Dyl Ulenspegel clould not beat it

You know, I can gain some pleasure from some foolish acts – and I also think that much of what we are teaching, be it on rights, politics and policies etc. can be literally found in any day-to-day situation within institutions like for instance any university. Finally I still think there is some meaning in making such follies of public services public (you think it is a play with words? – Not really!) [well, all this shows there had been something I learned from one of my teachers, Rudolph Bauer – and I am still grateful for his teaching many years back and his ongoing friendship over the years].

So, here another little story.


I sent a mail to “buildings office” – after suffering in a lecture room and after seeing the students suffering even more (at least I could move a bit around while lecturing). So here is the text of the mail sent on the 24th:

Dear …, I had been teaching today from 11 to 1 in the Distillery, room G01. The students complained about the lack of heating – and I only made the session myself as I had been able to stand and move at least a little bit – not keeping warm but at least maintaining a temperature that allowed me teaching. However, students said as well that they had been over long phases not in a position to concentrate.

Be it as matter of citizens rights to education provided by the Irish state or by way of customers of UCC as service provider, this is an unbearable and unacceptable condition. I am writing not least as this is not the first time it happened, though it had been previously in different venue.

I hope that this issue will be investigated in a sincere way and the issue will be corrected.

Thank you very much,


I then received on the 28th of January an answer by the Buildings Office Helpdesk – yes, I received one.

Just an attachment – a form


NO: 62025

Requested by: Herrmann, Peter

Dept.: … Location: ….

Description of work request:            turn on heating in G.01

One page (A4) with different sections:

To be completed by Supervisor

To be completed by Assignee

For Office Use

Mind, especially the stuff noted under Safety Notice:

All works is to be undertaken by suitably qualified and competent persons, and in compliance with the Buildings and Estates Office Safety Statement and College Safety Procedures.

Work should be supervised as appropriate by the relevant foreman.

What is said in respect of qualification and competence may be questioned when it comes to the folks that is engaged with defining the admin side of a simple act: switch the heating on before teaching commences.


May be … – if Kafka would be still around, he surely would write another of his famous stories based on this. And this story could surely be sufficient for Erving Goffman, Norbert Elias and the like to get them an hour and more exploring phenomenology of institutions and the Sociogenetic and Psychogenetic Investigations of the Process of Civilisation … .

One point may be added: Norbert had been strong believer in the process of civilisation – and although he had been (as Jew) forced by fascism to leave Germany, he had been until the end of his life convinced of such civilisational progress, rejecting any proposals to talk about de-civilisation and even remerging barbarism. Later, such discussions emerged by people who based their arguments on his work. Though I assume he would not have agreed. He had been just too gentle to think that we can step back. And with all conviction I still try to maintain such gentleness that I have had the honour to experience during our meetings, not possibly getting seriously damaged by being forced into such an iron cage (as Weber would have had it).

You see? Such a little story, and so much in it … – Occasionally I feel myself being seen as a very abstract thinker – but there is something I learned from somebody else who had been teacher and somewhat mentor: Niklas Luhmann, showing me that these apparently very abstract terms, categories and relationalities are just in front of us in tiny pieces – and it is up to us to leave it there on the ground: scattered and dangerous with the sharp edges of the heap of shards; or if we draw attention: allowing us to detect the essence of what all this is actually about: simplicity of oppressive hegemonic of which we are all part.

There could be an endless chain of examples we may add:

  • Grants for conference participation given to full time staff – maintaining establishment – rather than promoting with the meager means colleagues who may be in precarious situations, just starting careers … – sorry, didn’t older colleagues have enough time to establish themselves to be invited and get the conference fees covered by the organizers?
  • Issues of teaching and learning decided by administrative rules (or administrators as rulers?) rather being assessed in the light of needs of students – and staff that are preparing relevant material, sessions and excursions
  • publications rated on grounds of quantity and of ‘reviewed’ quality instead of quality and quality emerging from collective disputes

Well, we may leave it with the trinity – sure, in this light we come to the conclusion – taken from Marx’ ‘Grundrisse‘ – that

[t]he concrete is concrete because it is the concentration of many determinations, hence unity of the diverse. It appears in the process of thinking, therefore, as a process of concentration, as a result, not as a point of departure, even though it is the point of departure in reality and hence also the point of departure for observation [Anschauung] and conception.

PS: in this context perhaps of interest my publication

More recent and relevant:

And finally:

  • Research on demand. Academics between self-consciousness and self-chastisement; forthcoming in the documentation of the ÖFEB-annual meeting)

Guest Contribution: Children’s Rights in Social Care Setting under Irish law: Reality or Myth??

Lucy O’Leary *

Children’s Rights in Social Care Setting under Irish law: Reality or Myth??


The recent Irish referendum has given the impression that children’s rights in Ireland will be placed on some sort of an equal footing with that of their parents. However, the reality is somewhat different. The social care setting is an area of law that is of particular controversy due to the inability of the courts to look at these children as independent entities from their biological parents, foster parents and social workers. Their opinions and feelings are largely framed in terms of the opinions of the social work profession and despite the referendum, aimed at placing children at the forefront of all matters concerning them, this will not change. This is due to the lack of a child based approach in the courts and the adversarial nature of this arena.

