First Advisor

Janice Haaken

Date of Publication

Spring 6-3-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Applied Psychology






Consciousness -- Philosophy, Critical pedagogy, Cognitive dissonance, Emotions and cognition



Physical Description

1 online resource (vi, 251 pages)


The concept of critical consciousness centers on the capacity for involvement in social change efforts. Its development has been the aim of many recent social movements (e.g., the consciousness raising groups of the women's movement). In this work, critical consciousness is defined as the highest level of socio-political-cultural (SPC) consciousness development. SPC consciousness is characterized by the linking of the personal and the political so that structures and discourses of oppression are not only understood but also lead to critical action and transforming relations of domination. Additionally, critical consciousness includes the ability to tolerate ambivalence and conflict as well as the capacity to form group identifications that support critical reflection. While critical consciousness can develop in a variety of settings, it has a historical affinity with liberation education projects, particularly education projects that combine Critical Pedagogy and community engaged learning.

Empirical inquiry on critical consciousness development is extremely limited. This dissertation addresses that gap, focusing specifically on the role of emotion and relationality in critical consciousness development. Further, the study offers a feminist critique of the literature, addressing as well the contribution of Community Psychology to conceptualizing critical consciousness.

This dissertation analyzes data gathered through the Girl Power Senior Capstone, a course routinely taught at an urban Pacific Northwest public university. The six-hour course lasts for one quarter-term and integrates classroom time with community engagement. A central aim of the course is the development of critical consciousness. Specifically, the research was designed to address the following questions: 1) How are emotionally and relationally significant Girl Power experiences related to SPC consciousness development? 2) What tensions arise between the dominant culture and/or significant others' values and the values of the Girl Power capstone and how do these tensions move individuals toward or away from critical consciousness?

The theoretical framework and interview schedule were guided by participant observation of the Girl Power course conducted over an academic term. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with all consenting and available capstone participants (N=10) in the course where participant-observations were carried out. The interviews were transcribed and analyzed based on a modified version of Carol Gilligan's Listening Guide.

Two primary themes emerged from the data analysis-- the processes of awakening and sources of dissonance. The first theme relates to the processes of transformation that participants undergo during and following the course. Participants discuss this process as coming to see the world in a new way though their emotional experiences and relations developed in the course. The second theme, sources of dissonance, addresses sources of conflict that emerge as participants undergo this process of awakening. Areas of tension that were particularly salient centered on relationships and experiences in the course. Participants identified experiences in the course that they perceived as contributing in key respects to SPC consciousness. Yet some aspects of change in the course seemed to reflect limiting capacities, including magical thinking, a limited range of critical action strategies, and lack of critical community post Girl Power. The findings from the dissertation can be used to inform the creation and implementation of future projects of critical consciousness development and social justice work more broadly.


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