The promise circa 2014

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

FROM the assertion that structure begets consciousness and not the other way around to the intimation that our deepest troubles and fears, and the most private acts such as suicide are determined in a large part by social imperatives, Sociology had always taken the difficult task of demystification – to lay bare what is concealed. This had been its allure to many who are smitten by its special vocabulary. It has that unique gift of unraveling not just the hidden architecture that make society possible but also the myriad forces that play us like marionettes.

But lately, there is a sense of ennui among practitioners of the discipline and its few students. And the public’s general regard for it here and abroad had been dismissive if they even know the discipline exists at all. How do we understand the seeming broken promise of Sociology as manifested in the collective rut that we have found ourselves in?

There is a single narrative strand in the evolution of the discipline that has sparked the passions of the faithful of the members of this secular church that can explain the genealogy of this unfortunate situation. This is Sociology’s sustained and deep contemplation on the operations of power in society. Through the prism of its illuminating yet divergent vocabularies, the discipline has splintered into different camps through time, each with their own take on how to make sense of power.


To simplify matters, the following have been the distinctions among the practitioners of the discipline: there are those who worship power; there are some who want to avoid it altogether; and yet there are a few who aim to harness it.

First, there are those who accept the operations of power as givens and choose not to combat it for a myriad of reasons. For them the present order is an arrangement that must be worshipped and accepted. They fear the alternative for it may lead to disarray and anomie, aside from dislodging them from their positions of comfort. So they work with those in the top echelons of society to maintain the present system. They seek to be power brokers in society and through their astuteness, gain access to the ear of the powers-that-be, not to initiate change but to maintain the present disposition.

There are also those who fear power fooled by the illusion that they can escape it or wish its effects away. They justify their fear in many ways. They fear science for they look at the difficult and tricky path of human progress and see the horrors that led to the holocaust, the purges, and environmental decay.

They claim that it is everywhere - in knowledge, in prisons, in the air we breathe so they lay still in the gilded cages of academia, foaming on their mouths new esoteric languages that describe one and the same thing – their imprisonment. They remain there immobilized and speaking in tongues doubting even if it is the case that they are unfree.

And yet there are a few who understand that power is a human artefact. That it has been wielded by men of a particular class for their gain across human history and that their control must be undone for the liberation of one and all with finality, now. They also know that there had been mistakes but instead of falling into the temptations of opportunism, or the trap of undecidability, these people have soldiered on to harness power, understand its logic, and continue to wield it for its emancipatory promise.

In this debate there is no safe middle ground as some would like to assert. Power is not plural and it serves a singular master – either it serves to maintain the morbid stagnation of the present under the reign of feudal demigods and their intellectual sorcerers or usher in the society of the future through a social movement.

Decades ago, the discipline enamored us with its promise of collective emancipatory potential. But in a strange twist of nomenclature, it has also succeeded to create a wedge between us and others. Autonomy and freedom were spoken of not in terms of shared ideals but in a cynical appreciation of the role of structure pitted against individual agency.

It is time to salvage the unmet promise of Sociology from those who worship power and those who fear it. The future of the discipline lay on those who bravely harness power and use it for change.


(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on August 22, 2014.


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