Film as a Radical Pedagogic Tool: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Film as a Radical Pedagogic Tool

1st Edition

By Deirdre O'Neill


170 pages

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Emerging from Inside Film, a project that helps prisoners and people on probation make their own films, this book discusses the need for working class people to represent themselves and challenge mainstream stereotypes and assumptions about them. This projectgave prisoners and parolees the technical skills necessary to make their own films and tell their own stories in order to counter the ways they have been misrepresented. The author demonstrates that film and television are key means by which socioeconomically marginalized groups are classified according to hegemonic norms, as well as the ways such groups can undermine these misrepresentations through their use of the media. As a theoretical reflection on the Inside Film project and the relationship between filmmaking and education, this book explores what radical pedagogy looks like in action.


Deirdre O’Neill’s book adopts a Marxist approach to research based on a series of practice-led filmmaking workshops in UK prisons run by O’Neill called Inside Film. O’Neill outlines her interest in ‘collective filmmaking practice’ (1) and attempt to answer ‘questions of subjectivity and representation as they relate to the issue of (working) class in theory and practice’ (1). This theory practice nexus is an important aspect for O’Neill as she introduces students to radical film theory but uses a working-class perspective garnered from her own working-class background and experience.

The book is structured around seven chapters, which present theoretical aspects of filmmaking with examples from O’Neill’s practice and the workshops. She argues that film can be a form of ‘critical pedagogy’ (5) and the films she introduces to workshop participants and the filmmaking practice they learn equips them with tools to counter bad representations of working-class people and to articulate a working-class politics.

Marxist writers such as Gramsci are utilised in making the argument which includes criticism of capitalist structures, neoliberalism, and the ways in which the media and educational institutions operate to reinforce and reproduce the class system. Ultimately, O’Neill aims to develop ‘a theoretical and practical, politically committed radical pedagogy of film in the service of the working classes’ (29) and she lists seven ways that film can operate as a radical pedagogical tool. The list includes a call for film and its context of production to be analysed dialectically ‘through the lens of the wider social and political spectrum of capitalist relations particularly as they relate to class’ (33).

While generally quite theory heavy, the book does also contain some descriptions of the films made by students taking part in the Inside Film program, and demonstrates that the students have been influenced by film concepts and movements such as Third Cinema, and Imperfect Cinema1 (introduced to them as part of the workshop program). O’Neill argues that the students become ‘organic intellectuals’ (90) as a result of their taking up critical positions in relation to class and capitalism through film practice.

The book’s central argument, that film can be a radical pedagogical tool, is sound and is presented clearly and the questions that O’Neill raises about representation and the value of self-representation are important. O’Neill also provides historical context of radical filmmaking practice which helps to situate the work she does both in terms of analysis and her own filmmaking practice (the final chapter of the book describes an Inside Film project that was centred on a foodbank in South London).

I would have liked more though on the films made by the students in the prison system – more on their experience of the project and more detail of the content and production process of their films. Their voices are somewhat missing from the book. However, overall, this is a well-written analysis that would be very useful for film scholars and film studies educators interested in the radical pedagogical potential of film.

- Sarah Attfield is a lecture in communication in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences at the University of Technology Sydney, Australia. This review appeared in Volume 4, Issue 1, June 2019 of the Journal of Working-Class Studies.

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction

Chapter 2: Radical Pedagogy, Prison and Film

Chapter 3: Working Class Subjectivity and Representation

Chapter 4: Broadening the Referential Framework: Prison as an Event

Chapter 5: Hegemony and the Culture of the Working Class

Chapter 6: Radical Cinematic Practices

Chapter 7: The Foodbank Film Conclusion

About the Author

Deirdre O’Neill is a filmmaker and independent scholar.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Education, Neoliberalism, and Marxism

Neoliberalism is degrading and destroying public education systems globally. The local characteristics may vary, the results are common - increased inequalities in schooling, vocational and higher education, inferior work conditions for teachers and faculty, and detheorized and technicized delivery systems of increasing conservative curricula at all levels of education. Neoliberalism - marketization, privatization, pre-privatization, commodification - is increasingly accompanied by forms of authoritarian conservatism - secular in some countries, religious in others - with increased control, surveillance, and forced abandonment of critique. Such neoliberal and conservative assaults on public education and on broader aims than those which are couched purely in terms of economic/human capital - meet with increased resistance by students, teachers, communities, social movements, and in some countries, political parties.

The Routledge Studies in Education, Neoliberalism, and Marxism series features books by new as well as established scholars that throw a harsh spotlight on the conditions under which education currently labors and offers analysis, hope, and resistance in the name of more collective, egalitarian education for social and for economic justice.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
ART / Film & Video
SOCIAL SCIENCE / Social Classes