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Bringing Freire to Socio-economic Rights: A Pedagogy for Meaningful Engagement

Michelle du Toit


This article considers what it is that makes meaningful engagement meaningful in the adjudication of socio-economic rights. The pursuit of socio-economic transformation relies on citizen participation, as recognised by the South African Constitution and mandated by the Constitutional Court. This article relies on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed to substantiate an understanding of and motivation for meaningful engagement as a concept. This academic venture is premised on the notion that meaningful engagement (akin to Freire’s education and liberation theories) should occur with, not for, the afflicted. The article examines what is conceptually necessary for engagement to be truly meaningful and empowering and not to entrench power dynamics. Strong emphasis is placed on the fact that the afflicted need to be involved in changing their circumstances (as they need to be involved in their liberation and education) and that the source of the problem—in this case socio-economic inequality, deprivation or violation—cannot also be the sole source of the solution. Meaningful engagement with the afflicted circumvents a perpetual entrenchment of oppression, to use Freire’s own terminology. A Freirean approach to meaningful engagement could potentially result in effective socio-economic transformation and the disruption of patterns of socio-economic inequality and disempowerment. The relationship between the afflicted and those in power is questioned for its intention—an intention that is also disrupted by a Freirean approach to empowering the afflicted and recognising their agency, political capacity and human dignity.


socio-economic rights; meaningful engagement; Freire; Pedagogy of the Oppressed; transformation; participatory democracy; human dignity; political capacity

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