Walden Bello, born in Manila, Philippines, is a member of the Philippine House of Representatives for Akbayan Party-List, president of the Freedom from Debt Coalition, a senior analyst at Focus on the Global South, and a fellow of the Transnational Institute. He is the author of 15 books on globalization, militarization, and other related issues. He is both an academic and an activist. Bello obtained his PhD in sociology from Princeton University in the US in 1975 and served as a full professor at the University of the Philippines at Diliman from 1997 to 2009. He is currently also adjunct professor at the State University of New York at Binghamton and St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada, a member of the board of editors of the Review of International Political Economy, and a fellow of the Transnational Institute in Amsterdam. He has also served as visiting professor at the University of California at Los Angeles (2002), UC Irvine and UC Santa Barbara (2006). He taught for four years, 1978-82, at UC Berkeley. He was Chancellor’s Fellow at UC Irvine in 2004 and was awarded an honorary PhD by Panteion University in Athens, Greece, in 2005. He was recently named Outstanding Public Scholar by the International Political Economy Section of the International Studies Association (ISA) during its 49th annual convention in San Francisco in February 2008. As an activist against dictatorship, Bello was arrested for civil disobedience several times in the United States and spent time in jail in San Francisco. He was one of the leaders of an Asian Parliamentary and Civil Society Mission that went to Iraq in March 2003 in a last-ditch effort to forestall the US invasion of that country. In August 2006, he was also one of the leaders of an Asian peace delegation to Beirut, Lebanon, at the height of the Israeli bombardment of that city. Bello currently sits on the board of directors of the International Forum on Globalization.
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See below for the full lecture and global discussion!
Bello & UC Berkeley
Discussion Summaries & Comments
Barcelona (March 27, 2012):
In his lecture, Walden Bello describes sociology between truth and power from three main points: truth action, methodology of research, and theory and practice.
Speaking about tension between truth and power, the speaker said that tension cannot be completely overcome; nevertheless, we can go on by congregating people because the overcoming possibility comes from people. Only social movements are able to break the system. The political and economic system of the country is a key element for the sociological development in those places. Sometimes, sociology’s tendencies have supported or rejected the system where they are developing. Usually sociology is related to politics because politics directs researches in terms of organization, participation and financing. For instance, in the field of sports, it is possible to pass from competitive sport’s researches to routine’s sport researches. This change only depends on the government in power. The same aspect can be appreciated in research, for instance, the European research system depends mainly of the research interests of each country. The problem of this can be generalizing some practices which are not working well. However, we do not have to challenge everything in research, because there are many researches which are following a concrete methodology and which are also obtaining truth results. Therefore, it is always important to look for the truth in our research, also in social science research. Through public sociology it is possible to demonstrate evidence and practices which are really successful, and this success is of interest to everyone, regardless their political orientation. The fact of changing the world and to obtaining votes concerns all political parties.
In the different sessions of this Public Sociology Live seminar, we have seen very different realities and ways of carrying out public sociology. Therefore, the political and social context is very different in each case. The public sociologists’ implication is higher in places where they have to risk their lives in order to be public sociologists. For instance in India, the public sociologists risk their lives in order to give voice to people who do not have the chance to speak for themselves. The speaker from Colombia also explained how it is not honest to make an interview and then leave, while the people are risking. The intellectuals have the role of production, and as Bello says, the production of new movements should be done on the shoulders of previous movements. In sociology we should create knowledge based on the sociology’s giants. Furthermore, we should not forget the importance of dialogue between researches and the researched people. We could appreciate this aspect in all the lectures of this public sociology seminar. Through including people’s voices in research we can be more objective, because when you know better the situation, your research is also more objective. Objectivity in research can’t be achieved through distance, it is necessary a close relationship between the researchers and the organizations. Far from the people it is impossible to carry out social change.
