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Culture, Social Science & the Philippine Nation-State

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The self-understanding of a national community as a culturally homogeneous and spatiotemporally delimited entity provided the model for a distinct sphere of the social. It was this new understanding of the social as a theoretical category that made sociology possible. The modern nation-state and sociology are intimately linked. But even as social science requires the resources of the nation-state, it is equally dependent on a vigorous civil culture distinct from the state. Society is the ultimate source for the state's legitimacy. Society arises out of an association of which the nation-state, however important, is but one expression.

Technological and economic development is now often used as justifications for the nation-state. But in the present global context, the nation-state is no longer the primary source for knowledge or investment, at least for countries such as the Philippines. The boundaries between nation-states have become porous as center and periphery are increasingly intertwined. Under these conditions, identities no longer represent cores but rather intersections of experience.

No longer grounded in a local routine of everyday life with its corresponding set of collective images, culture increasingly becomes merely representation or the domain of signifying practices rather than the arena of practical significations. Under these conditions, where culture is not necessarily collectively shared but only synchronically networked, it becomes almost a personal quest rather than a communal affair. The expression of such a diasporal and subjective identity is manifested in the rise of new forms of ethnicities. In these contexts, culture can be visualized as landscapes and experienced as representations.

Cartesian space-time assumes the homogeneous nature of extension/duration, such that any point in the system of coordinates can be expressed as a value of a given function. For modernity, the social can be plotted or imagined as one such function, all of whose members are linked to one another spatio-temporally. A nation-state is a collectivity whose functional representation assumes that all its members share a simultaneous present, and hence, a commonly anticipated future. Any point on this set of spatio-temporal coordinates is functionally linked to other points through membership in a common order called the nation-state.

Nation-states see themselves as culturally homogeneous to facilitate the rational negotiation of difference. This view of culture is possible (but not necessary) because modernity is based on a sense of simultaneous presentness generating a commonly anticipated future. Modern society is an association of individuals functionally coordinating their actions to this simultaneous present. However, globality is making other presents possible, resulting in a world with an excess of meaning but a lack of sense.

A feature of modernity is the crucial role of knowledge for the expression, maintenance and reproduction of power. While knowledge represents a form of power in all societies, certain modes of power can only be expressed through their relationship with knowledge. Hence, the functionalization of society is a pre-condition for power to be exercised through its control of knowledge. Power requires new forms of knowledge, such as social science, for its effectiveness in modern society. A critical social science is necessary to counterbalance modern society's functional goals if social science is also to play an emancipatory role.

he indigenization of social science is an attempt to formalize this distinct perspective but its insistence on unproblematically using the nation as its referent limits its usefulness. In the present condition, the nation-state is no longer the primary site for knowledge-production or identity-formation. These practices now involve personal, local, global and other choices, following their increasingly polyvalent nature. In its attempts to imagine the nation through indigenous concepts, a Philippine social science risks essentializing Filipinohood by reducing its differences. Instead, a Philippine social science should explore the rich sources of difference within civil and global society, as well as point out the contingent and narrow interests of nation-states, thereby helping to establish a universal basis for understanding. This understanding sees social science as part of the human quest for emancipation.


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