When I entered the MA sociology program in UP Diliman in 2006, nobody told me that once the “sociological imagination” is turned on, there is no stepping back. It took me a while to finish my degree, six years and a semester to be exact, but since then, I have never seen the world or my place in this world the same way again.
That’s what occurred to me the moment I came back to UPLB to teach development communication (Devcom). Armed with a critical consciousness I gained from classical and contemporary sociological theories, I began to question Devcom’s place in history and how it shaped the biographies and careers of Devcom scholars and professors who have gone before me. I lamented at how some would see our discipline as handmaiden to technocratic and capitalistic nature of science and international development institutions. Devcom could have been more critical at how these institutions used various forms of communication to legitimize the same ideologies that maintain conditions of poverty. In the same manner, sociology made me more appreciative of the constitutive role of communication in people’s agency to transform structures of inequality. Sociology reminds me to always bring back the theory and practice of Devcom in its rightful place—the people.
Then it rippled in my classrooms. Students began to realize that the people whom we are supposed to serve are neither psychological dopes nor solely determined by their position and disposition in society. Communication is not merely a tool to take the people back to “the ideal path” as what cybernetics would claim. The ideal path might be a dangerous path if it does not embody people’s struggles and aspirations. Sociology liberates me and I believe it also helps create spaces for my students to articulate new ideas which are grounded in a deeper understanding of the social world.
While sociological imagination gave me the confidence to teach and do research in a distinct way, it also rendered me a kind of status somehow similar to Victor Turner’s (1960) “liminality.” People who are in the liminal phase are not necessarily people in the margins of power. Their liminal existence offers a high level of self-awareness which can spur new ideas and inspire innovations to grow. They have the distance required to stand back and analyze the mainstream world. Turner, however, warns us that those who are in this liminal state might be perceived as a threat by those in charge of maintaining the social order. Thus, their ideas might be taken as either meaningful or meaningless, depending on whether it coincides with the agenda of those who are in power.
But isn’t it the kind of consciousness expected from all of us, UP professors and graduates alike, sociology majors or otherwise? We don’t accept the structures as they are because we know that we are the ones making up the structure, that change is possible in our hands.
The writer (standing second from left) with his interpersonal communication in development class and clients of Tulay sa Pag-Unlad Inc. during fieldwork at Brgy. San Isidro, San Pablo City, Laguna last June 16, 2015
Last April, I developed a proposal for a seminar series titled Development Contexts: Prospects for Development Communication, which aims to showcase development scholars from various disciplines and institutions and engage Devcom faculty members and students in a discussion of the changing landscape of development. Each seminar features a guest speaker from various disciplines and a set of reactors from Devcom.
Development Contexts kicked off with Prof. Jayeel Serrano Cornelio’s talk titled “Is Religion Dying? Interrogating Religion and Development” last April 20, 2015 at the Lecture Hall of the College of Development Communication in UPLB. In the seminar, Prof. Cornelio, who has written a number of academic and popular articles on the sociology of religion, analyzed the interconnections of religion and development and how religions in the Philippines and in the world shape development pursuits in a highly secular, modern world.
Prof. Alexander Flor, Chair of the Doctor of Communication in the U.P. Open University, and Ms. Mary Cris Tambunting, a third year BS Devcom student in UPLB, served as the reactors, situating Prof. Cornelio’s lecture in the current Devcom discourse and practice.
The reception to the first Development Contexts Seminar was overwhelming. It was the first time in my five years of teaching that I saw a seminar in our college well received by students from various programs and UPLB units, not because the speaker is a celebrity, but because the topic struck a chord in all those who believe that the tension between religion and development is both a private and a public affair. After all, Devcom is more than just communication with a purpose. It is a distinct perspective which scholars and non-scholars alike can use to interrogate how development concerns become embedded in both the personal and the public. I guess it was in sociology when it dawned on me that Devcom is more than just a field of practice, but in Pierre Bourdieu’s term, a “point of view” (1987: 2).
Sociology for non-sociology majors could be perplexing but never oppressive. It allows a kind of stance that is required for disciplines like Devcom to self-reflect and evolve; a stance similar to Albert Alejo’s (2000) reading of James Bernauer’s “ethics for thought” that is “concerned less with a form than an energy; less with a presence than an intensity; less with a movement and an attitude than with an agitation, of trembling that is contained only with difficulty,” (p.266).
Alejo, Albert. 2000. Generating Energies in Mount Apo Cultural Politics in a Contested Environment. Ateneo de Manila University Press. Quezon City: Philippines
Bourdieu, Pierre. 1987. What Makes a Social Class? On The Theoretical and Practical Existence Of Groups. Berkeley Journal of Sociology, Vol. 32 (1987), pp. 1-17
Turner, Victor. 1969. The ritual process: structure and anti-structure. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Co.
Biographical note: Wini Dagli is a BS Development Communication (UPLB) and MA Sociology (UP Diliman) graduate. Apart from teaching, he is doing research on indigenous peoples food system in Kiangan, Ifugao and a sociological study on environment, culture, and development in Mt. Banahaw. This blog entry has benefitted ffom the helpful comments of Ed Roquino.