KNOWL­EDGE IN­EQUAL­ITY CAUSES SO­CI­ETAL DI­VIDE

Unchecked dis­par­i­ties can harm eco­nomic, so­cial sus­tain­abil­ity

New Straits Times - - Viewpoint - The writer is a pro­fes­sor with the Cen­tre for Pol­icy Re­search and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies (CenPRIS), Universiti Sains Malaysia

UNI­VER­SI­TIES, like gov­ern­ments, have to grap­ple with a mul­ti­tude of prob­lems and is­sues. In­equal­ity has, in re­cent decades, been the dom­i­nat­ing theme. Cog­nisant and re-em­pha­sis­ing in­equal­ity as in­te­gral to the global po­lit­i­cal agenda in the sec­ond decade of the 21st cen­tury, the 2016 World So­cial Sci­ence Re­port (WSSR 2016) by the United Na­tions Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion (Unesco) con­cludes that unchecked in­equal­ity could jeop­ar­dise the sus­tain­abil­ity of economies, so­ci­eties and com­mu­ni­ties.

WSSR 2016 ar­gues that in­equal­ity — and the links be­tween eco­nomic in­equal­ity and other forms of in­equal­ity, such as ed­u­ca­tion, health and gen­der — needs to be bet­ter un­der­stood to cre­ate fairer so­ci­eties. It iden­ti­fies data gaps in so­cial sci­ence re­search into in­equal­ity. It ar­gues that we need to in­vest in and de­velop mean­ing­ful so­cial sci­ence re­search into in­equal­ity to de­velop mean­ing­ful poli­cies to re­duce in­equal­ity. In short, too many coun­tries are in­vest­ing too lit­tle in re­search­ing the long-term im­pact of in­equal­ity on the sus­tain­abil­ity of their economies, so­ci­eties and com­mu­ni­ties.

The re­port cov­ers seven di­men­sions of in­equal­ity and stud­ies their con­fig­u­ra­tions in dif­fer­ent con­texts:

in­equal­ity: dif­fer­ences be­tween lev­els of in­comes, as­sets, wealth and cap­i­tal, liv­ing stan­dards and em­ploy­ment;

in­equal­ity: dif­fer­ences be­tween the so­cial sta­tus of dif­fer­ent pop­u­la­tion groups and im­bal­ances in the func­tion­ing of ed­u­ca­tion, health, jus­tice and so­cial pro­tec­tion sys­tems;

in­equal­ity: dis­crim­i­na­tions based on gen­der, eth­nic­ity and race, re­li­gion, dis­abil­ity and other group iden­ti­ties;

in­equal­ity: the dif­fer­en­ti­ated ca­pac­ity for in­di­vid­u­als and groups to in­flu­ence po­lit­i­cal decision-mak­ing pro­cesses and to ben­e­fit from those de­ci­sions, and to en­ter into po­lit­i­cal ac­tion;

in­equal­ity: spa­tial and re­gional dis­par­i­ties be­tween cen­tres and pe­riph­eries, ur­ban and ru­ral ar­eas, and re­gions with more or less di­verse re­sources;

in­equal­ity: un­even­ness in ac­cess to nat­u­ral re­sources and ben­e­fits from their ex­ploita­tion; ex­po­sure to pol­lu­tion and risks; and dif­fer­ences in the agency needed to adapt to such threats; and,

in­equal­ity: dif­fer­ences in ac­cess and con­tri­bu­tion to (and by) dif­fer­ent sources and types of knowl­edge, as well as the con­se­quences of these.

While cog­nisant that uni­ver­si­ties would have to ad­dress all the di­men­sions in the re­port, this com­ment em­pha­sises on the last di­men­sion. Knowl­edge pro­duc­tion and its con­se­quences cer­tainly would im­pact on the pre­vi­ous six di­men­sions — con­cep­tu­ally and em­pir­i­cally. The knowl­edge fac­tor — specif­i­cally the sci­ence that stud­ies so­ci­ety — is not equal. The “so­cial sci­ence” pow­ers in the likes of the United States, the United King­dom, France, Ger­many and Ja­pan also de­ter­mine the var­i­ous in­equal­i­ties for the rest of the world by dom­i­nat­ing the world’s re­sources in in­tel­lec­tual and sci­en­tific pro­duc­tion.

Some years ago, a num­ber of schol­ars made com­ments on the WSSR 2010, which calls for global schol­ar­ship and ac­tion. In the pref­ace to the re­port, the pres­i­dent of the In­ter­na­tional So­cial Sci­ence Coun­cil writes: “To a great ex­tent, the so­cial sci­ence grew out of the 17th-cen­tury Euro­pean En­light­en­ment, when new ideas about re­li­gion, rea­son, hu­man­ity and so­ci­ety were merged into a fairly co­her­ent world view that stressed hu­man rights, in­di­vid­u­al­ism and con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism… Stud­ies of alien so­ci­eties were used as con­trast when analysing a coun­try’s in­sti­tu­tions and cus­toms.”

WSSR 2010 com­prises 80 in­di­vid­ual pa­pers with 14 au­thors from the Asia-Pa­cific re­gion. Al­most all the pa­pers, with a few ex­cep­tions that ar­gue for a counter-Euro­cen­tric dis­course, project a Euro­pean post-en­light­en­ment tra­jec­tory of the so­cial sciences. And this can be seen in the ge­og­ra­phy and po­lit­i­cal econ­omy of the pro­duc­tion and cir­cu­la­tion of so­cial sci­ence text­books, hand­books and pa­pers. Their cir­cu­la­tion of ideas within new na­tion states in south­east, south and north­east Asia, the Arab world and the African con­ti­nent re­in­forces knowl­edge de­pen­dency.

One such ex­am­ple of a so­cial sci­ence idea is mod­erni­sa­tion the­o­ries. And, the big­ger ques­tion was why we need new mod­erni­sa­tion the­o­ries? The ques­tion, in the man­ner it was asked, is struc­tural to the so­cial sci­ence dis­course.

It is sig­nif­i­cant to note that this has not sur­faced from a nonWestern scholar, but from the core, metropoli­tan di­vide.

David E. Apter, in the chap­ter “Marginal­i­sa­tion, vi­o­lence, and why we need new mod­erni­sa­tion the­o­ries”, pro­poses a re­fig­ured mod­erni­sa­tion the­ory to pro­vide with an­a­lyt­i­cal tools to con­front what he called “neg­a­tive plu­ral­ism”.

Gov­ern­ments need to end a cul­ture of un­der­in­vest­ment in so­cial sci­ence re­search into in­equal­ity.

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