( By Editor : Carol Huss )

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Section I

Approaches To Social Analysis

One approach can be academic and the other, action oriented.

The academic approach tends to study a particular social situation in a detached, fairly abstract manner, dissecting its elements mainly for the purpose of knowledge, yet at the same time being committed to social change. Commitment to change becomes then the motivating force for accurate, society study. In the action oriented approach the role of the scholars and intellectuals is an important one, because their output will form the basis of collective action for change.

What is Social Analysis

Social analysis is a process through which one abtains an ever more complete picture of a social situation by exploring its historical and structural relationships. Social analysis permits us to understand the reality of which we are a part and which we want to transform. It explores social reality in a variety of dimensions. Sometimes it focuses and isolated issues, such as unemployment, inflation, and hunger. At other times, it focuses on the politicies that address those issues. At another time it is used to help you understand our economic, political, social and cultural institutions. Also you can go with it beyond issues, policies and structures and use it in terms of time, to get a historical analysis. This studies changes in social systems through time. If you use in terms of space it will provide you a structural analysis. This gives you a cross section of a system’s framework at a given moment of time. Then you can distinguish the objective dimensions of reality which includes the various organisations, behaviour patterns and institutions that take on external structural expressions, and the subjective dimensions which includes consciousness, ideologies and values. These elements have to be analysed in order to understand the assumptions operative in any given social situation.

Difficulties of Social Analysis

The factors and circumstances which complicate the process of social analysis are :

The social system in which we live dicatates the values which guide our lives and determines our understanding or may block our grasp ot it. If one lives in a socialist country or in a tribal society one develops attitudes, outlooks on life, nature etc. which differ from those found in a capitalist society. Our work or occupation, deeply influences our way of thinking. An engineer working in an atomic station, a college lecturer, a labourer, a fisherman, a nurse, a doctor, a social worker, a salesman, will all have different ways of looking at events, persons, and things.

The class and the caste we belong to colours our perception of the social reality around us. Our religion deeply influences our understanding of the world, our code of ethics. A Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew and a Christan will have different outlooks on society and nature, and man’s obligation towards God and neighbour. Influenced by our religion, perhaps, we may have the following scheme deeply ingrained in our mind :

Good individual ...... good families....... good communities....... good villages....... good towns...... good nations. According to this scheme, if we want to have a ‘good’ society we think that it is enough to have good individuals. A good society, according to this view, starts with good individuals. Behind this conception there is a basic assumption; society is good but does not work ‘because individuals are bad, dishonest’. What matters is a conversion of heart. Let each one be a good and honest person, and society will be healthy. But then we forget that through the socialising process a person, right from his or her childhood is very much a social product. It is not so much the individual who makes a society "good" or "bad". The starting point is as much society as the individual. There is a dialectic relationship between society and the individual :

Man ....... Shapes......... Society........ Shapes ......... Man

Three Basic Principles of Social Analysis

The first principle is to approach social reality as a totality, be it the vilalge, the region, the nation or even bigger geographical entities. No one social element can be explained by itself. It has always to be situated within the whole. For instance, a phenomenon like delinquency in a city should be placed in the total social phenomenon of the city life : migration, type of urbanisation, unemployment, and so forth.

These in turn are the result of certain power structures of class organisation of society. It is not enough, therefore, to know how many delinquents are in the city, their age, and type of delinquency. This is only a description of the phenomenon which gives very little information about the causes of delinquency. Nor is it encough to look at delinquency as a mere ethical problem. We have to go the root cause of the phenonmenon. Only a deeper analysis will reveal them.

The second principle is the need to discover what is not directly visible in society. For example, in tribal societies one does not see the clan, but every one knows that it existis. It is a social structure which influences social behaviour very strongly through rules, organisations, system of authority, etc. Also invisible are the links between various social phenomena. For instance, the members of a religious society or of a voluntry organisation may be working in a school thinking that they are doing a very good job, useful to thier neighbour and society. They train young people well, have good relations with the parents, get good results in the examinations. The school has a very good reputation and attracts ‘very respectable people’, in fact the entire ‘elite’ in the region. The social function of such elite schools in society is most of the time ignored. The truth of the matter is that a social elite needs such institutions to maintain itself in power, and education is one of the tools which helps them to do so. Thus the school becomes an instrument which reinforces the structures and the functioning of society in favour of the elite even though the institution may coopt some elements from the poorer starata.

