Social Climate

Sociologists crowd into Argentina

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BUENOS AIRES, Aug. 2, 2012. There are six Filipinos here for the gigantic Second Forum of Sociology of the International Sociological Association (ISA), among over 3,600 participants from 88 countries. The forum, with the theme “Social justice and democratization,” is being held at the University of Buenos Aires, which, according to ISA president Michael Buraway, is a public university like all Argentine universities, with open admission, free tuition, and administrators chosen by election.

The program, chosen by ISA’s 55 research committees and several working groups and thematic groups, has 775 separate sessions, each with about four papers for presentation within an hour and a half.  Virtually everyone has a paper, since coauthorship is common.

Here for the forum are Ateneo de Manila sociology professors Emma Porio (her paper is “Climate change adaptation and structures of power in community interventions”) and Czarina Saloma-Akpedonu (“The world of our models: making traffic simulation models work as problem-solving devices”), SWS economist Linda Luz Guerrero (“The relation of unhappiness and life-dissatisfaction to poverty and hunger in the Philippines over time”; my coauthor), and young sociologists Lou Antolihao (“Development of the margins and the margins of development: tourism and local livelihood system in southern Philippines) and Enrique Niño Leviste (“Politics and population policy in the Philippines: a Gramscian analysis”), from Kyoto University and the National Institute of Education of Singapore, respectively.

SWS’ direct interest in ISA meetings is in Research Committee 55, named “Social Indicators.” Social indicators are what the Social Weather Surveys generate. (I directed the Development Academy of the Philippines’ social indicators project of 1974-75, that resulted in the 1976 book “Measuring Philippine Development.”  I first attended RC55 sessions at the 1993 ISA world congress in Bielefeld, Germany, and discovered that I was the only Filipino in the entire congress.)

The sessions of RC55 are a mini-conference in itself. In Buenos Aires, they cover monitoring of social progress, social indicators data bases, methodological issues, assessing quality of life (QOL), human relations as part of well-being, migration and QOL, world suffering (the session that includes the SWS paper), subjective well-being and public policies, objective living conditions, poverty and social status, and inequality in QOL.  To conveniently obtain data for the European system of social indicators, go to www.gesis.org/simon.  To get data from the East Asian Social Surveys, go to www.eassda.org. Unfortunately, the Asean countries have no counterpart data base yet.

Sociologists tend to be equally comfortable with subjective and objective indicators of well-being. The SWS item on household heads rating their families mahirap (poor) is akin to the European item on those “living comfortably on their present household income”—the subjectivity is of those interviewed, not of those who interview them.

It seems to me that, among social scientists, sociologists are seen as “the good guys,” whose outright mission is to serve the poor, whereas economists are “the bad guys,” whose preoccupation with economic growth (now modified as “inclusive”) actually results in serving the rich.  So it is a compliment to be mistaken for a sociologist once in a while.

(In Argentina, where the per capita gross domestic product is $9,400, the poor are 6.8 percent of households, or 9.9 percent of the population, according to official statistics of 2010. But economic inequality is very wide.)

Other attractions. There is much more to Buenos Aires than academia, and hence my better half Thetis took some leave from her UN post to be here, too. From the hop-on hop-off bus, and on foot, one sees the sights of this capital city that two years ago marked 200 years of Argentine independence from Spain: the many coffee shops and restaurants for taking lessons and/or dancing and/or watching professional shows of tango; the artistically decorated stadia of this football-crazy nation; the great opera house teatro colon; the casa rosada or presidential office, from which Evita Peron made speeches to the people; the non olvidamos and other protest banners perennially at the Plaza de Mayo; currently, the uncollected trash due to a garbage workers’ protest about layoffs; and the many beautiful churches, including the Jesuits’ San Ignacio, on his feast day last Tuesday.

Reproductive health. Three out of four are Roman Catholic in this country of 42 million, mainly descendants of European immigrants. The population grows at a benign 1.0 percent per year.

Comprehensive sex education is mandatory in school. By law, a spectrum of modern contraceptive methods is provided free through the public health system. Older adolescents may have access to the medical care they need, without parental authorization.

Divorce has been legal since 1987.

Abortion is legal for women or girls whose life or health is threatened by pregnancy, or when the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.  In March 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that all rape victims are entitled to legal abortions.

In 2010, President Christina Fernandez de Kirchner took on the Catholic Church to make Argentina the first country in Latin America to recognize same-sex marriage.

On matters of regulating personal behavior related to sex, the Vatican seems to be digging in for a last stand in the Philippines.

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Contact SWS: www.sws.org.ph or mahar.mangahas@sws.org.ph.

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