Types of social structural change
December 6, 2006
As we discussed in our editorial last week, “The necessity of social structural change”, today, there is much conflict within states such as ours, characterised by a general breakdown of government, as well as economic privation and civil strife. Bad governance is a form of injustice that must be corrected.
Thus, one very broad type of social structural change is state reform and democratisation. State reform must involve more than just reorganisation of the administrative system, or the system of resource allocation. These social structural changes should contribute to the establishment of participatory nation-building processes by fostering democratic development, non-violent and just dispute resolution systems, the participation of the population, and rule of law.
In some cases, parties are chiefly concerned with replacing or altering existing legal and political institutions. Reform of government institutions typically involves measures aimed at democratisation and increased political participation. Societies strive to develop a “workable political system in which the multiple social groups can participate to their satisfaction.” This sort of state reform has the potential to mitigate and heal the effects of violent intrastate conflict, as well as prevent future conflict. One type of structural change is the strengthening of civil society. Civil society involves various sectors, including the business world, trade unions, women's groups, churches, and human rights activists. In many societies, and in Guyana for sure, citizens are alienated from the institutions and practices of governance, and public institutions are unable to solve social problems. Community relationships and civic life either do not exist, or have disintegrated. When civil society is absent or inactive, it is a sign of an oppressive regime.
Many think that strengthening community and civil society is one way to address persistent social problems such as destructive injustice, poverty, and violence. Strong civil society can promote dialogue and reconciliation, foster good governance, and build peace across cultures. It can also foster the values of caring, tolerance, and cooperation, and encourage public discourse and broad participation in the construction of public policy. People who care about community are less likely to participate in mindless development and racial and economic segregation. Various types of structural reform aim to strengthen community and civil society. These measures strive to foster public participation and create institutions of governance that can become vehicles, not just for making and enacting policy decisions, but for fostering citizenship. Such measures include forums for meaningful public engagement, real opportunities for community members to communicate with public officials, and other forms of inclusive governance. Part of political inclusion is power sharing.
Social structures that preserve unequal power relationships often deny subordinated groups the opportunity to participate in decision-making processes that affect them. Part of restructuring political systems, therefore, is empowering weaker parties to negotiate solutions to deep-rooted structural problems. Strengthening institutions might also involve judicial reform and other institutions that should carry out just and transparent procedures and promote open and participatory democratic processes. Such processes can lead to the transformation of power structures and increased involvement in political debate.
Another general way to reform government and redistribute power is through constitutional reform. This can involve a process of national dialogue, allowing competing perspectives and claims to be aired and incorporated. It can also be part of national education with respect to concepts of government, the concerns of different groups, the development of civil society and citizen responsibility, and norms of human rights and tolerance. All of these features can be incorporated into newly formed constitutions that address power inequities and promote political inclusion. Constitutional reform can help political systems and the institutions within them to evolve in response to demands that reflect human needs. In other cases, parties wish to address uneven economic development and transform the system of class and property relations. Recently, from the African Guyanese community, there have been claims that accumulations of racial discrimination have led to education and skills discrepancies that result in further economic disadvantages.
There are also income, property, and other monopolistic accumulations that are difficult to deal with in the absence of major changes to existing institutions. These sorts of systemic problems require structural changes if they are to be truly resolved.