Marx and the Idea of Commodity

Marx and the Idea of Commodity



Before we begin our adventure through Karl Marx and his complex idea of commodity, the purpose and intent of this web page should be noted. This particular page is aimed at providing the framework through which one may begin to critically engage in Marx’s notion of the commodity. Furthermore, this page should not be mistaken for a complete summation of Marx’s writings on the commodity, but rather a basic definition and introduction to the concept of commodity. With that said, let us begin with a brief introduction to the man Karl Marx.

The son of a lawyer, Marx was born on the 5th of May 1818 in Trevirorum, West Germany (known as Trier today). Educated at Bonn University and the University of Berlin, Marx found himself submerged in the timeless question of the meaning and purpose of life. Turning to a guy named Frederick Hegel (1770-1831), Marx studied his philosophy and came upon the idea that “[r]eason is constantly evolving in history towards an absolute goal” (Rius 20). This notion, along with Hegel’s The Philosophy of History, which posits that the progress of history is the direct result of the “struggle of the oppressed against the oppressors,” became the source of great inspiration for young Marx (Rius 21). A few years later, Marx became friends with Frederick Engles (1820-1895), together they wrote famous documents such as the Communist Manifesto, and the rest is history.

Still plagued with the questions of class struggle and notions of capitalism, Marx spent the last 25 years of his life writing his major work Das Kapital: Kritik der politischen Oekonomie, or Capital for those of us who do not speak German. Sadly enough, Marx died on March 14th 1883, at his desk, and managed to finish only the first of his three intended volumes. Fortunately, he grew an exceptionally long beard and completed enough of his great work to provide us with the concept of commodity.

In Part 1. Commodities and Money, Chapter 1. Commodities, Marx begins his investigation of societies and their wealth with the analysis of commodities. As analysis will demonstrate, the idea of commodity itself becomes the framework through which the larger concept of capitalism may be accessed and understood. Marx therefore initiates his critique of capitalism by defining commodity as the following:
“A commodity is, in the first place, an object outside of us, a
thing that by its properties satisfies human wants of some sort
or another. The nature of such wants, whether, for instance, they
spring from the stomach or from fancy, makes no difference.
Neither are we here concerned to know how the object satisfies
these wants, whether directly as means of subsistence, or
indirectly as means of production” (Marx 45).

More simply put, a worker produces an object (i.e. fabric, shoes, plastic, houses, etc.) that, despite the investment of their personal labor, remains as the boss’s property. This simple, yet crucial fact turns the object into merchandise, or a commodity. The boss, that is the possessor of wealth and commodities, is, for Marx, the embodiment of the Bourgeois; and the worker thus becomes the embodiment of the Proletariat. More important, however, is that the Bourgeois, in possessing the capital, maintains control over the use and exchange of those commodities. With this in mind, Marx continues his discussion of commodity by defining use-value and exchange-value.


Commodity and Use-Value

According to Marx, “[e]very useful thing, as iron, paper, &c., may be looked at from the two points of view of quality and quantity” (Marx 45). The diversity of production necessarily yields diverse modes of use, and is therefore the “work of history” to identify the various modes of use as well as the social standards by which those uses are assessed. Consequently, use-value is defined in the following terms:
“The utility of a thing makes it a use-value. But this utility is not
a thing of air. Being limited by the physical properties of the
commodity, it has no existence apart from that commodity. A
commodity, such as iron, corn, or a diamond, is therefore, so far
as it is a material thing, a use-value, something useful. This
property of a commodity is independent of the amount of labour
required to appropriate its useful qualities. […] Use-values
become a reality only by use or consumption: they also constitute
the substance of all wealth, whatever may be the social form of
that wealth” (Marx 46). What is especially important to extract from this preliminary definition of use-value is the claim that “[u]se-values become a reality only by use or consumption.” More simply put, the utility, or use-value, of a commodity cannot be fully realized or assessed until the object itself has entered into a system of exchange. Use-value is thus intrinsically related and dependent upon exchange-value. Furthermore, use-value, and subsequently exchange-value, cannot be neatly defined into either quality or quantity, but instead resides within the realms of both quality and quantity.


