Social Justice Usage
Source: Delgado, Richard, and Jean Stefancic (Eds.). Critical Race Theory: An Introduction, third edition. New York University Press, 2001, p. 147.
False consciousness: Phenomenon in which oppressed people internalize and identify with attitudes and ideology of the controlling class.
“False Consciousness” refers to ideology dominating the consciousness of exploited groups and classes which at the same time justifies and perpetuates their exploitation.
New Discourses Commentary
False consciousness is, generally, a way of thinking, usually deemed to be somehow imposed from the outside, that prevents people from understanding the realities of their social and economic situations. This can take the form of being unaware of how one is oppressed (e.g., see internalized oppression) or how one is contributing to or upholding structures of dominance (e.g., see internalized dominance). Critical theories of various types exist in part to cut through false consciousness and awaken a “critical consciousness” that is aware of it and the oppression it maintains (see also, wokeness, consciousness raising, multiple consciousness, kaleidoscopic consciousness, and feminist consciousness).
Presently, the concept of implicit bias (sometimes, unconscious bias) is roughly taken as hard evidence of various forms of false consciousness, which puts it at the center of many of the initiatives, projects, and claims of Critical Social Justice. In essence, the idea that we are unconsciously biased for and against certain identity groups is taken as evidence for the paranoid and cynical claims of Theory, largely because Theory depends upon forward assumptions of unwitting participation in, thus systemic, injustice (see also, mask). Despite the fact that the evidence for implicit bias is relatively poor and the suggestions made around it are increasingly shown not to work or to create worse problems, it is therefore used as a primary justification for various forms of professional and organizational training, especially for the Critical Social Justice suite of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
The idea of false consciousness originates with and features prominently within Marxist philosophy—with which it is most associated, though Marx never used the term himself and Marxists tend to urge caution with the concept—and has played a role in nearly all of the lines of thought that have contributed to the present Theory of Critical Social Justice. It appears in all Marxian thought, features prominently in another form in the Neo-Marxist (or Culturally Marxist) Critical Theory of the Frankfurt School (see also, hegemony, ideology, and New Left), appears in other forms within the post-Marxist perspectives such as postmodernism and critical pedagogy, and (thus) forms a kind of backbone for contemporary intersectional Theory. In this modern incarnation, it is rarely called “false consciousness,” probably because contemporary intersectional Theory tends to seek to distance itself from Marxism (not least because it isn’t Marxism and arose specifically from critiques of Marxism).
In Marxist theory, false consciousness was broadly viewed as being imposed upon the proletariat working class by the bourgeoisie and capitalist owner class as a means to keep them unaware of the oppression inherent in their (mostly abysmal) economic, social, and working conditions, primarily in order to keep them content enough to remain productive workers and to prevent their revolt. It was therefore billed as a specific way in which the communist revolution Marx predicted was being prevented from occurring, at least until capitalism reached such a late and intolerable point that such a revolution would be inevitable after a mass shift in consciousness demanded it (see also, socialism). The objective of many Marxists was therefore to raise a mass class consciousness that would make the proletariat aware of their oppression and urge them toward a communist revolution.
As the specific ideas of Marxism began to show themselves to be failures in many specifics in the early twentieth century, alongside the rise of fascism, propaganda, and the horrors of the World Wars, Neo-Marxist thought shifted away from the earlier, simpler Marxist understanding of false consciousness to something more subtle. The Neo-Marxists believed that the capitalist class had subverted any possibility of a communist revolution by skillfully combining state and corporate interests and enabling the rise of a comfortable popular culture that wasn’t only unaware of its oppression but believed it liked it (this following György Lukács’s failure to incite a communist revolution in Hungary). Neo-Marxism developed from this situation by turning to Antonio Gramsci’s concept of hegemony—social control by dominant ideologies—and attempting to fuse Freudian psychoanalysis into Marxian theory to provide explanations for these phenomena.
