The purpose of this publication is to examine Puerto Rico”s society and culture in the context of today”s world trends. By taking into consideration global affairs and long term tendencies, we also wish to abandon our isolation, nurtured in the past by the false idea that “things are different here”, an attitude that historically stems from the experience of dependency and an overall sentiment of collective insufficiency.
Some articles, therefore, focus on world affairs and how they impact our institutions, while others describe local situations and trends with a critical perspective. The collection is divided into five major themes. The first section deals with society, recognizing common areas of social and anthropological research, such as demographics, migration, the economy, crime, urbanism, labor, family and gender relations, identities and world views. This section ends with a glance at the issue of the environment, recognizing its centrality in today”s world.
In the following section, globalization receives special attention because of its dominant historical weight. A difference is established between globalization as a cultural and information phenomenon brought about by new technologies and globalization as a particular way of organizing the world economy, based on a prevailing conservative neo-liberal ideology.
Politics follows as the next section. The editors considered it necessary to include in this section a glossary of political terms which are commonly used with faulty precision. For the survival of democracy’s logic, we need to increase the function and relevance of debate in the public sphere. Real communication based on commonly accepted terms and concepts is necessary in order to navigate in the whirlpool of everyday media and political parties” discourses. The section also establishes the difference between the political, understood here as the fundamental and conjunctural affairs of the polis, and the term politics, meaning matters pertaining to electoral campaigns and the overall struggle for the control and administration of State institutions.
A dossier on the contemporary antimony of left and right, as it applies to global affairs closes the political section. We suppose that identities based on alternate social visions, shared by the rest of the world, provide a deeper sense of political identity than local issues, such as, the “status issue,” in our case.
A thematically diverse section on education and culture closes the book. The university as an institution is examined in its postmodern context and an interesting proposal of reform is offered as a means of restating its primary social value. Another article examines the contradictions of educational ideals today. The underlying theme is that the social vision of education is more institutionally relevant than its technical and operational functions.
The humanist tradition, in spite of its demonization by the evangelical right in the United States, teaches us that human realities conform to structures that are in continuous motion due to internal tensions and contradictions. This motion produces the changes and transformations of history, which are not easily visible in everyday life as is sometimes supposed by populist “common sense.”
Changes in historical structures are slow and deep, and have been called “structures of long duration.” In words of French historian Fernand Braudel: “a structure is a totality, architecture, but more than that it is a reality dragged and worn away during a long period of time.” Durable structures operate both in nature as well as in the social world, while mental frameworks are also prisoners of lasting constructs. For example, the distribution of population, material resources and communication systems form part of a country”s long lasting structures, but so are the language(s) and the other cultural practices that make up a nation”s identity.
Short term changes also occur continually, irrevocably affecting the dynamics of long term changes. Some historical processes are particularly vulnerable to actions and events, and hence are exposed to short term transformations. These are what historians call conjunctures or circumstances which can be easily modified by particular political, institutional, cultural or individual actions. Economic cycles, wars, invasions, political regimes and certain climate changes, among others, are examples of conjunctures that the institutions of the modem world try to predict, control and modify.
We should not confuse events with conjunctures. Hurricane Katrina, for one, was an event with disastrous consequences for the City of New Orleans. The social conjuncture unveiled by this natural event was the poor operational capacity of the State to deal effectively with it. The real challenge, therefore, was not the emergency measures taken, but facing the dysfunctional organization of the State and its causes. On the other hand, Katrina also laid bare deeper social structures which had remained hidden.
The high degree of inequality in the distribution of material resources, the prevailing extreme poverty, had been ignored by the institutions of the State. The results of Katrina”s devastation brought forth evidence of a continuing pattern of social exclusion and stratification unacceptable to the modern ethics of the developed world.
It is necessary to point out that social analysis and interpretation should not be limited to general circumstances and great theoretical schemes. Looking at the flow of everyday life, what German historians call allestageshiste, is indispensable to understand human reality. Large interpretative constructs, despite their creativity, become incomprehensible when they don”t take into account the experience of people in their immediate geographical, social, private and intimate spaces.
In conclusion, we reiterate that this publication offers information and analysis in the hope that it will contribute to the understanding and interpretation of the living world, asserting, in doing so, the humanist belief in the creative capacity of the human species and its Institutions. We have tried to understand social realities and the historical dynamics that define real alternatives for change and self-realization, within the confines of a truly free world.
Roberto Gándara Sánchez
Director and Editor
Investigation Center of Public Policy
Author: Proyectos FPH
Published: January 16, 2008.
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