Vice-Chancellor of the University of Pentecost, Professor Kwabena Agyapong-Kodua in his academic regalia designed by CDM Fashion Couture for his investiture
It has been noted that the interface between scientific theories and ideologies often creates anxieties and dissatisfaction in public discourse and could be described as an enigma. For example, Larry Kreuger and Lawrence Neuman (2006) in the academic textbook “Social Work Research Methods” for qualitative and quantitative applications, published by PEARSON Educational Inc, acknowledge that “most people find the relationship between social science theory and controversial and confusing political socio-ideology”.
This acknowledgment of controversy and confusion, as identified by Kreuger and Neuman, is normally pervasive in the mass media and is thought to be often perpetuated by people outside the scientific community, pushing for what one could call an animated program.
Here, the reference to fraternities outside the scientific community suggests that people who benefit from scientific training and research, whether inside or outside academia, are expected to act with caution, to so to speak, do not meddle in what could be described as ideological propagation in an academic environment.
Indeed, Kreuger and Neuman insist that “controversies arise because the scientific community recognizes theories as essential for clarifying and constructing scientific knowledge, while condemning ideology as an illegitimate obfuscation contrary to science” .
If this postulated view of Kreuger and Neuman is to be accepted as valid, then it seems fair to ask the question posed here, whether it is ethical for our campuses to discern in the practice of active partisan politics, to the point of potentially propagate socio-political ideologies on campuses.
Here, the hypothesis is that the propagation of socio-political ideologies can be caused to the detriment of the defense of commitments in the advancement of scientific theories. Indeed, I don’t claim to have an answer on what the situation really is, so I can only guess at this point.
Nevertheless, I think that from the point of view of academic philosophy and research, the discourse deserves to be questioned, however controversial and sensitive it may be. However, let’s first talk about what is politics and/or what is socio-political ideology about?
Brain Holland (2015) in an article titled, Typologies of National Urban Policy: A Theoretical Analysis thus points to Harold Lasswell’s definition of policy; politics is “who gets what, when and where”.
Linked to urban politics, Brain Holland further argues that the question of who gets what, when and where is linked to the “concept of society and the concept of space, place and geography”.
This, it is argued, is at the heart of analyzing political behavior and understanding what motivates politicians and partisan supporters to seek control of resources, whether from a logical or illogical point of view. This is also why the stakes are always high in defending socio-political activities, because ultimately this will be the path for some to win and others to lose, rightly or wrongly.
However, the democracy which is the way to engage in real politics as we have come to understand it is insofar as, by democratic means, there should be many attempts at equal representation and distribution of socio-economic resources and also in access to opportunities on all fronts.
This notion of striving to achieve equality and equity is important because it is indeed at the heart of democratic institutions and cannot be underestimated. This is why I believe that civil society and interest groups have become major players in the political arena, including in academia. However, as is also known, wherever there are competing interest groups, disagreements, conflicts and the maintenance of entrenched positions cannot be avoided, because human beings are by nature social beings, who form groups based on shared interests and needs.
This intention of common interest is what often generates ideological positions in politics and related fields. In the end, this produces competition and the search for control over resources. Since interest groups will always be part of socio-political activities, the question that can be asked is: should the academic community also join in the chorus, because it is supposed to be so?
This would arguably be a point of contention, because as the arguments above have observed, an academic environment is supposed to thrive on the weight of scientific research/theory evidence and not on socio-political ideologies.
This is probably the reason why academic freedom is also guaranteed in the Ivory Tower as provided for in clause 21(1b) of the constitution of Ghana. However, with active partisan politics now apparently common on our campuses, should we just pretend that all is normal given that the interface between scientific theories and socio-political ideologies has the potential to undermine the academic freedom so guaranteed, if not now , maybe in the near future?
As stated by Kreuger and Neuman; “theories and ideologies tend to propose hypotheses to understand the world around us”. However, there are also differences in many respects. For example, “Theory is neutral and constantly changing while ideology is fixed.
Theory is based on scientific rigor while ideology is rooted in belief. Again, theory aligns with opposing views while ideology does not hold opposing views. Ideology is also very partial and often locked into a specific moral belief. Indeed, anyone who clings to an ideological position is unlikely to change their position, even when the opposing evidence may be overwhelming.
In other words, if the ideology is fixed and rooted in beliefs, there is always the possibility that it will conflict with established theoretical positions. If so, it could pose a threat to advancing scientific rigor and the arguments suggested in the literature.
While the academic environment is expected to strive to be neutral and scientifically sound, the proliferation of sociopolitical ideologies has the potential to cloud the principles of advancing academic excellence based on solid theoretical paradigms. It is true that scientific theories can sometimes also be drowned in contradictions.
Where such contradictions exist, scientists always do their utmost to examine and resolve them. The science is logical and often consistent. However, when there are contradictions in socio-political ideologies, the tendency is for competing interests to remain strongly blind to opposing viewpoints.
Obviously, the same constitution that guarantees academic freedom also guarantees freedom of association, including membership in political parties. I must therefore once again clarify my position that this speech is not about proposals to restrict political activity on campuses. Rather, it is about engaging in intellectual introspection of what the potential implication might be, judging by the limitations of ideologies as espoused in the literature.
Could it be that the current open display of active partisan political activity on campuses inhibits opportunities for progressive intellectual discourse, for which logical theoretical reasoning can be compromised for political gain? Undeniably, a lot can be tied to the status quo in how public discourse is shaped in the country.
Do we have a public space where national discourse, as much as possible, is grounded in science and data? The general public may have their own opinion on whether science and theories have a significant role to play in promoting national development. However, the reality is that science and theories dominate the world, as evidenced by the progress made by leading science and technology countries in the world.
Suffice it that, in this context, when referring to the principles of science and theories, the ivory tower is obviously the first place that comes to mind with the expectation that there is adherence to the highest form of ethics to ensure that standards are not understood.
Either way, it will be unthinkable for anyone to suggest that political activities should not be encouraged on campuses, because even political science as a course is an integral part of university education. The question has to do with how to balance sources of knowledge so that socio-political ideologies do not become the dominant thought in driving public discourse at the expense of science and theory.
I write this not as a political scientist, but as an academic interested in advocating for good research ethics and their application in society. Putting pen to paper, I imagined myself in the lecture hall teaching students the difference between theories and ideologies in a research methods course. This is the conundrum I think many conferences can face in an atmosphere of active socio-political activism, supposedly driven by ideologies.
Undoubtedly, politics will always be part of society and I just wonder how this interface between theories and ideologies can be best accommodated so that it does not potentially lead to undermining the development of theory in academic engagements and in life. ‘application.
Perhaps one solution is to create avenues for open academic debate on campuses, based on strict theoretical establishments in the academic sense. There is obviously a need for such reverential opportunities that would offer students and faculty the opportunity to argue and challenge the status quo in theoretical positions, towards the advancement of knowledge.
Are there lessons to be learned from what is happening in a debating forum similar to what is happening in the Oxford Union? Politics is indeed part of society and can thrive on ideologies like other sources of knowledge, but as Kreuger and Neuman have noted, the interface between ideology and theory has implications for how one undertakes research, engages in academic debates and ultimately applies knowledge to have an impact. change in society.
The subject may be controversial, nevertheless, I think we would need to discuss it anyway sooner or later. I hope this modest effort will help open up further commitments on the way forward, if needed.
The author, Prof. Divine Ahadzie, is a researcher at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. He is the Regional Editor for Africa of the Journal of Building Pathology and Adaptation published by Emerald. He is also a 2020 Emerald Driving the Impact Agenda winner for research.