As such, the understanding of false consciousness stopped being viewed as something imposed by the elite classes in society to something that is created, maintained, and enforced culturally, as something we all participate in by adopting the dominant ideological views of the elites, even without our knowing, while considering them to be the right way to think about things (see also, status quo). Thus, this understanding of society and false consciousness within it came to be known as “Cultural Marxism.” This view gave rise to the fundamentally critical programs of cultural studies and dramatically influenced various dimensions of the emerging social sciences, turning them into Neo-Marxian activist projects that placed changing society (following Marx) ahead of understanding it (see also, critical theory and New Left). This view was therefore highly influential upon the activism and scholarship within liberationism and feminism (see also, black liberationism, black feminism, and liberation theology).
Feminism, in particular, has always been extremely interested in the concept of false consciousness and ran with it from quite early on. Indeed, consciousness raising was, in particular, a predominantly feminist concept and spoke strongly to the need to develop a feminist consciousness. The views on false consciousness within feminism have ranged from direct imposition of male dominance (see also, masculinism) and female subordination by a literal patriarchy (not entirely unreasonably at various points in history), to a fusion of patriarchy and capitalism that commodifies women, womanhood, and femininity as a means of exploiting women (see also, hegemonic femininity), to a vaguer and systemic understanding of patriarchy, to an even vaguer completely systemic and socially constructivist view of sexism and misogyny that can lead women to be socialized (brainwashed by society) into subordination and marginalization (see also radical feminism), including taking on internalized sexism and internalized misogyny and thus upholding patriarchy (see also, patriarchal reward, male approval, and neoliberal reward). Feminist theory relied very heavily upon standpoint epistemology in this regard for some time, arguing that the experience of being a woman in a patriarchal culture offered a better understanding of the world than men could have in a patriarchal culture.
Within the post-Marxist developments of postmodern Theory, false consciousness is less directly relevant to that domain of thought, though its presence can still be felt. Many of the postmodern Theorists were particularly concerned with the idea that everyday people tend to choose the wrong things for themselves, particularly in the form of a low popular culture. They also believed that society had become increasingly unreal and unknowable (see also, truth and simulacrum), and this alienated people from reality. This led them to see society as caught up in metanarratives (which are, in effect, the expressions of broad ideologies) of which we should be radically skeptical, trapped within political truth regimes (see also, episteme) in which power and knowledge are inseparable and thus everything knowable is an application of politics (see also, biopower, power-knowledge, and Foucauldian), and under the dominion of powerful and dominant discourses that limit the ways in which we are able to think, believe, and express ourselves while encoding the power dynamics of those who created the discourses and systems of knowledge themselves (see also, Foucauldian, Derridean, phallogocentrism, binary, racial culture, and racial knowledge). Thus, under postmodernism—a form of post-Marxist thought—false consciousness takes on a dimension of thinking not only that we know but that we can know at all, and thus being unaware that all of our claims to knowledge are local to the time in history, location in geography, and cultures in which they arise, i.e., mistakenly believing we can be objective or that knowledge can be universal or value-free (see also, positivism and science).
The postmodern answer to this kind of ultra-false consciousness—which sees all knowledgeable “consciousness” as an illusion—is a recentering of lived experience as a way of knowing. Jean-François Lyotard was particularly interested in steering our focus away from wide-ranging explanations for things, metanarratives (including religion, Marxism, and science) for local narratives. This has, in turn, led to a fairly widespread belief that one’s stories—especially when culturally situated, and even more when speaking from one’s positionality (relationship to systemic power in society, particularly when oppressed)—constitute a valid form of knowledge that is on par or even superior to that of science (which is deemed white, Western, Eurocentric, masculinist, and so on, thus hopelessly biased), reason, evidence, and so on (see also, master’s tools). As such, critical race Theory has taken up counterstories and historical revisionism as intentional tools by which they seek to advance their theory (see also, 1619 Project and knower).
Critical Social Justice, in that it is an intentional fusion of Neo-Marxism (or Cultural Marxism) with postmodern Theory for the purpose of seeking to achieve a peculiar understanding of social justice (see also, equity) by way of identity politics, therefore relies heavily upon notions of false consciousness and spends a great deal of time Theorizing upon them. This has the practical effect of creating an unfalsifiable, indefeasible Theory that can never be wrong or even disagreed with (see also, engagement and authentic).