Berkeley (March 16, 2012):
Walden Bello introduces us to his work as a “public intellectual,”
which includes his continual attempt to unearth the tensions
between truth and power. He examines the dichotomies between
theory/practice, thought/action, and truth/power, and through his
examinations, he finds that truths can only be found through
action. Many times, this results in “inconvenient truths” that
are inconsistent with popular theoretical ideas. Additionally, he
argues that the conflict between truth and power arises through
the use of orthodox methods when conducting research. When we use
qualitative or quantitative methods, power is always involved
which makes processes non-transparent to the public. In order to
combat this, he advocates that researchers use unorthodox methods
such as how he managed to break into the World Bank in order to
reveal important information in the Philippines.
Our class was very interested in how his work as a “public intellectual”
compares with the work of a “public sociologist.” We discussed how public
intellectuals are driven by activism in their pursuit to bring truths into
discussion. This results in public intellectuals writing to publics but
not necessarily interacting with them or engaging in dialogue with them at
an organic level. Indeed, the role of the public intellectual becomes
extremely politicized since the publics only begin to believe the
inconvenient truth if there is the presence of a political organization
backing. As Bello would point out, though, this forces the public
intellectual to identify with the organization of political backing,
further limiting their research and what can be revealed – a testament to
his tensions between truth and power.
Furthermore, our class had many questions about Bello’s idea of unorthodox
methods, particularly concerning ethics. How can a researcher create and
establish legitimacy using methods that are not readily accepted by
professionals? Additionally, who are we accountable to when using
unorthodox methods – to professionals, to your public, or just to
yourself? The dangers of public intellectuals do arise because we all
have different values of measuring ethics, but we also acknowledge the
fact that the methods undertaken are conceived with society’s values taken
Lastly, we discussed Bello’s notion that truth comes through action. We
specifically focused on what happens when a public intellectual discovers
truth that counters a movement’s cause. We wondered to what extent a
public’s mind can be changed if their originals beliefs run contrary to
the truths unearthed by the public intellectual. Bello mentions that it
is something that he and other intellectuals have come across throughout
their work. It is a tough decision to be made. Do we reveal truth
regardless of the tensions that it may produce within
movements/organizations or do we do what is in the interest of the
Johannesburg (March 15, 2012):
What is in a name? This is perhaps what this week’s speaker brought to the fore regarding unresolved issue of who is a public sociologist, an activist, or a public intellectual.
The speaker pointed key lessons from his work and experiences. He was clear that he sees no real tensions between professional sociology and public sociology or what he calls activism. For him, professional sociology is a vehicle for achieving political and policy change in society. But a critical question here, especially on his utilization of the academy to recruit and train activists is whether it has brought him into any conflict with pedagogical ethics.
Another important lesson from this presenter is his insistence that truth needs action and change happens as a result of collective endeavors, often at great personal costs, something that has been a constant many speakers so far. It is collective action that forces capital and dictatorial states to make concessions.
His maxim on the need to use unorthodox means to gather truth especially in breaking the veil of secrecy of an increasingly paranoid and oppressive capital, state and the International Financial Institutions, nonetheless raises important question. This is especially so in light of what we have seen with the harassments of WIKILEAKS even though they never went to the depth of ‘breaking’ into buildings to get information. Perhaps the unanswered question here is: given the current global context where activists are labeled terrorists, what would Bello have done differently (even if unorthodox) other than getting to the World Bank to get the data he needed?
This week’s discussion also indicts the mainstream media in branding and packaging what comes from the IFIs and other powerful actors, which is in a sense, is a greater justification for the unconventional means.
It was definitely an interesting lecture!
Vidya Kaipa (UC Berkeley): Hello, friends!
You provided a fairly succinct summary of Bello’s main points, and you wonderfully pointed out a few questions that Bello himself can’t answer (unless he gets a Facebook – but who knows, he might!) but that we can discuss.
