”Strävan efter jämlikhet och social hållbarhet kräver att…”. Hans Abrahamsson föreläser. Länsteatrarnas vårmöte, Gävle, 30 mars 2017. Foto: DK.
Tre frågor till Hans Abrahamsson
med anledning av hans pensionering
School of Global Studies, Göteborgs universitet • 26 augusti 2016
thank you for inviting me to this discussion today. For the possibility to be here on this occasion, to share this special moment. Thank you for your lecture.
We have known each other, and discussed with each other, for about 15 years. During some periods more intense, than during others. These discussions have, for me, been very inspiring, thought provoking. I´ve learned a lot. You are, for me – even when we don´t meet – an important dialogue partner.
But before we began these discussions I listened to you as a lecturer. – I´ve told you this story several times – It was one lecture on my very first semester at the university. One of the first weeks of my first semester. You gave a guest lecture at the the department where I was studying. It was in the autumn of 1980. You had then – we learned from your lecture today – been 4 years at Padrigu.
Your lecture was about the global economy. About power relations within the global economic system. It made a lasting impression on me. ”Wow”, I thought, ”so this is whats it like to study att the university!”
I wouldn’t say that my experience with Academia, with the University, went downhill from there but… Well, you get the general picture.
One thing I learnt from that lecture by Hans – one of the reasons it’s still so vivid in my memory, 36 years later – is that there is not necessarily a contradiction between commitment to a cause, and scientific scrutiny. You can act as responsible social scientist and as a responsible citizen. There is no necessary contradiction between the two. I have a question on this, but we’ll come to that shortly.
I dont´ spend my daily life at the university, but work in the cultural scene of Gothenburg. Some of the most intense discussions Hans and I have had, have been in connection with the publications of two of his books. And now we are nurturing future plans in a similar direction. And perhaps my role here today is primarily as a publisher and an editor. So my questions will be on a rather general level. I have three.1.
My first question is nevertheless a methodological one. Or perhaps: a methodological question with political implications.
When you in your lecture told us about your experiences from Mozambique and Bolivia you said: ”I met with people that lllustrated the very fact that we are all human beings and that most of our behavior has it’s rational logic”.
I would say that this assumption is at the core of how you develop your theory of political change and the concept of ”confrontational dialogue”. This form of dialogue is, if it works, a process that depends on the participants realizing their ”enlightened self interest”. From this common ground political deals can be made, compromises reached. It is, if it works, a rational process.
However. The political discourse of the day is very much centered around questions of identity, about the struggle for recognition and respect. Questions of cultural and religious identity have come to the forefront of public – and academic – discourse.
In the lecture today you spoke about the enemies of a rational – a fair and just – political order as ”xenofobic and reactionary forces”. In your text you do talk about ”cultural recognition” and the importance of ”a sense of belonging”. But still.
Preparing myself for today I kind of pondered if this rational conviction of yours have anything to do with your training as an economist. Do you think so?
When you today look back at 40 years of work and research, attempts to understand the worlds inner working, do you think you have underestimated questions about cultural and religious identities? If you where to launch a new ”problem-oriented” research-programme tomorrow would your emphasis be different concerning the ”rational logic” of us human beings?
If so – or if not so – whats the implications for how you envisage political change in todays world?
Put another way: Do you, in your theory and practice, overemphasize the rationality at play in political processes. Might there be a ”rationalistic fallacy” in the very concept of a ”confrontational dialogue”?
I remember one discussion Hans and I had a few years at Caféva in Haga. We usually meet there, over lunch or coffee.
You where in a state of, how should we put it, ”political despair”, perhaps. I reminded you of the fact that the then conservative president of France a few years earlier had come out in favor of taxation on international financial transactions. He was in favor of some sort of Tobin tax. A conservative french president. Wasn´t this, I tried, a recognition of the fact that the political analysis made by the Attac-movement had been correct all along? A confirmation of your own theory of political change, were the elites of society come to realize their own objective self interests? A sign of the wheels of history turning in the right direction?
”No”, you said. It doesn´t matter. ”As long as we don´t have strong and vital social movements, there is no hope of that. And we don’t.”
In your lecture you mention your experience as an activist within the World Social Forum-process.
Yesterday when I prepared for this discussion I asked some friends who, a decade ago, took part in this process about it. And it turned out that they valued this experience, the value of the World Social Forums, quiet differently. Was it a failure or was it, in fact, a success? My friends had opposite views on this.
So my question to you, quite simply, is: How do you today value the World Social Forums and the Global Justice Movement? What was it? What is it? What did these, quite extraordinary, global gatherings actually achieve?
Science as vocation.
Throughout your carrier, throughout your ”research trajectory”, You’ve made a point of being both a scholar and an activist. You mentioned in your lecture today how liberating it was for you to meet Björn Hettnes ”normative approach”. And how former students from Padrigu today work – around the country, in municipalities and local communities – as ”organic intellectuals”. And I suppose this is your own intellectual ideal.
So you have this experience as an activist and as a researcher. You have spent a lot of time on field research on different continents. You have also accumulated, during the last years, fresh experiences from working with the public sector.In your lecture today you hinted, more than actually told us, what you’ve learned from that.
My question is: What would your advice be to a young activist or student today that want to make the world a better place? If he or she shares the goal of and decides to strive for what we hope will be the result of ”the second Great Transformation”, that is: ”that the economy [will] gradually [be] re-embedded in its local social context” (p. 36).
What would you recommend them to do? If he or she decides, as you did, to embark on a path in Academia: What kind of institutional support should they expect? What kind of resistance would they meet? If they decide to work in the public sector: what kind of political ”room for maneuver” will there be for them? What possibilites to reflect and think and critize will there be?
If they want to become ”organic intellectuals” – what experiences could you share with them? What have you learnt about this during your 40 years of work?
A lot of questions. The main one is: What advice would you give this young person?