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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Owning Social Science by Prof. Feliece Yeban

I have always been fascinated by the question whether the Philippines is best represented using the paradigm of modernity which divides society into pre-modern, modern, and post-modern. The reference of such categorization is modernity which is presumed to have transpired. But the narratives about the Philippines contained in our history, society, and culture books say otherwise. Constantino and Guerrero both used a Marxist approach in writing our story as a people and both have argued that we failed in our modernizing effort because the elite have captured the state. One characteristic of modernity is the hegemony of science and technology in organizing the world. Pertierra (2006) “explored the complex relationship between science-technology and the culture of everyday life in the Philippines and have shown that various aspects of everyday culture inhibit an orientation towards science and technology”

To Pertierra, modernity in the political sense presupposes that government has become settled because it is founded on a significant ideological consensus. Most social groups (ethnic, religious, linguistic, and the like) have been successfully assimilated, or have achieved protection, equality, or self-determination through autonomy, federalism, or other special devices; Secessionism no longer constitutes a major goal of minorities. Territorial frontiers have become legitimized and sanctified through legal instruments; Leaders are selected on the basis of a regular procedure like elections. No group, family, clan or sector can hold power permanently; Military and policy organizations remain under effective civilian control; The mores of governance preclude personal enrichment through various political activities.

These characteristics of a modern state are not predominantly found in the Philippines state which is described as premature because its claim to statehood is a product of its colonial history and not formed by a popularly accepted notion of “nationalism”. To this day, its legitimacy is relentlessly challenged by different resistance groups. The Filipino national identity is still evolving if not contested. All these have made the Philippine state weak. Its institutions unable to manage ethnic, religious, and socio economic diversities.

As a student and practitioner of social science, my private discomfort in looking at Philippine society from the lenses of modernity and history is leading me to suspend my subscription to the logic of the dominant social science paradigm that captivates Filipino social scientists which gives premium to the role of history to make sense of the present. My work is leading me to privilege our imagining of the future than our narration of the past. My present is defined by my view of the future.

My View of Philippine Society

One’s action is determined by one’s thought. I have acquired certain beliefs about our society which I use as framework for making decisions relevant to my practice of social science. These are worth discussing herein.

I see the Philippines as a colonial construct. There would have been no Philippines had we not been colonized by Spain. What we have is an inorganic state that was imposed to put under its umbrella the more than 100 ethnic communities and lump them all together as Filipinos. We are not a homogenous state but rather a deeply multicultural state whose main challenge is to “engineer” in the minds of the current population the idea of Filipino citizenship, which I would venture to say, is not yet totally successful. The idea of “imagined communities” by Benedict Anderson is very insightful to understand why statehood cannot be imposed on peoples found within the jurisdiction of Philippine territory. I do not however, subscribe to “balkanizing” the country. It is important to note here the role of the traditional agents engaged in the “social engineering” process of constructing “Filipinoness” – the state and the school system.

The Philippine state, from my view, is suffering from what Alfred Mccoy calls anarchy of families. Historically, the elite of this country have always had access to both political and economic power. From north to south, the government is run by traditional names in Philippine politics that have time and again ran roughshod over the country’s resources and laws. We both have the old and new “rich” controlling, at different historical timeframes, the government and its subsidiaries. It is no wonder then, that the state is not felt on the ground. How then can we galvanize support for an entity who is “absent” in the day to day business of its people?

The school system is likewise suffering from perpetuating what Antonio Gramsci calls “false consciousness” – that of educating the population of knowledge, values, and skills that promote the interests of the dominant group, thus, the general population unconsciously subscribe to a worldview or “ideology” that perpetuates the hegemony of the dominant group. The history of the school system in the Philippines is replete with “pacification” goals of either the Church or the colonial masters. Sadly, the western system of education which the eminent education theorist Paolo Freire calls “banking system” of education has not totally been exorcised from our system.

The call for governance and education reform is very fundamental to render effective the construction and re-construction of Filipino nationhood. Nationhood is not a given in the Philippine context. Construction and reconstruction of this “ideology” in the minds of Filipinos (referring to all ethnic communities) must proceed “surgically” through multi-layered efforts of different stakeholders whose role is to foster mutual understanding of this “ideology” and forge a “social contract’ among us.

