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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 23. 21st September 1972

Apolitical Science

page 14

Apolitical Science

The last few years have seen an increasing concern amongst students over the content of their courses and of the values inherent in that content.

All social life is political and capable of scientific investigation in one way or another. The core of all social and political investigation, however, is the method of inquiry.

Many of the social sciences have become tied down at various stages in methodological wrangles which have diverted them from investigation. Political science lies at the other end of the spectrum, and little is done at this university to promote a conciousness of methodology in Pol. Sci. students.

Drawing of people marching

We believe that 'objectivity' is used merely to avoid the important issues. In the 'objective' study of American politics in the first year we learn a descriptive and functional account of the Presidency, Congress, the Supreme Court and the main political parties. We might even learn of the reasons for a political convention, but not of the reasons for the riots outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago (1968); we might learn of the formal and legal extent of the powers of a President, but not of President Johnson's policies in Vietnam and the consequences of this policy for the Vietnamese; we might learn of certain decisions of the Supreme Court, but not of the reasons for the massacre of prisoners and hostages in Attica prison. A poor white in the South, a negro in Watts, even an American suburban housewife would not recognise the politics we learn. Mass, non-institutional politics in America are ignored.

The same kind of 'objectivity' occurs when politics in New Zealand is mentioned: we learn of the powers of Parliament, the role of the MP. the powers of Parliamentary Select Committees and, above all, of the presence of pressure groups in our society which encourage compromises and thus "make democracy viable." We do not learn that once an opposition party arrives in Parliament it is effectively castrated, we do not learn that Members of Parliament are mainly party backs; we do not learn that certain people (prisoners, widows, homosexuals, rent-payers, children, for example) get screwed because their pressure groups are ill-equipped and ineffective. If the students of political science cannot learn these things then they too are being castrated, albeit slowly and in an ideological way.

We are not being given the tools with which to understand and interpret the modern world. The School of Political science is still living in the 1950's - trying to stimulate bourgoise liberal thinking and to accommodate assumptions and terminologies of the Cold War at the same time. We believe that Marxism, Existentialism, Fascism and other philosophies should be studied, and not merely as historical artefacts. Ideas are being fought for on the streets of the world: we want to understand these ideas and we want the thinking skills and attitudes whereby we can not only understand what is happening but also make a committment one way or the other. This is the understanding of political studies in its truest sense.

There is a tendency in political and all social sciences to objectify man. They tend to put up a division between the subject of the study (i.e. you the student) and the object (what you are looking at). "Persons are distinguished from things in that persons experience the world. Thing-events do not experience. Personal events are experimental. Natural scientism is the error of turning persons into things by a process of reification that is not itself part of the true natural scientific method." (Laing, Politics of Experience, 53.)

An important consequence of the 'liberal' analysis of politics we are offered - that politics is either about how people reach agreement in a dispute or about why they should reach agreement - is that our learning trains students away from political activism and makes them 'impartial observers.' Many students who claim to be activists outside the classroom are constrained, by the type and content of the teaching, to be onlookers when in class. Yet, we all know that what is needed today are actors, not spectators, no matter how "well-trained" the latter may be. Though many of us feel and experience this, the 'liberal' the latter may be. Though many of us feel and experience this, the 'liberal' analysis undermines our confidence in the reality of our experience.

In order to do this, it has been necessary to bastardise the word 'objectivity'. It comes to mean seeing that 'there are arguments for both sides,' and so we are faced not only with the politics of consensus, but also with the political science of consensus. The idea that there are arguments for both sides is a useful educational idea because it can sometimes open the mind of the bigot; but often there is (according to one's morality) only one side, and sometimes there are a multiplicity of viewpoints. Our argument is that the political science of consensus we are taught is so rigid it cannot allow these alternatives, and thus we are denied insights and new information.

What does this form of 'objectivity' mean when it is applied to a concrete situation such as the war in Indo-China. It means that the "Victory to the N.L.F." slogan is unacceptable because we have been taught that there are "two sides to every story".

A True Objectivity on the Other Hand, is One Which Conforms to the Object of the Study. In the case of the Indo-Chinese war it would lead us to the conclusion that the actions of the N.L.F. must be interpreted in terms of their situation. They are the acts of a peasant nation defending its existence against an invader which has at its command unprecedented technological power. Western social science cannot help but interpret the invasion in terms of the invaders. As R. Zaner says in his Way of Phenomenonology, "...at the heart of the matter is the insistence that every knowledge claim is necessarily at the same time methodological, and vice versa. There is no such thing as a "method", as distinct from what is discovered thereby; and what is discovered is inseparable from the "way" one got there".

It has been claimed by members of the political science department that "there is no departmental policy as such." This is an ambiguous statement and can be interpreted in various ways. To most students this statement must be most discouraging — does the department have no educational aims? It is also claimed that what is taught is merely a result of the talents and interests of the teachers employed. Nevertheless, staff are selected by their peers and as Professor Roberts has commented "In-evitably, the department re-creates itself in its own image" We believe this is so and that what he forgot to say was that students, the recipients of departmental policy and the people who bear the brunt of what is decided, have no say in either creating the image or in determining the substance of the courses taught in the department. Therefore, Demand One is this; students in the Department be involved in staff selection. The content and style of courses is at present controlled by the staff member in charge of the course. We reject the present kind of questionnaires which ask students their opinions about the courses, because they are unreliable and invalid guides to student opinion. More importantly, we reject them because no guarantee has ever been given that the opinions of students about how they are treated will ever be acted upon. Demand Two; the content of each course be guided from time to time by each class in consultation with staff members.

While the cry for "relevance" is often misguided, and merely the immediate reaction of people too used to being told what they will learn, we are concerned at the absence of studies into contemporary radical politics. Demand three; priority be given to the institution of a course in the Politics of Dissent.

We reject the increasing trend towards the employment of those skilled exclusively in quantititive methods. As Laing noted "Natural scientism is the error of turning persons into things by a process of reification that is not itself part of the true natural scientific method. Results derived in this way have to be de-quantified and de-reified before they can be reassimilated into the realm of human discourse. The error fundamentally is the failure to realise that there is an ontological discontinuity between human beings and it-beings."

We recognise our demands as minimum demands. The real demands can only come from the mass of students. Their claims will be based on their understanding, their experience of what political science should be about rather than what they are told it is. Why is there no dialogue between staff and students? Why are students continually left out of discussions? What do their teachers have to protect? Surely as teachers they should trust students' understanding of the situation.

Contact '73

If you are interested in helping out on Contact next year, drop into the Contact room and fill in a staff application form.

What will be required of you? Just giving one hour a week of your time to help others.