Commodity and Exchange-Value

Identifying the immediate desire to define exchange-value within quantitative terms, Marx notes that “exchange-value appears to be something accidental and purely relative, and consequently an intrinsic value, i.e., an exchange-value that is inseparably connected with, inherent in commodities, seems a contradiction in terms.” (Marx 46). The “contradiction in terms” that Marx aptly identifies is simply the argument that the exchange-value cannot be exclusively evaluated in terms of the commodity itself. Rather, the exchange-value, which, as earlier stated, makes the use-value a reality, must be productive of something that is both separate from and common to the commodities in question:
“Therefore, first: the valid exchange-values of a given commodity express
something equal: secondly, exchange-value, generally, is only the mode of
expression, the phenomenal form, or something contained in it, yet
distinguishable from it. […] the exchange-values of commodities must be
capable of being expressed in terms of something common to them all, of which
thing they represent a greater or less quantity.
This common ‘something’ cannot be either a geometrical, a chemical, or any
other natural property of commodities. Such properties claim our attention only
in so far as they affect the utility of those commodities, make them use-values.
But the exchange of commodities is evidently an act characterized by a total
abstraction from use-value is just as good as another, provided only it be present
in sufficient quantity” (Marx 47).
In arguing that exchange-value is a “phenomenal form” capable of expressing that which is outside of as well as contained within the commodity, Marx necessarily implicates commodity as that which must contain some quality whose utility, in “sufficient quantity,” is identifiable by social standards. That utility, however, is brought to light only when the exchange-value becomes an abstract act that is manifested as independent from the use-value.



Commodity and Human Labor

Recalling that a commodity is first a product of the worker, the commodity has inherent in it the character of human labor: “All that these things now tell us is, that human labour-power has been expended in their production, that human labour is embodied in them” (Marx 48). Human labour-power, in this regard, is the “total labour-power of society, which is embodied in the sum total of the values of all commodities, produced by that society” (Marx 49). Marx’s inclusion of society is crucial as it necessarily values “labour-power” in terms what it is socially necessary. As such, the actual value of commodity is itself assessed in terms of what is regarded as “socially necessary for its production:”
“The value of one commodity is to the value of any other, as the labour-time
necessary for the production of the one is to that necessary for the
production of the other. […] In general the greater the productiveness of labour,
the less is the labour-time required for the production of an article, the less
is the amount of labour crystallized in that article, and the less is its value;
and vice versa, the less the productiveness of labour, the greater is the
labour-time required for the production of an article, and the greater is its value.
The value of commodity, therefore, varies directly as the quantity, and inversely
as the productiveness, of the labour incorporated in it” (Marx 49-50).
The magnitude of the value of a commodity is therefore directly related and dependent upon the conception of human labor as that which is both composed of countless individual labors as well as expressive of the utility of the commodity. Human labor is therefore manifested in the commodity as both an expression of the individual investment of labor; and additionally as what is considered to be “socially necessary for its production.” In fixing the commodity within a social context, the notion of human labor becomes an abstraction as it functions to represent what the current society recognizes as beneficial. Important to note, however, is the distinction that the labor “finds expression in value,” but is not in possession of those qualities that create use-value (Marx 51). Implicated in this twofold nature of labor is the notion that useful labor becomes a reality when the object is seen as an object of utility.


In a fashion similar to use-value, the value of the actual labor is materialized when the product of labor becomes an object of utility. In its manifestation of value and utility, labor is then subject to similar modes of assessment:
“To become a commodity a product must be transferred to another, whom it
will serve as a use value, by means of exchange. Lastly nothing can have value,
without being an object of utility. If the thing is useless, so is the labour
contained in it; the labour does not count as labour, and therefore creates no
value […] The labour, whose utility is thus represented by the value in use of
its product, or which manifests itself by making its product a use value, we call
useful labor. In this connection we consider only its useful effect” (Marx 51).

