Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Reflections from ‘Contemporary Social Theories: An Introduction’ by Anthony Elliot (Chapters 1-5)

Written by: on September 24, 2012

I have spent the week walking in the political capital of USA; visiting malls, museums, galleries and monuments that depict the past, the present and the future of men and women who have excelled in all many different spheres of life. This lay a good foundation for me as I read the book on social theories from the vantage point of a developed country. As I read the introduction and the first chapter of the book, I could not help but immerse myself in the categories outlined, as I experience life in the developed world far removed from the realities of life in Kenya. I was fascinated by the historical overview of social theories and how they have been developed through time by different writers. The thread that was developed with focus on individual experience and also collective experiences shows how the west had dealt with different events of its history. These vary from war, peace, politics, sexuality, language and linguistics. Though many of the names and theories were new to me, the way in which Elliot chooses to explore through the eyes of social scientists helps me understand the development of social theories in the past century.

I will look into two issues that inflict Africa; sexuality and dictatorship. I must say that I was intrigued by the references on sexuality as its development and how it was interwoven from Freud to Fromm; Adorno to Marcuse. This was picked up by Sausure as he spoke about language and set the pace for Foucault’s history of sexuality. He discusses the trajectory of understanding sexuality from the silence of Victorianism to the erosion of sexual taboos. Most of the authors referred to revert back the foundation Freud laid in opening the Pandora’s Box of sexuality. Reading the outlines about sexuality was like looking at a mural with different shapes and colors.

In my own ministry reflections, the church has not engaged in looking at why there is no difference between divorce rates in church compared to society in general yet the church prides itself on its superior moral standards. It is the same with teenage pregnancies, HIV/AIDs infections, and adultery. It seems that the pull of societal values inform individual behavior on matters that touch on sexuality. It could be that in the last 2000 years that the church has been in existence, it has failed to understand the undercurrents of social phenomena such as changes brought about by war, economics and politics. These may include the elevation of the female gender and advancement of sexual freedoms. The interventions that have worked have been borrowed from writers such Marcuse, though he refers to influence of capitalism in the breakdown of boundaries placed on sexuality. I see parallel in the interplay of his ideas even in other aspect of life, not only economic. The most effective methodologies to deal with issues related to sexuality have not been drawn from the church, seminaries or even groups of Christians. Instead, the church eventually concedes to the dominant influences such as consumerism and other socio-economic ideologies.

I would be interested to see African writers begin to reflect on the evolution of sexuality from the forefathers to date through the influence of colonialism and Christian missions. This can still be done through the eyes of Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim or Charles Lemert. Africa is still by and large governed by traditional social norms. As she experiences ‘enlightenment’, she needs to find her voice in the midst of strong influences from the developed world.

The Frankfurt school developed as it studied the rise and fall of Hitler and the third Reich. The writers of the time ‘brought Freudian categories bear upon the sociological analysis of everyday life, in order to fathom the myriad ways that political power imprints itself upon the internal world of human subjects and more specifically, to critically examine the obscene meaningless kind of evil that had actually unleashed’ (page 19). Same exercise can be done to understand the Rwanda genocide and the rise of benevolent dictator Kagame. The vice that is corruption manifests itself in a country which can be up to sale to whoever can by it leaving children dying of preventable diseases or starvation. The seeds of tribalism and corruption cannot be uprooted by a wholesale adaptation of western democracy in Africa but by deliberate understanding of the contemporary social theories that underpin African society. Though some writers like Kwame Appiah have attempted to write on the issues in his book, ‘In My Father’s House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture’ many more African must develop a etic reflections of social theories of Africa; in Africa.

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Joy Mindo

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