What is “criticality"?

Broadly speaking, criticality comprises—and is a composite of—three things: thinking, being, and acting. In emphasizing action in addition to thinking (in the form of argumentation and reflective judgment), criticality might be conceived of in relation to established definitions of critical thinking as trait. That is, while a critical thinker can be disposed to think critically, criticality points to the way a person is in the world. A critical person exhibits a critical orientation toward the world and has a trait, thereby, to act accordingly. Criticality requires that one be moved to do something (Burbules and Berk 1999, 52). While skills and dispositions are crucial for critical thinking, they are not sufficient unless a person is in her- or himself critical and unless she or he is disposed to act in a critical vein. To adapt a famous line from Kant: criticality without critical thinking skills is empty; critical thinking without action is myopic.

An example of “criticality"

The concept of criticality—as a composite of critical thinking, critical reflection, and critical action—has been made concrete by the use of a famous photograph as a frontispiece to Barnett's book Higher Education: A Critical Business (1997). The photograph depicts a student in front of a line of tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989. Most people have seen this photograph; indeed, it is one of the defining photographs of the latter part of the twentieth century. How does the photograph demonstrate critical thinking as "criticality"?

This photograph is intended to imply that higher education should be (if not always in practice) an educational process involving a composite of thinking, being-in-the-world, and action. Critical thinking, in the established cognitive sense proposed by philosophers such as Ennis, Siegel, Lipman, McPeck, and others, is an important perspective, but by itself inadequate as a way of capturing what higher education can be at its best. Higher education can, therefore, potentially do much more than teach students how to demonstrate (for example) critical thinking as analytic skills and judgments. It can also prompt students to understand themselves, to have a critical orientation to the world, and to demonstrate an active sociopolitical stance toward established norms or practices with which they are confronted. This, it is argued, is more than what is offered by the critical thinking movement in relation to skills in critical thinking; it is tantamount to the development of critical beings.

This is a sense of "critical thinking" that extends beyond the individual and his or her cognitive states and dispositions to the individual's participation in society as a critically engaged citizen in the world. Note that it also includes a moral and ethical dimension to critical thinking. After all, critical thinkers do more than reason; they also act ethically on the basis of their reasoned judgments.

In this argument for the criticality dimension, critical reasoning, critical reflection, and critical action could be thought of as three interlocking circles in the form of a Venn diagram (see figure 0.2). It is important, according to Barnett, that they be regarded as interlocking—but not as entirely congruent with each other; otherwise, the space for each of them to work (including critical thinking in the cognitive sense) would be lost.

The respective concerns of educational philosophers and higher education scholars in relation to the topic of critical thinking are then quite different. The work of Ennis, Paul, McPeck, and others aims to identify the philosophical

The intersection between critical reason, critical self-reflection, and critical action (Barnett 1997, 105)

Figure 0.2 The intersection between critical reason, critical self-reflection, and critical action (Barnett 1997, 105).

elements of what a critical thinker is or should be; the work of those interested in criticality aims to identify what a critical thinker does and can become. In turn, the implications for higher education on producing critical beings also holds out a promise for what higher education can be, which, however, especially given the corporate nature of the university, it seldom is at present (Cowden and Singh 2013)

Criticality, then, is a wider concept than critical thinking, as it has been generally defined by educational philosophers. To some extent it subsumes critical thinking. One outcome of this wider concept being taken up, of course, is that it suggests a wider set of responsibilities befalling higher education professionals, that is, teachers and academics, than that of (simply) imparting skills in argumentation, or developing in students a capacity for rational "reflection" or decision making, or even cultivating critical thinking dispositions. Educating for criticality, in contrast, holds out a sense that higher education can become (more) a process of radical development than merely a cognitive process. It captures a sense of enabling students to reach a level of "transformatory critique" (i.e., to live and breathe as a critical thinker, to become an exemplar of what it means to be a critical being).

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