My View of the Social Sciences

There are many exciting things happening in the social science field. For instance, the traditional view of history as linear is now being challenged. Passion and Revolution by Reynaldo Ileto, Contracting Colonialism by Vicente Rafael, and Pantayong Pananaw by Zeus Salazar are just among the many “new” ways of writing history. These new approaches are telling us that there are many “histories”. The challenge then is how to integrate these “new histories’ into the work of the classical historians such as Agoncillo, Constantino, dela Costa, etc. and then learn from them. The writing of our history is not yet complete to accommodate the many narratives of people who have been part of building this nation.

Both anthropology and sociology are blurring the lines that divide them to better approach the complexities of studying Filipino structures, organizations, and cultures. Filipinology and Philippine Studies are emerging fields resulting from this. Traditionally, sociology in the Philippines is informed by very western tradition of the structural functionalist and Marxist schools, nevertheless, postmodernism and post structuralism as “fad” in the West has in a way forced Filipino sociologists to re-visit their practice of doing sociology. Randy David has even challenged Filipino social scientists to re think our way of doing research in the social sciences. Rather than being hung up in the methodology, he calls for the reorienting of emphasis on recommendations which to him are the real “thesis” of the researcher. The structure-agency debate in the west does not seem to bother most of the Filipino sociologists and anthropologists. This is probably due to the fact that most of our social scientists are in some way or another involved in the national project of transformation rather than “neutral” observers.

Psychology is one field, whose role in my participating in the national project of transformation needs to be elevated. I am particularly interested in positive psychology. Martin Seligman calls for a new psychology that studies the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive.  The history of the Philippine is a history of struggle. In the recent past, the active involvement of the civil society in creative alternative making initiatives is telling me that approaching social transformation from “what’s wrong with us” point of view does not account for the many success stories produced by individuals and groups who have exerted effort in transforming Philippine society. I am interested in tweaking my critical approach of understanding society towards a more appreciative approach.

Appreciative inquiry provides a way to explore what is glossed over by critical approach. It is a process for catalyzing positive change (Cooperrider and Whitney, 2005). It is the study of what gives life to human systems when they are at their best. It dwells more on what worked rather than what did not work. As a method, it starts with the discovery phase which requires identifying what worked well in people, communities, and organizations. It tries to take stock of success stories rather than problems to be solved. It aims to build upon the best in people, communities, and organizations. This means identifying of and building on the positive core (Cooperrider and Whitney, 2005).  The discovery phase is followed by the dream phase. It is the phase that explores what the future might be like if the positive core discovered in phase one is optimized. The third is the design phase which is simply planning how to optimize the positive core. The last phase is called destiny which is implementing the plan, making the dream a reality.

In this approach rather than talk about what is not there, the focus is on analyzing and expanding what has already worked in the past to facilitate an evolved and better state of affairs which we could call development. A quote from The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change sums up the mindset of this field well. "We are not saying to deny or ignore problems. What we are saying is that if you want to transform a situation, a relationship, an organization, or community, focusing on strengths is much more effective than focusing on problems."

Political science is a field which traditionally has been very statist in its approach in doing social science. There has of late been a renewed interest in this discipline (political science used to be considered as preparatory to a law degree) due to the rise (maybe a re-introduction is better) of new institutionalism. This new (?) orientation proposed that formal organizational structure reflected not only technical demands and resource dependencies, but was also shaped by institutional forces, including rational myths, knowledge legitimated through the educational system and by the professions, public opinion, and the law. The core idea that organizations are deeply embedded in social and political environments suggested that organizational practices and structures are often either reflections of or responses to rules, beliefs, and conventions built into the wider environment. The insights generated by practitioners of organizational development could very well enhance political science. Whether we view this field from an institutional or behavioral point of view does not spell much difference for me.

The pursuit of good governance is what I perceive should be at the core of this discipline. I am partial to the role of the human rights paradigm because it is an international normative standard and a very clear framework of governance.

A sense of citizenship – commitment to the realization of the aspirations of the state – must be re-invented in the light of the changing and changed context of 21st century societies. One phenomenon in today’s politics is the increasing difficulty of governments to address adequately economic and social problems. Political power traditionally exercised by governments dominated by a few is now perceived as indicative of bad governance. Governance is now perceived as shared domain of both the government and the citizens. Gone are the days where people are passive recipients of government services. Governments are increasingly recognizing that efficiency and effectiveness of public service is better achieved if the citizens are involved and engaged.

