Academic journal article Family Relations

Enlightenment for Emancipation: A Critical Theory of Self-Formation

Academic journal article Family Relations

Enlightenment for Emancipation: A Critical Theory of Self-Formation

Article excerpt

Family life education is a profession that endeavors to support families in their everyday challenges. Implicit in this mission is the notion that there may be discrepancies between actual and ideal family life. Historically, family life educators have assumed that if information is disseminated and foundation skills are taught, changes in everyday life will emerge (Brown, 1980; Morgaine, 1992a). Although these instrumental/technical approaches may be somewhat helpful, they tend to be limited in that they (a) teach only skills and facts, (b) assume an asocial perspective or presume that discrepancies are evidence of a family defect (Prilleltensky, 1990), (c) accept a single view of everyday realities, and (d) rely on the "expert" model in which professionals (a knowledgeable elite) tell family members how to improve their situations.

Due to family life educators' current emphasis on respecting diverse realities (Fine, 1993) and empowering families (Morgaine, 1992c), many social services professionals are beginning to question indiscriminate use of instrumental/technical approaches. Osmond (1987) and Prilleltensky (1991) urge all human services professionals to adopt a theoretical perspective that is macro-sociopolitical--one in which the influence of global and political forces on everyday actions is considered. Previously, I have claimed that when the appropriate knowledge paradigm is coordinated with actual needs, praxis, "the action emerging from informed, integrated, and rational understandings" (Morgaine, 1992a, p. 13) is more likely to emerge.

Likewise, our professional preparation of family life educators must move away from an indiscriminate reliance on instrumental/technical paradigms. Banks (1993) argues that students should learn to understand all forms of knowledge. Miller (1992) claims that teachers need to "excavate, reflect on, and analyze underlying assumptions, expectations, and constructions" (p. 103) of everyday life in order to become insightful about the complexities involved. Walker (1993) provides suggestions as to how family life educators can value diverse realities when teaching about families. DuBois (1993) claims that feminist approaches can illuminate the ways in which dominant members of society have perpetuated hierarchical assumptions in all aspects of institutional norms.


This article presents a critical theory of self-formation. It has emerged from my use of critical social science, or a critical/emancipatory paradigm (Morgaine, 1992b, 1994), when contributing to the professional preparation of early childhood and family life educators. After a brief narrative of the emergence of this theory, I will present an overview of the theory and implications for its use by family life educators.

Critical social science assumes that contemporary societies are oppressive in that they systematically encourage the development of certain societal groups at the expense of others. Feminist in its philosophical assumptions (Fay, 1977; Lather, 1991), critical social science seeks to expose the ways in which social and cultural realities may be hindering the human potential of all people. This exposure is accomplished by encouraging oppressed group members to examine societal structures as well as their own values, beliefs, and assumptions about everyday life. Critical social science is based on the belief that individuals do not need an expert to tell them what to do; they are capable of becoming enlightened about hidden influences in their own personal and social situations. It is assumed that praxis, or emancipative action toward making change, will occur once people are enlightened.

I turned to critical social science when I experienced a discrepancy between my lived reality and my desired ends. My goal was to facilitate the development of early childhood and family life educators who would be capable of contributing to the holistic development of children and families. …

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