Playing with Conscientização: A Collectividual Project for a World we Wish to See

By Bibi Calderaro, Atasi Das, Katherine E. Entigar, & André L. L. F. Sales

[C]onsciousness, provided that we do not lose sight of its content, is not just a psychological phenomenon but also, and above all, an ideological phenomenon, a product of social intercourse. (Vološinov, 1976, pp. 114–115)

In the midst of a global pandemic of unprecedented reach and uncertain unfoldings synchronic with an already far-reaching environmental and social crisis, George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton and others cannot be seen as martyrs, heroes or just a number of victims of institutionalized and racial injustice. Their murders bring forward some urgent questions: a) are we conscientes/aware/concientes of our daily decisions to engage in and problematize an ‘(ab)normality’ which constantly produces this unacceptable reality?; b) which futures are we enacting through our commitments in the present?; c) what pasts are being included?; and lastly, d) what else is possible as we invite conscientização into our lives?

In this piece, four scholars[1] assume and problematize a ‘we’ stance while offering an unconventional, multilingual taking up/on of conscientizar/to make aware/concientizar[2]. Engaging this writing as an experiment of collectividual(Stetsenko, 2016) disposition, we perform the act of writing not only individually, enacted from the position of one subject (albeit a fluid one), but also collaboratively. The collective writing progresses diffractively (Haraway, 1997; Barad, 2007) as each individual uses, embraces and builds over and under the work of all others[3]. We, as authors and scholars who are connected via digital space-time and a wide-ranging scholarship, delve into the articulation of a term which takes on multiple meanings and consequences via language, politics, and socio-historical situations. What are these entanglements propelling and fueling? Does the ‘we’ sit comfortably within this collectividual endeavor and can it be activated to exceed this human enactment? As an experiment, we engage this writing to perform its object: the process of becoming aware. We invite you, reader, to join such a project, by noticing differences, being aware, authoring conscientização/awareness/concientización, and daring to act.


A lot of ink was spent, most of it by authors situated on the left side of the political spectrum, on the centrality of the consciência/awareness/conciencia in the fight against exploitation and the individual’s enslavement by the current mode of material production. Consciência/awareness/conciencia is framed as the antonym of alienaçao/alienation/alienación. Lots of well intentioned activists from diverse causes assume that as soon the general population becomes consciente/aware/conciente of the problem they are committed to address, they will join together in the belief that “another world is possible.”[4]

Despite being a beautiful idea when coming out of revolutionary subjects’ mouths, conscientização is an empty signifier, to use Chantal Mouffe and Ernesto Laclau’s term (Mouffe, 1988). It is a word whose meaning and content need to be disputed amidst the current social tensions and battles to define what kind of norms will be used to rule our collective journey on Earth. One should never forget: there is often a gap between what words intend to say and do, and what they produce into the world (Ahmed, 2019). Whereas 100 years ago it was still possible to believe that acquiring consciousness about being chained would necessarily lead the individual to fight against oppression in all fields of their life, we can no longer pin our political strategies on these premises. This supposition provokes the putting of words and actions in context. There was a universal definition of human nature and rationality underpinning the idea of a collective awakening able to lead everyone to act in a necessary and unified way. This notion has been questioned and reshaped by fields like anthropology and psychology as they began to explore decolonial and post colonial epistemologies. Actually,  this process has revealed that the “universal human” social sciences have been describing is, in fact, a big fiction—it is nothing more than a white, heterosexual and educated (in Western terms) subject. Singular contexts and struggles can elaborate on what “human” means in different situations to pursue a broader endeavor in the name of conscientization.


The reader might have noted that the text was laid out using distinct indentations; the authors used these visual resources to preserve the singular voices in the collectividual writing endeavor. In an attempt to explore the multiple senses and possibilities triggered by the idea of conscientização, two of the four authors played with the concept from their particular engagements with awareness. These approaches are oriented toward experiences with concientización from their subject positions as they activate memories and a commitment to enact future potentialities.

As a language teacher and student, I love playing with words and seeing them play together, likewise little children. I speak English as a first language and Spanish as a second, and I can interact, simply, in French, Italian and Portuguese. When I try to communicate in a language I don’t dominate, I use the tools at hand to fumble along and do my best.

