On the power of words

In one of my book reviews, I have argued that ‘words are powerful tools’ (Go 2014, 117). This is under the presumption that the meanings surrounding every word we utter have an impact both from the speaker, the source of the word and meaning, and the receiver, who in turn tries to make sense of what meaning was made. Of course, we do not really ponder so much everyday normal conversations. There is an assumed language game that both parties subscribe to and, therefore, have a common understanding of words and meanings.

The power of words, however, does not only belong to the speaker, but also to the receiver. The speaker may impose a meaning on a word. And yet, the receiver can create a new meaning different from that of the speaker. The difference I am talking about here is not binary difference. There could be an intersection of meanings, but there is a significant twist or alteration that meaningfully changes the meaning or at least the essence of it. Let me cite some examples.

Instik. Instik has a negative and derogatory connotation. When used, it usually demeans a person who happened to have a Chinese ancestry or ethnicity. Instik, as scholars Hau (2014) and Tan (2007-2013) noted in their works, can be traced to the phrase: ‘Instik viejo, tulo laway’. This refers to the hardworking Chinese migrants in the Philippines, who in their sleep fails to notice their saliva spilling from their mouths. Instik, which originally refers to an uncle or elderly man, has morphed into a term of insult and humiliation.

Bakla. Bakla does not necessarily have a negative meaning, but some people use it in insulting people, usually gay men or males who may have homosexual tendencies. However, bakla is supposed to mean a positive impression, not an insult. According to the UP Diksiyunaryong Filipino, bakla means ‘pagkabighani sa anumang maganda, at lalo pa, bago sa paningin’ (2001, 79). On how the term was used to refer to homosexuals, I am not aware. Another entry in the dictionary already appropriates the word bakla (with a different accent/stress) to its current usage. I am sure there is academic literature available to explain the change in meaning.

Reclaiming and re-appropriation of words and their meanings are usually the courses of action in these cases. If the receivers will take the use of these words differently, i.e., different from the intent of the speaker, and take them positively, then the meaning would change. Instead of being offended by instik or bakla, what the receivers can do is to reclaim the term and alter its meaning. This is a reassertion of power on the part of the receiver. In the case of instik, Chinese should not take offense, but instead reclaim the use of the word. In the first place, it was used to refer to hardworking Chinese migrants. Likewise, bakla can be taken positively. Its original meaning should overpower its current meaning. To be called bakla is to be rendered beautiful.

On the power of words

CSSP Trends presentation

Here is the presentation I gave during CSSP Trends: A Forum on Indigenization of SSP [pdf]. The presentation is entitled ‘Indigenisation of Political Science’. It should not be cited since information provided is limited. For questions, please send an email to jrgo1@up.edu.ph. Thank you.

CSSP Trends presentation


Almost everyone knows that my eyes are ‘graded’. I started wearing glasses when I was on my first year in college. I had periodically changed my glasses because their grades have appreciated very quickly. For one, studying requires loads of readings. Also, my exposure to computers has added to the entirety of the problem.

Yes, it was a problem. My mother was the one in-charge of the daily expenses and my father for my sisters’ tuition. They both study in privately-owned universities. That said, additional expenses like eyeglasses have to be included in a tight budget. Good thing there were cheap eyeglasses available in malls, though they do not seem to be aesthetically appealing.

A 600-peso pair of eyeglasses was the first I bought. It was on sale; thus, the cheap price. My mother also wears eyeglasses so she knows which ones to pick and buy. There is the cheaper reading glasses, but mine was corrective. So we really had to spend for it. Besides, I do not change mine every month.

I started working as a student assistant as early as my freshman year. I was already earning more than 1,000 pesos per month. I usually use my salary, albeit always delayed, to augment my 50-peso daily allowance. Whenever possible, I also buy second-hand books from a shop in the mall across my university. This is where I also get my funds for my eyeglasses.

Since I was already earning some money, I just tell my mother that I need to change glasses. When I feel week-long headaches, I had my eye checked. Of course, optical shops in malls would advise that I change glasses. One time, I took the frameless type. With regular price, it comes a bit expensive for a college student. Maybe it was by luck that I always catch sales or discounted prices. Within a week, it got broken during a PE session. I had to have it replaced asap. I asked my mother, a rare moment by then, for the replacement of my lenses. From then on I have resolved not to buy the same model until I finish college.

