Critical Reflections on Reflective Practice

Critical Reflections on Reflective
Stephen Brookfield
Distinguished University Professor
University of St. Thomas
Minneapolis-St. Paul
Being Reflective
• A premature ultimate – its invocation
stops further analysis & questioning
• In many mission/vision statements
• Broad agreement on process –
identifying & checking assumptions
• Implementation changes depending on
intellectual tradition most influential
Reflection On What? For What?
• On Making Technique More Effective &
• On Solving Organizational Problems in the
Delivery of Services?
Is this the “Instrumentalization of Reason” /
“One Dimensional Thought”?
• How Reflection is Conceived & Practiced
Depends on the Intellectual Tradition One
Works Within
Critically Reflective Traditions ….
• ANALYTIC PHILOSOPHY – logical fallacies,
argument analysis – inductive, deductive,
analogical, inferential
• NATURAL SCIENCE – hypothetical-deductive
method, principle of falsifiability
• CRITICAL THEORY – uncovering power
dynamics & ideological manipulation
• PRAGMATISM – experimental pursuit of
beautiful consequences (democracy)
Core Assumptions of Critical Theory
• Society organized to make
permanent inequity appear normal,
a natural state of affairs
• Perception of normality created &
disseminated via dominant ideology
• Point of theory is to illuminate as a
prompt to action
What Does it Mean to Be Critically Reflective?
Five Tasks Pursued Experimentally
• Understand better how power operates – its
dynamics, its ethical use & abuse in
relationships, work & community
• Detect ideological manipulation
• Recognize & challenge hegemony
• Be alert to how repressive tolerance
neutralizes challenges to the system
• Practice democracy
Understanding Power
Researching use of positional power
Understanding team / client dynamics
Most engaged moment
Most distanced moment
Most helpful action
Most puzzling action
What surprised you most
• How ideology is embedded in microactions & everyday decisions …
• Depression – patriarchy
• Micro-aggressions: racial & gender
• Political participation – “they’re all
the same”, “everything’s fixed”,
“mustn’t grumble”
Detecting Hegemony
• Enthusiastic embrace of actions & beliefs that
harm us & serve the interests of others ….
• “Killing me softly”
• CAPITALISM – organizations that prosper do so
because they are ‘fitter’, ‘leaner’, smarter
Repressive Tolerance (Marcuse)
• Include enough challenge to the system to
neutralize it – presenting an organizationally
diverse public face
• Diversifying curriculum as smorgasbord –
mainstream always defines the norm
• Ideology of democratic tolerance – flattening
of discussion when all experiences &
viewpoints are considered equally valid
• Decisions after inclusive conversation
• Decision making processes represent interests
of those most affected (Parecon – Albert)
• Resources stewarded & used for the benefit of
the widest number of people, the ‘common
good’ (Bill Shankly)
• Negotiation of shared interest – collective
interest privileged over private interest
• The Power of Critical Theory (2004) Jossey-Bass/Open
University Press
• Learning as a Way of Leading (2008) (w/Stephen
Preskill) Jossey-Bass/Wiley
• Radicalizing Learning (2010) (w/ John Holst) JosseyBass/Wiley
• Teaching for Critical Thinking (2012) Jossey-Bass/Wiley
• Powerful Techniques for Teaching Adults (2013) JosseyBass/Open University Press

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