In position, watercolour by Paul Klee
The word dominate sticks with me, though; dominar, controlar. Of course I can’t control language, only draw upon and generate and live in it, but the metaphor hangs in the air. What am I trying to control in the first place? Am I just trying to keep myself, even what I see around me, under control? The word concientización waits quietly for me to invite it in, emerging, sudoros@rayad@ por el día, the pain(t) of today’s world. For I am not only an English speaker, but an American English speaker. I am U.S.-born, White, and (em)powerful. I am conscious of my power, my privilege. But it is one thing to see at a distance, another to be conscious…and still another to usher in conscientização to be up close, uncomfortable, unanswered. Le invito, le encuentro, me encuentra, me encuentro…but I don’t know what this looks like yet. I barely understand the playing I have done with ideas of liberation, a sandbox game, up until now.

Conscientização is a term I understand as politicized awakening. I am coming to learn/understand/sense the meaning of this term through layers of activities, study, and experiences from which I re-view, re-analyze and re-situate understandings I have taken for granted—reverberations from collectively organized activities. Recent uprisings sparked in the wake of George Floyd’sBreonna Taylor’sDominique “Rem’Mie” Fells, Riah Milton’s, and countless unpublicized murders of Black lives is a massive global reckoning with institutionalized and racial injustice. However, this process of conscientization has been cultivated through other moments, in locally situated contentions, such as a student group organizing to remove Coca-Cola as a vendor on campus in solidarity with classmates whose home countries and communities are reeling from its environmental and social destruction. How are we (do I) looking at a past anew while simultaneous and unfamiliar motions, interactions, and ways of being-doing-knowing are cajoled and unearthed? What are these future visions propelling and providing fuel to concientización? For me, I recount: the noises and smells of life on the streets of Kolkata trying to locate how the varying worlds (voiced in distinguishable inflections) connect and are also linked to schooling journeys (also distinguishably voiced) divided and tracked in Atlanta public schools.

Each take—languaged, beyond language, situated, political, and historical—emphasizes activity and reflection. Dominare—’traduttore traditore,’ some polyglots say; a play with words, a reflection on experiences. Social location is noted and yet fluid as awareness is shaped and re-shaped, in tension—made anew.

As we attempt to use conscientização as a tool to engage in activities intending to bring back the constructed and perishable disposition of what is understood as reality, some premises might be reevaluated. For instance, the past should not be recognized as a static repository of human activities, practices, and experiences. Instead, we invite you, the reader, to engage with it as a dynamic pool that is activated from the point of view of a future we are committed to co-creating in our daily actions. All of those who are in the streets protesting state violence or tearing down statues that celebrate settler colonialism, enslavement and genocide are particularly aware of this on-going venture.

But what if we are to consider consciousness beyond the human? Recognizing the awareness of more-than-human beings as sentient entities with whom humans share the planet can then soften the processes of shedding human exceptionality. Creating kinship with the more-than-human brings conscientização to a collectividual endeavor of different scale.


To think of consciousness/awareness makes me think~feel[5] a fold in doubt—it makes me enter the orifice of uncertainty. What is awareness, exactly? I attempt to put thought to paper and fail. To think~feel withconcientización is to venture grasping feeble flows in the midst of turbulence. What can be considered consciousness today, after so many turns of phenomenological updates and digitization? Is consciousness not a category to distinguish us—bipeds without humbleness—from all other animals and beings? Is it not a category that presumes others to lack—sentience, cognitive abilities, logic and algorithmic capacities, evolutionary self-awareness, political will? Giving it an additional turn, one more revolution of the term, toward making it into collective—the pan-psychic, the plural, the distributed—what could that do to it?

Conscientização then turns to multiple, infinite activities conducted at the never-well-defined edges of light and shadow. Nothing is sharp, everything always changes, flows emerge and let go of themselves, joining other flows that pass, contributing to the river. Such concientização is not about the individual flows, but about a river in its path toward the ocean. Water in its immensity is a metaphor for what consciousness can become if allowed to be part of the energies which together account for the continuation of life. Consciousness as becoming, a dynamic of forming, deforming, conforming, informing, unforming; that which together regenerates, moves forth, establishes connections—in difference and repetition, as Deleuze would have concurred (Deleuze, 1994).