1. Does his involvement of the university comprise a “conflict with pedagogical ethics”?
From our brief discussion with Bello, it appears that he doesn’t view this conflict as existing. In his line of work, he has worked in all realms of sociology – public, professional, critical, and policy. For him to isolate his experiences of each blade of the windmill (so to speak) would be to deny his full capacity as a public sociologist in general. Since differentiating his various personalities would require him to do that, he seems to prefer to engage as a public sociologist even within his professional arena (i.e. influencing students). Besides, the university is a public entity: it is natural for a publicly provided service to reflect upon the public that allowed it to be so. In this case, students can accept or reject any of his teachings, but are exposed to the “truth” of the world that allowed them access to such knowledge.
Vidya Kaipa (UC Berkeley): I think the second question is quite interesting, but I want to make sure I’m phrasing it correctly:
2. Is there anything Bello would do differently in the modern age of “info-terrorism”?
One thing that stands out to me is that Bello and Assange did similar things: breaking into governmental databases to access the “truth” and disseminate it. However, the importance of the latter example is that Assange used an electronic means, while Bello physically walked into the World Bank. In a way, with so many governmental secrets vulnerable to talented hackers who know how to take advantage of the increasingly electronic nature of state communication, it’s like Bello said: sometimes the most unorthodox methods are what were once the most orthodox. Since there are now hundreds of ways to access and even interpret the “truth,” it seems the indirect effect is that there are now hundreds of tried and true methods that cannot all be guarded against, as well as hundreds of discussions as to whether the outcome of those security breaches is even a truth that aligns with the real lived experiences of those who witness the uncovered secrets. Is seeing really believing, when we know that there are so many more things we don’t know, and coming back to the question, does that make just those who seek the truth the “terrorists” or everyone who stands to benefit or even have an opinion?
Liz Vergara (UC Berkeley): People are recruited and trained often unbeknownst to them. We are all recruited and trained since childhood to behave and believe in things that coexist harmoniously with our social contract, if not with some “deviant” ideology. So, I guess the real issue is not whether Bello recruited students, but whether the students consciously accepted this recruitment, unlike our unconscious, childhood acceptance of social norms.
Kelí Benko (UC Berkeley): It seems like the issue of conscious vs. unconscious “recruitment” of students by professors sits on the edge of a slippery slope. Of course plenty of students are recruited, so to speak, by their professors at their respective schools. It seems to occurs both ways when students interact with and take note from professors of certain leanings. What does recruiting students look like? Does it take an overt form through political organizing, or does it take place more subtly through the teachings of prominent professors at a university? Is either particularly problematic?
Nestor Ignacio Zapata (UC Berkeley): You folks bring up many important points. One of the biggest issues that our class raised when speaking about Bello is his idea that there is an objective truth that may sometimes be an “inconvenient truth” to certain social groups. What do you folks think? Our class believed that this notion was somewhat troubling because it makes the assumption that the sociologist had some type of objective truth that cannot be questioned by individuals and an ultimate truth to everything that is researched. We felt that this is a bad way to approach society because it does not encompass any sort of public sociology in the sense of professor Burawoy’s description. The other argument was that he doesn’t necessarily believe that this truth is completely objective but that it can only become truth through action which he states clearly. On the flip side however I believe that truth is connected to power because of its subjectivity. There can be multiple truths that are in a constant struggle for people’s validation.
Kyiv (April 1, 2012):
Under the discussion of the proposed topic we were facing with different aspects of Mr. Walden Bello speech, as a result our comment is divided into several issues.
In the beginning, We consider Mr. Walden Bello as the person who succeeds in showing different perspectives and unusual kinds of behavior in order to achieve ones goal. He suggested “to shape policy and to change things in cooperation with people”. We have considered the key principles of public sociologist, such as cooperation with diverse audience and people, active position and actions, working in cooperation with other professionals. As it was mentioned in previous lectures, we have to use our connections in order to built long-term trusting relationships.
