Preface: Reflection on Pedagogies in the Flesh

Pedagogies in the Flesh speaks to both the magnificent and dreaded ways the body stirs learning and consciousness toward possibilities of human emancipation. The ethics and pedagogies that unfold are very much in line with my own work on decolonizing the flesh 1 and schooling the flesh 2 inspired by Paulo Freire’s reading of the body.3 Paulo Freire left behind a legacy that argues passionately for the relationship between pedagogy and the body. It encompasses a pedagogical sensibility that is fully cognizant about the primacy of the body in the construction of knowledge. Freire’s pedagogy of love is anchored to an understanding that, first and foremost, we are material beings; and that teaching and learning, whether in the classroom or out in the world, entails a humanizing ethos of embodiment that supports dialogue and solidarity, as we labor together for the common good.4

As educators, students, and cultural workers participate more integrally in the dialogical processes of communal learning, the materiality of our bodies must be understood as rightful allies in the formation, evolution, and expression of our collective consciousness and, thus, the world we occupy.5 The power of the body and the phenomenology of knowledge inherent in its existence cannot be denied. The histories and material, social, and affective conditions of human beings are made visible by our bodies. Our histories of survival are witnessed and revealed in our skin, our teeth, our hair, our gestures, our speech, our emotional expressions, the movement of our arms and legs, and the multitude of gazes that inform the physicality of our responses. The ways we use and remake our bodies as powerful sites of counter-hegemonic resistance demonstrates the organic quality and significance of the body to identity formation in all its manifestations. As such, bodies are living “maps of power and identity”,6 which offer meaningful information and powerful insights into the tensions, struggles, anxieties, ambiguities, as well as aspirations and dreams, particularly, of youth whose cultural, class, gendered, and sexual differ-ences yearn and seek expression within the classroom or on the streets. What Pedagogies in the Flesh makes very clear is this: it is absolutely insufficient to rely on abstract approaches to teaching and learning where disembodied words and texts are privileged in the construction of knowledge. For, “words not given body (or made flesh) have little or no value”7 to the process of personal and social transformation.

Educational processes of estrangement sustain false dichotomies that alienate our bodies from the world—dividing us from one another and splitting us off from the true realm through which liberatory possibilities can emerge. Counterpunctual to this process of estrangement, Freire affirmed the body as indispensable to the evolution of consciousness. “[Our] consciousness, with its ‘intentionality’ towards the world, is always conscious of something. It is in a permanent state of moving towards reality. Hence, the condition of the human being is to be in constant relationship to the world.”8 Moreover, it is through embodied relationships with the world and others that we evolve in consciousness and discover the common ground across our differences to struggle together in the interest of democratic life. Anything that interferes with or negates this essential relationship to unity within diversity9 sets the stage for social, material, and political oppression, robbing our sensibilities and alienating our humanity—leav-ing us numb and defenseless in the face of violence and the trauma of oppression. The dialectical relationships between the body and conscious-ness, the object and subject, and students and the world are inextricable to a critical understanding of life and to forging actions that can have real consequences on the lives of the oppressed. This latter point is illustrated repeatedly in the stories shared among the contributors of this ground-breaking volume.

Living Body Recollections

I cannot understand the function of the living body except by enacting it myself, and except in so far as I am a body, which rises towards the world.

Merleau Ponty 10

In reading Pedagogies in the Flesh, I was deeply moved by the recollections of a multiplicity of instances where the living body summoned flashpoints of attention and awareness, whether through experience of joy and delight or rage and fury or grief and mourning or pain and despair. In essence, what we find in these stories is a subtle confirmation of Merleau Ponty’s claim, “The body is the vehicle of being in the world, and having a body is, for a living creature, to be intervolved in a definite environment, to identify oneself with certain projects and be continually committed to them.”11 Moreover, through stories of indelible traces of experiences negotiated through the vehicle of the body, I too found myself recollect-ing on an earlier moment 12 when I was fiercely grappling to rise towards the world by finding greater meaning in the pain of my childhood and its impact upon my political commitments to liberation.

As a child, my life was one of constant trauma. My mother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, prone to rage, physical violence, self-hate, and alcoholism—an atrocious combination. It was not easy to be the eldest child in our home. I was made responsible for things that were far beyond my years. The level of trauma I experienced could only be described as that of growing up in a war zone. I never knew when or where attacks on my body would be launched. Generally, these came daily and without provocation. My mother was deeply irrational when angry or inebriated. Hers was the fury of an intelligent woman chained to a sewing machine in a dusty sweatshop in order to survive. As a child, I had to learn to duck the constant missiles of her rage and abuse. This bodily invasion was further exacerbated by the sexual abuse I endured between the ages of six and eight at the hands of my mother’s boyfriend—a bodily invasion that fur-ther disrupted my sense of innocence and safety in the world.

My sister and I took very different venues for surviving the abuse. She became the “non-achieving” resistant child and I the constantly achieving and appeasing child. Neither venue was better than the other, beyond exterior appearances. Our bodies were left incredibly damaged emotionally; so much so, that neither was able to establish a lasting intimate relationship. Moreover, no matter how hard we may have tried, we passed on many of our complexes and anxieties to our children, who have also had to struggle in their own ways. Hence, bodily trauma in childhood is a phenomenon of generational transmission; even when the physical and emotional abuse ceases, it leaves us scarred and, often, without the coping strategies or inner steadiness to contend with constant social anxiety.