This article shall look at the reality of children’s rights in the social care setting in Ireland in light of the referendum, and see what, if any, changes have been made to place the child at the forefront of these disputes. It shall place particular emphasis on the right of the child to have a say in where and who shall take responsibility for their everyday care. It shall also look at the impact that both European and international standards play or should play in the voice of the child being properly heard in these cases.

The Irish Perspective

Children’s rights in Ireland have been the source of debate for decades, especially given that Ireland signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child as early as 1992, and 20 years later, children’s rights had still not been placed within the constitutional framework of this jurisdiction. While the legislative provisions protecting children and potentially giving children a voice are vast[1], the ‘inalienable and imprescriptible’[2] rights of the marital family are regarded as the “fundamental law of the state and must be taken as overriding any pre-existing law inconsistent therewith”[3].

The reality of the marked absence of a child centred approach in the courts has led to much criticism of how Ireland[4] effectively regards the independent rights of the child, as a separate consideration from that of their parents, social worker, foster parents and all other interested parties. The rights of the marital family have led to some extremely contentious decisions by the courts[5], where the best interests of the child were clearly contrary to the outlook of their parents, but due to the hierarchical system that exists within the Constitution, and the placement of article 41 at the top of that system, the rights of the child were outweighed by the rights of their parents.

This was thought to have changed in light of the recent referendum on children’s rights in Ireland. During the campaigning for the yes vote, many criticisms were made about the language of the new article 42A and how this would not, in reality, change the previous hierarchical system[6]. Despite these assertions, there were also fears that the new amendment would dilute the rights of parents to ‘parent’ their children[7]. The reality however is far removed from these fears. The Supreme court has stated time and time again, that the “sanctity of the family and the enduring existence of parental authority seem….to be guaranteed by the provisions [of article 41 and 42]…..and that the framers of the Constitution considered, and enacted, that the best interests and happiness of the child would be served by its being a member of the parental household”[8]. It is very difficult to see how this will change, given the wording of the new article 42 A.

The wording of the amendment, while it does provide some rights to children, is restricted to cases of guardianship, custody and access[9], and is preceded by the words “provision shall be made by law”, as is every insertion of the various provision of article 42A. This means that legislation will need to be implemented, in order to give effect to the rights of the child as asserted by this amendment. The Child Care Acts 1991-2011 and the Children Act 2001 provide for all matters regarding children. These are the legislative provisions available to children in Ireland and therefore, it could be said that this amendment offers nothing new to the realm of children’ rights in Ireland.

It could be said that the most important right for a child to have, is the right to have their views taken into consideration in all aspects of their care, a provision that is contained in the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964, s 25[10], a provision that has not been commenced yet, and which has been described as a ‘relatively mild obligation as it leaves the discretion to the court in relation to the child’s capacity to understand’[11]. While the amendment provides that legislation must be enacted in order to give this provision effect, in the absence of a child centred approach by the courts and the adversarial nature of the system, it could be said that a radical overhaul of the court process would need to be implemented, in order to give proper enjoyment of these rights to children.

The social care system is a further barrier to overcome for children that find themselves encapsulated within it. Not only do they have to try and be heard by their parents and the courts, they also have to try and be heard by their social workers. While the social worker will try and ascertain the views of the child, their obligation is to act in the child’s best interest, which may not correlate with what the child actually wants. This can lead to a further ostracising of the child and a feeling of helplessness in an environment where they already feel loss of control. It has been well established that involvement in the decision making process can increase a child’s “sense of identity, self esteem and personal autonomy”[12]. However, the absence of this approach within the system, can only serve to be of further detriment to the child.


* Lucy O’Leary
BCL 2009 in Griffith College Cork
Studied H Dip in Social Policy 2011-2012, UCC
Currently studying LLM Child and Family Law in UCC 2012-2013

This contribution had been written in preparation for publication in SOZIALEXTRA (issue 4/2013). As it is dealing with the situation in Ireland and gives at the very same time an insight into questions that are of general relevance it is worthwhile to be published also in English, not only in the German translation in the journal.

See on this topic also my own post.

[1] Child Care Act 1991-2011, Children’s Act 2001

[2] Article 41.1.1 Bunreacht na hEireann

[3] Re O’Brien (an infant) (1954) IR 1 at 10, per Davitt P

[4] Concluding observations of the UNCRC, CRC/C/IRL/CO/2, 29 September 2006, p.2

[5] N v HSE [2006] 4 I.R, Northern Western Health Board v H.W and C.W, (2001) 3. IR 622.

[7] ibid

[8] Re O’Brien (an infant) (1954) IR 1 at 10

[9] Article 42A.4.1º ii

[10] As inserted by Children Act 1997

[11] Annual Review of Irish Law 2004 (Dublin: Round Hall Sweet and Maxwell, 2005) as cited in O’Callaghan, “ Realising the Child’s Right to be Heard in Private Child Contact Disputes: Progress in Practice?” (2010) Irish Journal of Family Law at 9

[12] J.E Timms, Children’s Representation: A Practitioners Guide (London: Sweet and Maxwell, 1995),p 440 as cited in O’Callaghan, “ Realising the Child’s Right to be Heard in Private Child Contact Disputes: Progress in Practice?” (2010) Irish Journal of Family Law at 1.