Considering the issue of orthodox methods of research we suppose that the issue of dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative methods as well as between positivist and interpretable approaches remains topical. Positivism remained as the legacy of Soviet social science and is still a dominant approach. Not only does this invoke the issues of lack of interpretation in science, but it also influences the view of statistical data as absolutely true and correct. Nevertheless, research data is often utilized for manipulating public consciousness, which gives weight to the importance of issues associated with the public intellectuals’ reflection of publicly available sociological information about social reality. That is why the examples of Mr. Walden Bello and his own life experience gives us a different approach to search for special methods in order to justify our researches, and to improve the social life overall.
Moreover, we might say that the experience or Mr. Walden Bello has some actual insights to the specific example of public sociologists/activists/public intellectuals’ activities in Ukrainian society. Especially in cases of working or facing with power institutions which are not producing the manifested roles in our country.
In the overall analysis, we are to say that those three positions of Mr. Walden Bello should be taken into account when we are discussing an opportunities to create a public sociology in Ukraine. Nevertheless, if we are considering with an issue of “truth & power” and the specific example of Ukrainian society there is no opportunity for sociologist to grab power and in the same roots continuing being a public sociologist. It may sound quite pessimistic, but ones somebody comes into power, it “swallows” them. Fortunately, there is one way out, to continue working under professional sociology, create a network of conscious people, and to monitor different issues, projects, actions (everything what is happening in the society), and through the conversation with different communities introduce new ideas and different solutions, as well as alternatives. And as a result of such activities to build a strong civil society.
Contributors: participants of Public Sociology course of National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy: Svitlana Kisilova, Asja Chornogorska, Nadiia Barycheva
Parijat Chakrabarti ( UC Berkeley): Your discussion of the dichotomy between quantitative and qualitative as well as positivist and interpretable approaches to scientific study is fascinating. I would agree with you that is is absolutely dangerous to place such great faith in one particular methodology while marginalizing the other. In your case, such a focus on statistics and quantitative data can easily obscure sociological analyses which require a ‘softer’ touch or more explanatory and interpretive leeway. Also, as you point out , statistics can easily be manipulated to represent a particular viewpoint which may or may not be objectively true. I think Bello would certainly be concerned with the likelihood of the ‘truth’ being obscured or appropriated by individuals with power who wish to promote a certain agenda. An example could be oil and gas companies who fund anti climate-change research.Moreover, I think that the preference of positivist research to more qualitative/interpretable research itself represents a particular power relation– the domination of a particular frame of thought. I think this plays directly into Bello’s conflict of “truth & power” as the cultural power interest of positivist methodology can in many instances hinder the actual ‘truth.’
Vidya Kaipa (UC Berkeley): To add onto Parijat’s comments, I found the notion of a “spider within a spiderweb” particularly thought-provoking. If we look back to Castells, we see a metaphysical analysis of the network of connections that we as a public are constituted within. But Bello chooses to actively defy these networks, relying on unconventional methods that do not have tried and true outcomes or predictable results. He almost thrives on the breakdown of networks, advocating for new knowledges and taking advantage of information networks that allowed him knowledge of the ins and outs of the World Bank security. (This might be a devil’s advocate stance, but..): does he renegotiate “truth” by his action and reconstitute the dominant ideology by shifting the weight from statistical to empirical studies? Is he doing the same thing that other scientists have done, but in an opposite direction? If Bello is acting and then presenting data, isn’t he dominating the methods of production of truth, and from Parijat’s analysis of Bello’s intent mean that there’s an inappropriate obscuring of objective truth?
Oslo (March 29, 2012):
Sociologist or activist?
The lectures in the last couple of weeks are lead towards this questions: are we sociologists or activists? Can we be both, and what problems arise when we combine the two? In our discussion group here in Oslo, we are divided in this question. Part of the group feels that activism is a clear and very important part of being a sociologist. Others feel that these two aspects need to be separated. Maybe it’s not even a division in the group, but an ambivalence we all feel.
