  • 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" (16)

Makes space for praxis where:

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

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













More than "speech acts"...

Voice is part of
and an expression of ... (18)

Voice (19)





  • 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 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. 

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 performance? 

"Responsibility for the legitimization of voice shifts to the listener" (20)

Listening is always an act of power. 

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. 

We must be wary of "strategies [and dialogue that give] the illusions of equality while in fact leaving the authoritarian nature of the student/teacher relationship intact". (21)

We must attend to the ways that power is embedded in and gives shape to narrative spaces. 

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 dominant university discourses?

  1. This question was first posed in Elmborg (2006) and quoted 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. It is constructed reality.
  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. Joe Kincheloe (2005).
  12. 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.
  13. Kincheloe (2003) , p. 42.
  14. Lather (2018), p. 80.
  15. Lather (2018) discusses the theory that informs and is created from the research process.
  16. Lather’s (1986, 2018) view of praxis as reciprocity provides a starting point for breaking down the power dichotomy between teacher and student.
  17. Nick Couldry (2010), p. 9.
  18. Julie McLeod (2011) broadens the concept of “voice”.
  19. Couldry (2010).
  20. McLeod (2011), p. 185.
  21. Ellsworth quoted in Mcleod, 2011, p. 184.


*All licensed images from Wikimedia Commons unless otherwise noted.


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Kyle Feenstra
Education & Psychology Librarian

Elizabeth Dafoe Library
Winnipeg, Canada

The Process is the Outcome

By Kyle Feenstra

The Process is the Outcome

LILAC Conference - Liverpool, April 6, 2018.

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