What utility in an object and by extension, value in a commodity, come to represent is “human labour in the abstract, the expenditure of human labour in general” (Marx 54). The literal expenditure of human labor, specifically, the physical work invested into the object, is representative of both the directed aim of the product as well as human labor in the abstract. As such, the expenditure of labor, in terms of the abstract qualities assigned to human labor, functions to create and shape the value contained within commodities. With regard to the specific aim of labor, expenditure also represents that which is characteristic of useful labor; thereby producing “use values” (Marx 56). Ultimately, the value of the commodity and by extension the collective human labor, is relative to what is regarded as necessary by current society, by current human wants and needs; lending itself to a much more complex reading and understanding of the idea of commodity.

Commodity and Fetishism

Products of utility become commodities simply because they are first the products of individual and personal labor that is separate from the collective society. In adding together individual labor efforts, the sum total of human labor is created, thereby constituting the collective labor of society. In the context of use-value, the concept of commodity is relatively simple and direct:  
“A commodity appears, at first sight, a very trivial thing, and easily                    
understood. Its analysis shows that it is, in reality, a very queer thing,
abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties. So far as it
is a value in use, there is nothing mysterious about it, whether we consider it
from the point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying human
wants, or from the point of view that by its properties it is capable of satisfying
human wants, or from the point that those properties are the product of human
labour” (Marx 81).
What fundamentally complicates and makes mysterious the concept of a commodity is the very notion that individual labor takes a social form. In its social form, what becomes most difficult is the quantification and assessment of that individual labor. How we assess, how we determine the quantitative value of the “expenditure of human brain, nerves, muscles, &c.” is naturally called into question. Despite the inherent subjective nature of individual labor, the quality of human labor is valued objectively, thereby creating an “enigmatic character [to] the product of labour” (Marx 82). The value of labor, both individual and sum total, is therefore affirmed through its social relationships. It is precisely this social form that creates the fetishism of commodities: “This Fetishism of commodities has its origin, as the foregoing analysis has already shown, in the peculiar social character of the labour that produces them” (Marx 83).

Just as the use-value of commodities become a reality when actual exchange occurs, so the social value of individual labor asserts itself when the product of labor engages in the act of exchange. Indeed the impact of the social form is such that it makes difficult the separation between individual and collective. Furthermore, the social form makes inseparable the production of commodities from individual products of labor and the collective production of labor. This joining of the individual and the social, and hence the stages of the production of commodities, is the very mysterious and enigmatic character of commodities. More important, this intersection between the individual and the social becomes the location of the fetishism of commodities:
“A commodity is therefore a mysterious thing, simply because in it the
social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character
stamped upon the product of that labour; because the relation of the producers
to the sum total of their own labour is presented to them as a social relation,
existing not between themselves, but between the products of their labour. This
is the reason why the products of labour become commodities, social things
whose qualities are at the same time perceptible and imperceptible by the senses.
In the same way the light from an object is perceived by us not as the subjective
excitation of our optic nerve, but as the objective form of something outside the
eye itself. But, in the act of seeing […] [t]here is a physical relation between
physical things. But it is different with commodities. There, the existence of the
things quâ commodities, and the value relation between the products of labour
which stamps them as commodities, have absolutely no connection with their
physical properties and with the material relations arising therefrom. There it is
a definite social relation between men, that assumes, in their eyes, the fantastic
form of a relation between things. […] This I call the Fetishism which attaches
itself to the products of labour, so soon as they are produced as commodities, and
which is therefore inseparable from the production of commodities” (Marx 83).
Marked by their inherent social quality, commodities are necessarily in dialogue with current social trends. For example, what may have been considered useful, that is, in possession of a certain utility in the eighteenth century has either a different utility in the twentieth century, or has become entirely obsolete. Human labor, in following the same trend, also becomes a marker of current social trends; constantly changing as society itself changes. Indeed the advent and overwhelming flux of machinery has made much human labor obsolete. Historical examples such as the cotton gin, the sewing machine, and even the computer have called into question the value of certain individual labors that were, previous to the existence of these machines, considered to be socially valued and thus a commodity. While the basic framework of a commodity remains constant with the progression of time, what is in flux is the identification and labeling of products as commodities. Commodities, in this respect, become a critique of capitalism. They are themselves a collection of social markers, always calling attention to what the current society designates as valuable. As it is the “work of history” to identify utility, both past and present commodities equally trace the movement and progression of the larger social body known as history.