Still, as a group, we are all in deep awe and have a lot of respect for, the sociologists who have presented their projects in this course. Many of them are researchers in more pressing political situations than the ones that we face here in Norway, sociologists bringing down regimes, fighting for the rights of indigenous groups and refugees, several risking their lives. The fact that Norwegian sociology to a large extent studies the Norwegian society makes it easier to say that activism and sociology can be separated. We are locked to a nation-state perspective, and by opening up Norwegian sociology to the rest of the world, the public aspects of Norwegian sociology might also increase.
The Norwegian public sociologist
In his comment to our last posting, Burawoy mentions that there is a tradition of public sociology in Norway. We have dug deeper into this, and temporarily concluded that the organic or activism parts of this, had dwindled. One reason might be that those who were active public sociologists in the 70’s, also were members of AKP-ML (the workers communist party), a political position many of them now reject, and maybe even regret. Some of the academics most active in AKP-ML are now professors in sociology, and amongst those who now encourage us students not to mix our sociological work with our activism.
The close-knitted relationship between academia, the media and Norwegian bureaucracy complicates this issue. Sociologists have a lot of power in Norway, both quantitatively and qualitatively. There are many of us, the ideas that dominate sociology also dominate state policy, making our situation very different from that in the USA. To be a policy sociologist is accepted in Norwegian sociology, but to be an activist or a member of a political party is problematized to a much larger degree. But the danger of policy sociology is less debated: you might easily go from a situation where you are a sociologist influencing the state, to a sociologist co-opted by that state’s definitions and policies (echoing the argument against activist sociologists).
Breaking the law for the better good: do the ends justify the means?
Last week, we were very inspired by Walden Bello’s lecture and for us it sparked a discussion about public sociology and research ethics. Unconventional methods of research are sometimes necessary to uncover the truth, and we spent a lot of time discussing these issues and the position of the sociological whistle blower.
But if we think that Bello was justified in breaking the law, is this applicable in other cases? Should the sociologist be allowed to record conversations without the permission of her subjects of study? Would it be OK for a researcher to break into the dorms in Berkeley, to find out more about student’s living conditions? Can I, as a sociologist, justify breaking into my local bank to document immoral treatment of customers? And who creates research ethics and for what purpose?
Julian Roberto (UC Berkeley): I was very interested in your comments concerning breaking the law. I feel that before we discuss the moral implications of breaking the law, we must first consider whose interests these laws are truly defending. I am of the opinion that the majority of laws serve the function of maintaining and reproducing the power and privilege of the elite and focus on controlling lower class deviance but not upper class deviance. A contemporary example is the lack of laws regulating financial institutions that led us into the current financial crisis. The laws in existence did not hold anyone accountable nor did it require systematic change to account the devastating effects this had on our economy. The lack of laws and regulations monitoring financial officials and operations therefore contributed to the structural violence in our society.
If laws aren’t in the interest of all society but a privileged few, then we should not consider it immoral to these laws break these laws if it can deliver social change. There are grey areas of course but in cases like that of Walden Bello, breaking the law contributed to the overthrow of an oppressive dictatorship. During the the Civil Rights movement, civil disobedience contributed to reducing legalized racism. In the Occupy Movement, breaking the law contributed to bringing the concept of financial domination into the consciousness of the nation.
I do not believe that laws equal morality. We must look at ourselves and judge what is moral ourselves. Although this is a difficult undertaking, I believe that it is a rich undertaking in which we discover who we are and what we are about.
Diana Rios (UC Berkeley): Ida, yes I agree with how in the recent lectures we have created a dichotomy as to whether sociologists are public sociologists or activists. You say both and I also agree because I am taken back to Michael Burawoy’s reading on public sociology and what struck me the most when I first read it—how public sociology makes the invisible visible. Thus, public sociologists are in many ways advocating for their invisible publics.
