Abstracts of the presentations
Multiple Modernities and the Transnational Public – Another Obscurity Facing Endangered DemocracyProf. Dr Kenichi Mishima (Japan)
The period from the end of the Second World War to the threshold of the 1980s represented the good old days of theories of modernisation. Many of the then-dominant paradigms of modernisation have since lost some of their persuasiveness, however. On the one hand, the transformational potential of modernity has proven so obvious that not much is left of the representative theories beyond a small dose of normativity, their semantic surplus. On the other hand, modernity’s variety has become so evident that sociologists in both the Transatlantic realm and regions outside of Europe have had to accept the notion of multiple modernities as a given. Multiple modernities present opportunities for reciprocal learning.
But each phase and arrangement of modernity suffers from the split, among other things, between capitalistic and democratic modernisation, between the economic drive for profit and the normative claim to a humane communal life. The nation-state has long been the special workshop for repairing the damages caused by this split. Two questions arise here: Can the state still fulfil this function today? And didn’t the state, even in the best of times, mask and repress a whole host of problems? With regard to this latter question, a further obscurity can be spoken of.
For a long time, public debates were in principle carried out along national state lines. In contrast, international exchange and worldwide coordination, as well as competition in the finance and energy sectors, are all so tightly interwoven and organised that their moods and their enormous power are threatening the relevance of national public spheres, including the rational arguments of the latter. Furthermore, the interests of the managing elites and the power of experts serve to blind many participants in these discussions and offer the illusion of a shared space. Yet the experts’ discourses are in fact characterised by a disregard for democracy and a veiling of certain problems.
In the face of this power of the experts, what opportunities are offered by the transnational public, a public that was made possible through the multiplicity of modernities? Only a transnational public can curb the machinations of the expert culture. The presentation ends with a transnational attempt at a critique of the expertocracy in favour of normativity, without which the modern state must surely, in many ways, fall to pieces.
Risk as a Condition of Our SocietyProf. Dr. Britt-Marie Drottz-Sjöberg (Norway)
Human development and survival depend on cooperation. Interactions between people have always offered possibilities as well as challenges, risks and benefits. Those were the days when new continents were discovered, the first television broadcast amazed viewers and the social world consisted of a huge number of distant countries and intriguingly different people. Today the world has become both more well-known and infinitely more complicated. There was always an interaction between mind and matter. Human intelligence creates tools and strategies for problem solving. Today artificial matter functions increasingly as auxiliary brains generating, controlling and storing vital components of knowledge, human life conditions, and societal infrastructure whereas individuals’ minds often struggle to make sense of it all. We seem on the brink of realising that we may not totally comprehend the nature and potential effects of the accelerating connectivity involving huge subsystems of people, technology and the natural environment. Emerging technologies probe into the smallest material matters and open up astonishing possibilities and risks. Governance structures, financial and social systems interact globally although we often still prefer those individuals, banks and governments most familiar to ourselves. Environmental systems follow their own logic, the nature of which is still under investigation. Development cannot be halted, and change always involves risks. The main challenge for the 21st century may be the steering of change in ways that promote improved life conditions and prosperity. The core of many challenges touches upon the issue of benefit to whom and risk to whom. Availability and flow of information in a hyper-connected world facilitate social comparisons on a global scale highlighting social inequalities and influencing perceptions of needs, justice and trust. Widespread dystrophic sentiments can undermine society with or without the use or failure of the latest technology. Expectancies of freedom and choice, individuality and participation, are currently severely challenged by poverty, unemployment and inequality undermining fundamental social structures of trust. The potential is there that catastrophes caused by intended or unintended actions or system failures leave no winners. Are institutions and mindsets from the 20th century capable of comprehending current complexities and positively developing the future of our society? There is a need for some form of renewal of the social contract between individuals and the society on a governance level that can meet the challenges. Available and emerging technologies will certainly be needed and possible to put to work if such a shared strategic ambition can be outlined. Most importantly, however, we must also empower our minds with patience, empathy, compassion and a will to achieve resilience of systems’ interactions. Risk is a condition of our society. It involves possibilities of loss and possibilities of gain. The management of complexities, uncertainties and strategies for the future lies in the hands of the current generations.
The Risk Perception Gap. Why We Get Risk Wrong, How That Can Raise Our Risk, and What We Can Do About It.David P. Ropeik (USA)
As neuroscientist Antonio Damasio has found, rationality is more than just the coldly objective analysis of the facts. Our ability to behave rationally relies on a mix of the facts we have, and how that information feels emotionally. Nowhere is this subjective system of perception clearer than with the perception of risk. But subjective risk perception produces serious threats to public and environmental health.
As much as we’d like to think ourselves rational beings, findings from various fields have revealed a system of risk perception that mixes facts and feelings, reason and gut reaction, intellect and instinct, to come up with the judgments we make about risk. The result is the ‘Perception Gap’, the gap between our feelings and the facts that can be a huge risk in and of itself. This presentation will introduce the basic scientific findings from various fields – neuroscience, psychology, sociology, economics, anthropology – that help explain the Perception Gap. The implications of this phenomenon for public and environmental health will be discussed, along with basic approaches for how we can use our understanding of the subjective perceptions of risk to try and avoid the pitfalls and dangers of the Perception Gap, as individuals and as a society.
Understanding the roots of the Perception Gap, and why we are too afraid of some smaller risks and not afraid enough of some bigger ones, is the first step toward thinking about risk more carefully.
