By Maduranga Kalugampitiya
The domain of the humanities and social sciences is under attack more than ever before. The relevance, as well as usefulness of the degrees earned in those fields, is being questioned left, right, and centre. The question of whether it is meaningful at all to be spending, if not wasting, the limited financial resources available in the coffers to produce graduates in those fields is raised constantly, at multiple levels. Attempts are being made to introduce a little bit of soft skills into the curricula in order to add ‘value’ to the degree programmes in the field. The assumption here is that either such degree programmes do not impart any skills or the skills that they impart are of no value. We often see this widely-shared profoundly negative attitude towards the humanities and the social sciences (more towards the former than towards the latter) being projected on the practitioners (students, teachers, and researchers) in those areas. At a top-level meeting, which was held one to two years ago, with the participation of policy-makers in higher education and academics and educationists representing the humanities and social sciences departments, at state universities, a key figure in the higher education establishment claimed that the students who come to the humanities and social sciences faculties were ‘late-developers’. What better (or should I say worse?) indication of the official attitude towards those of us in the humanities and the social sciences!
While acknowledging that many of the key factors that have resulted in downgrading the humanities and social sciences disciplines are global by nature and are very much part of the neoliberal world order, which dominates the day, I wish to ask if we, the practitioners in the said fields, have done our part to counter the attack.
What the humanities and the social sciences engage with is essentially and self-consciously social. What these disciplines have to say has a direct bearing on the social dimension of human existence. It is near impossible to discuss phenomena in economics, political science, or sociology without having to reflect upon and use examples from what happens in our lives and around us. One cannot even begin to talk about teaching English as a second language without taking a look at her/his own experience learning English and the struggles that many people go through at different levels doing the same. One cannot talk about successful ways of teaching foreign languages without recognizing the need to incorporate an engagement with the cultural life of those languages at some level. No reading of an artwork—be it a novel, a movie, a painting, a sculpture, a poem, whatever—is possible without the reader at least subconsciously reflecting upon the broader context in which those artworks are set and also relating her own context or experience to what is being read. A legal scholar cannot read a legislation without paying attention to the social implications of the legislation and the dynamics of the community at whom that legislation is directed. The point is our own existence as social beings is right in the middle of what we engage with in such disciplines. To steal (and do so self-consciously) a term from the hard/natural sciences, society is essentially the ‘laboratory’ in which those in the humanities and social sciences conduct their work. There may be some areas of study within the humanities and social sciences which do not require an explicit engagement with our social existence, but I would say that such areas, if any, are limited in number.
Needless to say that every social intervention is political in nature. It involves unsettling what appears to be normal about our social existence in some way. One cannot make interventions that have a lasting impact without muddying the water which we have been made to believe is clear. How much of muddying do we as practitioners in the field of humanities and social sciences do is a question that needs to be asked.
Unfortunately, we do not see much work in the humanities and social sciences which unsettles the dominant order. What we often see is work that reinforces and reaffirms the dominant structures, systems, and lines of thought. Lack of rigorous academic training and exposure to critical theory is clearly one of the factors which prevents some scholars in the field from being able to make interventions that are capable of muddying the water, but the fact that we sometimes do not see much muddying even on the part of the more adept scholars shows that lack of rigorous training is not the sole reason.
Muddying the water is no simple matter. To use a problematic, yet in my view useful, analogy, a scholar in the said field trying to make an intervention that results in unsettling the order is like a hydrogen atom in H2O, ‘water’ in layperson’s language, trying to make an intervention which results in a re-evaluation of the oxygen atom. Such an intervention invariably entails a re-evaluation of the hydrogen atom as well, for the reason that the two atoms are part of an organic whole. One cannot be purely objective in its reading of the other. Such an intervention is bound to be as unsettling for the hydrogen atom as it is for the oxygen atom. Similarly, in a majority of contexts, a scholar in the area of the humanities and social sciences cannot make an intervention, the kind that pushes the boundaries of knowledge, without unsettling the dominant structures and value systems, which they themselves are part of, live by, and also benefit from. For instance, the norms, values, and practices which define the idea of marriage in contexts like ours are things that a male scholar would have to deal with as a member of our society, and any intervention on his part which raises questions about gender-based inequalities embodied in such norms, values, and practices would be to question his own privilege. Needless to say that such an intervention could result in an existential crisis for the scholar, at least temporarily. Such interventions also entail the possibility of backlash from society. One needs thorough training to withstand that pressure.
