On Analyzing Societal Issues Critically

No one can hide this from us, not even the Chamber of Secrets. Our society is suffering from various chronic maladies, most of which are veering towards terminal stage. As a person who lives in a developing country, I can see the symptoms of these disorders everyday as the society’s melancholic condition continues to aggravate right in my very own eyes.

At school, we are taught how to analyze these “maladies” critically. We apply certain political theories to help us in our insinuations and eveluations. Written below are my analyses to some selected cases as presented during our Political Science 100 (Political Theories) class.

  • 1. In an agricultural, rural town, the corn farmers are trapped in debts because the local government has not built farm-to-market roads and the farmers don’t have the vehicle to carry their produce to the market. So they are forced to sell their produce at prices dictated by middle men, which are usually low. These middle men are also the source of loans of the farmers – they take out loans on high interest which they pay with their produce. Usually their produce is not enough to pay fully the loan so this accumulates as interest is slapped on the remaining loan. Some of these middle men are connected to officials in the local government.

Important Concepts: 

  1. Human development is determined by capability and functioning
  2. Nature of the state
  3. Source and nature of power

The local government also takes part in the exploitation of the middlemen to the corn farmers as identified by the circumstance mentioned above. This exemplifies the Marxist critique of the state. In Marxism, the state is an instrument of the ruling class to maintain the capitalist order. As capitalists, the middlemen are deciding on the prices of the farmer’s produce, which are usually low, and also are a source of loans for farmers who take out loans on high interest. The local government officials sustain this exploitation by conducting transactions and fostering connections with the middlemen. They strengthen their interests as capitalists by ensuring that farm-to-market roads will not be constructed in order for the middleman-farmer transaction to persist, thus making both parties (the local government and the middlemen) better off. Also, local government officials can receive a high percentage of what the middlemen have amassed from the produce of the farmers who are being paid unfairly. Indeed, the political system (the local government in this case) ensures the continuity of capitalism, and likewise, the capitalism as the prevalent economic system makes the local government capitalist in nature. This being the case, it can be said that the capitalist system induces exploitation and conflicts brought by the preservation of interests of the capitalists.

All of this can be made possible through the use of power which legitimizes the exploitation being experienced by the farmers. The power comes from those who control the forces and relations of production. In this case, the local government officials and the middlemen, representing the capitalist class, are the ones who gain control over this exploitative dealing. As Marx asserts, the capitalist system ushers exploitation which is represented by the profit being acquired by the capitalists. Therefore the nature of power in this case is exploitative and repressive because it is possessed by a particular group which uses it to legitimize oppression. The power sprung from class contradictions and it favors the ruling class (the local government). The power is also present in social encounters. As Postmodernists would say, the middlemen dictating the price of their produce is a clear manifestation of the exercise of power over laypeople, a premise of  the Foucauldian concept of biopower.

Such inequity exists. If only farm-to-market roads have been constructed, the farmers need not rely on the middlemen to sell their produce. The neo-liberalist concept of development is worth mentioning in this juncture. For Amartya Sen, a neo-liberalist thinker, development is the absence of “unfreedoms” (such as poverty) in society. In the case of the corn farmers as mentioned herein, such unfreedom is indeed existent. Development is too far-fetched, since the global government itself promotes the inequality. For Sen, development should be the greatest goal of public policy which will aim to promote political freedom and the end of repressions, but the local government is doing otherwise. The absence of roads which are essential for the transport of the farmer’s produce to the town market reinforces underdevelopment and incapability. This brings us then to the idea that the development of famers is dependent upon their capability to transport their goods. Nussbaum’s capabilities approach states that “…internal capabilities and combined capabilities depend in different ways upon external conditions, and it is these that political and public action can modify or improve.” The capability of the farmers to transport their produce is being downgraded by the local government’s inefficiency to enforce the construction of roads. This does not at all promote fair level of capabilities for everyone. Instead of modifying the shortcoming by instituting public policy, the local government has promoted the culture of capitalism in its structure, making the farmers worse off.