Göran Therborn published an article in the New Left Review 78 which is a hugely important reminder. Not least he highlights the ongoing meaning of the class question for social policy which had been – and still is – largely neglected within the British tradition of social policy and its foundation in social administration.

I think Göran’s contribution is a hugely interesting reading especially today while for another time the current crisis is not discussed with a proper reference to class issues. The debate on the crisis still remains caught within a framework of a supposed general interest, which had been and is always the interest of a minority. This is well known not only from Karl Marx’ work but also getting obvious from a thorough study of the two main works elaborated by Adam Smith (“Wealth of Nations” and “Moral Sentiments”).

I may add a brief comment, putting the perspective on social policy in perspective. Looking at economics, it’s original sin is linked to Marshall, stripping off the political from the economy: whereas all thinking in this area – be it by Xenophon, Ricardo, Smith or Marx to name but a few – had been hitherto seen as essentially political economy, we find now this fundamental shift of an alleged separation. NB: The mathematisation is not as such a problem although it is this that frightens frequently social scientists entering the debate on economic questions. Not least with this lapse we find the birth of social policy in its modern form: separated, entering a hopeless competition, searching its foundation in a claimed “pure reason of values” and prone to be swallowed by administration. The most extreme pattern surely developed in and from the Anglo-American tradition which founds social policy in social administration. Rather than referring to recent debates and examples (see for instance  my own writing: Person oriented services and social service providers in comparative and European perspective. Current debates on changes by liberalisation in a perspective of a theory of modernisation; New York: Nova, 2006, and more recent and relevant: The End of Social Services? Economisation and Managerialism; Bremen: Europaeischer Hochschulverlag, 2012)

I want to draw attention to the work of Karl Polanyi (surely beyond any suspicion of being Marxist): The Great Trsansformation. In his analysis of pauperism, Speenhamland legislation and its ‘antecedents and consequences’ (see part two: The Rise and Fall of the Market Economy; I. Satanic Mill) he clearly shows that this legislation had been genuinely part of the political economy of the time, not a matter of ‘distinct social policy’. And as such it had been established, taken back and re-established in new forms. A quote may show this:

The market pattern, on the other hand, being related to a peculiar motive of its own, the motive of truck or barter, is capable of creating a specific institution, namely, the market. Ultimately, that is why the control of the economic system by the market is of overwhelming consequence to the whole organization of society: it means no less than the running of society as an adjunct to the market. Instead of economy being embedded in social relations, social relations are embedded in the economic system. The vital importance of the economic factor to the existence of society precludes any other result. For once the economic system is organized in separate institutions, based on specific motives and conferring a special status, society must be shaped in such a manner as to allow that system to function according to its own laws.

It is interesting to read then the analysis of the development of the social policy legislation which had been mentioned: the class question always being on the agenda, the bourgeoisie always well aware of acting as class – in a way we may apply the notion brought forward by Marxism when looking at the proletariat, here applied to the ruling class: a class being characterised by the consciousness of being a class for itself rather than being only an objective entity without a consciousness of its existence (cf e.g. Marx,Karl: The Poverty of Philosophy; ; Chapter 2: The Metaphysics … . Strikes and Combinations of Workers). It is also interesting to see that in current debates the bourgeoisie is again (or we may better say: still) well aware of this close intricate link. On the other hand, we find on the (in a political sense) liberal and left spectrum a reluctance to enter the debate of class issues to see social policy as genuinely economic question and vice versa, in other words: to return to a genuine understanding of political economy. Pseudo-radical reference to a Ship of Fools or greed as phenomenon of general deterioration are only apt to distract from the essential question of class. – Sober analysis shows that the fools are actually sitting on board of a social science vessel that understands the social as add-on, aiming on strengthening its meaning rather instead of rooting its meaning in societal objectivity. In a proper understanding the social, then is the

outcome of the interaction between people (constituted as actors) and their constructed and natural environment. Its subject matter refers to people’s interrelated productive and reproductive relationships. In other words, the constitutive interdependency between processes of self-realisation and processes governing the formation of collective identities is a condition for the social and its progress or decline.

(van der Maesen, Laurent J.G./Walker, Alan, 2012: Social Quality and Sustainability; in: van der Maesen, Laurent J.G./Walker, Alan [Eds.]: Social quality: From Theory to Indicators; Basingstoke: Macmillan: 250-274, here: 260)

So, in this light a left understanding of social policy has to make a “step back”, returning to the roots if it doesn’t want to allow to be continuously pushed aside by the quest for economic miracles of economic growth of and within marketised societies. To quote another time Polanyi:

The ecomomic system is, in effect, a mere function of social organization.

And social organisaiton and social policy, in one way or another, is a mere expression of class relationships. As such it is a matter of capitalist formations, defined not only by economic interests but by economic power: the control of the means of production and the control of their development and “use”.

