Monday, July 14, 2014

Perspectives on the Belizean Status Quo: A commentary on “Stasis in Belize”

During my study of Belizean history at the University of Belize, we often talked about “why are things the way they are? And how can we make a change?

In our history sessions, Professor Iyo would often make reference to “stasis” as a way of understanding the Belizean status quo (i.e. the existing state of affairs). As his students, he would recommend that we read his co-authored paper with Michael Rosberg entitled: “Theoretical Perspectives on the Stasis of Class Relations in the Caribbean: the Belize Case Study”.

I recall that Prof. Iyo would employ two analogies to introduce us to the concept of stasis. He once drew a spiral on the board. A spiral he would remark is a gradually progressing curve which emanates from a central point. For the spiral to take shape, it encircles the path of its previous inscription. Therefore, the spiral has a directional flow but it is non-linear, gradual and apparently redundant.

The second analogy, he often used, was comparing stasis to the movement of the earth. The earth sits on an axis. It gradually spins, completing its axial rotation and revolution, only to do so again and again. 

Like the earth and the spiral, the Belizean society has been moving (changing) but has been constrained by an axial positioning which is theorized as the economic mode/relations of production (e.g. slavery; relationship between ‘master and slave’ or capitalism; relationship between employer and employees).

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, stasis is “a state of static balance or equilibrium; a state or period of stability during which little or no evolutionary change in a lineage occurs”.

As a theoretical construct, stasis is an approach to understanding why there has been little or no change to benefit the masses. It allows us to conceptualize “why the more things change – the more they remain the same”. 

Stasis then is both a description of a complex and changing social formation (society) and also a specific approach of analyzing the formation (by analyzing historical periods, party politics, education system, etc.).  

The thesis put forth is that both social structures (e.g. legal, educational, religious, political, economic institutions) and social actors (e.g. Belizeans participation in ‘Wednesday Clinic’, support of the PUP/UDP, participation in PUP/UDP rhetoric) contribute to stasis, where the mode of production (e.g. slavery, capitalism) plays a crucial role.

‘Stasis’ is informed by the theoretical perspectives of functionalism (E. Durkheim) and conflict theory (K. Marx). The functionalist perspective holds that each social sphere (religious, education, symbolic, cultural, etc.) exists in a formation  (society) to contribute to social cohesion and stability. Durkheim is said to have made the analogy that society is an organism. In this line of reasoning, society is the creation of something that is beyond the individual. Indeed, religion, language, party politics, and cultural forms, all exist prior to our individual existence. We enter (i.e. are born or migrate in) a society where the division of party politics, ethnic stereotypes, religious denominationalism, political victimization, clientelism, etc., exists as ‘social facts’ (taken for granted norms). It is suggested that through the process of ‘socialization’ we come to accept and re-enact these social facts.  


In the conflict perspective, there is the belief that a social formation (society) is fundamentally structured by the mode of production (e.g. enslavement, wage-labor, service-labor). In this scenario, the previously listed ‘social facts’ are treated as ideologies which facilitate a notion of ‘false consciousness’ that limits the masses from openly observing their economic oppression (e.g. education limits critical thinking, party politics discourages unity, religion discourages political activism). It is hypothesized that not until the masses become conscious of their exploitation will there be the possibility of change. The masses must gain control of the means of production (land and industries) to alter the mode of production which would lead to changes in the superstructure. (Note: This is a classical interpretation of Marxism, which does not reflect the depth of Marx’s writings. Additionally, religion, education, like other ideologies/philosophical domains can become forces of resistance). 

It is argued that the formation of modern Belize has been the result of various socio-political hegemonic impositions, resistances, and changes which have occurred in the periods of slavery, post-slavery colonialism, and post-colonialism. This includes the introduction, resistance, and abolition of slavery; population growth; migratory movements; establishment and resistance to colonial governance; wage labor resistances; the formation of self-government; the institutionalization of education; and the expansion of capitalist practices and institutions, among many others. 

The dominant political parties in Belize (the PUP &UDP) both enunciate that their respective parties are the solution to Belizean status quo (i.e. the solution to stasis). They persuasively propagate that the current status quo is due to the mismanagement of either the previous or current government in power, depending on which casts the blame on the other.