In place of interventions that unsettle the existing order, what we often see is work, which re-presents commonsensical knowledge garbed in jargon. To give an example from an area that I am a bit familiar with, much of the work that takes place in the field of English as a Second Language (ESL) identifies lack of motivation on the part of the students and also teachers and also lack of proper training for teachers as the primary reasons for the plight of English education in the country. This reading is not very different from a layperson’s understanding of the problem, and what we often see as research findings in the field of ESL is the same understanding, albeit dressed up in technical-sounding language. Such readings do not unsettle the existing order. They put the blame on the powerless. Very limited is the work that sees the present plight of English education as a systemic or structural problem. Reading that plight as a systemic problem requires us to re-evaluate the fundamental structures which govern our society, and such re-evaluation is unsettling is many ways. I argue that that is what is expected of scholarship in the ESL field, but unfortunately that is not what we see as coming out of the field.
If what gets produced as knowledge in the humanities and social sciences is jargonized commonsense, then the claim that such fields have nothing important to say is valid. If what a scholar in those fields has to say is not different to a layperson’s understanding of a given reality, the question whether there is any point in producing such scholars becomes valid.
In my view, the humanities and social sciences are in need of fundamental restructuring. This restructuring is not the kind which calls for the incorporation of a bit of soft skills here and a bit of soft skills there so that those who come out of those fields easily fit into predefined slots in society but the kind that results in the enhancement of the critical thinking capacity of the scholars. It is the kind of restructuring that would produce scholars who are capable of engaging in a political reading of the realities that define our existence in society and raise difficult questions about such existence, in other words, scholars who are capable of muddying the water.
(Maduranga Kalugampitiya is attached to Department of English, University of Peradeniya)
Kuppi is a politics and pedagogy happening on the margins of the lecture hall thatparodies, subverts, and simultaneously reaffirms social hierarchies.
Lingering world disorder and the UN’s role
Russia could very well be questioning the legitimacy of the UN system by currently challenging the right of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to arbitrate in the conflicting accusations of genocide brought against each other by it and Ukraine. Russia has countered Ukraine’s charge of genocide, occasioned by its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, by accusing the latter of perpetrating the same crime in the rebel region of Eastern Ukraine, which is seen as being within the Russian sphere of influence.
As is known, when Russia did not participate in a hearing sanctioned by the ICJ on the charge of genocide brought against it in March 2022, the ICJ called on Russia to halt the invasion forthwith. Russia, however, as reported in some sections of the international media, reacted by claiming that the ICJ has ‘no jurisdiction over the case since Ukraine’s request does not come within the scope of the Genocide Convention.’ The main sides to the Ukraine conflict are at present reportedly stating their positions in the ICJ with regard to the correctness of this claim.
Whereas, the law-abiding the world over would have expected the ICJ’s word to prevail in the Ukraine conflict, this does not seem to be the case. More precisely, it is the moral authority of the UN that is being questioned by Russia. Given this situation, the observer cannot be faulted for believing that Russia is ‘sticking to its guns’ of favouring a military solution in the Ukraine.
Considering the foregoing and the continuing lawlessness in other geographical regions, such as South-West Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa, the commentator is justified in taking the position that little or nothing has been gained by the world community by way of fostering international peace over the decades.
Most distressing is the UN’s seeming helplessness in the face of international disorder, bloodshed and war. The thorny questions from the 9/11 New York twin-tower terror attacks, for instance, are remaining with humanity.
One of the most dreaded questions is whether the UN Charter has been rendered a dead letter by the forces of lawlessness and those wielders of overwhelming military might who couldn’t care less for moral scruples. Those state actors who display these traits risk being seen as destruction-oriented subversives or terrorists who are impervious to civilizational values.
Commentators are right when they point to the need for UN reform. This is, in fact, long overdue. Of the original ‘Big Five’ who went on to constitute the permanent membership of the UN Security Council (UNSC) at the end of World War 11 and who oversaw the establishment of the UN, only the US and China retain major power status in the true sense of the phrase today.
