The Power of Critical Theory: Liberating Adult Learning and Teaching / Edition 1

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In this essential resource, Stephen D. Brookfield makes a powerful case for how critical theory can illuminate the everyday practices of adult educators.

The Power of Critical Theory is Brookfield's attempt to put the "critical" back into critical thinking by emphasizing that it is an inherently political process. The book presents powerful arguments for the importance of critical theory in fostering the kind of learning that leads to a truly democratic society, and it explores a number of tasks for adult learners including learning to challenge ideology, contest hegemony, unmask power, overcome alienation, learn liberation, reclaim reason, and practice democracy.

The Power of Critical Theory examines the work of such noted theorists as Adorno, Horkheimer, Foucault, Althusser, Gramsci, Fromm, Marcuse, and Habermas. Brookfield guides readers through key concepts and explains which theorist is most closely identified with each concept. He also explores the issues of race and gender and offers critiques of the major theorists by drawing on the work of Cornel West, Angela Davis, and bell hooks, among others.

At the conclusion of the book, Brookfield shares his personal reflections and reveals the dilemmas, contradictions, pleasures, and frustrations inherent in his own attempts to teach critical theory.

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What People Are Saying

From the Publisher
“This is a sophisticated and comprehensive treatment of the power of Socratic questioning of dogmas and a prophetic witness against the conservative status quo. As an educational praxis it is a must-read for all seriously engaged teachers.”
—Cornel West, Class of 1943 University Professor of Religion and African American Studies, Princeton University

“Stephen Brookfield disturbs and enriches the entire field of adult learning with this brilliant piece of teaching. The Power of Critical Theory is a practicing-what-it-preaches treatment of the power dimensions pervading the adult learning enterprise.”
—Robert Kegan, Meehan Professor of Adult Learning, Harvard University Graduate School of Education

“The volume is a major contribution by a leading professional and will become an invaluable resource for graduate programs of adult education and allied fields. It belongs in the professional libraries of serious educators of adults everywhere.”
—Jack Mezirow, professor emeritus, adult and continuing education, Columbia University, Teachers College

“I learned more from this book than from dozens of other adult education publications. Brookfield clearly presents various elements of critical theory and makes cogent connections to adult educational practices. This book is sure to become a major reference text in the field.”
—Elizabeth Hayes, professor of curriculum and instruction, University of Wisconsin-Madison

“In masterly and lucid fashion Stephen Brookfield effortlessly connects theory and practice. Simplifying without eroding he complexity of critical theory, Brookfield traverses the grand themes of ideology, power, alienation, liberation, reason, and democracy; showing how they inform the adult education practice of fostering critical thinking and critical reflection.”
—Mark Tennant, professor of education and dean, University Graduate School, University of Technology-Sydney (Australia)

“This extraordinarily useful book illuminates the complex and abstract concepts of critical theory through frequent examples and practical applications. By reviewing the contributions and critiques of African American and Feminist writers The Power of Critical Theory provides an inclusive and accessible entry into the critical tradition.”
—Tom Heaney, professor of adult education, National Louis University-Chicago

“In The Power of Critical Theory Stephen Brookfield provides a lucid, accessible overview of how critical theory (with its daunting vocabularies and internal debates) illuminates the contexts of adult learning and orients teaching practices. The book stands an excellent chance of establishing critical theory as a dominant and legitimate interpretive practice within adult education.”
—Michael Welton, professor of adult education, Mount St. Vincent University (Canada)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780787956011
  • Publisher: Wiley
  • Publication date: 11/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 1,295,809
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen D. Brookfield is distinguished professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota. He also serves as consultant to the adult education doctoral program at National Louis University in Chicago. He is the author of Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, Developing Critical Thinkers, Discussion as a Way of Teaching, The Skillful Teacher, and Understanding and Facilitating Adult Learning.

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Table of Contents


The Author.

1. Exploring the Meaning of Critical Theory for Adult Learning.

2. The Learning Tasks of Critical Theory.

3. Challenging Ideology.

4. Contesting Hegemony.

5. Unmasking Power.

6. Overcoming Alienation.

7. Learning Liberation.

8. Reclaiming Reason.

9. Learning Democracy.

10. Racializing Criticality.

11. Gendering Criticality.

12. Teaching Criticality.


Name Index.

Subject Index.

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