Selected Bibliography

Bottomore, Tom (ed.), Interpretations of Marx. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988.

Theories of Modern Capitalism. London: Allen and Unwin, 1985.

Derrida, Jacques, Specters of Marx. trans. Peggy Kamuf, New York and London:
Routledge, 1994.

Fromm, Erich (ed.), Marx’s Concept of Man. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1961.

Gramsci, Antonio, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, edited and translated by
Quintin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1972.

La Capra, Dominick, Rethinking Intellectual History: Texts, Contexts, Language.
Ithaca NY and London: Cornell University Press, 1983.

Lévi-Strauss, Claude, The Savage Mind. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1966.

Marx, Karl, The Communist Manifesto, ed. Frederick L. Bender. New York:
W.W. Norton and Company, 1988.

Prawer, S.S., Karl Marx and World Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1976.

Simmel, Georg (1900), Philosophy of Money. London: Routledge and Kehan Paul, 1978.

Tucker, Steve (ed.), TheMarx-Engles Reader, second edition. New York and London:
W.W. Norton and Company, 1978.

Philosophy and Myth in Karl Marx. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1961.

Works Cited:
Carver, Terrell, The Postmodern Marx. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University
Press, 1998.

Fischer, Ernst (ed.), The Essential Marx. trans. Anna Bostock, New York: Herder and
Herder, 1968.

Marx, Karl and Engles, Frederick, Collected Works: Capital, vol.1. New York:
International Publishers, 1996.

Renton, David (ed.), Marx on Globalisaton. London: Lawrence and Wishart Limited,

Rius, Marx for Beginners. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979.

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(Image of an “Homme Carrefour” from Donald J. Cosentino’s Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou [Los Angeles: UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History, 1995].)

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Posted by pada Juli 28, 2008 in cultural studies, marxism, philosophy






(Kajian Filosofis dari Pengalaman Empirik)

Muhammad Sasmito Djati


Polemik Teknologi Pembiakan Embrio.

Teknologi pembiakan embrio (pembiakan embrio di cawan petri) sebenarnya sudah lama berkembang, terutama dalam percobaan-percobaan di laboratorium, dan dilakukan pada binatang, bahkan di dunia peternakan sudah berkembang sedemikian pesat, sehingga menghasilkan banyak hewan ternak jenis unggulan, penelitian-penelitian di bidang ini telah dapat meningkatkan produksi peternakan di mana-mana. Demikian pula di bidang medis sudah banyak percobaan-percobaan medis di laboratorium memanfaatkan teknologi ini digunakan untuk memecahkan banyak masalah pengobatan dengan menggunakan percobaan pembiakan embrio hewan di cawan petri. Perkembangan teknologi ini mulai menjadi berita besar setelah lahirnya Luis Brown seorang anak manusia hasil perkawinan yang dilakukan melalui proses fertilisasi in vitro di akhir dekade tahun tujuhpuluhan, hasil teknologi ini mulai mengundang reaksi etika di kalangan rohaniawan, ulama dan pakar etika.


Dari sisi teknologi, meskipun perkembangan metode pembiakan embrio blastosis sudah dapat dilakukan secara relatif sempurna ternyata masih menyisakan banyak pertanyaan yang belum secara baik terjawab oleh para peneliti, bahkan menghasilkan beberapa mahzab metode kultur embrio. Mahzab metode pembiakan ini hanya disebabkan adanya fenomena “developmental block in vitro”, yang selalu terjadi dalam proses pembiakan embrio. Kasus ini sebenarnya kasus sederhana bila dibandingkan dengan persoalan yang jauh lebih rumit pada tahap pembiakan embrio lebih lanjut, tetapi menjadi polemik panjang bagi para peneliti yang menghasilkan kesimpulan berbeda-beda. Untuk memudahkan memahami beberapa pertanyaan tersebut, kita coba berpikir setback mulai dari peristiwa sebelum fertilisasi.