I think I have had over six pairs of glasses in the span of four years in college. In very few occasions did I ask my mother to buy my glasses for me. When I started working full time and earning enough money, I started buying quality, still cheap, glasses. I also made a promise to my mother: that I will buy her her glasses should they need replacement. For almost five years, I have done this for her.

This is my brief story about eyeglasses. Glasses are essential to me. In the kind of work I have, seeing clearly is a must. But there is meaning in every pair that I purchase for myself and for my mother.


Draft: POLSC 196 syllabus (Filipino)

Unibersidad ng Pilipinas
Kolehiyo ng Agham Panlipunan at Pilosopiya
Departamento ng Agham Pampulitika
Diliman, Lungsod Quezon

Agham Pampulitika 196: Mga Kaisipang Pulitikal sa Pilipinas
Ikalawang Semestre 2014-2015

Jan Robert R Go
Katuwang na Propesor

Ang Agham Pampulitika 196 (Mga Kaisipang Pulitikal sa Pilipinas) ay isang kurso tungkol sa kaisipang pulitikal at konstitusyunal ng mga piling Pilipinong bayani, akademiko, pulitiko, at manunulat. Magsisilbi ito bilang isang paglalagom ng mga ideya sa iba’t ibang yugto ng kasaysayang Pilipino mula sa pananakop ng España hanggang sa kontemporaryong panahon.

Ang kursong ito ay nasa ilalim ng Area V (Teorya at Metolohiyang Pulitikal). Tanging ang mga mag-aaral na nasa ika-apat na antas o may katayuang ‘Magtatapos’ ang pahihintulutang maging kabilang sa kursong ito. Gayundin, inaasahan na ang mga mag-aaral ay nakakuha na at pumasa sa Agham Pampulitika 11 at 14, at Agham Panlipunan 2. Bagama’t hindi opisyal na hinihingi, magandang may kaalaman na ang mag-aaral sa mga ideya, konsepto, at teoryang pulitikal. Kung wala ang mga nabanggit, maaaring humingi ng pahintulot sa guro upang matanggap sa kurso. Ang kurso ay may bigat na 3.00 yunits.

Mga Layunin ng Kurso

May taltong pangunahing layunin ang kursong ito. Ito ay ang mga sumusunod:

  1. Pagbibigay-kaalaman tungkol sa iba’t ibang kaisipang pulitikal sa Pilipinas batay sa mga likha at akda ng piling Pilipino sa iba’t ibang larangan tulad ng akademya, pulitika, at sining. Kasama na rin sa layuning ito ang pagpapatibay ng kakayahang maghambing (i.e. pagkakaiba at pagkakatulad) ng mga mag-aaral ng iba’t ibang kaisipan.
  2. Pagiging pamilyar sa mga katanungan na may kinalaman at/o tungkol sa larangan ng agham pampulitika sa Pilipinas. Layunin rin ng kurso na himukin ang mga mag-aaral na maging kritikal sa mga ideya, mapanuri sa mga teorya, at mapagtanong sa mga konseptong ibinabahagi sa mga babasahing likha at akda. Nais ng kurso na magtanong ang mga mag-aaral tungkol sa katuturan ng mga ideyang ihinahain sa kanila.
  3. Pagbubukas ng kamalayan upang mas mahusay na maipaliwanag kung papaano ang mga kaisipan at katanungang nabanggit ay makabuluhan sa mga institusyon, kilusan, at prosesong matatagpuan sa kasalukuyang lipunang Pilipino.

