LaGSus / Sub-projects / Sociology module
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The sociology component and the comparative perspective

The diversity of situations encountered in Namibia, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, and Uganda begs the question: how are these cases comparable? The guiding question is: What is common across the different languages, cultures, geographical endowments which makes it possible to draw conclusions of general scientific and practical relevance from these disparate cases?

The project's answer is that "development" - however defined - involves a change in the use of resources, a change which is negotiated in interactions among local people, and between local people and outsiders. This change can be seen as rooted in an initiative undertaken by some people in the name of development and to which other people respond in various ways. The interplay between initiative and reaction constitutes the "negotiation" which determines the outcome in the form of change, and this change always involves a change in the way resources are used or in the nature of the resources.

The research project's approach rests on the fundamental insight that what people see as a resource as well as how they use that resource involves institutions - which we see in a very broad sense as organized human activity. These pre-organized forms or "patterns" predate any concrete individual action concerning the creation or use of a resource and is taken into account in any individual action - whether in the form of adherence to certain rules, in the use of a certain language, or in the form of accepted forms of behaviour.

The interdisciplinary basis for the project is the view that the interplay between "pre-organized" forms of action and individual action applies to all human activity - verbal and non-verbal alike. Language as a form of human activity in its relation to changes in the accress to and use of resources taking into consideration the interplay between "patterns" and individual action - this, then, is the common focus of research in different countries and for researchers coming from different disciplines.

For the sociology component this means focusing on existing patterns of power and trust and their effect on
1) the processes of negotiation studied in more detail by the linguists in the project and
2) the actual patterns of resource use resulting from these negotiations [1].

Why power and trust? Both are basic ingredients to all human interaction and have been the centre of much theoretical reflection and empirical research - but their potential as a tool for intercultural comparison seems to have been neglected. It is therefore not amazing that the attempt to employ such a rather innovative - and hence untested - comparative perspective has led to a lively interdisciplinary discussion which developed around how to define and operationalize these and other core terms [2].

[1] For a more extensive treatment of the link between the research project, the global discourse on sustainable development, and sociological theory see a draft originally written for the project proposal Sociological perspective.pdf

[2] See the collection of proposed definitions: CoreNotions(english).pdf


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