Peristiwa kapasitasi sperma, dimana sperma sebagai mahluk hidup yang berukuran relatif sangat kecil, tetapi dapat melakukan tindakan yang luar biasa yaitu melakukan perjalanan panjang dengan segala macam tantangannya sampai dia bisa menembus zona pelusida. Sepertinya dia bisa mengenali benar sifat-sifat sel telur, bagaimana bisa begitu? Padahal sel telur adalah mahluk dari dunia lain yang yang belum pernah dikenalinya. Begitu pula bagaimana sel telur mampu menangkap sel sperma dan menerimanya dan akhirnya menyatu menjadi bagian dari dirinya? Yang selanjutnya berkembang menjadi satu individu diploid dan berkembang dengan begitu indahnya menjadi individu dewasa. Belum lagi bila kita memahami peristiwa singami yaitu menyatunya dua inti haploid, secara acak antara kromosom dan DNA dari dua mahluk yang berbeda menjadi individu baru yang sama sekali lain dengan orang tuanya dengan komposisi sel yang diploid. DNA tersebut membentuk untaian berganda (berpasangan) berpilinpilin berbentuk pita yang sangat tertata rapi, yang masing-masing menyandikan fungsi tertentu, yang bila terekspresi akan menunjukkan perangai dari mahluk hidup tersebut, bahkan para peneliti begitu yakin catatan kehidupan mahluk tersebut ada disini. Untaian DNA tersebut oleh para ilmuwan sering disebut “dogma sentral kehidupan” (Klug dan Cumming, 2000), sedangkan peneliti lain menyebutnya sebagai “blue print of life” (Hartl dan Jones, 1998) dari individu baru tersebut. Para peneliti yakin bahwa di sini catatan destinasi dari kehidupan mahluk tersebut. Kalau direnungkan lebih dalam, para peneliti bidang biologi molekular memahami untaian DNA tersebut sepintas seperti pemahaman mekanistik diterministik mirip pandangan para fisikawan yang sering disebut paradigma Newtonian. Yaitu apabila kondisi awal dari sesuatu dapat ditentukan terlebih dahulu secara benar dan akurat, maka kondisi berikutnya dapat diprediksi secara benar dan tepat. Pandangan-pandangan semacam ini sering dianggap pandangan fisika klasikal, ini berarti setelah terjadinya peristiwa singami, dimana rangkaian untaian DNA telah terbentuk, maka kita secara teoritis dapat memprediksi destinasi mahluk tersebut secara benar dan tepat. Akan tetapi apabila kita memahami lebih dalam lagi, berapa panjang untaian DNA tersebut? Pemerintah Amerika Serikat mencoba membuat proyek besar yang sering disebut “human genome project”. Pada saat ini telah dipetakan lebih dari 3 milyar pasangan basa yang dimiliki manusia. Dapat dibayangkan seandainya kita dapat mengetik pasangan basa tersebut dengan ukuran huruf (font) 12, berapa banyak kertas yang kita butuhkan? Kalau kita membuat pita berapa kilometer panjangnya? Padahal itu hanya gambaran paling sederhana dari untaian DNA. Gambaran tersebut hanya merupakan gambaran susunan anatomis morfologis dari DNA saja, kita belum bicara fungsi dari pasangan basa tersebut yang akan jauh lebih sulit lagi.