The rest of the original heavyweights cannot be considered ‘spent forces’, but there are other powers of more recent origin who could easily vie for their positions. Some of these are India, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey and Indonesia. Inducting some of the latter into the UNSC could help constitute a more globally representative UNSC. That is, they will help put together an UNSC which is more faithfully reflective of the current global power distribution.
Theoretically, a more widely representative and inclusive UNSC could be a check against the arbitrary exercise of power by the more ambitious, expansionary and authoritarian members of the UNSC but a foremost challenge facing the UN is to induce such new members of the UNSC into representing the vital and legitimate interests of the ordinary publics within these states and internationally. Minus such representation of the world’s powerless UN reform could come to nought. In fact, this could be described as a prime challenge before the UN which could decide its enduring relevance.
Admittedly, the challenge is complex and defies easy resolution. Not all the countries that are seen as prospective UNSC members are democratic in orientation. That is, they would not be people-friendly or egalitarian. Most of them are governed by power elites that are part of what has been described as the ‘Transnational Capitalist Class’ and could be expected to be repressive and parasitic rather than caring or egalitarian. How then could they be expected to be committed to re-distributive justice within their countries, for example?
In the short and medium terms, the UN system could bring into being systems and institutions that could make it comparatively difficult for the power elites of the world to be parasitic, exploitive, self-serving and unconscionable. Strengthening and giving added teeth to systems that could prove effective against money-laundering and allied practices of self-aggrandizement is one way out.
Ironically, it is perhaps the UN that could lay the basis for and provide these mechanisms most effectively and non-obtrusively. It would need to work more with governments and publics on these fronts and lay the foundation for the necessary accountability procedures within states. It should prepare for the long haul.
In the longer term, it’s the coming into existence of democracy-conscious governments and ruling strata that must be sought. Here too the UN could play a significant role. Its numerous agencies could prove more proactive and dynamic in inculcating and teaching the core values of democracy to particularly poor and vulnerable populations that could fall prey to anti-democratic, parochial political forces that thrive on division and discord.
UN aid could be even directly tied to the establishment and strengthening of democratic institutions in particularly impoverished countries and regions. Thus will the basis be laid for younger leaders with a strong democratic vision and programmatic alternative for their countries. Hopefully, such issues would get some airing in the current UN General Assembly sessions.
Accordingly, the broad-basing of the UNSC is integral to UN reform but the progressive world cannot stop there. It would need to ensure the perpetuation of the UN system by helping to bring into being polities that would respect this cardinal international organization which has as its prime aim the fostering of world peace. Democracy-conscious populations are an urgent need and systems of education that advocate the core values of democracy need to be established and strengthened worldwide.
The coming into being of rivals to the current Western-dominated world order, such as the BRICS bloc, needs to be welcomed but unless they are people-friendly and egalitarian little good will be achieved. Besides, undermining the UN and its central institutions would prove utterly counter-productive.
Country Roads …concert for children
I’ve always wondered why those who have hit the big time in their profession, as singers, have not cared to reach out to the needy.
They generally glorify themselves, especially on social media, not only with their achievements, but also with their outfits, etc. – all status symbols.
I’m still to see some of the big names grouping together to help the thousands who are suffering, at this point in time – children, especially.
However, I need to commend the Country Music Foundation of Sri Lanka for tirelessly working to bring some relief, and happiness, to children, in this part of the world.
Country Roads is said to be Sri Lanka’s and South Asia’s longest running charity concert for children, and this year, they say, the show will be even better.
This concert has consistently donated 100% of its proceeds to children’s charities in Sri Lanka. Over the past 35 years, this has resulted in several million rupees worth of aid, all of which has contributed directly to addressing the most pressing issues faced by children in Sri Lanka, a common practice since the concert’s first edition was held in 1988.
In 2014, the concert contributed Rs. 500,000 to Save the Children Sri Lanka, to support its mother-and-child programme for local plantations. During the same year, another Rs. 100,000 was given to the Oxonian Heart Foundation, to help treat impoverished and destitute children suﬀering from heart disease, while a further Rs. 100,000 was donated to a poor family caring for a special needs child. In commemoration of its landmark 25th anniversary concert in 2013, CMF donated a million rupees to aid in a special UNICEF project.