The means of doing this and the ethics were brought up by Bello’s methods of data collection. These unconventional means and risky work makes us look at public sociologists as superheroes and activists. None the less, it is a tough question you pose as to what the fine line between acceptable and unacceptable breaching of research ethics. There is certain protocol that legitimizes research and protects human subjects. Yet, in Bello’s case I don’t particularly see how anyone was harmed physically or emotionally in order to uncover hidden truths. Yet, it is tricky because by justifying Bello we open up the door for many more exceptions. Yet, Julian makes the brilliant point that laws are meant to protect the interest of its citizens. In the case of Chile, people were being oppressed under a dictatorship. If unconventional actions like these never took place, social change would seize to exist, and the invisible would never become visible.
Finally, it was really interesting to see how influential sociology is to the state in Norway 🙂
Malene H. Sørensen (UC Berkeley): Being Norwegian and taking this course in Berkeley I find it very interesting to see how your discussions “main topics” differ from what strikes us as the primary issues in our debates. I also find that several times I read your summaries and because of similar cultural background (perhaps?) I often read ideas that I myself had in mind during class. I especially related to your elaboration on the issue of sociologists vs. activist.
The questions you asked; “are we sociologists or activists? Can we be both, and what problems arise when we combine the two?” seems to have different answers depending on the cultural context of both the topic being researched, as well as the researchers cultural background. There is a distance between what a social activist, and a sociologist can say (depending on the “stage they speak from”), but it is hard to limit a persons thought process. And further, should you even try to limit your thoughts when you find yourself supporting, or even cheering, for a specific social movement? Should you not trust your own knowledge?
This becomes an especially hard question to handle when we are discussing public sociology where interaction with often suppressed publics become a natural part of our workday. I do not have an answer for this, and I agree with you that in a society like Norway (today, not necessarily historically) it might be easier for sociologists to set these two apart as they are not necessarily “abandoning” a suppressed public by distancing them self from activism. But we have heard from many great public sociologists that do not seem to damage their academic credibility by acknowledging their roots in activism. I would therefor like to believe that in many cases activism and sociology both can, and should, be combined.
I am very excited to hear what you have to say about Wieviorkas work when we get to that!
Minh Quoc Nguyen (UC Berkeley): Hi everyone, I am fascinated by the points brought up by your class, Ida, as well as by the points brought up by Julian, Diana, and Malene. In particular, the discussion on unconventional methods of research seems to indicated an ethical imperative for sociologists. Our amazing examples of public sociologists, such as Bello, strongly exemplify how the type of social capital one gains from working in or studying in prestigious institutions allows one to fundamentally questions and transform these institutions. This is especially crucial, as Julian articulates clearly, when the laws and rules protecting these institutions are unjust.
For these reasons, I’m of the opinion that we must think beyond the dichotomy of activist vs. public sociologist. (But do others believe this is possible?) This is why I am very intrigued by the points brought up by Diana and Malene. How does dichotomous thinking limit our perception of the possibilities for public sociologists’ impact on social change and social movements? How do we think understand the role of activist public sociologists beyond the dichotomies? How do we address the dangers of delegitimization in the academy?
It is very interesting to hear different perspectives on these puzzling questions. Looking forward to further discussion! 🙂
Mica Stumpf (UC Berkeley): Wow, what a fascinating discussion here about this tension between public sociology and activism! Personally, I find this issue to be one of the most interesting issues addressed by this course. As Burawoy explained in the beginning of the course (I can’t remember if it was on the video or on one of our unrecorded sessions), the element that ties the four types of sociology together, as outlined in his two by two table, is that all of them are for the advancement of civil society. I feel this puts an inherent sense of activism into sociology itself, though some may disagree with Burawoy’s interpretation of this common element.
We were just discussing this tension again today in class (you’ll see in the video soon!) and we decided that there is a difference between the work of a public sociologist and a political activist (though a sociologist may also be a political activist without connecting this activism directly to her/his work). When a public sociologist consciously connects activism to their work, they are still accountable to the field of sociology and other sociologists. When a sociologist practices political activism without directly tying it to their work as a sociologist, they are more accountable to the public or the community affected by their activism (though certainly this will still have implications for their professional image/reputation). Sorry to throw more dichotomies into this mix, but I thought this was a useful way of thinking about activism and sociology.