Government agencies have three corresponding human rights duties: the duty to respect, the duty to protect and the duty to promote or fulfill human rights. From these emerge several human rights-related tasks and functions such as human rights promotion and education.  Traditionally, human rights education for citizens means equipping people with the knowledge, values, and skills to demand from their governments to respect, protect, and promote their human rights. However, making governments the audience of HRE means enabling the governance structures to deliver good governance. Good governance has now come to mean people’s participation in decision-making, transparency, rule of law, human rights, responsiveness to people’s needs, and government accountability. It means the effective management of a country's resources in a manner that is open, transparent, accountable, equitable and responsive to people's needs. The rule of law; transparency, accountability and effectiveness of public sector management; and an active civil society are all essential components of good governance. Researches in political science, I believe, should be around the core theme of governance and as described herein is not only focused on the state but extended to other actors such as individuals and communities as well.

Economics as a field has conventionally been very positivistic. However, I view this discipline’s primary role to be to facilitate understanding of globalization, development, and poverty. These are the themes that predominate developing countries such as the Philippines.

The government flaunts one development plan after another – Philippines 2000, Angat Pinoy, Beat the Odds, to name a few. These are undoubtedly economistic development models. The left on the other hand, is still debating whether to affirm or reject development agenda conceptualized in the 1960s. The civil society sector has more varied development projects either driven by funders or by their avowed commitment (Illo, The business sector is re-inventing itself by claiming to be socially responsive more than ever. Despite these, we are still at a loss as to how to solve poverty, control the adverse effects and exploit the positive effects of globalization, and to pursue a development agenda that work for majority of the Filipinos. Both the capitalist and socialist blueprints have been proven inadequate in bringing about genuine, holistic, inclusive, and long lasting development.

What all these point to is that economics as it currently stands cannot adequately help us understand globalization, development, and poverty because these are complicated concepts that require knowledge of other disciplines for us to fully comprehend.

In summary, the social sciences are suffering from fragmentation. Each discipline invariably focuses on the different aspects of Philippine society rendering a fractional and bounded view. The challenge to the social science practitioners then is how to integrate insights generated by the different fields to enable the social scientists to formulate new research questions whose answers provide a more holistic basis for our action.

My tool around the fragmentation of the social sciences is to tweak my practice around the idea of development. I am influenced in this stance by Kalaw (1997) who argues for the “construction of a Science of Development that can provide normative and functional integration of economics, ecology, (self), and society and the development of management technologies that look at ecosystems, cultures, ethnicities, community, and evolution as units of analysis and management”.

Development is both a mindset, a ”heart set”, and a “work set”. As such it requires a set of knowledge, values, and skills that cultivate appropriate thinking, valuing, and doing development. To engage in this project requires a deconstruction, reconstruction, and construction of knowledge, values, and practices at the personal, interpersonal, communal, societal, and global levels.  Concretely, this ranges from simple acts such as continuing self examination; advocating reforms in education, legal, and governance systems; and embracing new business philosophy; appropriate science and technology, and simpler but more meaningful lifestyles;   to the more complicated initiatives in social forestry, agronomics, transpersonal psychology, complexity studies, biopsychology, biocracy, and other emerging fields that blur the boundaries dividing the social sciences, natural sciences and the humanities.

The Role of Bounded Rationality in My Social Science Practice

Unlike the natural world whose composition is more stable hence knowledge is predictable, the social world is more fleeting, hence knowledge is more tentative. Truth is a lot more difficult to establish in the social science because perceptions, ideas, beliefs, culture, and even ideology are held as “truths”. The role of social research is to sift through this web of subjectivities. Knowledge then is both static and dynamic. For instance, Rizal being our national hero is a static knowledge, but why he was selected as such and if he deserved to be the national hero might be subject to the dynamic discourse of the relevant community, hence knowledge is dynamic and a discourse. The importance of this knowledge or any social science knowledge for that matter is to acknowledge if such social science knowledge is able to help individuals and communities make better and informed decisions about their realities.

My knowledge of Philippine society is not and will never be complete. I pursue my social science work with intellectual humility in recognition that I do not possess the best knowledge there is but still is confident enough to proceed from what I know and convince people to join my agency. This cautious stance allows me to be open to what others have to say and to draw insights from the work of others. Despite this, I have the confident predisposition to make decisions and actions. In a way there is a degree of taking a leap of faith.