China and Asia – A New Capitalist Centre or A New Capitalism?

The following are notes only, giving some kind of direction to a presentation in La Habana, Cuba, not for presentation as such.

Western societies under serious threat

The future will not be ‘capitalism as we know it’ – and it may be added that we probably even fail when utilising the traditional ‘concepts’ and categories as neo-liberalism, nation state and the like as analytical tools;

The future faces the challenges of a new and fundamental threat from the side of environmental hazards

With this we have to challenge and overcome following the roots of today’s capitalism, namely the individualism as a major source of mal-development.

NB: In this light socialism has to think also about what today’s challenges are. Industrialisation is now a matter that is intrinsically interwoven with processes of globalisation and going much beyond the traditional patterns. The understanding of what is ‘industry’ changed – they are very much beyond the development of the means of production. It is also about the means of consumption. And it is also about the changed meaning of production: services, transactions etc. play an increasing and seemingly independent role. We can see this from the meaning of the financial sector in the capitalist world and globally. And we can see this by the fact that already in 1994, Douglass C. North, with reference to John J. Wallis and North from 1986 makes us known of

an empirical study that 45 percent of U.S. GNP was devoted to the transaction sector in 1970

(North, Douglass C., 1994: Economic Performance Through Time; in: The American Economic Review. Vol 84.3: 359-368; here: 360)

Second, globalisation is not so much and not primarily about the power of multinationals. Rather, it is about a structure of complex interdependencies. This means not least that any strategy of economic success has to focus increasingly on issues of quality. And as such it has to deal with complex issues of a highly integrated systems of “work” and “life”.

It is about what is produced and in which way it is produced and finally about the way production and reproduction is immediately integrated in the overall life span.

China as part of Asia as new Centre?

All this is traditionally also a challenge for capitalist societies and all this found already answers in traditional patterns of globalisation, namely the global division of labour. We find fundamentally the three “sites”:

  • The socialist countries
  • The countries of the capitalist centre
  • The countries of the capitalist periphery

Looking at China and other Asian countries the situation is a bit tricky: independent of how we assess “socialism in China”, we can say that all the countries, including the PRC had been peripheral in two ways: peripheral to the capitalist formation in terms of the character of their formation, and peripheral in terms of the development of their industrial stage.

Today, the situation is again different in the relevant countries; but globally they can nevertheless be seen as one group in several respects. Their industrialisation is very much based on traditional systems of social integration; and this means that this industrialisation is also very much linked to the traditional concept of industrialisation: it is about the central role of mass production especially of means of production; however, it is at the same time about a promoting role that this production plays: we can see this very much as matter of ancillary industries. Taken together, it is as matter of a certain social structuration, or a specific way of “social integrity”: it is best accounted for by the reference to “social harmony”. Rather than being based on individualism it is the idea of a specific kind of collectivity. The traditional principles still have some meaning.

The principal tension is between only two poles – the good and the evil – and the ideal is actually not something that is principally outside of this tension but it is the solution of the tension. It is the dialectical Aufhebung in the form supersession and sublation. 石頭希遷 (Ts’an-t’ung-ch’i) expresses this pronouncedly in the Zen Buddhist tradition in the poem Harmony of Difference and Sameness, writing for instance:

In the light there is darkness,
but don’t take it as darkness;
In the dark there is light,
but don’t see it as light.
Light and dark oppose one another
like the front and back foot in walking.
Each of the myriad things has its merit,
expressed according to function and place.

(Ts’an-t’ung-ch’i: Harmony of Difference and Sameness; http://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/zen/sandokai.htm – 15/07/2009 8:13 p.m.)

It is not least a foundation for the role-definitions as we find them in the words of Mencius:

[l]ove between father and son, duty between ruler and subject,
distinction between husband and wife, precedence of the old over
the young, and faith between friends. Fang Hsü said.!
Encourage them in their toil,
Put them on the right path,
Aid them and help them,
Make them happy in their station,
And by bountiful acts further relieve them of hardship.

(Mencius, 300 BC [appr,]: 60 – Mencius. Translated with an Introduction and Notes by D.C. Lau: London et altera: 2003)

One point of special interest is the fact that we find even up to now a strong orientation of Asian cultures along these lines – be it in Buddhism, Hinduism, Daoism or other strands of development. This is important to note as it opens the way towards another interpretation of the differences between the Eastern and the Western understanding of the welfare systems. Whereas in Western societies there is barely any doubt about the welfare state serving as point of reference, this is different in Asian societies where the concept of harmonious welfare society is central.

According to Confucius, social harmony, that is a state of cooperation and the absence of social conflict, can be theoretically achieved primarily by two methods. First, it is the self-cultivation of individual moral character; the second is that both leaders and subject behave with propriety and conduct their relationships in conformity with the social rules without coercion (King & Bond, 1985, pp.30-32; Sung & Hahn, 1985, pp.22-23). In other words, the traditional state of social harmony for good governance is the reliance on people, both leader and subject, in the self-realisation of the best of their moral character and in the exercise of propriety in role performance, even in a hierarchical social and economic order. In practice, as reminded by a Western Chinese expert on the current official discourse of social harmony, that in Imperial China, the “self-serving dynastic rulers adopted social harmony as their official ideologie d´etat, using it to impose a paternalistic, ritualistic ethos of political consensus and conformity upon a voiceless, powerless peasantry” (Bauum, 2005).

