Emancipatory consciousness occurs when there is widespread realization that the social, political and economic constructs under which a population labours are no longer operating in a constructive way for a (or several) significant section/s of that society.
This consciousness is not specific to a particular mode of production, (ie: socialism, fascism, liberalism, humanitarianism) and at its core the (often sudden) awareness that the system has ceased to operate for the desired purposes of the masses; and thus a collective view to escape from these constructs may start to form.
For the emancipatory consciousness to be utilized as a construct to change society, a tipping point or catalyst event is often required. First we must recognise that every mode of production will by its very nature contain a percentage of society that operates as detractors or objectors to that method. Groups with issues as wide and varied as anti-globalisation, sustainability, peace or equality agendas; in all their varied forms exist on the fringes of society; constantly attempting to change the ideologies of societies mainstream participants.
No society in human history has been without theses voices or detraction, and nor should we be. These factions of protest and alternative mode generators often act as a catalyst to citizens; facilitating change when it does occur. In the scenario that these groups operate as devisory, destructive agents; they still inform the ‘powers that be’ of the dissatisfaction which lies beneath the actions that these groups participate in.
However, these constructs outlined in the paragraph above perform a completely different societal purpose from the catalyst or tipping point itself. The tipping point is so often the reaction to the reinforcement of an existing situation which reoccurs or exists as part of an uneasy status quo. As such, when – for seemingly innocuous reasons the repetition of a social condition alters the landscape of consciousness for significant sections of a population, the resulting outburst of unregulated protest activity is the beginning of the consciousness (aligned with the possibilities of emancipation). There are many examples throughout the modern era or these tipping points, a few famous examples include the triggers for the Detroit riots of 1967, the Brixton riots of 1981 and 5, Tianamen Square 1989, the French riots of 2005, Tahrir Square in 2011 and the UK riots of 2011 are all reactions to practices which were commonplace in their urban landscapes.
It is important at this point to draw a line in the sand; to demarcate the difference between protest action and substantive change. Change only rarely follows protest action as protest is merely the mechanism by which a group expresses their dissatisfaction. There may lay within these actions the desire for a definable alternative, but there is just as much likelyhood that there is not this awareness or a systematic approach to the constructs of change! The link however between this dissatisfaction and changing society is the emancipatory consciousness. This only happens when a large enough body of individuals create a tipping point, where they become conscious that the existing constructs are not acceptable. When this occurs alternative models begin to emerge because society on a large scale begins to explore them. It is not a question of technology, intelligence, political position, activism, economy or power. It is about consciousness. This is exemplified by any series of unrelated topics; gender, race and sexual equality changes (to statute law) in society; only came into law (in certain countries) when a consciousness emerged amongst the population, that the status quo was not acceptable. Similarly with issues of environmental sustainability, financial equality or global peace; these cannot happen until a large enough body of people perceive the status quo as a problematic state of being. Until this consciousness occurs alternative constructs cannot be visualised, let alone put into place.
This article was written in 2012 and as such is written in the context of the social and political conditions of the time