I also agree with Julian about the way many laws are made to serve the interests of the elite, controlling lower class deviance and not upper class deviance. However, many activists also point to laws when they are protesting injustice. Activists will expose powerful people who break laws, fight for the implementation of new laws, etc. So I still believe that laws have an important place in furthering the interests of the masses, despite how they are often used against the masses. I still think we need to be extremely careful about advocating breaking the laws, because as Diana points out, this opens the door for many more exceptions which have the potential to endanger people.
I also found it fascinating reading about the Norwegian context of activism and I think this is very important to keep the context of location and the accompanying politics always in mind when contemplating the role of activism.
Great summary and looking forward to coming to Norway in a few weeks! Hopefully I can meet your public sociology crew and chat about the videos!
Tehran (April 17, 2012):
“the middle class is an ally of the working class and the lower classes generally and it is by and large a force for democratization “”this phrase which has been repeated in the history of sociology over and over, is decoded by the efforts of Belo and demystified in the societies of Germany, Italy and Chili. Belo not only rejects this idea of orthodox Marxism, but also says that what middle classes do result in Nazism and Fascism. That is what makes his work admirable.
Walden Bello’s efforts can be classified into Burawoy’s traditional public sociology (or in Gramsci’s words, traditional public intellectual). In fact he puts himself in the position of truth and presupposes that the World Bank is in collaboration with Marcos the dictator. Therefore he has the right to use unorthodox or somehow creative and unexpected methods to clarify the truth and discredit the power and gain classified confidential information. Here rises our first question: what are the processes through which he has concluded that there are hidden hands and he has to gain access to confidential information no matter what the means and consequences?! Set aside the ethical dimension of the matter, but isn’t it possible that similar to the works of Dr. Sunder and Dr. Rodrigues, he could have shaped publics and through a powerful public movement try to solve the problem? Interestingly his emphasis on the creation of a strong public in Seattle movement is of the same nature but he rather prefers to deal with it differently.
In a second glance it looks like there is a contradiction in his argument. In some of his works he is an activist, someone who does not believe in the tension between power and truth and that is why he uses unorthodox methods to search for the hidden truth in the World Bank. But there is contradiction with his role as an academician who sees a conflict between power and truth – truth as the pure and ascending side and power as the dirty and evil side. The second question rises here: why does he highlight the conflict and struggle between power and truth, while in practice he is not much loyal to the concept?
Maybe as an academician, Belo inevitably has to defend the truth,the truth which can be gained through “science”. Such science claims to discover the truth free from power interference. But these claims exist only in the realm of theory. In practice truth and power are so tied together that itis impossible to differentiate them from one another. Belo’s life as anactivist is in itself an example of that. Looking from this angle, Belo’s claimas an academician who is searching for truth free from power seems to be merely a tactic to gain even more power.
Sandra Nuñez Portocarrero (UC Berkeley): salam!!! bravo for raising excellent points. May I ask why is it a contradiction in his role as an academic and as an activist??? could it be possible to consider both of Bello’s roles as compliments???? is it fair to say that in praxis he is not really loyal to the concept??? I challenge your claim that truth and power are so tied together that it is impossible to differentiate from one another…I would like to expand more on this but I feel like perhaps I would be jumping into conclusions before you explain further…
Andrew Levine-Murray (UC Berkeley): Really interesting points that kinda repositioned Bello’s talk in my mind. I would agree with Sandra above that I don’t think there necessarily has to be a contradiction between being an academic and being an activist, but I think I agree with the group from Tehran that perhaps truth and power are inseparable from one another.
