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Archive for December, 2013

While I am extremely busy teaching, grant proposal writing, etc., I am also still working on several chapters, articles, and a few book manuscripts. This is just a tiny, little snippet from my workshop, taken from what is shaping up to become the book “From Class to Identity…. and Back Again: Critique of Political Psychology in the Era of Technoscientific Governance 3.0 and the Digital Coloniality of Power.”

The Importance of the middle class: Social issues, upward mobility and the crisis of modern democracy 

Social transformations of the 18th and 19th century, often revolutionary and often violent, dealt with struggles for the distribution of political power and wealth. At stake were the distribution of political power and the question of political participation, in other words, the question “Who counts as a citizen?”

At stake was also the distribution of wealth and property, and the question if and how power and wealth are related, and if these should be disentangled. Modern democracy is built on the idea that both can be separated, that political participation is open for every citizen, that citizenship is a national concept and open for all adult members who are citizens of a democratic country, and that access to opportunities that enable everyone to create wealth and own property is guaranteed, for example in providing a minimum of education.

Certainly, this includes numerous questions open for debate, how much influence should a government in a democratic state have in regulating markets to guarantee property and patent rights, while enabling access to opportunity and knowledge. Most importantly, however, modern Western democracy’s resolution for economic and political class struggle lay in the emergence of a middle class. The middle class can certainly be defined in several different ways for different theoretical purposes.

Roughly, however, we can consider middle class as the idea that a majority of people in a democratic nation can participate in the political process and have a minimum of education, which guarantees them the chance to obtain the means not only to make a living as small entrepreneurs or employees independently, but also to afford a modest amount of other goods, including small luxuries, a means that they can pass on to their families and enable future generations to climb higher on the social ladder.

The question of whether this means that there are further differentiations necessary within the middle class or joining and (thereby enlarging) the upper class, left aside here, this promise of the possibility of class-based upward social mobility in economic terms and full and equal rights for participation in the political process for individual members of all classes was the promise at the heart of Western democracy.

The current crises of the middle class is also the crisis of democracy: This combined crisis lies founded in the perception that the promises of upward mobility, of equal opportunity, and equal participation are broken. This refers to the fact that the middle class is shrinking as are the financial means available to its members and the increase of size in the lower classes of those barely able to or not even able to fully make a living (Europeans call this class ‘the precariate’), is facing a small number of a wealthy upper class members who amass an ever larger portion of financial wealth and property. At the same time, it seems that greater wealth allows for greater influence in political process, reshifting political power towards a ruling class, and reestablishing a form of economic-political oligarchy or aristocracy. This imbalance of power and access is generally known as hegemony.

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While I am extremely busy teaching, grant proposal writing, etc., I am also still working on several chapters, articles, and a few book manuscripts. This is just a tiny, little snippet from my workshop, taken from what is shaping up to become the book “From Class to Identity…. and Back Again: Critique of Political Psychology in the Era of Technoscientific Governance 3.0 and the Digital Coloniality of Power.”

Horizon of emerging social issues: Biomedicalization, Ecology and Digital Divide

There are many different social issues, ranging from health care insurance and gun control to double citizenship and minimum wage. However, there are a number of increasingly salient ones that we face as a global society together as well as most modern societies encounter them currently. These are issues to do with biomedicalization, ecology, and digital knowledge society. Addtionally, these emerging fields and the social issues that they represent are not to be seen exclusively and in separation, instead they converge in various issues. They are also, such as can be seen in the exemplary case of the biomedicalization of HIV, part of processes of identity formation while, at the same time, involve the distribution of resources.

Biomedicalization takes the idea of medicalization one step further. Medicalization was originally considered a process wherein social, psychological, pedagogical problems of people were made part of the medical discourse. For example, misbehaving children were now being categorized as suffering from mental health issues. Of course, this leads to labeling of children as being sick, abnormal, or, more concrete, suffering from disorders such as attention-deficit disorder (ADHD), depression, bipolar disorder, etc. Very often, these problems are correlated with academic success and, subsequently, with access to economic opportunities and to means of democratic participation. It turns out that the prevalence of some such disorders as well as the access to adequate treatment is often correlated with social issues such as race or class.