Kalau kita mencoba berandai-andai saja barangkali ada sekelompok peneliti mencoba untuk mengetahui fungsi setiap pasangan basa tersebut dari masing-masing pasangan basa yang telah diketahui oleh manusia, sekali lagi ini hanya berandai-andai saja. Dapatkah kita memprediksi destinasi dari masing-masing individu dengan tepat dan benar? Jawaban hampir pasti niscaya dan mungkin, dapat dibayangkan ekspresi sebuah gen itu dipengaruhi oleh banyak faktornya, mulai dari inherent sifat gen itu maupun kondisi lingkungannya dan interaksi dari sifat inherent dari gen tersebut dengan lingkungannya, padahal variable pasangan basanya lebih dari tiga milyar, masing-masing gen mempunyai sifat inherent yang berbeda dan kemungkinan adanya kombinasi interaksinya yang bersifat sinergis antagonistik, dominan maupun resesif. Meskipun hanya berandai-andai hal tersebut niscaya dan mungkin itulah pandangan para ahli yang mengikuti paham paradigma teori kuantum suatu pandangan yang oleh para filosof disebut pandangan posmodern.


Di sisi lain kita yakin ada sebuah penciptaan peristiwa alam yang telah dirancang dengan detail. Sehingga dengan keyakinan semacam ini peristiwa tersebut bukan peristiwa kebetulan dan peristiwa keniscayaan seperti banyak diungkapkan oleh para peneliti. Secara biokimiawi bahan penyusun sperma maupun sel telur telah banyak diketahui, Tetapi jawaban biokimiawi tidak dapat memuaskan jawaban tentang proses penciptaan. Bagaimana rangkaian peristiwa tersebut terjadi? Sebagai ilustrasi apabila kita punya tembaga, punya aluminum, dan beberapa bahan pembuat pesawat terbang, setelah bahan-bahan kita kumpulkan dapatkah dia menjadi pesawat terbang dengan begitu saja? Atau mungkinkah jadi secara kebetulan? Saya yakin adanya pesawat terbang pasti didesain sedemikian rupa, dengan rancangan yang sangat teliti dan tujuan pembuatan yang jelas, maka terciptalah sebuah pesawat terbang, jadi bukan merupakan peristiwa kebetulan. Atas dasar ini rasa relegiositas saya terusik kembali. Saya sangat sependapat dengan Albert Einstein seorang filofos postmodern lainnya, seperti ungkapnya yang menyatakan bahwa “Tuhan tidak pernah melempar dadu!” Apakah benar peristiwa menakjubkan itu hanya sekedar keniscayaan (necessity) atau hanya kebetulan (possiblity). Seharusnya kita yakin, peristiwa tersebut merupakan peristiwa yang terencana dan ditata secara detail dan apik dengan tujuan yang jelas.


Perkembangan Teknologi Kloning Embrio dan Embryonic Stem Cells.

