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Critical Questions of Emancipatory Knowing

Critical Questions of Emancipatory Knowing


The creative processes for developing emancipatory knowledge grow from the critical questions of emancipatory knowing shown in Fig. 3.1. These critical questions are: What is wrong with this picture? Who benefits? What are the barriers to freedom? What changes are needed? These questions can be asked in a variety of contexts and situations, including the context of care. The questions on the model are suggestions, but any question that focuses on bringing social injustices into awareness is also a critical question. 

When you ask the critical questions associated with emancipatory knowing, an underlying assumption is that people are not radically free to choose from among an unlimited variety of options, and that things need to change to make new options accessible to everyone. To assume that people are radically free places the responsibility for developing one’s full potential totally with the individual. Critical questioning assumes that freedoms are situated, which means that the possibilities for freedom and the development of individual potential are determined by a person’s situation. In other words, from a critical perspective, a person’s situation is assumed to be constructed by social practices that create disadvantage for some and privilege for others. 

From an emancipatory perspective, any conditions that limit people from developing their full human potential can be made visible, what is imagined can become real, and humans have the innate capacity to bring about changes to improve the human condition. Asking a critical question such as “What is wrong with this picture?” requires a lens that sees beyond the obvious and beyond one’s own personal experience. This makes it possible to discern problems that may exist with what people assume to be true.

Recognizing injustices and inequities can create major personal and professional dilemmas. Most people are socialized to accept an unfair status quo as the way things are (hegemony) and not to question the uncomfortable fact that some people are privileged and others are disadvantaged. To bring this kind of awareness to the surface and to act on it requires great courage, persistence, and the support of colleagues and allies who remain committed to action. Taking action often disturbs the status quo in ways that are not only uncomfortable but also prompt harsh and swift action to keep prevailing hegemonies in place. Nonetheless, critically questioning the status quo is an initial and critical feature of emancipatory knowing that sets the stage for praxis.

Why Is This Important?

When nurses question why something seems unfair, they are operating under the assumption that all persons deserve the freedom and opportunity to develop their full potential. Such questions assume that developing and exercising one’s potential is not solely a matter of individual will or desire, but that culture and society create conditions and structures within which people can thrive or fail to thrive.

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