Concepts within the Critical Social Justice understanding of false consciousness run the gamut of various internalized forms of dominance and oppression (internalized ableism, dominance, misogyny, oppression, sexism, racism, transphobia, to name a few). They also incorporate a wide variety of related ideas that seek to explain why members of “minoritized” groups who don’t agree with Theory do so only for illegitimate reasons, often that have been foisted upon them by the unjust power dynamics defining society. These concepts include acting white, being white adjacent, living with double consciousness, or seeking male approval, white approval, patriarchal reward, or neoliberal reward. These are maintained by unjust knowledge systems, as Theorized by concepts like epistemic injustice, testimonial injustice, hermenutical injustice, epistemic oppression, and epistemic violence. That is to say, Critical Social Justice remains obsessed with false consciousness.
Various takes on internalized dominance are another key feature of the Theory of Critical Social Justice in the vein of false consciousness. This project, indeed, occupies a central role in whiteness studies and may, in fact, be the defining occupation of that critical field of study. Whiteness studies deploys a huge array of concepts that are indicative of the various kinds of false consciousness that allow white people to believe that their dominance is normal, natural, justified, and not needed to be reckoned with. These include the various “ideologies” that Critical Social Justice criticizes, like liberalism, colorblindness, meritocracy, human nature, equality, individualism, objectivity, universalism, the good old days, progress, and the melting pot. It also includes a variety of privilege-based moral failings of whiteness, including white comfort, white complicity, white equilibrium, white fragility, white ignorance, white innocence, white silence, white solidarity, white supremacy, white talk, white woman’s tears, the racial contract, aversive racism, colortalk, positioning oneself as a good white, denying the need for antiracism work, being intrinsically anti-black, active ignorance, pernicious ignorance, willful ignorance, privilege-preserving epistemic pushback, the generation of shadow texts, refusal to engage, lack of racial stamina and racial humility, inability to endure racial stress, and so on and so forth apparently endlessly. All of these concepts exist to explain various ways in which white people, as a dominant group, have as a feature of their white privilege a kind of false consciousness about their role in producing, maintaining, and participating in domination and oppression, whether they mean to or not. Again, Critical Social Justice is positively obsessed with false consciousness, upon which their entire Theory turns.
Again, the ultimate purpose of focusing upon false consciousness in the Theory of Critical Social Justice is that it makes Critical Social Justice unfalsifiable and indefeasible. It is not possible to disagree authentically with Critical Social Justice, and underlying and heavily Theorized beliefs in false consciousness are the primary reason why. Because these accusations often carry a kernel of truth—we can always be more reflective and aware—they tend to be taken far more seriously than they therefore deserve. And this is, as they say, how they get you.
