Critical consciousness development: a systematic review of empirical studies

Heath Pillen, Darlene McNaughton, Paul R. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Developing an understanding of the social and political basis of marginalization is an important educational task for health education guided by frameworks of social justice. With the intention of developing an evaluative framework for use in further research, the aim of this review article is to present a synthesized framework of critical consciousness development, developed from a systematic search and qualitative synthesis of empirical studies that have examined the processes by which individuals come to critically reflect upon and act on oppressive social relations. A systematic search was conducted examining English-language literature produced between January 1970 and May 2017 within databases of PsycINFO, SCOPUS and ProQuest. A total of 20 articles were selected following a two-stage screening process and an assessment of methodological quality. Thematic analysis of findings from these texts produced a framework of critical consciousness development consisting of six qualitative processes and the relationships between them, including the priming of critical reflection, information creating disequilibrium, introspection, revising frames of reference, developing agency for change and acting against oppression. This synthesized framework of critical consciousness development is presented as a useful tool for assessing learning within critical pedagogies, albeit requiring some modification to suit specific cultural contexts and epistemologies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1519-1530
Number of pages12
JournalHealth promotion international
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2020


  • critical consciousness
  • critical pedagogy
  • education
  • inequalities
  • review


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