(Wong, Chack-Kie: Comparing Social Quality and Social Harmony by a Governance Perspective; Paper presented during the International Conference ‘Social Quality in Asia and Europe: Searching for the Ways to Promote Social Cohesion and Social Empowerment’. University of Nanjing, 24-26 October 2008: 3)

This is hugely important as it

includes a rectification of the earlier development bias towards economic development by the global concept of ‘Five Co-ordinations’ – the coordination of rural and urban development, the coordination of regional development, the coordination of economic development and social development, the coordination of human and nature, and the coordination of internal national development and the need of open door to outside. In other words, the earlier ‘growth-first’ model by the slogan of ‘Get-rich-first’ set by the late Patriarch, Deng Xiaoping, is replaced by the present slogan of ‘Both-rich’ (Central Committee, CPC, 2005).

(ibid.: 7)

Still, as far as we are concerned with an inherent tension of the Asian countries, we have to see the conflictual line: as much as the concept of social harmony is ideologically maintained and modernised, as important is to acknowledge that we face a two-layered structure: the traditional mode of production clashes with the patterns that re typical for the NICs, the Newly Industrialising Countries. It is important to emphasise that we are talking about industrialising rather than industrialised countries. This implies that we are facing a two layered shift of the development.

On the one hand Asia is emerging as a new centre of global capitalism. Sure, it is not about a complete shift – although there are good reasons to see this development as equally serious as the shifts that characterise earlier stages of development – Giovanni Arrighi developed this already in detail: the victory of the Dutch mercantile system over the Northern-Italian city states at the end of the Renaissance; the victory of the new heavy-industrialising England over the mercantile system; later the mass-productive systems of the “New World” of the American Dream, dominating the new global order.

With reference to Bob Jessop (Jessop, Bob, 2000: From the KWNS to the SWPR; in: Gail Lewis/Sharon Gewirtz/John Clarke (eds.): Rethinking Social Policy; London et al.: Sage publications; 2000: 171-184) we can look at this in a different way, at least with view on the “developed national capitalisms”. He provided from a different perspective the following two systematic outlines, each reflecting a different developmental stage of capitalism.

1 Keynesian


Full employmentClosed economyDemand management


2 Welfare


Generalized norms of mass consumptionWelfare rights
3 National


Relative primacy of national scale
4 State


Market and state from mixed economyState corrects ‘market failures’

Keynesian Welfare National State

(from ibid.: 173)

For the latter stage he outlines as follows:

1 Schumpeterian


Innovation and competitivenessOpen economySupply-side policies
2 Workfare


Subordinates social to economic policyPuts downward pressure on ‘social wage’Attacks welfare rights
3 Post-national


Relativization of scale
4 Regime


Increased role of governance mechanisms to correct market and state failures

Schumpeterian Workfare Post-National Regime

(from ibid: 175)

There is a good bit of analysis in Jessop’s work which I want to take up and push further, looking at the process of socialisation and its conditions. In other words, it is about exploring the opportunities and needs for a new socio-economic system, thus exploring the potentials of new steps of socialisation.

Taking up Jessop’s references I propose a new perspective as Gates-Jobsian Patchwork Global Spacetime.

1 Gates-Jobsian = Defining Access to “Employment” but also Defining EmploymentOpen EconomyBlurring Demand
2 Patchwork = Individualised Mass ConsumptionIndividual Rights— Opening frm Law to Rights
3 Global = New Belongings and Identities
4 Spacetimes = “Arbitrary” Social Spaces for Individual Self-Realisation

Gates-Jobsian Patchwork Global Spacetime.

On another occasion I stated on the first element that there is some reason for thinking about a Gates-Jobsian shift emerging from the undefined polyphonic post-Fordism? The new computer-technology and with this the era of information-technology as it is frequently attributed to Gates’ Microsoft and Jobs’ Apple emporium has much deeper implications as we usually see: the digitalisation of everything, the increased accessibility of manything and the potential of anything are visible, lurk around every corner. But we do not see immediately the depletion of substance in algebraic formulae, the unattainability of understanding and the reality of the potential as potentiality of factuality, immersing as something that could be but that is not. A new kind of absolute idea – it is not irrationality but a new rationality and perhaps even a new categorical imperative.

This suggests that we actually reached a developmental stage of the productive forces that are now at a stage which are fundamentally reaching into new patterns of life.

On the other hand it is about the power relations within the Asian region. Japan is highly developed in the traditional mass production industries. However, the other countries of the region are more open – not least as they start from a relatively low level of development. The latter can be seen by the fact that their share in international trade decreased enormously for a long time, however massively catching up since recently. Thus we witness the possible emergence of a new centre-periphery structure: China, with its regional satellites as new centre of the global economy; leaving in the long, or even only medium run Europe and the USNA behind. The recent global crisis shows already that global is somewhat reduced: it is primarily about the “global west”, though surely pulling the old satellites in consequence down.