In the past decades, there has been increased poverty, unemployment, and limited opportunities to land, higher education, and health-care for most of the population. This has contributed to consequential effects such as the high rates of crime, low economic productivity, and an increasingly higher cost of living. And despite the fact that both parties have failed to change the status quo, there remains a high-support for these political parties. These are fundamental contradictions of contemporary Belize.

The persistence of social inequality and the lack of social change is said to be the result of an underlining mode of production which has remained concentrated in the hands of a few. In each historical period (slavery, post-colonial slavery, and post-colonialism), it is said that only the ‘names’ have changed while the has ‘game’ remained the same. Using the analogy of the earth, the axis on which Belize rotates has been the mode of production which privileged the colonial elites and the emergent upper class since independence.

But why do significant inequalities persist? It is argued that resistances have only occurred when Belizeans gained consciousness of the unequal opportunities given to them. It is asserted that the masses and the elites are currently gaining sufficient advantages which “prevent either side [from] opting for change”.

On the one hand, there is the claim that institutions in Belize are conditioning social actors (Belizeans) in such ways which prevent them from challenging the social order. This is the functionalist perspective of their approach. Religion, education, colonial legacies, party politics, and clientelism, among others, are institutions which encourage collective or normative behaviors which keep the elite in power.
  
On the other hand, there is the claim that social actors are purposively gaining sufficient benefits in the present state of affairs.  For example, Belizeans are said to be satisfied with the patronage (monies) given to them to support the PUP/UDP.  There are “powerful and immediate incentives and constraints which make it more logical to resist change than embrace it” both for the masses and elites. In this line of reasoning, the individual is viewed as a rational being who calculates that it is better to accept the social inequalities versus resisting or that it is better to join the elites versus fighting against them (if possible, e.g. the support of the media, civil servants, professionals of the PUDP).

Stasis is a viable and insightful socio-historical tool to conceptualize the Belizean experience. It provides an illustrative and analytic account of the role of historical factors and ongoing social actions of Belizeans in the production and reproduction of social-inequality.

However, it offered little analysis on the ways in which ‘stasis’ can be disrupted or transformed. The possibilities of change were ultimately conceived in a classical Marxist fashion: it is not until there are severe economic conditions that Belizeans will advocate for change. While the authors did recognize that harsh economic conditions do not necessarily cause a resistance, it was the common argument for future possibilities of change in Belize.

But why should we wait for economic conditions to become worst? If society is the creation of human actions, why shall we assume that things will get better in the long run? And why should we leave it to future generations to transform it? And what guarantee do we have that they will do so?

Future analysis of ‘stasis’ must involve an examination of the ‘identity’ of the Belizean elite and masses: Who are the Belizean elites? Are the elites a unified ‘class’? How does an individual become an elite? Are the masses a unified ‘underclass’ submerged in ‘false consciousness’? Are there any current ideologies (nationalism, multiculturalism, communism, human rights), which can be re-articulated to mobilize Belizeans? What alliances can be made between academics and activists? These are some of the questions we may begin to ask to further the perspective of ‘stasis’ and stimulate a project of political re-thinking and activism in Belize.

Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it. – Karl Marx. 

References:

Iyo, Joseph and Rosberg, Michel. (2002). Theoretical Perspectives on the stasis of class relations in the Caribbean: the Belizean case study. The Belize Country Conference. UWI. Retrieved July 10, 2014, from http://www.open.uwi.edu/sites/default/files/bnccde/belize/conference/paperdex.html

Stasis. (n.d.). Retrieved July 10, 2014, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/stasis

2 comments:

  1. Bro Rolando, The theoretical perspective is well and good for academic exercise but i would strongly suggest that if you want a raw understanding of the making/creation of the "buffer class" in places like Belize, then the reading and studying of Dr Walter Rodney powerful and timeless book "How Europe underdeveloped Africa" is the place to start.

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    1. You are right - Rodney's thesis, like that of Fanon, provides an excellent global conceptual framework of the formation of colonial societies and why it's conditions persisted after independence.

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