consciousness, flow, change

context, reckoning, rivers

distinctive ways to name—to control and to connect


Words and meanings in each utterance are connected to genealogies, maintaining links energized in and through time. In Portuguese, the juridic meaning of solidariedade/solidarity/ solidaridad implies an idea of collective accountability, which expresses itself through the responsibility that groups take for the future they envision. This may invite an internationalist/transnational linking of diverse struggles from an anti-imperialist stance (Amin, 2012; John and Brown, 2019). This is one path that we understand can orient the potential of conscientização/awareness/concientización.

con•cientização—a knowing together

learning to live immanently where no ‘normal’ can ever take root

lingering in liminality, oscillating back and forth outside of language

becoming a we 

As the reader may see, this collectividual experimental project embeds unresolved tensions that complicated this piece/process. Some of us feel that this is a bottom-up project, an elaboration of a Freirean perspective; others among us are unsure whether we should be centered on the human being at all. The authors find it important to acknowledge that, irrespective of the positions we take up here, we know that  words are a form of technology, and as such, some words we have been using are also using us—forming, reforming and deforming us. This includes the use of the first person plural ‘we’ and the many references, and concomitant histories, it has taken along this project.

As we use technologies to transform worlds, we also ask how we are being transformed by them

These reflections urge those interested in assuming a consciente activist stance to face this question: How to look at a past anew while simultaneous and unfamiliar motions, interactions, and ways of being-doing-knowing are cajoled and unearthed? The current attempts made by the authors to address this question are guided by the following hint: “Acting is impossible without first envisioning a future, determining its shape, and committing oneself to bringing it into reality. The key point is that our practices and therefore our reality (coterminous with our lived world) are already shaped, or tailored, to a future that is sought after and posited as desirable and necessary–and not as an abstract notion but, rather, as something one commits to and struggles to bring into reality” (Stetsenko, 2016, p. 233).

George Floyd, Brianna Taylor, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton and others should not be seen as martyrs, heroes or just a number of victims of institutionalized and racial injustice. Those murdered and those who protest to oppose state violence are social-historical subjects who dare(d) to assume an agentive position in the world and share with each other their histories and perspectives as resources to uncover and imagine what is possible across contexts. Albeit their choice may look heroic because many of us feel that our own paths have ended, or have been ended for us, their entanglements bring forward some urgent questions: a) are we conscientes/aware/concientes of our daily decisions to engage in and problematize an ‘(ab)normality’ which constantly produces this unacceptable reality?; b) which futures are we enacting through our commitments in the present?; c) what pasts are being included?; and lastly, d) what else is possible as we invite conscientização into our lives?

What questions do you, reader, have as you create the world, together, with us?


[1] Physically separated due to the pandemic and confronted with a radical historical moment, André, Atasi, Bibi and Katherine, who were otherwise in a habit of meeting once a month around a table to discuss current topics in research in education, were compelled to forge connections across academic backgrounds, Global North and South positionalities, and languages to create something new. 

[2] In the remainder of the text, the authors use a combination of multilingual notions of the concept of “awareness” (conscientizaçao in Portuguese and concientización in Spanish). We use the three notions at once (in the following order: first is Portuguese, second is English, and third is Spanish), as well as variations of the terms in single and combined ways. This is done in order to engage the three home languages of the authors’ thinking processes and to problematize further the meanings and possibilities when we play with this concept.

[3] We make use of metaphors, repetitions and poetic devices in order to propose and undertake the process of awareness.

[4]  ‘Think-feel’ as a process was put forth by scholar Brian Massumi (2008) as a way to denote the inseparability and implicative orders of cognition, discernment, and the senses. In this regard it is used as a compound and complex action.

[5] This was the slogan of the World Social Forum that occurred in Porto Alegre in 2000. A reader interested in the topic might read the report made by John L. Hammond (Hammond, 2003).


About the Authors

This piece was co-authored by the following contributors:

Bibi Calderaro
Second-Year Ph.D Student, Urban Education
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
New York, NY, USA
bibicalder@gmail.com | www.bibicalderaro.com

Atasi Das
Doctoral Candidate, Urban Education
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
New York, NY, USA
adas@gradcenter.cuny.edu

Katherine E. Entigar
Doctoral Candidate, Urban Education
The Graduate Center, City University of New York
New York, NY, USA
kentigar@gradcenter.cuny.edu

André L. L. F. Sales
Postdoctoral Associate, Social Psychology Program
The Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo
São Paulo, SP, Brazil
andreluislfs@gmail.com

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