(A simple background explanation: the topic of this post for the November ‘challenge’ is explaining what our ‘science’ is in our own words. Since we are in very different, almost opposite fields of ‘science’, we thought this was another way to show, once again, our differences, and perhaps, with a little surprise, similarities we might not have known about. Also, due to technical problems from my sister who is currently in Malaysia, her post is on Blogpost and not her usual WordPress.)
This was supposed to be a passionate advocacy for what has now become, basically, the purpose of my life. It should have been a beautiful plea and a moving manifesto of how Social Sciences are awesome and “rock the world”. Instead, struggling under a mass of readings every week and indecipherable numbers and math symbols, with the haunting fear that just one day, a half a day of relaxation and peace is sufficient to bring doom for the following week, I am, for a lack of a better word, disenchanted. I vowed myself that I would never take this for granted, that I would always be grateful for being here, studying for a PhD in Political Science. I wrote posts about the near-ecstasy that the idea of studying in the States had brought me, and posts about how I would always remember I am lucky to be here.
But reading about multipatism, pluralism, the relationship between political regime and welfare in developed countries, and what I can only describe as a petty quarrel and immature bickering among political theorists about who understands the ‘world out there’ better than the other, I am done. I don’t care how Proportional Representation leads to a better coordination and cooperation among firms than the Majoritarian system. I roll my eyes at Morgenthau, Waltz, Wallerstein, Marx and co who furiously write about why they are the right ones in their vision of the world from the safe cocoon of their offices. What is the purpose of all this? How is learning about all this going to help me ‘change the world’? How is reading (barely, rather, skimming) more than 400 pages every week going to help me contribute to stopping world inequality, wars and all that is bad in this world? Surely, helping make i-phones or conducting research that would eventually lead to the elimination of cancer would be much more rewarding and practical?
As I helplessly try to make sense of countless scholars whose names I forget the moment I see them, only wishing that they would write in a simpler style, easy to understand and not act as a sleeping pill, I am struck by various flashbacks and memories.
Like how excited I was to write a paper on a web cartoon and its soft power and role in promoting social awareness and political participation in Korea. How inspired I was by Paul Krugman and his diagnosis of the financial crisis. How writing a paper in my class for Feminism allowed me to discover sides of my mother I had not been aware of. How during a class I would get sudden inspirations of future paper topics (which would die, soon enough, but well, it’s the thought that counts). How I discovered certain prejudices I had about Africa I didn’t know I had.
And I realize, perhaps with a sigh of relief, that the reason I keep persevering in this field is because a small part in me still believes I can make a difference. It may not be a concrete one like getting rid of AIDS or formulating the ‘right’ and perfect policy to deal with North Korea (is there one?). But it’s what everybody I believe in Social Sciences has, and what keeps ‘us’ going: passion and hope. It’s that flicker of light in our eyes when theories written in papers and books finally start making sense in real life. It’s that glimmer of hope that we can somehow bring a change in the way people think that will eventually lead to actual changes in policies and reality. It’s that brazen certainty that while Social Sciences may not be ‘practical’, it certainly is ‘essential’. The focus doesn’t always have to be on the practical usage of science, sometimes, science just ‘is’. And as it is, it helps shape who we are, our beliefs, our perspectives, our ideas, our hopes and our future. When we shed the ‘what we are for’ and are stripped down to ‘what we are’, that definition of ourselves is shaped by Social Sciences (and Humanities). Especially living in an era where things that can’t be quantified are often discarded as useless and meaningless (and Social Sciences, with its frequent emphasis on quantitative methodology, is not immune to it either), Social Sciences allow us to enjoy and appreciate that which is not measurable.
It is often believed that people revolt and desire for change when/because they have nothing to lose. But it isn’t so (and of course, I forgot the name of the scholar who actually argued this). Those who have nothing to lose live day by day with what they are given because they can’t think of an alternative. It is those who have the faintest gleam of hope who fight for change, for the better. And I believe that Social Sciences provide that very gleam of hope that constantly pushes people to seek for something better.
Or maybe this is all just my illusion. It doesn’t matter. This is all I need to keep going for the next 5 years and plus.
“Beauty is truth; truth, beauty; that is all
Ye know on earth and all ye need to know”
– Keats –