Mga Lapit sa Kurso

Ang kursong ito ay binuo gamit ang tatlong lapit (approaches) sa pag-aaral ng kaisipang pulitikal. Ito ay ang mga sumusunod:

  1. Ang unang lapit ay may kinalaman sa orihinal na akda (locus classicus) kung saan matatagpuan ang mga ideyang pulitikal. Sa pagbabasa natin ng mga orihinal na isinulat, mas makukuha natin ang nais na iparating ng mga may-akda.
  2. Ang ikalawang lapit ay may kinalaman sa mga interpretasyon at pagtingin ng ibang dalubhasa sa mga orihinal na akda. Sa ganitong paraan, nakikita natin kung papaano binibigyang-saysay ang mga ideyang inihahain sa mga akdang babasahin sa kurso. Ngunit, hindi ibig sabihin na kailangang sumang-ayon tayo sa kanilang interpretasyon o pagtingin.
  3. Ang ikatlo at huling lapit ay kaugnay sa ikatlong layunin ng kurso: ang paghahanap ng kabuluhan. Malaki ang bahaging gagampanan ng mga mag-aaral sa lapit na ito. Sa paraang ito maipapalabas ang kaugnayan ng mga ideyang binitiwan ng mga may-akda sa iba’t ibang panahon sa ating kasalukuyang pamumuhay. Dito, inaasahang maging bukas at kritikal ang mga mag-aaral sa pagsusuri ng mga ideya.

Ang Pagtatasa sa Kurso at mga Patakaran sa Pagmamarka

Ang mga mag-aaral ay mamarkahan batay sa kanilang aktibong pakikilahok sa talakayan at pagsusumite ng iba’t ibang rekisito para sa kursong ito. Tandaan lamang na hindi minamarkahan ang kabuuan ng kaalaman ng mga mag-aaral kundi ang mga isusumite para sa kurso. Ang mga sumusunod ang mga pangunahing batayan ng pagmamarka sa kursong ito, kasama ang paglalarawan sa kalikasan at bigat ng bawat rekisito:

Dalawang (2) mahabang pagsusulit o iuuwing sanaysay (40%)
Batay sa mapagkakasunduan ng mga mag-aaral, ang lahat ay kinakailangan kumuha o magsumite ng dalawang mahabang pagsusulit o iuuwing sanaysay. Ang bawat isa ay may bigat na dalawampung bahagdan (20%) o apat na pung bahagdan sa kabuuan (40%). Ang mga pagsusulit ay sa anyong sanaysay na tatasa sa lawak at lalim ng kaalaman ng bawat mag-aaral tungkol sa mga saklaw na paksa. Kung ang pipiliin naman ay iuuwing sanaysay, may isa o dalawang katanungan na dapat sagutin ang mga mag-aaral sa loob ng dalawampu’t apat na oras. Ang iba pang mga detalye ay ipaliliwanag sa klase ng guro.

Pinahabang sanaysay (20%)
Ang bawat isang mag-aaral ay kinakailangang magsumite ng isang pinahabang sanaysay sa pagtatapos ng kurso. Magbibigay ng isang tanong ang guro na magiging paksa ng sanaysay. Ang bawat sanaysay ay mayroon dapat hindi bababa sa 2500 ngunit hindi tataas sa 3000 salita. Ang katanungan para sa sanaysay at iba pang mga detalye ay ipaliliwanag sa klase ng guro. Ito ay mag bigat na dalawampung bahagdan.

Paglalahad ng Paksa (15%)
Bubuo ng hindi hihigit sa labinlimang pares ang mga mag-aaral. Ang bawat pares ay pipili ng isang may-akda/paksang ilalahad sa buong klase. Kasama sa paglalahad ay ang mga sumusunod: (1) maikling talambuhay ng may-akda, (2) tatlo hanggang limang mahahalagang kaisipan mula sa may-akda, at (3) pagsusuri sa mga kaisipang pinili. Ito ay dapat gawin sa loob ng 45 minuto. Ang nalalabing oras ay gagamitin sa talakayan. Maaaring magbigay ng buod ng paglalahad na ipamamahagi sa mga kamag-aral. Hindi kinakailangang umasa sa mga kagamitang elektroniko sa paglalahad. Mas maganda kung magiging malikhain ang bawat pares. Ang pagpili ng paksa at iba pang mga detalye ay ipaliliwanag sa klase ng guro. Ito ay mag bigat na labinlimang bahagdan.

Malikhaing Proyekto (15%)
Dahil hindi madalas buksan ang kurso sa kaisipang pulitikal sa Pilipinas, iilan lamang ang may kaalaman tungkol dito. Upang mapalaganap ang kaalaman sa paksa ng kurso, ang mga mag-aaral ay maaaring bumuo ng dalawa hanggang tatlong pangkat na gagawa ng isang proyekto. Kung mapagkaisahan na buong klase ang gagawa ng isang proyekto, ito ay maaari rin. Ang proyekto ay maaaring eksibit, poster, talakayan, blog, page, o kung anumang mapagkasunduan ng mga pangkat o ng buong klase. Ang iba pang mga detalye ay ipaliliwanag sa klase ng guro. Ito ay mag bigat na labinlimang bahagdan.

