Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Social Dimensions of Development

Little do we realize that rapid economic development and the monitization of society ( aside from its politization) also have their undesirable consequences, though maybe less distasteful than no development at all. The social scientists had always warned us that a country that focusses on economic development alone without giving due consideration and emphasis to the social aspects, could be running itself into some intractable and insurmountable problems.

Question is few leaders bother very much with the warnings of the social 'prophets of doom'. Their argument is that once a country is launched on a trail of rapid economic development with people getting good jobs. better income, better physical amenities and public services to promote the convenience of life. its quality will also improve and everything will be bright and rosy.

One needs only to look at countries will a lot of social tension and internal instability to know that rapid economic development and a higher income for all is not the answer to overcoming societal ills. The industrialized countries may all appear prosperous and progressive but are not free from heineous crimes, immoral social behavior, discrimination against minority groups, neglect of the poor, exploitation of the weak etc. More importantly a country which had just moved into a higher level of development and indstrialization may also begin to show those ills in graver forms. Consider Malaysia itself. Did we have the kind of interacial suspicion and tension, immoral behavior among the youth, crimes like abandoning unwanted babies, drugs abuse, murders, rapes, breach of trust, corruption, disrespect for our seniors etc which we see now, some twenty or thirty years ago? Are the cities, towns and villages much safer than they were years ago in spite of the social amenities that have been introduced?

The trouble is, it is not easy to state the kind of social degradation or regression that we have gone through. Let alone measure it in quantitative terms. However social scientists have identified some some kind of social dimensions along which the social development of a nation can be evaluated. Talcott Parsons( black and white pic) for example identified the five Pattern Variables which can place a society along the traditional-modern continuum. The dimensions include: (1)affectivity vs affective neutrality (2)diffusiveness vs specificity (3) particularism vs universalism (4) ascription vs achievement and (5) collectivity orientation vs self-orientation. Geert Hofstede (top color pic) on the other suggested a different set of five social dimensions. They include (1) large or small power distance , (2) individualism vs collectivism (3) masculinity vs femininity (4 strong or weak uncertainty avoidance and (5) long or short term orientation. David Riesman suggested three cultural types of society and peopla (1) tradition-directed (2) inner-directed and (3)other-directed. 

The various dimensions of social development as identified by these and other social scientists can help us to analyze the Malaysiaan society as it is today after more than 50 years of independence, with all the modernization, successes, conflicts, disillusionment, frustrations and hopes that we entertained. It may help to explain why many GLCs are not making good progress and loosing a lot of money, why corruption is prevalent in spite of the all-out efforts to stamp it out, why racial sentiments are reemerging and causing serious social strains, why racial integration is not going on as fast and as smoothly as we'd like it to be. Pushing headlong for economic and material progress may not solve but rather enhance the problems mentioned, taking us to a point of no return.There's an urgent need for a long term study on the social dynamics of our multiracial society as it has evolved over the years for many of the old values that held us together before had been eroded. These have to be renewed or replaced, otherwise it's so easy for the fabrics or the Malaysian society to fall apart.

The consequences would be disasterous, more disasterous than the 2019 bankrupcy threat that Idris Jala had warned us about. It could be deleterious.


dzaitun mohd ali said...

hubby...oooo too heavy for me to capture...

norzah said...

Thanks for reading and at least trying to understand, dear. I persuaded you to do your Master's before but you'd rather do a double Master without the 'ster' or just MaMa. And you grduated twice. OKlah tu.

abdulhalimshah said...

Akhi Norzah,
I recalled my lecturer in UM who was teaching sociology (the late Kahar Bador) lamenting along the same line and also my Professor, Sutan Takdir Alisjahbana who introduced a new stream which I took on under the Malay Studies Dept which he headed in the late sixties.One day I approached him for approval to change a mandatory module from another department which many found rather difficult to grasp because it had to do with political thought.
Takdir's reaction was typically philosophical. He said the reason why he insisted on us taking that module was to broaden our horizon. He wanted those who graduated from the General stream of the Malay Studies major to become legislators, political practitioners and leaders who knew the social dynamics of our nation. Unfortunately none of us who took the general stream became national leaders at the top who could chart the future of the country.
Nation-building or social engineering could only succeed if the leaders are aware that human beings are not machines or factors of production. We have to have leaders at all levels who not only understand social dynamics but implement policies which are based on sound knowledge of how values and attitudes could bring success or failure. Now we have to wait and see what happens when the paradigm shifts from snafu to buffoonery.

norzah said...

Everyone thinks the world runs on economic wheels, Akhi. Like a car everyone is concerned with how fast the wheels can spin in order to get to our destinantion. People forget there is another wheel that moves only a little to the left or right. But that little wheel will determine whether we reach our destination at all or not. Turn it in the wrong way and we land in the ditch.

Only after something like 13th May happened, people will realize that we are moving towards disaster. We don't know yet whether Malaysia is moving towards peace and prosperity or pique and
purgatory - when the Bumis are pushed out of the cities into the hills. Just ask ourselves who owns KL? JB is going, already becoming a Singapore satellite city. Prostitution, corruption, moral decay etc are all going on as people cares for nothing else but money.

So, we have DEB and now NEM. Tak betul-betul dlm sepuluh tahun lagi akan timbul DPM - dimana perginya Melayu, iaitu apabila DEB dan NEM tak juga berhasil. Thanks for your reaction to the difficult piece that I place on record.The paradigm shift from snafu to bufoonery you mentioned is very approprite.

Anonymous said...


just a quick note to abdulhalimshah correction - Prof abdul Kahar Bador is alive and well, although very much retired. You can email him at

norzah said...

Thank you Anonymous for the correction and on behalf of my friend Abdul Halimshah I would like to apologize for the mistake. I'm very happy to know that Prof Kahar Bador is still around with us and would like to extend to him my best wishes since I know him personally. It's also most gratifying to know you visit this website and may I have the honour to welcome you as a friend.

abdulhalimshah said...

My profound apologies for that error on my part which was unintentional. Kata orang Melayu, itu tanda umurnya panjang, InshaAllah.

kaykuala said...

Akhi Norzah,
Plainly the societal fabric and picture is all in the process of change, subject to how society decides and reacts.

Progress and development will definitely impact on social thinking and some effects seen on the ground may certainly be seen as adverse even with good intentions.

As long as the social scientists can give their assessments that can keep things downhill in check and agreeably with good leadership and political will, society will react positively. It doesn't have a choice.

There will be hiccups along the way but given improvements, checks and balance (an element to be factored in, in a multi-racial situation ) society will survive.

norzah said...

Two very important conclusions that you made, Akhi Kaykuala, are that society has no choice but accept the changes. and that it will survive. I totally agree with that. The most important conditions that you stated are contained in the para beginning with " As long as.." Yes indeed. If social scientists can keep thenegative development in society in check, and there'sgood leadership and political will, we'll be okay.
The question of course is: are the social scientists being allowed to study and table their findings to keep negative things in check with good leadership and political will keeping an open mind to accept the findings and recommendations of the social scientists?
The sad thing is that any criticism by the social scientists and even by the people on government policy is simply waived aside. When certain values are already destroyed ( like respect for the seniors and the rights of the Bumis or the failure to achieve the 30% equity target for the Bumis) only then will the government start to find a solution to the problem. Even the word "Melayu" is slowly disappearing seperti kata Tun Dr Mahathir (baca blog Che Det).
Thanks for the very perceptive observation.