In China the current main challenge is the development of a reasonable own social force. I mean with this, that export orientation can only be a temporary stronghold – allowing some form of economic sustainability only if it manages to develop a sound indigenous economic performance.

Doomed to Fail? The need for a sustainability orientation

However, personally I see the following major difficulties in this respect: Maintaining the concept of a global economy principally based on division of labour fails to see the true challenge of globalisation. It is about emphasising ‘joint existence’ and its sustainability rather than competitive advantage. This accentuates the need to search for a new concept of development that is indeed geared to an understanding of the “we”. For this we may have to learn from each other – and talking about “we” I mean at this moment the work I am involved in as senior advisor to the European Foundation of Social Quality. There is a string collaboration with colleagues in Asian countries. The challenge is to develop an understanding of the social,

conceived as the result of the dialectic (constitutive dependency/c.i.) between processes of self-realization and the formation of collective identities.

(Gaspers, Des et altera, 2013: Connecting ‘Human’ and ‘Social’ Discourses …: 24)

From my personal point of view we have to drive this further. Taking this definition as point of departure we have to look for a way to thoroughly found this definition in its economic meaning, linking it to matters of the development of the productive forces. And we have to found it more serious in terms of a “we” that is not based in traditional values it in real peoples movements.

In particular the latter is, I hope, a point for developing a sound cooperation between colleagues from Cuba and colleagues from other part of the world.

Some Questions: Challenges we Face

It is striking hat we are in many cases dealing with paradigms, concepts and terms that remain unquestioned. This is for instance about the ‘natural character of barter’ (for instance problematised by Karl Poalnyi), the validity of the nation state (even in its modern form) as point of reference, competition as human condition and rational choice as guiding decision making. Issues as reciprocity, altruism, solidarity frequently show up, however remain outside of consideration as constitutive factors. The actual widespread and fundamental meaning of cooperation and the social as

as the result of the dialectic (constitutive dependency/c.i.) between processes of self-realization and the formation of collective identities.

(Gaspers, Des et altera, 2013: Connecting ‘Human’ and ‘Social’ Discourses …: 24)

remain marginalised although they have a prevailing meaning.

It is surely important to discuss the meaning of the accumulation by dispossession. However, we have to look also at developments of accumulation by repossession. Fact is that capitalism inherently destroys its own foundation, competition leading to a process of a ‘clandestine socialisation’.

Development or Change – Today’s Challenges for an Emerging Global Society

The following are notes made in preparation of a presentation in La Habana, Republic of Cuba in December 2012.


The background of this presentation is actually far away – a presentation given by my friend and colleague Laurent J.G. van der Maesen at the 2012 Life & Development Forum in Hangzhou. From there some interest had been established to colleagues here in Cuba. Last year’s forum has to be characterised as

  • global in its very character
  • however, emerging from China and actually even more from the work in Hangzhou and thus marking a specific shift in global development – a shift that can briefly be characterised by emphasising the fact of glocalisation: the recognition of the importance of localities in the part of the global processes. This is not simply a matter of the effects of globalisation on localities but also a matter of recognising the actor perspective of these entities.

Looking at the general agenda of global developments, there are surely many contingencies. However, one may point on at least the following moments as characterising.

  • the future will not be ‘capitalism as we know it’ – and it may be added that we probably even fail when utilising the traditional ‘concepts’ and categories as neo-liberalism, nation state and the like as analytical tools;
  • the future faces the challenges of a new and fundamental threat from the side of environmental hazards
  • with this we have to challenge and overcome following the roots of today’s capitalism, namely the individualism as a major source of mal-development.

NB: In this light socialism had been to some extent caught in the same danger, namely as far as applied the basic principle of capitalist development for an extended time: the focus on the development of the productive forces (with reference to Marx: the development of department I) had been initially surely important; however, it would have been necessary to determine a point from where development is not about development of productive forces, thus implicitly the orientation on quantitative growth of consumption but about development of the quality of goods produced in department II, i.e. the development of means of consumption (in the widest sense) as means of developing social quality.


The thesis is that in order to fully understand today’s challenges we have to look at the roots of capitalism in a more complex way – reaching beyond the economic and subsequent political perspective. In other words it is about fundamentally allowing the return of political economy in its true sense as investigation of the

organic unity of economy and polity

(Perry Andersen).

Such an approach stands against the development of a theory of political economy in a traditional sense of a politico-moral backing of economic processes as we know it for instance from Adam Smith.

Arte. Es la naturaleza creada por el hombre

(José Martí)

A major and fundamental flaws of capitalist development can be seen on the following moments:

  • the emergence of the bourgeois individual
  • based on the – apparent – loss of ‘ontological relationality’ (Slife)
  • leading to the redefinition of social activities as contractual relationships
  • undermining space for social action, while – though only for some – increasing this space on the individual level.

However, seeing this pattern as societal phenomenon we may summarise it as – for capitalist societies secular – process which Niklas Luhmann famously expressed by saying

All could be different but I nearly cannot change anything.

