Speaking the Truth to Power: Parrhesia, Critical Inquiry and Education in Prisons

Aislinn O'Donnell, Jonathan Cummins

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This chapter reflects upon the question of education in one contemporary institution: the prison. Its setting is the Republic of Ireland, but these reflections should also be of interest for anyone thinking about education more broadly. Unusually for a piece of writing about education in prison, it argues that a central principle guiding any approach to education that claims to involve critical inquiry must be to create a space for parrhesia or ‘fearless speech’ for all participants. We explain why this is of particular importance in the prison. Parrhesia is described as ‘speaking one’s mind’, ‘speaking truth to power’ or ‘truth telling’.

This latter sense should not be understood in a confessional or legal sense; rather it involves the kind of examination of self by self that was promoted by the Ancient Greeks and which came to form part of a lineage that extends from the Pre-Socratics to Early Christians. We examine the significance of different exercises of parrhesia – personal, institutional and political – for the person in prison, as human being and as citizen. We also wish to acknowledge that those working within institutions may also feel and be silenced, but this chapter will not reflect on parrhesia in relation to their experiences.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRe-Imagining Imprisonment in Europe: Effects, Failures and the Future.
EditorsEoin Carroll, Kevin Warner
Place of PublicationDublin
PublisherThe Liffey Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Print)9781908308566
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 27 May 2014


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