Pakikilahok sa Talakayan (10%)
Ang bawat mag-aaral ay inaasahang makikilahok ng aktibo sa talakayan sa klase. Upang maging maganda ang daloy ng talakayan, inaasahang nagbasa ang bawat isa kahit hindi sila ang nakatalaga upang maglahad sa klase. Pagkatapos ng bawat paglalahad, ang guro ay mangangalap ng mga tanong na pag-uusapan ng lahat. Maaari ring magkaroon ng iba’t ibang uri ng ugnayan sa klase tulad ng debate, panayam, at iba pa. Hindi garantiya ang pagsasalita sa klase upang magkaroon ng puntos. Kailangang may laman at saysay ang mga sagot. Ito ay mag bigat na sampung bahagdan.

Draft: POLSC 196 syllabus (Filipino)

Sociunite Presentation

Here is the presentation I gave during SOCIOUNITE: A Critical Analysis of Philippine Economic Development [pdf]. The paper is entitled ‘The Politics of Institutions: The State, Economic Development, and Local Governments’. It should not be cited since information provided is limited. For question, please send an email to jrgo1@up.edu.ph. Thank you.

Sociunite Presentation

PSPA 2014 Presentation

Here is the presentation I gave during the 2014 Philippine Society of Public Administration International Conference [pdf]. The paper is entitled ‘Political Leadership and Education Governance at the Municipal Level’. It should not be cited since information provided is limited. For question, please send an email to jrgo1@up.edu.ph. However I cannot promise I will provide the full paper. It is for submission to a peer-reviewed journal. Thank you.

PSPA 2014 Presentation

State and Civil Society Relations: Approaches and Party Politics

In the analysis of state and civil society relations, three theoretical approaches can be used: pluralism, elitism and Marxism. In this essay, I will discuss the development of each approach, identify its strengths and weaknesses and look at party politics using these approaches.

Pluralism. Political scientists like Robert Dahl argued that in order for a state to be democratic, it must be, or at least be, a pluralist state. Pluralism can be considered as a reaction to an all-powerful monarch, resembling that of the crown in England. Pluralism holds that there is no single entity, institution or group who may have a monopoly of authoritative power within the state (Kourvetaris; Hay). With demonopolisation of power as its central theme, pluralism encourages the participation and involvement of the members of the civil society. In a sense, each group or collectivity is empowered and has a voice in the decision-making process of the state. The state, in a pluralistic society, is reduced to the position of an agent that unites the collectivities and groupings within the society. In terms of ideology, the state does not have a distinct and single ideology. There is a plethora of ideologies in the society following the high regard in groups and collectivities.

However, as pointed out in Hay, most scholars have confused pluralism with plurality. A mere plurality of groups in the society does not constitute a pluralistic society. Pluralism emphasises the need for these organisations not to simply exist, but also have the power to influence the decision-making process in the state.

Also, in this situation, the state becomes one of the many groups in the society. This criticism of pluralism suggests that there might be no actual interaction between the state and civil society because, in this case, the civil society is the most dominant force.

In terms of party politics, pluralism may be able to help explain and analyse the rise of many political parties. More political parties, those in its real essence, would mean greater opportunity for people to engage in competition for political authority (in the Weberian, legal-rational sense). If they fail to win a political contest, losing parties may still be useful to the society by serving as an opposition group to the existing government, thereby strengthening the democratic nature of the state.

However, caution must be placed with this kind of view. As raised above, mere plurality may not necessarily constitute pluralism. For example, the instant rise of political parties in the Philippines may not necessarily mean that pluralism exists. Following the adoption and implementation of the party-list system, various formations have emerged, mushroomed from the void. The number of parties present does not mean all of them share in the political power within the state. They may not even participate in the policy formulation process after elections.

