Two things, one from the past and one from the present weigh heavily on me during this present reading and even as I write now. Having had very little exposure to the study of social theory in the past, the initial reading of ’ Contemporary Social Theories’ by Anthony Elliot was a little tough but captivating nevertheless. Personally I have always tried to understand human behavior from the background of history with the understanding that human responses, relationships and interactions are conditioned by historical context and critical historical events.
My current Old Testament daily readings are from the book of Judges. The narrative is replete with battles, capturing of land and slaughtering of people. The Narrative is also lop sided . It does not describe in anyway the struggles of the captives except in the case of the “people of God”. The book is also filled with narratives of gender imbalance. Deborah who was a judge and led the people in battle is the only exception. These stories from the Bible have been a part of my faith upbringing all along. It is quite a challenge to fit these kind of narratives into the framework of modern social theories I am reading now.
The other emotional struggle that I face at the moment is the increasing ethnic conflicts and violence in India. Last month more than 6,000 young people from the North Eastern states were forced to return home from different parts of India on account of threat to their lives. It was the result of an ethnic conflict. Indian Society is gradually becoming fragmented on the basis of language, culture, ethnicity and religion. Last year there was a huge uprising against the people of Bihar living in Mumbai. Again thousands of Biharis living in Mumbai had to flee and return to their native state. I remember the time when there was pride in India as a land of ‘unity in diversity’. Not anymore. A closer look around the world will help us understand that this is becoming increasingly universal. When and how will we progress toward greater acceptance of diversity and a higher level of understanding of things that are different. What is it that will lead us in that path and direction?
Anthony Elliot’s book “Contemporary Social Theory” draws on several significant “key themes”. The first is the thorny one describing the interaction of individual and society bearing on the question whether the individual comes first or society. Is it the individual and his or her action or society. CITATION Ant l 1033 (Elliot n.d.)
What is interesting and distressing at the same time is that beginning with Marx and moving on to the Frankfurt school of Social Theory with Adorno’s ‘administered society, the ‘one-dimensional society’ of Herbert Marcuse the book seems to be a discovery that human kind is not making progress. Though there exist diverse explanations for enlightenment there doesn’t seem to be true ‘enlightenment’. Adorno and Horkheimer’s words sum it all up very well: “The flood of precise information and brand-new amusements make people smarter and more stupid at once” CITATION Ant l 1033 (Elliot n.d.)
My current reading leads me to think that contemporary Social Theory is conditioned by time and cultural history and therefore it is difficult to be accepted as universal. No matter how it is described, whether structure or language as described by Saussure are evolving and with it the manner in which people relate and interact with one another will change and evolve. My question is will it be for the better or the worse. Of course I measure better and worse from a Biblical perspective and the “abundant life” that John 10:10 describes. The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount are the guiding light and I would rather have the Great “ I Am” as the figurative watchman in the panopticon of Foucault.
This is where I feel the responsibility as a Christian leader to call people to the Light and Liberty. Sadly, social theory does not seem to take into account the spiritual dimension. But then, it is only a meager attempt to explain why people behave the way they do and it is not a guiding principle. I am now eager to go through the remainder of the book.