I had a somewhat difficult time understanding what Bello meant in his definitions of truth and power, particularly the difference between the two, and maybe that is because, in a Foucauldian sense, I understand power to be inescapable. From my understanding of power, then, I see truth as necessarily grounded in some position or web of power/power relations, which leads me to question whether anyone, an academic, activist, public intellectual, etc., can arrive at some objective truth. Can objective truth exist if our selves and our interpretation of things are influenced by power and power relations? I don’t think so, but I do think that there are varying degrees to which truth can be obscured by power. For example, a public sociologist’s truth might be more influenced if they are also working in conjunction with a policy institute which funds their research and has certain goals of its own than a public sociologist working unassociated with such organizations.
I guess, for me then, it all goes back to the question of whether there is an objective, inarguable truth that public sociologists can arrive at or if public sociologists are subjects that create truths through their work? Or are both possible? I think Bello believes that there are certain objective, inarguable truths that exist and that public sociologists (or “activists” as he calls himself) must bring to light, but I have a hard time agreeing with that, since I think it positions the public sociologists as much too all-knowing.
Matt Lear (UC Berkeley): Hello! I totally agreed with the point you made about the truth behind the middle class as being, “an ally of the working and lower classes.” The whole occupy movement is a 1% vs. 99%, but based off the research of Bello I feel like one could further generalize to suggest that the movement isn’t necessarily as clear cut as 1 vs. 99. I see the problem as being differing interest between classes, and Bello seems to do a good job of exposing the “truth” behind the real relations between the working class and the middle class.
I totally agree with your point on how does he really know that there is documentation to connect the World Bank to the Marcos regime? It is interesting that he doesn’t create a social movement against the regime, but perhaps the environment in the Philippines didn’t have the right feeling to actually pick up and combat the dictatorship. Perhaps he saw it making more noise internationally by exposing the connections between the regime and World Bank. And it really seemed to strike a chord when he released his findings. But I’m curious if the environment was the right place for a strong social movement.
You also raise very good questions concerning his stance as an academic and his actions as a public intellectual. I feel that’s how you got to do it though; practicing what you preach in sociology is hard because everything is theoretical. In the field he claims in the lecture to be an activist. And I like what you say, “To gain more power” by believing and teaching truth through science as an academic. But I think it goes back to the environment things in the Philippines probably doesn’t facilitate the same scientific methods and “truths” that other countries may allow for. But then again that’s just me!
Davene Mignott (UC Berkeley): Fateme,
I agree with many of the points you bring up in your analysis of Belo’s work in connection to larger sociology theories. By placing Belo in Burawoy’s two-by-table about sociology and calling his work “traditional public sociology”, I wonder if the other public sociology would say that truth seeking is an underlining goal of the doing traditional public sociologist. When I think back to other scholars from this semester like: Nandini Sundar and Pun Ngai they have also written popular pieces that aims to tell the truth.
Another point that you bring up that I find interesting is the contradiction in his methods and ethnical concerns about power and truth. I find myself asking the question where does his theory about truth and the reality of structures and security of the truth collide.
Great critical thinking, thank you for always adding a new perspective to the conversation.
Liz Vergara (UC Berkeley): Hello, Fateme I really enjoyed your refreshing, critical perspective. Thank you! I can see how his claim to be an academician searching for a truth free from power can be perceived as a tactic to gain more power. I personally think that the “truth” or what is believed to be the truth is inevitably intertwined with power. It is hegemonic groups in society which determine what is the “truth” for all others.
For example (relating this to the Occupy Movement), the 1% will attempt to convince the 99% that what is best for the 1% is also what’s best and beneficial to the 99%. If enough people believe this, then it will have real social consequences. This means that members of the 99% will support policies or political candidates that benefit the 1% because they hope that this will benefit everyone-just as they have been indoctrinated to believe. In order for marginalized groups to determine or influence what is seen as “truth”, it is necessary for them to gain power. Otherwise they have no leverage. However, I think Bello would disagree with me as he sees power separate from truth.