Critical Hope by Kari Grain

May 10, 2022

By Grey Nguyen


Kari Grain on her new book, Critical Hope, and the Permission to be Fragmented

This blog is authored by Dr. Kari Grain, author of Critical Hope, and CERi Special Research Associate. Dr. Grain has been with CERi for almost three years and has led the CERi Fellowship Program, written foundational documents on Ethics in CER, and now leads a community engaged research project focusing on community-centred immigrant services in partnership with Burnaby Family Life. Dr. Grain’s book, Critical Hope, is being released May 2022. 

There was a time when I thought hopefulness was in direct conflict with my educational training in (and lifelong values of) justice and equity. Hopefulness, I thought, was a naive and privileged position amidst suffering. But pure critique and cynicism in response to the untenable state of the world left me unmoving, unable to take action, and numb to the joy around me. How could anyone genuinely understand the urgency of climate crises, systemic racism, and colonial violence, and still maintain a hopeful stance? It felt too fragmented. 

The late Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire (and the scholar who coined “critical hope”) might have responded with something along these lines: You can’t begin to affect systemic and personal change in those areas without a foundation of hope.

In hindsight, I was being corralled by systems and structures (and the limits of my own understanding) into a false dichotomy of sorts: Are you this one thing (hopeful and naive), or are you the other (angry and aware)? Choose your camp - Two options, and that’s it, because complexity is time-consuming and unruly.

The past few years of researching and writing about critical hope have broken open my mind to a different way of understanding hope - one that is expansive and contradictory, and holds sacred space for the messiness of being. In my book, Critical Hope, I write that, 

Critical hope is the meadow where two unlikely seekers (lovers?) meet and become one—the place where two conflicting but equally true stories about the world are somehow made more truthful in their uneasy unification. Inside of that unification is born a plethora of alternative possibilities that eliminate false dichotomies and welcome complex pluralism as a way of knowing and being. For me, critical hope is a conceptual space that has given my fragmented selves a place to lovingly coexist.

Coexistence (tension-laden as it usually is) is vital, because critical hope doesn’t aim for consensus. It doesn’t sit still. It is a space of movement and relationality, and - yes, sometimes brokenness. Critical hope is rarely easy. Perhaps the most poignant thing I’ve come to recognize about critical hope is this: it’s characterized by what Paulo Freire would call politicity, or the quality of being political. Objects of hopefulness (those things that we hope for) and our ability to attain them, are never untethered to the systems of power and privilege that comprise society. At any given moment, we draw on the vast database of our lived experiences to decide what we hope for – and whether hopefulness is something that will help or hinder us in the long run. This is what I describe in my book as the essential process of grappling with hope. To grapple with hope is to continuously renegotiate our relationship to hope depending on context and positionality. 

All of these complexities are represented in the seven principles of critical hope. Through a mix of research and vulnerable storytelling, I share principles that are inspired by the scholarship of Paulo Freire, and interweave an array of ideas across several disciplines and worldviews. They integrate anti-racist, feminist, and critical emotion studies into the literature on hope because those perspectives have been largely left out of the conversation in the decades and centuries gone by. Here is a sneak peak at the seven principles of critical hope:

  1. Hope is necessary, but alone, it’s not enough
  2. Critical hope is not something you have; it’s something you practice
  3. Critical hope is messy, uncomfortable, and full of contradictions
  4. Critical hope is intimately entangled with the body and the land
  5. Critical hope requires bearing witness to social and historical trauma
  6. Critical hope requires interruptions and invitations
  7. Anger and grief have a seat at the table

When I consider my own work as a university educator, author, and community engaged researcher, I like to think about critical hope as a conceptual space where learners of all types have permission to be fragmented beings; to be angry, wounded, and grievous about what is, and to also crave the imaginative vision of something better. Chicana feminist, Gloria Anzaldúa, wrote about the “Coyolxāuhqui Imperative” as this lifelong state of healing our shattered selves by the light of the moon. In the Aztec religion, she explained, the stars and moon were once the broken and dismembered pieces of the Goddess Coyolxāuhqui’s body. But instead of pulling herself back together into one small piece as she had been before, she re-membered herself in a new way; Her fragmentation enabled her to become the entire night sky. 





Kari Grain, Critical Hope: How to Grapple with Complexity, Lead with Purpose, and Cultivate Transformative Social Change (Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books), 2. 

Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Hope: Reliving Pedagogy of the Oppressed (London: Continuum, 1994).

Gloria Anzaldúa, Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality, ed. AnaLouise Kearing (Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press, 2015).

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