The Tasks of Emancipatory Social Science
Is to envision alternative realities in regards to a collective project in which we challenge various forms of human oppression. The word “Science” is used to stress the importance of developing systematic scientific knowledge about how the world works beyond simple social criticism or social philosophy.
The word “Emancipatory” refers to a moral purpose. In the production of knowledge to eradicate of oppression and to create conditions that will encourage human flourishing.
Finally the word “Social” implies human emancipation which depends upon the transformation of the social world and not just the inner life of a person.
To fulfill this mission we have three basic tasks:
1. elaborating a systemic diagnosis of the world as it is(capitalism sucks)
2. envisioning viable alternatives(Fill in the blank)
3. understanding the obstacles, possibilities, and dilemmas of transformation.
Today my comrades we focus on part two.
So remember we are trying to develop coherent, credible theories that will eliminate, or at least significantly reduce, the harms and injustices of our current institutions and social structures.
The alternatives will be elaborated and critiqued through the lenses of: desirability, viability and achievability.
As you know the exploration of desirable alternatives without the constraints of viability and achievability is the domain of afternoon pot smokers and social scientists.
Unfortunately such discussions are thin on detail and thick with the enunciation of abstract principles.
For example Marx’s description of communism being a classless society with the famous phrase
“to each according to his need , from each according to his ability.”
does not include an articulation of how to make this theory a reality.
Though these discussions help us formulate our values and strengths
they do relatively little to inform the practical task of transformation.
Would transforming existing social structures and institutions generate the Emancipatory results intended?
A common answer to such question is:
“Sounds good on paper, but in reality it will never work”
The most famous example being: comprehensive central planning
Which Failed on a account of “information overload” due to a complex economy and the effects of “no incentives” amongst other things.
Viability must consider historical context as well as prevailing cultural conditions.
For example “a generous basic income” may be tenable in a society with a strong work ethic and a sense of collective obligation but may not work so well in a selfish consumeristic world.
We must ask ourselves if the alternatives are achievable under existing social conditions while keeping in mind the future is an unknown entity.
In 1987 the Soviet Union was a communist country. No one thought the collapse of the Soviet State and the consequent transition to capitalism would transpire within a few short years.
We can hypothesize about what is possible under current conditions but the further we look into the future the less certain we can be about what is achievable.
As with most plans…viable alternatives are more likely to become achievable realities if they are well thought out.
Interestingly what is achievable is in part dependent on the beliefs people hold about what is attainable.
i.e. social limits of possibility are not independent of beliefs about those limits.
This is different than the limits of biology or a physics… which are real, untransgressable limits of possibility.
ex) what you believe about the “speed of light” “how tall you are” “the color of the sky” has no affect or effect on said phenomena.
Claims about social limits of possibility are different than claims about physical and biological limits, for in the social case, the beliefs people hold about limits systemically affects what is possible. (Read that twice)
Developing compelling accounts of viable alternatives is one component of the social process through which the social limits on achievable alternatives can themselves be changed.
Of course it is no easy matter to make a credible argument that “another world is possible” so I’ll leave that to my readers for now…
But keep in mind people are born into societies that are already made.
The rules of social life are internalized and seen as natural.
People are pre-occupied with the tasks of daily life, making a living, coping with life’s pain and enjoying life’s pleasures.
The idea that things can fundamentally change for the better (is farfetched for most);
1.because it is hard to imagine a workable alternative
2. because it is hard to imagine successfully challenging existing institutions
of power and privilege.
Even if one agrees with the diagnosis and critique of the existing order… the natural response of most people is fatalistic…there is not much that can be done to change things
so they smoke weed, take a holidays, watch tv, buy cheese dogs and see astrologers.
This fatalism of course does not help as in a sense it becomes self fulfilling.
One alternative is to not worry too much
about the details but instead create an inspired vision
grounded in anger (at the injustices of the world) add hope and a dash of passion (for what is humanly possible).
but the history of human struggle is filled with heroic victories, led by charismatic visionaries,
which was tragically followed by new forms of domination, oppression and inequality.
So remember to develop a systematic, robust, sustainable, scientifically grounded conception
of “another world”
and pass the joint…
and oh yeah, by the way, what’s for dinner.
The central task of social change is developing coherent theories of achievable alternatives.
This ain’t easy as many viable alternatives which are deemed achievable are in fact only side effects of “wishful thinking” and since no one that I know of, can see into the future many of the contingencies of future developments will not be considered.
The chance of achieving change to existing institutions and social structure relies upon a couple of factors.
First consciously pursued strategies
Secondly the relative power of the social actors, both those who oppose and those who support the alternative realities in question.
it is unlikely that Emancipatory alternatives will just “happen.”
They will probably only come about if people work to implement them, and are able to overcome various obstacles and forms of opposition.
Success will depend upon:
1. The balance of power contending to implement and resist Emancipatory alternatives.
2. Social structures including the unintended effects of human action and the result of conscious actors to transform their conditions.
Thus the achievability of consciously pursued strategies depends upon the strategy creating the condition to implement the alternative and having the necessary potential to mobilize social forces to support those alternatives when the conditions occurs.
Developing an understanding of these issues is the objective of the third general task of Emancipatory social sciences: The Theory of Transformation…
To be continued.