Elitism. There are several elite theories, both conservative like Mosca and Pareto and radical like Michels and Mills (Kourvetaris). According to Pareto, in a society, there are two classes: the elites and the non-elites. Among the elites, there are governing and non-governing elites. In this sense, Pareto is admitting the fact that in the society there is a stratification between those who are elites and the masses, and within elites, a governing and non-governing class. For Mosca, following Pareto, there exist in the society two classes: the ruling class and the ruled. However, he said that in between, there is a middle-level class of sub-elites composed of technocrats, civil servants and the like who assist the elites in the performance of their function. These two elite theorists were conservative in the sense that they simply explained that elitism exists and is acceptable. In fact, it was said that elites are circulating and history is a graveyard of aristocracies.

Radical elite theorists Michels and Mills did not deviate from the observations of Pareto and Mosca, but instead clarified and elaborated the concept of the elite. According to Michels, there is always within an organisation a smaller group of people who will lead and serve according to their self-interests. His famous iron law of oligarchy was based on his study of the German socialist party. He said that even in the most democratic organisation like a socialist party, there exists an oligarchy, a group of elites.

Mills on the other hand identified a triumvirate of elites in his book on the power elite. He said that the American government is controlled by a group of elites, a network of families and friends. They control three institutions namely, the government, the military and the economy. Power in the state rests on these networks of families and friends.

Generally, elite theorists agree that power in the state is in the hands of few people, whether it is an oligarchy or aristocracy. Power is centred on the state particularly the elites running it.

In terms of state-civil society relations, it is hardly thinkable that there is significant influence from the group and collectivities outside the institutions of the state and the elites. If pluralism does not subscribe to monopolisation of power, in elite theories, it is apparent that power, in government, military and economy, are controlled by a single class, the ruling or the elite class.

Conventional parties could be considered elite parties. Prior to a general franchise in the election of public officials, it was limited to those will the ability to live a modest life. Political parties then are composed of elites, and perhaps until today. There might be some modifications or changes due to upward mobility and the enlargement of a middle class, but the fact still remains that there is an elite group within among the members or the members themselves.

Another thing to consider is the similarity of parties and the non-differentiated ideology, platform and programmes. As raised by Lande in the Philippine case, political parties are same species of different name and colour but essentially of the same kind. This is due to the elite membership. Also, one will have to consider the widely practised party switching as indicators of the above observation.

In this regard party politics is exclusivist in an elitist viewpoint considering that members are circulating, belonging to a single network of families and friends, pursuing the self-interest and are separated from the masses and civil society groups.

Marxism. Marxism could be viewed as the reversal of the elitist theories. Marxist theories find its origins from Marx himself, Lenin and other Marxist leaders. But the most theoretical foundation was laid by Antonio Gramsci.

Marxist theories also identified the existence of two classes in the society: the bourgeois class, which is the ruling class and the proletariats, the ruled class. But unlike the elitist theories, Marxist theories view the state as an instrument of the bourgeois to dominate the society. Marxism provides a view that there is an ongoing struggle between these two forces/classes.

Given this notion, power in the state is monopolised by the bourgeois class, in order to achieve its goal of dominating the society. In terms of ideology, the Marxist model, ironically, pushes for a change in the status quo, i.e. a change in the form of government towards a more socialist set-up. This is why Hay in his chapter on Marxism in the volume “The State” asks for the need to have a Marxist theory of the state.

Interaction-wise, there is a constant interaction between the state and the civil society since the two have a struggle for power. The former is composed of the bourgeois; the latter, the working class.

Since political parties are dominated by the elite, the Marxist model views this as an instrument of domination. But in some cases, there are communist parties of Marxist orientation who engage in political exercises like election and compete for seats in parliaments. In this setup, there exist the continuing struggle for power between the ruling and the ruled class.

The three major perspectives in analysing the state and civil society relations are varied at best. However, we can point to particular similarities or points of convergence. We can also notice the opposite nature of elitism and Marxism theory thereby serving as the critique of each other. Pluralism, on the other hand, did not focus on the class but on the groupings within the society.

Party politics is vibrant and dynamic as viewed using the mentioned approaches. However, each approach places caution in terms of multitude and multiplicity in pluralism, defects of the party system in the elite model and the never-ending struggle for power in Marxism.

State and Civil Society Relations: Approaches and Party Politics