The Duterte effect on political science

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

It is not only the media that President Duterte has seriously destabilized.

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It is not only journalists who are forced to scramble not only to be able to perform their tasks, but also to remain relevant.

Mocha Uson, Thinking Pinoy and Sass Rogando Sasot are not just giving the likes of Maria Ressa sleepless nights and a run for her money. They are in fact forcing social scientists, particularly political scientists, to go back to the drawing board and retool and re-imagine our craft.

Social scientists are also citizens. But the key problem that we face is that we take on this air of science that makes us believe we should be objective and detached. In the end, we just expose our weaknesses.

You could not blame us. After all, we need to be as scientific, if not even more so, as the guys who study natural pathogens for us not to be dismissed as second-rate, trying-hard copycats. This, even if we know deep in ourselves–and in fact pages of self-reflexive criticisms on the limits of what we can do have been written–that it is simply virtually impossible for us to even mimic the methods of natural scientists and apply these in making sense of social and political pathologies.

But there are certain social sciences whose practice is the only one compromised by politics, but their theoretical and scientific constructs remain insulated from it.

Take the case of psychology, which in fact among the social sciences, in addition to economics, are the two disciplines that have developed stable and law-like conceptual and methodological tools. Both disciplines look at human beings in their biological states, as a composite of neurons and have brains that could dictate behavior, including the natural desire to consume.

Thus, from among the social sciences, it is psychology that has evolved into a licensed practice in the country. A scientific template has already been established in the discipline to diagnose psychopathologies. This is precisely why professional psychologists would hesitate making political judgments on the sanity of political personalities for the reason that they adhere to some ethical rule that is warranted by their science.

However, as citizens, psychologists have their own biases. There are now psychologists who abandon their professional ethics and boldly diagnose President Duterte, and even his supporters, as exhibiting behavior that border on the psychopathological. Yet, it is clear that the science of psychology is not compromised by the overtly political acts of its experts.

This is not what is happening to political science where the very core of the discipline is at risk.

Of all the social sciences, it is political science that has the sole audacity to declare itself as a science even in its name. All the other social sciences do not. Sociology, the other social science that attempts to be more scientific, and in fact has developed a rather robust body of methodological tools and approaches on the systematic study of human societies, just calls itself sociology. Anthropology remains as only anthropology, and not as anthropological science.

In fact, not even the natural sciences label themselves as science. They are just physics, chemistry, biology, mathematics. No science in their names.

It is only in political science where the word science appears.

Yet, we are perhaps the most challenged in terms of our ability to make scientific analysis of the political phenomenon. We do not have original methodologies to assist us in our attempts to systematically inquire into power structures and processes. We borrow from statistics, economics, sociology and applied mathematics to study our human subjects. We try to be mathematical in our approaches but we could not apply this to large data modelling without facing the problem of validity and reliability. We either compromise mathematical rigor to fit our needs, or we simply confine ourselves to unrealistic assumptions, or to specific cases, that seriously compromise our “generalizability.”

If we are truly scientific, we could have predicted the occurrence of revolutions and coups, and have warned Hillary Clinton to abort her candidacy. And we could have prepared the country, and ourselves, for a Rodrigo Duterte.

The phenomenon that we study is complex and unpredictable. Our objects of inquiry are human subjects who may lie, cheat and be corrupted but are also capable of heroism and redemption. We study political systems whose patterns of existence are dependent on a complex interplay of human agents and institutions, except that we do not have the sufficient tools to determine the unfolding of events with certainty to make any levels of statistical significance meaningful. Our generalizable constructs such as democracy, human rights and justice are also socially constructed and are therefore history and culture-specific.

The intractability of President Duterte has brought political science to face its own structural limitations. While he has not caused these, he has catalyzed their unraveling. He is forcing us political scientists to realize the challenges of understanding him by going beyond the rubrics, concepts and principles that we are schooled in, and to re-theorize, innovate and recalibrate in order for us to remain relevant.

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6 Comments

  1. wow! people got to think out of the box. Try to push their thinking up to and beyond its limit.

  2. The problem with political science is it is dependent on many other sciences such as anthropology, geography, psychology, humanities, to name a few. If we take away the human element, it might be a more predictable and measurable science. But without the human element, political science simply cannot exist. Putting the word ‘science’ after ‘political’ surely has a very glaring political motive which is to give it more credence than what it deserves.

  3. Politics is the science of conning people, the most successful swindlers in history are in fact politicians, this time the swindled had enough, they made that clear when they decided to elect a Du30 or a Trump.

  4. Amnata Pundit on

    Political “science” is merely the study of the contest for power not within the framework of ethics – which is the mistake of the naive – but according to the laws of the jungle. Hence the use of democracy, rule of law, human rights as actually practiced is designed by the cunning predators to prevent the rise of equally cunning and strong contestants like them who can threaten their positions. In short those who use morality as political platforms are just plain naive or hypocrites. Im not saying that politics should be completely amoral. Perhaps the ideal politician should be a combination of Machiavelli, Sun Tzu and Confucius but who also possesses the qualities of a lion.

    • Ninky Cabauatan on

      It is a clash of two opposing ideologies, a rivalry of utterly different ideals and principles, if I may add.