The 2023 musical extravaganza will feature the bright lights and panoramic cityscape of Colombo, as its backdrop, as it will be held at the picturesque Virticle by Jetwing, which is situated high above the city, on the 30th ﬂoor of the Access Towers building, in Union Place, Colombo 2.
The 35th anniversary Country Roads concert for children will take place on Saturday, 7th October, 2023.
Feizal Samath, President of the Country Music Foundation (CMF), the concert organisers, commented: “We are very much looking forward to this event as it’s being held after a lapse of five years, due to unavoidable circumstances.”
Fan favourites the Mavericks from Germany and Astrid Brook from the UK will once again return to headline the 2023 concert, and joining them on stage will be local outfit Cosmic Rays, as well as the Country Revival Band, with Feizal and Jury.
Dirk (from the Mavericks) has this to say to his Sri Lankan fans: “2018 was the last time we were in your beautiful country with the Mavericks band. Then Corona came and with it a long break. I missed you very much during this time.
“It has now been five years since my last visit to Sri Lanka. A lot has changed. The sponsorship that has always made this trip possible for us is gone. But we didn’t just want to end this tradition, which we have learned to love so much since 1992. That’s why we’re travelling to Sri Lanka this year entirely at our own expense, because it’s an affair of the heart for us.
“We very much hope that it won’t be the last Maverick performance in Sri Lanka. We hope that this unique journey will continue, that there will also be a Country Roads concert in the years to come.”
The 35th anniversary edition of the Country Roads concert for children will be supported by Official Venue Virticle by Jetwing, and Official Airline SriLankan Airlines, as well as its other partners, Jetwing Colombo Seven, Cargills, LOLC, and Fireﬂy.
Tickets are currently available, for a charitable donation of Rs 2,000 each, at Cargills Food City outlets at Kirulapone, Kohuwela (Bernards), Majestic City, Mount Lavinia (junction) and Staples Street.
Healthy, Glowing Skin
Give your skin a boost by including the following into your diet:
Avocados contain healthy fats which can help your skin stay moisturised and firm.
They also contain vitamin C and E – two important nutrients that your body need to support healthy skin and fight free radical formation.
Avocados are also rich in biotin, a B vitamin that some nutritionists believe can help promote healthy skin and hair. A deficiency of biotin can lead to skin problems, such as rashes, ache, psoriasis, dermatitis and overall itchiness.
Carrots are rich in vitamin A, which fights against sunburns, cell death, and wrinkles. Vitamin A also adds a healthy, warm glow to your skin.
You can get vitamin A by consuming provitamin A through fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. Your body then converts beta-carotene into vitamin A to protect your skin from the sun.
Provitamin A can also be found in oranges, spinach, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, bell peppers, broccoli and more.
* Dark Chocolate:
Dark chocolate is beneficial for your skin because cocoa powder boasts a bunch of antioxidants. These antioxidants hydrate and smoothen your skin, making your skin less sensitive to sunburn and improves the blood flow of your skin. Make a healthy choice by opting for a bar of dark chocolate with 70% cocoa for more antioxidants and lesser added sugar.
* Green Tea:
Green tea has been said to protect the skin against external stressors and ageing. This is because it is antioxidant-rich and contains catechins that protect your skin, reduce redness, increase hydration, and improve elasticity.
A diet rich in antioxidants along with adequate hydration may even out your skin texture, strengthen your skin barrier and improve your overall skin health.
Avoid adding milk to green tea as the combination can reduce the effects of the antioxidants present in green tea.
Additional tips for healthy skin…
Don’t forget to stay hydrated because water plays a big part in the appearance of your skin. Water ensures your skin has enough moisture, which reduces the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. It also helps with nutrient absorption, removal of toxins and blood circulation.
Besides food and water, it is important to observe proper hygiene. This means no touching your face until you’ve washed your hands. Your hands carry more bacteria than you think and the occasional touch here and there can add up. After a long day out, cleanse your face thoroughly.
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