  • 2. A social science researcher conducting a study in an indigenous people’s community had a dilemma. She must take the individual and personal consent of her respondents as dictated by ethical guidelines and as required by the ethics review board. However, the tradition in this community is for the elders to conduct consultations with the people, and then arrive at the decision on whether or not to allow the researcher to conduct the study and interview her respondents. The concept of individual consent is not present in this community.

Important Concepts: 

  1. The dilemma of the researcher
  2. The epistemology and nature of knowledge
  3. Power and knowledge
  4. Hegemony

In this situation, the researcher is torn between two ways. She can consider two choices: (1) the researcher will stand to what the ethical guidelines state and therefore will ask for indivudal consent of each research participant, or (2) the researcher will respect the norm of the community and will be satisfied in the community consent.
The said community exhibits a communitarian ideology. That is to say, the identity of an individual is an integral part of the community’s identity. To assert it into a different note, the existence of an individual is crucial to the existence of the community. Going back in the case, it can be said that consultations which are being conducted by the elders to come up with a common decision show that the primacy of group or associative identities is more emphasized than individual identities. This is the reason why individual consents are non-existent in the community.

As it has been reiterated, the dilemma is whether to abide with the ethical guidelines or to respect the community’s tradition. But before delving further, it is worth notable to ask: Between the ethical review board and the community, whose knowledge is valid in the first place? It leads us then to the notion of epistemology which is defined in simplest terms as the study of knowledge, or to put it into detail, the study of validating and examining knowledge, not just the mere acquisition of knowledge. The inquiries such as “Whose knowledge is valid” and “How to know and validate knowledge claims” concern epistemological studies. Applying this concept, the researcher will now be situated in a three-fold path. The researcher can reflect on these options: (1) The ethical review board’s knowledge is the one which is ultimately valid and true; (2) The community’s norm, on the other hand, is valid and true in its essence, or (3) Both could be valid and true. An option must reign supreme.

For that to be determined, it must be noted that, as Postmodernism argues, with knowledge comes power. Foucault, a Postmodernist thinker, posits that knowledge and power are two concepts intertwined. To simplify, one cannot separate knowledge from power since all fields of knowledge are constituted within power relations and all power relations are constituted within a field of knowledge. Moreover, power relations are present in all social encounters, even in private domains. In order for the knowledge to be legitimized, power must need a site or medium through which it can be transmitted and produced, and that is the body.

Since research involves the formation of knowledge claims, it can be said that the researcher can exercise power over the community since she can use the ethical guidelines laid down by the ethical review board to legitimize everyone to come up with individual rather than communal consents. She can utilize scientific standards supported by the ethical review board to require all of the research participants to take personal consents. This exemplifies a field of knowledge or power nexus which Foucault called as biopower, the use of information and scientific findings to make the exercise of power legitimate. But certainly, the ethical review board exercises power over the social science researcher since the former defines the terms of the discourse (in this case, the research) by formulating the guidelines which an ethical researcher must adhere.

Earlier, a question was raised regarding whose knowledge is valid. This is dependent upon the dominant worldview in the society, or specifically, in the field of research. A concept worth applying in this juncture is the Neomarxist concept of hegemony. Gramsci (1970), a Neomarxist philosopher, conceptualized hegemony as the diffusion throughout society of the value and knowledge systems of a particular group (Rosamond, 1997). There is a diffusion of a particular way of looking to the world. As a result, this affects the dominant values and beliefs of a system. This appears in the form of a dominant ideology which invades the most personal, private aspects of our lives. In this scenario, the dominant worldview is that of the scientific world. This worldview is embedded to the ethical guidelines set by the ethical review board and, consequently, by the researcher. It can be said that the dominant worldview favors one particular class which is the class of the science scholars since the community fosters a different ideology. Likewise, the community has its own hegemonic ideology which is the commmunitarianist ideology. This ideology is dominant on the community since this is present in almost all aspects of their lives.

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