Paradoxically this goes hand in hand with the fact that the individual is made responsible for everything, being seen as rational actor with unlimited capacities to shape his/her life.


I do not want to discuss in detail any question of human rights and relevant questions of legal philosophy (see Herrmann: God, Rights, Law and a Good Society; Bremen/Oxford: EHV Academicpress, 2012; Rights – Developing Ownership by Linking Control over Space and Time; Bremen/Oxford: EHV Academicpress, 2012). However, one point is of crucial importance, namely the fact that the Universal Declaration argues solely on the basis of the understanding of individualism in the form in which it emerged from the Western enlightenment. Seen in this perspective it is no surprise that it actually emphasises the ‘normality of the capitalist mode of production’ – with the legimitation of employment as actual basis of human existence, thus also providing a ground for defining ‘citizenship’. And furthermore it is from here that human rights are defined as ‘moral obligation’ (see Herrmann: Presentation Narrowing the Gap Between the World’s Richest and Poorest. Contribution for the Deutsche Welle GLOBAL MEDIA FORUM 2011).

For further exploration we may briefly look at a briefing paper Human Rights and Poverty: Is Poverty a Violation of Human Rights? Edited by the Centre of Economic and Social Rights. It

suggest[s] that violations of human rights can be cause, consequence or constitutive element of poverty.

This is surely important – and it has to be acknowledged that the document mentions as one of the consequences also

the destruction or denial of access to productive resources [which] can clearly cause poverty.

However, the overall formulation of the three points suggests that rights are a matter of provision rather than a matter of constituting and maintaining ‘active citizenship’. Talking then of the three dimensions of

respect, protect and fulfil

is more about a top-down approach than allowing the development of a bottom-up-approach towards rights. And indeed, this supports the thesis that HR are fundamentally an add-on, established to secure a capitalist world order. As any law, human rights law is also just a means – in the words of Iredell Jenkins:

Positive law assumes an ordered social context that exhibits certain deficiencies: it envisages more desirable – an ideal – ordering of the context; it prescribes the steps to be taken in order to move the actual towards the ideal; and it orders that these measures be instituted. That is, positive law is at once expository, normative prescriptive, advisory, and imperative. But it is positive law as a means to an end …

(Jenkins, Iredell: Social Order and the Limits of Law. A Theoretical Essay; Princeton: Princeton University Press 1980: ibid. 75)

Based on such an approach we face the following fundamental limitations in the relevant HR-debates:

  • they are very much based on supposedly eternal and socio-independent moral standards (it would actually not be far from here to speak of a-social standards)
  • the ‘we’, the collective identity, is reduced on aggregates of individuals, even defining ‘collective actors’ as the state, organisations, corporations etc. as ‘legal personalities’
  • finally not allowing to understand global structures and processes as other than the conglomeration of national actors, thus remaining in the limits of international relationships, not seeing the global order as genuine identity in its own right.[1]

Though it is at this stage only a short point, I think it is important to point out that many of contemporary debates focus too much on ‘technical’ and ‘individual solutions’, particularistic in character, to current challenges. These remain very much in the framework of individualised strategies. Though surely an important contribution to overall debates, we can point on the important limitation of the work by Mahbub ul Haq and Amartya Sen. In short their orientation is about development of humans and not about human development, let alone about development of human relationality. This means not least that an important perspective remains faded out, namely the perspective of socio-human existence as part of a complex socio-natural setting. Thus we may also say that the major and fundamental problem of the dominant conceptualisation of human rights remains founded in the dissolution of the individual from its genuine social context. With this we find the reduction of the social as matter of relationships of individuals.


Obviously, this falls short in providing a fundamentally valid perspective on today’s structures. Early capitalist societies had been moving to a systematic de-socialisation of personalities and the undermining of genuine social processes. This could be seen in the difficulties Adam Smith faced in maintaining moral standards within the taken economic perspective – finally resulting in the tendency to separate the question of wealth of a nation from moral sentiments. And equally we can see these difficulties when it comes to German philosophy as for instance expressed in the tension of different reasons in the works by Immanuel Kant.

The Social Quality Approach redresses this flaw by focussing on the social, understood as noun. It

may be conceived as the result of the dialectic (constitutive dependency/c.i.) between processes of self-realization and the formation of collective identities.

(Gaspers, Des et altera, 2013: Connecting ‘Human’ and ‘Social’ Discourses …: 24)


For the further discussion I want to refer to more recent debates, not least stimulated by developments in Latin-American countries, in particular Bolivia, Ecuador and in the meantime Venezuela. The main point of reference is the constitutional principle of buen vivir or vivir biene. Important is that the standard of defining rights and for the definition of the social is not the individual and his/her well-being. Nor is it about the human existence as such. Instead,

  • understanding the individual as principally relational
  • considering the human existence as part of the overall natural existence
  • emphasising the relation between social and nature as fundamentally constitutive
  • and finally seeing social existence not least as matter of ability to accept collective responsibilities.

The emphasis is on ‘joint existence’ and its sustainability.


