‘Techno’ and ‘political’ spaces…

Words stick together differently in different contexts by means of an unseen glue, with same words often producing different meanings and different effects.  One teacher of rhetoric, Kenneth Burke, said this about about a word we hear most frequently, ‘yes’.  He wrote:

“Let us suppose that I ask you: “What did the man say?” And that you answer: “He said ‘yes.’” You still do not know what the man said. You would not know unless you knew more about the situation and about the remarks that preceded his answer… For there is a difference in style or strategy, if one says “yes” in tonalities that imply “thank God” or…in tonalities that imply “alas!””

When you use the word ‘demand’ as an economist, it is obviously not the same speech act as screaming out @ your partner  who has locked you out of the house, ‘I demand that you open the door for me’.  If you were a bit less mad your choice of words could be different. You could use ‘request’ instead of ‘demand’ or perhaps just say, ‘please let me in’. The science of economics would obviously not let you make any of these substitutions for ‘demand.’ Technical terms live in warped spaces.  Trouble and misunderstanding may follow when they escape from these spaces together with their baggage and fly into other alien territories without first unloading them of their disciplinary content.

People may differ in their views on what constitutes inequality, social mobility, diversity etc., these differences can influence the economic organisation of education simply because the latter does not just depend on market forces [hence not analysable entirely in terms of categories used purely for the analysis in terms of market forces].  Thus we have some folks who have grappled with issues of education in terms of political economy of educationIndeed the disciplinary framework of political economy is an effort to craft models that attempts to bring the political and economical concerns together in useful ways.

But the political economic models that consider the behaviour of voters [the political part] and the behaviour of consumers [the economics part] assume liberal democracy for their analysis [See, for example, The Political Economy of Education by Gradstein, Justman, and Meier]. The abstract of the title says that these authors develop:

…a basic static model of how political decisions determine education spending; then they extend this model dynamically.

But how the political decisions get taken in a liberal democracy is vastly different than the ways in which they get taken in the post colonial quasi-democracies such as Pakistan and other similar countries. It will be difficult to make such models work without adapting them drastically.

Here, then, the rhetoric of public demand stops short of describing how political decisions influence allocations for education. Rather, in some ways it becomes part of a rhetoric that can potentially let the politicians off the hook. This is simply because there is no clear connection between public’s political interest [I am intentionally avoiding the term demand here] and political decisions that get taken in the legislative assemblies. Indeed, it may be argued that there is no robust ‘public domain’ whose sole purpose it must be to protect ‘public interest.’

In the absence of one such political public domain well-intentioned individuals create a new kind of domain spontaneously in the civil society, which may be referred to as technical public domain [for want of a better word]. This technical space keeps brimming with excellent ideas about how education can be reformed in Pakistan. Yet, in the end most these ideas get compromised as many of them are thrown up, even accepted, without enough public debate. This work is largely taking place in techno and philanthropic spaces and not political spaces.

Recently wrote an article titled  Education Reforms in Pakistan: Popular Demand or Political Activism.  Its a small pdf file, easy to download. I found it hard to copy and paste, so just uploaded.

PS:  A word of caution for the folks interested in the analysis of rhetoric:  You are most likely to get kicked in your butt by the readers who will mistake the ‘rhetorical analysis’ for something else, such as positive theory.  So budding rhetorical analysts out there, get ready for a rough ride…

About Irfan

I am an independent researcher and blogger interested in everything under the sun, but more so in the philosophy and history of education and education reform generally, and specifically in the so-called post colonial contexts


  1. Enemy of the people | Just questions! - 29/02/2012

    […] The script of this film is set in small town India. The central character in the plot is a doctor, Asok Gupta, who has found a simple ‘truth’ about the existence of disease causing bacteria in the water from the well of a temple.  He wants to publicise the report to create pressure on  the authorities to close the temple temporarily and purify the water to save the people from disease.  Purifying the water, however, will need resources that the local government may not be willing to allocate.  While the film is many things, but in some ways it is also the story of how a potential reform conceived in ‘technical space’ gets into trouble in the religo-political space in small town India. Of course, it can, and does, happen everywhere. I thought this film spoke directly to my last post. […]

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