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Dialogue and Critical Learning with Advocates

Maintaining dialogue in animal advocacy with other advocates to promote critical learning

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As an advocate have you ever wondered about your use of dialogue in your animal advocacy work with other advocates? When we are conducting advocacy we are often in environments where we are constantly learning and teaching other advocates. For example, the types of environments advocates may be in are often informal settings such as meetings, demonstrations, education stalls and other forms of ‘action’. Learning results from participating in these ongoing activities and in most cases this type of learning is non-intentional or incidental (random).   

In these environments and settings some advocates may use monologue based dialogue. Monologue based dialogue is where one speaks in an authoritative ‘preaching based’ style which often turns into an oppressive way of communicating, perpetuating hierarchy. Whereas, dialogue, in particular, critical dialogue, invites the audience to critically question and investigate what is being offered in the discussion.

Monologue based dialogue has its place, for example, if a particular job needs to be completed you might request that it be completed in order for that job to be finished. However, too often monologue dominates critical dialogue which is a problem for critical learning in advocacy practice.

Radical educational theorist Paulo Freire argues that the use of dialogue is a central element in learning. He argues the dialogical method systemically invites the audience to think critically and to depend less on authority (Freire & Shor, 1987). However, as learners, we are conditioned to be passive and to rely on ‘experts’ who have the ‘answers’ so learners often fall into passive modes with reliance on others.

For example, Bob Torres (2007) argues that in the animal advocacy movement there is a disempowerment felt among advocates as if they are waiting for a ‘more experienced’ or ‘expert’ campaigner to act on the issues. This hierarchical discourse makes the ‘experts’ ‘words’ the dominant ‘voices’ perpetuating passivity in the learning process in advocacy practice.     

Even though the animal advocacy movement’s goal is to erase animal exploitation, monologue based dialogue, which is inherent in the system of domination, contradicts the very liberatory practice that animal advocates are working for. Instead, critical dialogue aims to transform this passive hierarchical mode of learning to empower advocates. In other words, critical dialogue promotes further investigation of an idea encouraging equal participation.

Furthermore, many animal advocacy groups might argue they utilise dialogue in an ‘open’ manner to explore themes and ideas critically. For instance, having a group discussion in itself is often viewed as dialogical learning. However, often the material and the questions posed restrict an investigative dialogue with critical attention to re-examine the topic (Freire & Shor, 1987).  For example, an advocate when organising an event may say in a discussion “we should hold a stall for outreach” or “should we have a demonstration”? The learner (another advocate) may then answer “yes we should to educate the public”. But if the idea is not critically examined this might restrict creativity and new ideas for advocacy. The dialogical method has the potential of creativity and breakthrough (Freire & Shor, 1987). So unless the leader or someone else within the group explores the theme being discussed with more depth, the critical dialogue to assist creative ideas will be lost.  

As per the examples, this communicative exchange generally becomes a form of monologue. George Orwell (1946) argued that we often label something superficially before thinking about it critically.  We tend to not explore the subject with any depth because we’ve already labeled the ‘idea’ with stereotypical language thus restricting any critical dialogue occurring (Orwell, 1946).

In other words, no one questions or investigates what is being offered in discussion; rather they tend to conform to the construction of the issue as presented by the ‘expert’. Within a community environment, this ‘fixed’ knowledge or way of ‘talking’ often transfers to other members within the group situation becoming the typical communicative transaction. Particular questions may be asked but not explored either with the leader or with, and particularly with, other group members. This knowledge is already ‘decided’ ‘fixed’ and ‘formed’ and is delivered as such.

Thus the learners then remain passive, creating or influencing a passive atmosphere and the dialogue is not critical (Freire & Shor, 1987). In other words, most communicative exchanges involve monologue forms of dialogue in a top-down manner. This communicative style needs to be examined otherwise the communicative transactions will remain rigid and static restricting any critical dialogue occurring limiting education and learning in advocacy practice.

To conclude, if you want to promote an environment of learning in your advocacy group double check that monologue based dialogue is not the dominant form of dialogue taking place. This will then enhance and promote an environment of peer teaching and learning in all contexts. If critical dialogue is utilised between learners and leaders as equally ‘knowing subjects’ then a power balance is maintained (Freire, 1972). Dialogue does not ‘even them out’ but implies a sincere respect marking a democratic positioning between them (Freire, 1994).

Dialogue, in a community context, becomes an important aspect of empowerment based learning for social change. One must feel a sense of ‘power’ when speaking in order to feel that they can transform their society. Most importantly, if critical dialogue is limited, learning and education in advocacy practice will be restricted.  

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Lara Drew is currently doing a PhD in education on animal rights and tutoring at the University of Canberra. She is an animal rights activist currently running a community education campaign on the factory farming of turkeys in Australia with Animal Liberation ACT called ‘Big Birds, Big Cruelty’ which is funded by Voiceless – the animal protection institute. For more information visit the website, watch the documentary and find the campaign on Facebook.

References

Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Great Britain: Penguin Books.

Freire, P. & Shor, I. (1987). A Pedagogy for Liberation. Dialogues on Transforming Education. New York: Bergin & Garvey.

Freire, P. (1994) Pedagogy of Hope. Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: The Continuum Publishing Company.

Orwell, G. (1946) Politics and the English Language. Retrieved from http://mla.stanford.edu/Politics_&_English_language.pdf

Torres, B. (2007) Making a killing. The political economy of animal rights. Oakland: AK Press.

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