1619 Project; Acting white; Active ignorance; Alienation; Anti-blackness; Antiracism; Authentic; Aversive racism; Bias; Binary; Biopower; Black feminism; Black liberationism; Capitalism; Center; Colorblind; Colortalk; Communism; Counterstory; Critical; Critical consciousness; Critical pedagogy; Critical race Theory; Critical theory; Consciousness raising; Cultural Marxism; Denial; Derridean; Discourse; Diversity; Domination; Double consciousness; Engagement; Episteme; Epistemic injustice; Epistemic oppression; Epistemic violence; Equality; Equity; Eurocentric; Exploitation; Fascism; Feminism; Feminist consciousness; Foucauldian; Frankfurt School; Good old days, the; Good white; Hegemony; Hegemonic femininity; Hermeneutical injustice; Human nature; Identity; Identity politics; Ideology; Implicit bias; Inclusion; Individualism; Injustice; Internalized ableism; Internalized dominance; Internalized misogyny; Internalized oppression; Internalized racism; Internalized sexism; Internalized transphobia; Intersectionality; Kaleidoscopic consciousness; Knower; Knowledge(s); Liberalism; Liberation theology; Liberationism; Lived experience; Male approval; Marginalization; Marxian; Marxism; Masculinism; Master’s tools; Melting pot; Meritocracy; Metanarrative; Minoritize; Misogyny; Multiple consciousness; Narrative; Neoliberal reward; Neo-Marxism; New Left; Normal; Objectivity; Oppression; Patriarchal reward; Patriarchy; Pernicious ignorance; Phallogocentrism; Positionality; Positivism; Post-Marxism; Postmodern; Poststructuralism; Power-knowledge; Privilege; Privilege-preserving epistemic pushback; Progress; Racial culture; Racial humility; Racial knowledge; Racial stamina; Racial stress; Racism (systemic); Revisionism; Revolution; Science; Sexism (systemic); Shadow text; Simulacrum; Situated; Social constructivism; Social Justice; Socialism; Socialization; Standpoint epistemology; Status quo; Structural; Structuralism; Subordination; Subversion; Systemic power; Testimonial injustice; Theory; Truth; Truth regime; Universalism; Value-free; Ways of knowing; Western; White; White adjacent; White approval; White comfort; White complicity; White equilibrium; White fragility; White ignorance; White innocence; White privilege; White silence; White solidarity; White supremacy; White talk; White women’s tears; Whiteness; Whiteness studies; Willful ignorance; Woke/Wokeness
Source: Giroux, Henry A. On Critical Pedagogy. Continuum Books, 2011, p. 21.[H]istory has been stripped of its critical and transcendent content and can no longer provide society with the historical insights necessary for the development of a collective critical consciousness. In this view the critical sense is inextricably rooted in the historical sense. In other words, modes of reasoning and interpretation develop a sharp critical sense to the degree that they pay attention to the flow of history. When lacking a sense of historical development, criticism is often blinded by the rule of social necessity that parades under the banner of so-called “natural laws.” This assault on historical sensibility is no small matter. Herbert Marcuse claims that one consequence is a form of false consciousness, “the repression of society in the formation of concepts . . . a confinement of experience, a restriction of meaning.” In one sense, then, the call to ignore history represents an assault on thinking itself.
Source: Marcuse, Herbert. One-Dimensional Man. 1964, chapter 6.
This transformation of negative into positive opposition points up the problem: the “wrong” organization, in becoming totalitarian on internal grounds, refutes the alternatives. Certainly it is quite natural, and does not seem to call for an explanation in depth, that the tangible benefits of the system are considered worth defending—especially in view of the repelling force of present day communism which appears to be the historical alternative. But it is natural only to a mode of thought and behavior which is unwilling and perhaps even incapable of comprehending what is happening and why it is happening, a mode of thought and behavior which is immune against any other than the established rationality. To the degree to which they correspond to the given reality, thought and behavior express a false consciousness, responding to and contributing to the preservation of a false order of facts. And this false consciousness has become embodied in the prevailing technical apparatus which in turn reproduces it.
Source: Adams, Glenn, and Phia S. Salter. “They (Color) Blinded Me with Science: Counteracting Coloniality of Knowledge in Hegemonic Psychology.” In Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, Luke Charles Harris, Daniel Martinez HoSang, and George Lipsitz (eds.) Seeing Race Again: Countering Colorblindness Across the Disciplines. University of California Press, 2019, p. 275.
One race-conscious perspective that informs many contributions to this collection (including our own work) is Critical Race Theory (CRT). As other contributors have described with greater authority, initial articulations of CRT grew out of frustration about an inattention to racial power in critical studies. Conventional perspectives of critical scholarship often dismiss race consciousness as a form of false consciousness associated with tendencies of essentialism or particularization that threaten solidarity of social movements. In response, proponents of CRT contend that race consciousness is a necessary tool to illuminate the basis of hegemonic knowledge formations in epistemic perspectives associated with White racial power. Rather than the application of White-washed critical theory to a subset of phenomena with obvious connections to race relations, CRT perspectives consider the entire range of social science phenomena through an analytic lens that highlights racial power.
Revision date: 3/23/20