Tahun 90-an yang lalu banyak sekali perkembangan di bidang ilmu embriologi. Di awal tahun 90-an kita teringat sebuah film fiksi ilmiah yang sangat terkenal yaitu “Jurasic Park” yang memfiksikan bahwa Dinosaurus dapat diperbanyak melalui sel-sel darahnya yang terawetkan secara alami. Pada saat itu, film ini dianggap khayalan atau fiksi yang tidak masuk akal, karena tidak mungkin manusia membuat klon hewan yang berasal dari sel hewan dewasa. Pada saat itu klon hewan-hewan tingkat tinggi hanya dibuat dari sel toti/pluripoten yang berasal dari sel-sel embrio. Tetapi pada tahun 1997 dunia hampir tertegun dan terhenyak dengan ditemukannya teknologi transfer inti, dimana seekor domba lahir dari hasil perbanyakan sel hewan dewasa yaitu si domba “Dolly” oleh Ilmuwan Skotlandia yang bernama Ian Wilmut. Ternyata film fiksi ilmiah “Jurasic Park” bukan hanya film fiksi, tetapi benar-benar merupakan film ilmiah, mimpi-mimpi manusia bisa menjadi kenyataan. Bila kita melihat peristiwa ini pandangan diterminisme bisa goyah, bagaimana mungkin sel-sel hewan dewasa yang sudah determined bisa diubah menjadi individu baru kembali? Bukankah itu suatu keniscayaan saja? Dari sini sepertinya teori kuantum tampaknya mendekati kebenaran. Sesuatu tidaklah mesti determined tetapi tetap necessity dan possibility. Perkembangan teknologi kloning embrio memang cukup menghebohkan bukan hanya dunia sain dan teknologi tetapi juga etika. pernah saya merenung bagaimana kalau kita membongkar makamnya Abraham Lincoln untuk membuat klonnya, agar terlahir kembarannya agar supaya pada suatu hari nanti negara adi daya AS kembali ke khitah perjuangannya, untuk membebaskan perbudakan-perbudakan dan penindasan-penindasan. Atau bagaimana kalau kita membuat klon Bapak pendiri bangsa ini yaitu Bung Karno, agar suatu saat nanti kita benar-benar menjadi bangsa yang bersatu utuh mempunyai visi nasionalisme yang jelas untuk masa depan bangsa ini, seperti yang beliau cita-citakan. Bahkan penemuan ini juga mengilhami pemikiran kosmologis fisikawan Stephen Hawking dalam pidato “Millennium Evening”. Dia perkirakan di masa yang akan datang akan ada manusia-manusia super (genetically improved human). Relung-relung kehidupan kemanusian juga terkena imbas dari penemuan ini, tetapi saya sebagai peneliti di bidang ini sejak awal tidak begitu tertarik untuk mengembangkan teknologi kloning semacam ini, karena dari segi aplikasi teknologinya, teknologi ini masih banyak mengandung masalah, apalagi bila dilihat dari dimensi etikanya Banyak ilmuwan yang kurang memahami teknologi kloning ini berharap terlalu banyak terhadap hasil penelitian ini tanpa tahu kesulitan teknis dan problem ilmiahnya yang masih banyak pertanyaan. Antara lain telah diketahui ternyata si Dolly mengalami proses penuaan lebih cepat di bandingkan umur kelahirannya. Hasil penemuan ini sebenarnya mirip dengan pengamatan yang saya lakukan di media biak, yaitu klon sel-sel embrio akan terus berkembang sesuai dengan tahap pembelahannya, meskipun sel tersebut dapat merekontruksi menjadi satu individu baru (Djati, 1998). Dapat dibayangkan apabila kita lakukan ini pada manusia, dimana teknologi ini akan menghasilkan seorang bayi tetapi sebenarnya dia sudah berumur dewasa. Jelas akan mengganggu rasa kemanusiaan kita. Belum lagi masalah lain berupa teknik pembiakkannya dan tingkat keberhasilannya yang masih sangat rendah. Tanpa mengecilkan arti penemuan ini, saya masih lebih tertarik melakukan penelitian di bidang teknologi Embryonic Stem Cell, karena saya melihat teknologi ini lebih jelas manfaat dan tujuannya. Di samping itu, masih sangat banyak pertanyaan ilmiah yang belum terjawab, sehingga sangat menarik untuk dikaji secara ilmiah. Teknologi Embryonic Stem Cell (ESC) merupakan teknologi pembiakan sel-sel embrio berupa sel-sel inner mass mulai dari tahap perkembangan blastosis sampai ke tahap berikutnya. Teknologi ini bukan untuk memperoleh embrio ataupun fetus utuh melainkan untuk mengkultur sel-sel inner mass, setelah diisolasi dan dibiakkan secara in vitro. Beberapa peneliti berharap teknologi ESC ini dapat digunakan untuk meningkatkan efisiensi beberapa percobaan pembuatan hewan transgenik. Teknologi ESC berkembang pesat di awal tahun 80-an terutama yang berkaitan dengan percobaan-percobaan sel-sel tumor. Pada mencit, sel-sel tumor dengan mudah berkembang biak melalui transplantasi embrio atau sel-sel embrio di bagian extra-uterine. Percobaan semacam ini sangat bermanfaat untuk menganalisa banyak aspek diferensiasi sel, maupun biologi perkembangan dan pengobatan tumor pada mamalia dengan keberhasilan percobaan sangat tinggi (Damjanov dkk,1987).