If this were not enough, for working-class females of color, the violence of a classist, sexist, and racializing society persists in a myriad of ways, institutionally reinscribing our abuse over and over again, making it difficult to completely disengage our bodies from the triggers of abuse. It takes tremendous fortitude and perseverance to own the neediness and insecurity, which the colonial matrix of power subjects upon women in our communities, particularly in a “just get over it!” society that is not kind to the afflicted body of those deemed other. A heart wrenching consequence is that we have seldom received the love, attention, compassion, regard, or resources required to garner sufficient mental, physical, emotional, psychological, sexual, and spiritual health or simply to establish a firm footing in life. Depending on our particular dispositions, we may focus on achieving in order to feel loved —to the point of disaster; or we might withdraw from life to shroud ourselves; or constantly fight with others to free ourselves of the internal chains; or find a million and one escapes to subdue (even temporarily) the suffering of our estranged body.

Hence, the most poignant aspect of such childhood trauma is that it is not only about childhood—for the body persists. The trauma can torment us until our death, if we cannot face the ordeal, over and over again, through our bodies, until at last we can generate the liberating beauty and brilliance of the soul. And this, of course, is easier said than done, particularly, in a world where oppressed people are reeling within our bodies, given the daily authoritarian assaults and consequences of disembodied formations that shape our world. Yet, often we are left unconscious, alienated, and numb to the bodily torment and violence perpetrated upon us and other oppressed people, seldom finding counter hegemonic spaces for undergoing the radical reflection necessary to transform our lives and communities.

The Power of Radical Reflections

The vigilance of radical reflection keeps these patterns of valuation from congealing into abstracted entities of attributes and properties…

Calvin Schrag 13

My recollection stems from the realization that radical reflection can only unfold through an understanding of the indisputable role of the body to the conditions of our lives, the process of human learning, and the struggle for our emancipation. This points to a phenomenon that must be linked to a deep sense of respect, value, and responsibility for the preciousness of life and the courage to name the unspeakable and hideous experiences of the living body in order to move beyond the reified complexes, fears, and insecurities that alienate and disable our capacities for intimacy and solidarity, holding us prisoners of an internalized shame and self-hate—where we are never good enough! Such are the struggles of many whose bodies have been deeply traumatized in childhood or beyond— begging the question: To what extent is education and the political economy in collusion with the perpetuation of exclusion and violence through the domestication and estrangement of our bodies? Radical reflections born of emancipatory vigilance and grounded in the interdependent dialectics of the body and difference are powerful safeguards against curricular epistemicides and political subjugation, in that these transgressive reflections can trigger dissent, breakdowns, and disruptions of hegemonic privilege and exclusion that are fueled by the tyranny of the body. Brooke argues, “radical reflection makes the Self possible by undermining the ego…by going under it, back to [the] body.”14

This critical phenomenology of the body is armed with the idea that without the flesh, we are unable to make sense of the material world and, thus, unable to transform neither the relationality nor the materiality of oppression. In contrast to the colonizing gaze of Western logic and its oppressive taxonomies that assault our right to human difference, the messy aliveness and unpredictable textures of enfleshment serve as potential pathways to liberation. Hence, social resistance and disruptions of the body are not only essential to humanizing our existence but absolutely necessary to the evolution of political consciousness and social transformation. As such, radical reflections of difference grounded in the living body, such as the stories across Pedagogies in the Flesh, can generate through dialogue educational opportunities for unveiling the wisdom of the body’s capacity for difference; and, by so doing, struggle, in the Deleuzian sense, to bring something incomprehensible into the world 15—namely, a just and loving world. What all this reminds us is that neither should education nor political struggle be conceptualized in ways that divorce us from the pri-macy of the body. Instead, liberation must emerge organically as a living political struggle for social consciousness, which begins and ends at the very source of our existence—the inspirited flesh.


\ 1.\ Darder, A. (2009). Decolonizing the flesh: The body, pedagogy, and inequality. Postcolonial Challenges in Education, 369, 217–232.

\ 2.\ Darder, A. (forthcoming). Teaching the flesh: The body, pedagogy, & power. New York, NY: Routledge.

\ 3.\ Darder, A. (2016). Freire and the body. In M. A. Peters (Ed.), Encyclopedia of educational philosophy and theory. New York, NY: Springer.

\ 4.\ Freire, P. (1998). Pedagogy of freedom: Ethics, democracy and civic courage. Lanham: MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

\ 5.\ Darder, A. Freire and education. New York, NY: Routledge.

\ 6.\ Haraway, D. (1990). A Manifesto for Cyborgs. In Nicholson (Ed.), Feminisms/Postmodernisms (pp. 190–233). New York, NY: Routledge.

\ 7.\ Freire, P. (1983). Education for critical consciousness. New York, NY: Seabury Press (p. 39).

\ 8.\ Ibid., p. 146.

\ 9.\ Freire, P. (1997). Pedagogy of the heart. New York, NY: Continuum.

10\.\ Ponty, M. (2002). Phenomenology of perception. New York, NY: Routledge (p. 87). (Original work published 1945)

11\.\ Ibid., p. 94.

\12.\ Darder, A. (2015). Childhood trauma and the struggle for liberation. Truthout. Retrieved from 31654-childhood-trauma-and-the-struggle-for-liberation

\13.\ Schrag, C.O. (1980). Radical reflections and the origin of the human sci-ences. Lafayette, IN (p. 94).

14\.\ Brooke, R. (2003). Pathways into the Jungian world: Phenomenology and analytical psychology. New York, NY: Routledge (p. 163).

\15.\ Deleuze, G. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press (p. 378).

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