Biomedicalization takes the issue even further, arguing that illness and disorders or the development of individual traits, as well as the development of treatments largely depend on microscopic, biochemical and neurophysiological processes. This makes access to diagnosis and therapies once again a problem of resource distribution. In short not every person can access the necessary resources, making access to modern health care a serious social issue of our times.

In a very simple example, imagine a person looking for a job to get access to resources that allow him or her to pay for a necessary and important dental procedure, because his/her teeth look rotten (this may be an inborn defect that the person is not to fault for, it can also be the result of having grown up under economically precarious circumstances, where access to clean water and vitamin rich nutrition was not always guaranteed, or it can be the result of years of individual carelessness and faulty personal hygienic standards). This person will not find a job easily, because of the impression people have of him/her, because of rotten teeth, but s/he also cannot get the problem fixed unless s/he has a job. This is a very typical scenario for a social issue, because it involves a basic good, health, that enables a person to have access to opportunities.  A neoliberal-oriented model would put emphasis on the persons individual responsibility for the situation and leave the problem to them alone (and unresolved), where communitarian or socialist models (note that these are two very different systems) would argue that this is an issue that society is responsible to fix and provide the health care necessary. In a modern democratic society, this issue would be open for discourse between different models, and in a genuinely democratic discussion, a resolution would be found that enables and empowers the person while also including layers of responsibility that derive from services rendered by society, emphasizing that in modern democracies, solidarity and integration are two-sided affairs; meaning that those who experience solidarity and who are integrated are expected to show solidarity to others and respect the differences of the core group they integrated with equally.

Responsibility is, herein, also a key-word for ecology and environment. That the resources of the planet are finite is a fact that cannot be wished away. That the global climate is changing, and that this change is influenced by humanity, regardless of how large that contribution is, is also fact, that people can try to wish away, but it doesn’t stop the climate from changing obviously. However, because it is a problem of distribution of resources at its very heart, it is a social issue that modern democracies face. What it also does is affect how we think about democracy on a global level. Since it is an issue that does not affect nor is it caused by nations in isolation nor can one nation by itself resolve the issue, nations are required to make explicit the problem and find solutions in concert, for example by creating international regulative bodies or scientific cooperation. This is, of course, extremely difficult and shows how global or international social issues differ from national ones, because policy- and decision-makers exist between fragmented regimes and institutions, having to mind their national society, political system, and markets while dealing with actors from other nations and systems who have to do be mindful of their own voters/consumers.  At this point, it seems, that the most democratic global social sphere is that of the scientific community.

But with this development of the scientific community and the growth and wider dissemination of knowledge, and the evolution of modern mass-media, in themselves an important contributor to the shape of modern democracy, world-society and modern democratic societies became digital knowledge and information societies. The digital world has taken over to the point that we speak of the current generation of children and adolescents as ‘digital natives’, which is also clearly a matter of identity. But this is not free of social issues, nor are the respective social issues not correlated with preexisting ones. The social issues pertaining to digital knowledge societies have been summed up under the term Digital Divide.

The Digital Divide describes the social issue, where one part of a population has access and competencies to use digital information and communication technologies (ICTs), while another has not. Originally, this concept was used to describe the technology gap that existed between first or industrialized world countries and third or developing world countries. But it became ever more clearer that even within democratic first world countries, Digital Divide existed as a social issue that was derived along the fault lines of pre-existing social issues of class, race, ethnicity and age, with regard to having access to ICTs themselves, as well as access or even the ability to acquire the competencies necessary to use ICTs.

With an increasing number of social services available only through ICTs, as well as the ongoing digitalization of the modes of political participation, such as in forms of direct democracy or through the use of digitalized voting machines, and so forth, citizenship in a democratic society becomes more and more identical to citizenship in that same society’s digital public. Eventually, exclusion from access to and competencies for the use of ICTs will equal the exclusion form democratic political participation.

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