With this in mind, the following issues are of utmost importance – here posed as questions that have to be elaborated and on which the answer has to be searched.

  • the what of production has to be asked anew. Point of departure is Engels’ formulation of the ‘determining factor in history’ according to the ‘materialistic conception’ (see Engels, Frederick, 1884: Origins of the Family, Private Property, and the State. Preface to the First Edition). Whereas in the first instance this had been very much about the development of the means of production, and in particular the development of the productive forces, we are now facing a different situation. In one respect we have to reconsider the meaning of the production of the second department, namely the means of consumption. Though we are apparently living in times of overconsumption, this is not completely true: in actual fact we can see overconsumption in parts of world society going hand in hand with the lack even of the basic means of sustenance in other parts (see in this context for instance Milanovic, Branko, 2011: Global Inequality. From Class to Location, from Proletarians to Migrants; The World Bank Development Research Group. Poverty and Inequality Team; September 201; Working Paper 5820). Another important factor can be seen in the fact that a large part of ‘production’ is actually concerned with processes of transaction. Already in 1994, Douglass C. North, with reference to John J. Wallis and North from 1986 makes us known of

an empirical study that 45 percent of U.S. GNP was devoted to the transaction sector in 1970

(North, Douglass C., 1994: Economic Performance Through Time; in: The American Economic Review. Vol 84.3: 359-368; here: 360)

These are issues that need to be investigated more thoroughly not least in a global perspective.

  • This leads immediately to the second point, namely the question of the relationship between the different departments, in particular department I (production of the means of production) and department II (production of means of consumption); and it means also to investigate the existence of a department III (production of ‘financial services’) and a department IV (production of services)
  • Both, production in department III and IV point into the direction of a new kind of commons. If treated circumspectly we can see development in a new perspective. The development of department I, reaching a certain qualitative point, serves as point of departure for the development of department II as going beyond satisfying immediate needs, allowing qualitative developments. We find with this development a potential release of additional forces, but also of additional ‘needs’ of a higher order: the mentioned processes of transaction and also the growth of services are pointing into the direction of huge potentials of socialisation – and saying potentials means that the technological conditions, under private ownership and control, are in actual fact developing in a counter-socialising way. However, taking the potentials as point of reference we may speak of a development from the production of commons towards the production within commons, or using a different wording: the development of common production.

NB: Stating this does not mean that the development actually follows this path. In actual fact we find right now an extremely problematic development in a global perspective. It is still very much about continuing the old pattern of industrialisation on the one hand – now shifting anew to the NICs and also to new centres (as not least Japan and China); and this going hand in hand with a qualitative orientation of consumer goods in the ‘traditional centres’ (as in especially US and [in particular the old] EU). However, as much as this development is not about a simple ‘shift’ by way of replacement, it is obvious that this development cannot be socially sustainable (let alone sustainable in terms of a simple environmental understanding).


Let me briefly return to the question of rights in general and in particular human rights. Commonly the Western understanding of rights – this had been outlined earlier – is structurally based n individualism. It may even be said that the very concept of rights depends in its ‘modern’ form on the existence of the bourgeois-citoyen individual. The citoyen – addressed as such during the revolutionary times of – had been understood as individual, socialised at most by reference to the categorical imperative as laid down in 1788 in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of the Practical Reason:

Act so that the maxim of thy will can always at the same time hold good as a principle of universal legislation.

This is based on the assumption of the independent, self-referential though rational individual actor. The understanding of rights developing against such a background can only be protectionist in its very character: it is the protection of individuals against possible infringements by others or the protection of individuals against violation by the state (to some extent an exception in this context is the notion put forward by T. Hobbes). To the extent to which we see the development of ‘modern commons’ – in various ways reflected since a long time, for instance by the common goods, general interest, volonté génerale or volonté du tout …) – and to the extent to which collective actors are emerging as truly relevant (see e.g. Meyer, John W., 2010: World Society, Institutional Theories, and the Actor; in: Annual Review of Sociology, 2010: 36: 1-20), we are asked to develop a new understanding of rights. This may be characterised in short by pointing on two moments:

  • They have to be understood as truly social rights. I come back to the definition given earlier, proposing that the social

may be conceived as the result of the dialectic (constitutive dependency/c.i.) between processes of self-realization and the formation of collective identities.

(Gaspers, Des et altera, 2013: Connecting ‘Human’ and ‘Social’ Discourses …: 24)

  • It has to be added that it is not only about the formation but also about the maintenance of the social. Rights are now emerging not as protection of individuals against individuals but as protection of collectivities against individuals (for a very good example in this context Burghardt, Peter, 18.6.2008: Ecuador. Im Dshungel der schwarzen Pest; in: Sueddeutsche.de. Wissen – it has to be mentioned that this is not [only] about corporations but also about interests of individual states in their ‘modern’ performance as legal personalities).
  • Importantly, these rights are not emerging from any moral and normative standards but their definition has to reflect the objective development of the productive forces as it had been outlined before when reference had been made to the development of the different departments of production and their relationship to each other.

[1]            This is even more needed as long as we do not have a global actor in the traditional sense (as e.g. a ‘global state’)