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Consciousness raising is a form of political action. It often takes the form of a group of people attempting to focus the attention of a wider group of people on some cause or condition. It is the first half of the adage "Admitting the problem is half the battle."
The concept of "consciousness raising" has historical antecedants as diverse as Willian Gilbert in 1628, Ernestine Rose in 1860, Mao Zedong in 1937 and Malcolm X in 1964, it was second wave feminists that popularized the phrase as it came to be understood.
In the early days of the modern feminist movement one of the main difficulties was getting even women themselves to acknowledge that there was a problem. It was not until the publication of Betty Friedan's widely-read The Feminine Mystique in 1963 that millions of women even realized that something was missing from their lives.
In 1978 Redstockings published Feminist Revolution: "The only methods of consciousness raising are essentially principles. They are the basic radical political principles of going to the original sources, both historic and personal, going to people--women themselves, and going to experience for theory and strategy."
An original paper called "A Program for Feminist Consciousness Raising" was written in November 1968 by Kathie Amatniek (also known as Kathie Sarachild]])--a founding member of the seminal second wave feminist organizations New York Radical Women and Redstockings. It was presented at the First National Women's Liberation Conference in Lake Villa, IL on Thanksgiving of that same year.
Students for a Democratic Society
The term may have originated with the group Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
The SDS found itself in an overwhelmingly anti-radical society, where many of its members adhered to radical politics, but did not understand them intimately. While political and ideological study groups were effective, they were seen to replicate the politics and organisational style of the Old Left. The SDS, which led the American New Left felt a strong organisational need for a new educational structure.
The answer was the use of consciousness raising groups. Within a CR group individuals discuss their own lives first, particularly in non-political ways. The group then develops a set of politics out of the immediate discussion at hand. This technique can be an incredibly powerful way to develop politics from non-political beginnings. It can, however, also be a way to destroy individual personalities, particularly ones which stand out from the crowd.
Compare with co-research as used by the Italian Autonomist marxists.
- Maslow's hierarchy of needs#Self-actualization
- Enlightenment (concept)
- Epiphany (feeling)
Jo Friedman. Tyranny of Structurelessness.
- How to start your own consciousness-raising group, reprinted from a leaflet distributed by The Chicago Women's Liberation Union (1971)
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