Democracy Challenged and the Challenge of DemocracyProf. Dr Surendra Munshi (India)
The present devaluation of politics with the loss of its positive meaning and the compromised status of its principles of equality and liberty is a significant challenge to democratic societies all over the world. Politics tends to be associated with the unprincipled quest of politicians for power. In response to the devaluation of politics there has been general disillusionment among the people. Not all the expressions of this disillusionment can be described though as withdrawal. Protests are taking place in different parts of the world from New Delhi to New York. Democracy is increasingly posing a challenge, on the other hand, in regions where it is still denied. This is the time for reflection. Not closure but openness lies ahead of us, with all its uncertainty, Angst, and, yes, excitement. Tolstoy had raised a question which Weber quoted in his famous lecture on politics: “What shall we do and how shall we live?” This is the time to go back to this question, not with an immediate national election but with broader concerns in mind. Tolstoy's question is not only a political question but a moral question as well; or, rather, it is a political-moral question. It needs to be raised in the context of a world where globalisation has thrown up challenges and also offered opportunities.
After ‘Arabellion’: Is a New Order of Freedom Possible for the Middle East?Fehim Taştekin (Turkey)
Aside from being a delayed search for freedom and change, the Arab Spring is a showdown with the status quo. It is such a status quo that, for decades, oppressive regimes have used it as a pretext for denying the basic rights. There are three things upon which this status quo is based:
1. Anti-democratic methods were excused for preventing the Islamists from coming to power because they have had the potential to intimidate the West (Algeria, Tunis, Egypt).
2. Political and sectarian barriers were intensified to thwart the expansion of Iran, a country which was excluded from the dominant global world order after the Islamic revolution (Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, etc.).
3. Dictators were financed as part of U.S. strategies in the Middle East to guarantee the future of Israeli government (Egypt, Jordan). Countries that rejected the U.S. strategies were demonized and placed within the axis of evil (Syria, Iran).
We are now in a new era of transformation. It is not possible to make the younger generations swallow such excuses any more. Some international forces have already decided to intervene in attempts to change the regime, because it is now obvious that such attempts, when not guided as in Egypt, could harm the regime itself. There are four things that harm peaceful revolutions: violence that ignites civil war, sectarianism that causes fraction, tribalism and military intervention from without.
Is the Arab Spring a Western plot? It is a great mistake to think that the Arab Spring was caused by the US project of the Greater Middle East. The US decided not to proceed with its Greater Middle East initiative when it saw that both Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon came to power through democratic elections. The US administration was caught unprepared to deal with the wave of resurrection inflamed by the body of the Tunisian Buazizi.
Does the Arab Spring represent a wave of opposition to the West if it is not a Western plot? The voice that comes from the protesters does not contain an anti-imperialist undertone. However, most of the actors tend to adopt a political stance that approves of reforming the relations with the West so as to meet the requirements of a mutual respect.
Is an Islamist generation growing? It is an inevitable fact that several Islamist groups that have remained rejected by the status quo for decades would step forward and be part of the government in case the region opts for democratisation. The most advantaged movement is the Muslim Brothers. The Muslim Brothers of Egyptian origin is the most organised movement in the region the derivatives of which cover an area ranging from Tunis and Libya to Jordan and Syria. In case such movements grouped together to form a political party, it is perfectly natural to see that they would win the elections, just as it happened in Tunis and Egypt.
Who has been defeated in the Arab Spring? Israel is the country that is going to suffer most from the Arab Spring across the Middle East unless attempts for a thorough transformation get interfered in. Israel has lost its greatest ally in Egypt. A possible democratic move forward in Jordan would inescapably help the Palestinian refugees that make up more than half the population to gain much more political influence in the country. This makes it even worse for Israel to deal with a situation like the one it has previously had in Egypt. Contrary to popular belief, the present Syrian regime with which Israel is at war is a guarantee of the ‘de facto’ situation. There is neither war nor peace.
When taken as a model, is Turkey a legend or a reality? Turkey is brought to the foreground as a model in order to stop the tendency for transformation from turning into an anti-Western campaign. It is interesting to see that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkey is often referred to as an example for secular people to follow in countries such as Tunis. This leads to a wide-ranging debate about Turkey as a model, pictured as ‘antidote to radicalism’.
Will the birth of a Sunnite Islamist generation weaken the regional impact of Iran? The most important reason why Iran is growing ever more influential across the region is the question of Palestine. Especially Egypt with its new administration that would refuse to remain indifferent to the question of Palestine could possibly bring about a huge change in the way things are usually handled. Hence, the opening of the Rafah gate and improvement in relations between Hamas and al-Fatah in the wake of Mubarak has strengthened Cairo’s hand vis-à-vis Iran. It is highly likely that a Sunnite administration may divide Syria from the Shiite Iran. In case the Shiites come to power in Bahrain where most of the population consists of the Shiites, Iran will have had the best chance to do its best move in the Gulf. A possible loss of power over Bahrain, a country which Saudi Arabia has deployed as a barrier against the Shiite population, will also become a huge shock for the US. It is a known fact that Fleet #5 is located in Bahrain.
New Nuclear World Order – Worst Case Scenario or Challenge?Dr. Olli Heinonen (Finland)
Nuclear safety, security, and safeguards are‘triplets’ which have a synergetic effect on each other. The accident in Fukushima a year ago demonstrated the inter-link of all three factors. Nuclear accidents can happen anywhere. This can range from localised radiological impact to a larger-scale terrorist attack using nuclear material that can jolt economic, security and psychological impact beyond its scale. The recent report of the Nuclear Threat Initiative indicates that work remains to be done to enhance nuclear security. While the actual responsibility on nuclear safety, security, and safeguards relies on individual states, the international community needs to strengthen these regimes and ensure that states comply fully with their international obligations and undertakings. For the latter, a more transparent international mechanism needs to be developed.