The third principle is that social facts do not speak by themselves: they have to be organised. It means that one must have the tools to put them together in a meaningful manner. Just as a mere accumulation of facts may be more confusing than helpful to understand society, one must have a framework within which these facts are organised.

Methods of Social Analysis

A Basic Framework
For the sake of analysis one generally distinguishes four basic strutures, also called sysems: Economic, Social, Political, to which must be added the Meaning system in which ideology is a very important component.

Economic System
The first requisite for any social group is to exist, that is, to live. For this, any human group needs a material basis: to eat, to drink, to clothe themselves, to have shelter, etc. Any society must produce those good which answers those needs. I thas to be organised to this effect. In other words it has to produce food and all other necessities of life. This takes place within the economic system. Three main elements have to be taken into consideration:

  1. The means of production like the land, the factories, the capital.
  2. The organisation of labour.
  3. The distribution of the social product.

In order to study the economic system, you can do it in an easy way, by asking the following questions:

  • Who owns the means of production (land,factories, capital)?
  • What is being produced?
  • What technology is used?
  • What kind of relationship bind the producers? How are the goods produced, distributed?
  • Who consumes the things produced?
  • Where are the consumers located?
  • Where are the producers?

To this you can add any question need like :

  • Where does the economic activity take place(does economic initiative come from outside or from within) ?
  • Is the economy dualistic (has it a dominant and a dependent sector) ?
  • How are they inter-related ?
  • What is the long-term effect on the environment of the inter relations.

Social system
When we study social systems we try to find out which kind of social groupings exist. For example, in a primitive society, based on clans, the divisions would be only among clans (relationship between several clans).

In a feudal society, the main division would be between landlord and peasants, the two main classes of fuedal society. In that case, the division is based on ownership of the meansof production (land) by the first class and on bonded labour for the peasants. In between there exists someother social groups like the artisans in cities, bureaucrats in the state administrations, clergy, etc.

In a capital society, the two major groups are no longer as in feutdal society, the aristocracy (landlords) and the peasants, but the capital owners and the workers (industrial or agriculture). Other groups may continue toexist according to the type of development of the capitalist system. Some distinctions within the major groups alsoexist as the result of new technological developments in the cpitalist economy like white collar jobs, technicians, etc.

While studying the social structure we may ask a few questions :

How do gfroups relate in the process of production?

(e.g. How do workers in the factory relate to industrialists)?

How do those who till the land relate to the landlords?

What kind of status hierarchy is emerging in Society and what is its basis?

Political System
Each human group needs some type of collective organisation, in which the decision making power may be widely distributed among the members, or highly concentrated in the hands of a few. The baisc political fieldin a capitalist society can be divided into the following sections: political parties, organisations of the State and within the State we may distringuish the administration (bureaucracy), justice, the repressive/controlling forces (police, army etc.) While studying the political system,one may ask the following questions :

  • Who has power?
  • What are the instruments for the exercise of popwer?
  • In favour of whom or of which group is power generally exercised?

Meaning System
Every human group always elaborates a representationof its own reality. This is precisely the characteristic of a human group; it is what distinguishes it from an animal group. This is why human beings are able to communicate; they build an image of reality (natural or social) and they express it in words, gestures, sounds. When a system of representation is built we call it a specific culture, a pjhiolosophy, or even a religion when this is built in reference to the belief in supernatural realities and entities.

As part of the meaning system, ideology plays a very important role. Ideology in this context consists in the main explanation and justification given for the economic, social and poliical organisation of a given society. While studying the meaning system, we try to find out the dreams, myths and symbols of that particular society.

We try to answer some of the following questions :

  • What is the symbolic manner in which people explain their world and their situation in the world in relaion to supernatural reality?
  • What are the beliefs?
  • What are the ethics?
  • What is the religious organisation?
  • How is it structured? When are the functional positions?

More specifically in relation to ideology we ask the following question :

  • What are the latent or unexpressed explanations and justifications for the existance of the economic, social and political order?
  • What are the dominant groups (elite or rural classes) saying about the existing order ?
  • What do the dominant groups (workers, the poor etc.) say about their future?
  • How is the ‘New Society’ envisaged?

With the above basic framework, see Appendices 1 and 2 for some methods of social analysis

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