In a complex and uncertain world, humans draw inferences and make decisions under the constraints of limited knowledge, resources, and time. Bounded rationality is based on behavioral notions and upon observations of the ways in which decisions are actually taken in practice. Criticism of classical rationality led Nobel laureate Herbert Simon (1972) to propose the notion of bounded rationality. It assumes human rationality has its limits, especially when operating in conditions of considerable uncertainty.

The notion of bounded rationality gives rise to the concept of different modes of thinking that individuals employ. One mode is called the "systematic" mode and the other is called the "heuristic" mode. The systematic mode refers to a person who is engaged in careful and effortful thinking. The thought process is active, creative, and alert. This is our more reflective thinking system. It is useful for making judgments when you find yourself in unfamiliar situations and have more time to figure things out. It allows us to process abstract concepts, to deliberate, to plan ahead, to consider options carefully, to review and revise our work in the light of relevant guidelines or standards or rules of procedure. This is the system which relies on well articulated reasons and more fully developed evidence. The heuristic mode, on the other hand, relies heavily on a number of cognitive maneuvers (rules of thumb), key situational characteristics, readily associated ideas, and vivid memories to arrive quickly and confidently at a judgment. This kind of thinking is particularly helpful in familiar situations when time is short and immediate action is required.
People (even scientists) are flexible in their thinking and can move back and forth between the two modes. Sometimes we are systematic and other times we are heuristic. The mode we use depends on situational and personality factors. People also have strong individual preferences for particular modes of thinking. Some people have a high need for cognition and typically think carefully about things most of the time. By contrast some people have a low need for cognition and typically think as little as possible about a situation. In between are most people who are more sensitive to situational factors. Thus, our mode of thought can be driven by the situation or our personality predispositions. Note that even people who prefer to be heuristic thinkers can still shift into the systematic mode when the situation calls for it. The school is traditionally expected to train the minds of the students to systematic thinking. Socialization to one’s culture reproduces the heuristic mode of thinking. However, I believe that both schooling and socialization produce and reproduce both (and other) modes of thinking.
The implications of these modes of thinking are far reaching in the practice of social sciences. On one hand you have the everyday knowledge about the world as experienced by people. On the other is the systematic and scientific knowledge produced by research and methodical approach. It is reasoning based on what we have learned through careful analysis, evaluation, and explanation. The former is more intuitive knowledge while the latter is more rational thought.
The social science practitioner is challenged to bridge this seeming divide. For instance, how do we bridge the divide when the government claims there is economic growth yet people complain about their decreasing standard of living?
My Social Science Practice

I am an educator who is engaged in social transformation. The educative process does not only happen in school. Every social engagement I have with individuals or groups is an educative opportunity both for me and for others I encounter. I have the listening ear and inquiring eye of an anthropologist, the social imagination of a sociologist, the predisposition to ask who has the power and who gets what of a political scientist and economist, and predilection to understand the individual of a psychologist. All these are mindset and heartsets necessary in the practitioner of a social transformation.  There are many ways to contribute to this but I choose to be in field of education.

Education is an occasion for us to confront life as we pursue a meaningful existence. Education should equip us with the knowledge to know, comprehend and act on our social reality using our different disciplines may it be the natural sciences, social sciences or applied sciences or folk knowledge. Social transformation means being able to identify, describe and confront problem areas in our society and in our world as well as appreciate positive dimensions of our realities. This means, we need education to enable us to navigate and take control of our inner world and our inner selves so we can relate more positively with the outside world. Education is not only for the good of the society but also for our personal well being as well. Without personal growth, we won’t have enough citizens who have the consciousness required to co-create a healthy society

The transformative educator must recognize that the practice of transformative education entails the following:

  1. Continuous reflection on the human condition and how education can help construct new social realities.
  2. Defying conventions and cultural norms when necessary.
  3. Constructing new practice and structures which might require taking risks which include the danger of isolation.
  4. Being prepared to deal with resistance.
  5. The process of doing transformative is the reward itself.
  6. Finding the difficult balance between self-actualization on one hand and selfless social engagement on the other.
  7. Taking action to effect the necessary change.

To fulfill the above, knowledge of the social sciences is a must.

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