Terilhami dari prospek pengembangan hewan transgenik yang sangat berguna di bidang peternakan maupun kedokteran serta penelitian biologi dasar tentang teori diferensiasi dan proliferasi sel, dan di samping itu tersedianya banyak embrio tersisa akibat penelitian disertasi saya, sejak tahun 1996 saya mencoba membuat percobaan Embryonic Stem Cell. Permasalahan utama dalam teknologi ESC adalah bagaimana caranya menjaga sel-sel ESC tetap mengalami proliferasi tetapi tidak terjadi diferensiasi. Permasalahan ini didasari sebuah pemikiran bahwa dalam upaya efisiensi pembuatan hewan transgenik membutuhkan stok ESC cukup banyak untuk digunakan sebagai sel donor untuk injeksi blastosis dalam pembuatan hewan transgenik. Diharapkan sel-sel tersebut merupakan sel yang masih bersifat pluripoten. Saya menyusun kerangka konsep teori untuk mengatur strategi dalam membiakkan dan mengisolasi sel-sel ES, dengan harapan bahwa ESC yang saya biakkan tersebut dapat dengan cepat mengalami proliferasi tetapi tidak terjadi diferensiasi sel. Penyusunan kerangka konsep teori ini di landasi oleh ketidak berhasilan para peneliti terdahulu terutama dalam membiakkan dan mengisolasi.


Pada saat saya merencanakan penelitian tersebut, ternyata telah banyak jurnal yang menyatakan bahwa teknologi untuk menghambat proses diferensiasi sel di dalam media biak hampir mustahil dilakukan. Informasi ini membuat saya berfikir kembali apakah mungkin penelitian ini dilanjutkan? Tetapi di akhir tahun 1998 John Gearheart seorang peneliti dari Universitas John Hopkin mempublikasikan hasil riset ESC bahwa teknologi ESC memungkinkan kita dapat membiakkan klon ESC manusia secara simultan dengan tujuan akhir untuk mendapatkan sel-sel “spare part”. Pada penelitian ini Gear Heart menggunakan klon ESC manusia (lihat gambar 1). Sel-sel tersebut dibiarkan melakukan diferensiasasi pada media biak, dan dapat menghasilkan tipe-tipe sel yang berbeda-beda berupa stem sel neuron, muscle dan hemapoietic. Sel-sel inilah yang oleh para peneliti disebut sebagai sel-sel “spare parts”. Meskipun penelitian ini baru penemuan awal dari sebuah rencana penelitian jangka panjang, tetapi dapat mengilhami banyak peneliti untuk melakukan penelitian yang lebih besar lagi, terutama bagaimana caranya membiakan sel-sel embrio tersebut menjadi sel-sel “spare part” tertentu dengan harapan dapat diaplikasikan dalam transplantasi sel. Hasil penelitian tersebut memang merubah niat saya untuk mencoba menghambat diferensiasi sel-sel embrio, tetapi justru dibiarkan sel-sel tersebut berdiferensiasi dan berkembang menjadi berbagai kemungkinan sel-sel tertentu. Dari hasil penelitian saya, teknologi ini sangat mungkin dikembangkan di Indonesia (Lihat gambar 2) mengingat sumber daya peneliti mempunyai potensi untuk mengembangkannya.


Gambar 1. Klon human ESC hasil penelitian Gear Heart (1998) yang telah

dikembangkan di USA.


Gambar 2 : Klon Goat ESC hasil penelitian Djati (2002) yang telah dilakukan di Malang-Indonesia. Prospek Pengembangan Embryonic Stem Cells


Teknologi ESC dan teknologi kloning dengan menggunakan transfer inti menjadi suatu teknologi yang sangat potensial prospektif untuk aplikasi di bidang kedokteran dan peternakan. Penemuan teknologi ini membuat para peneliti mendapatkan inspirasi untuk mengembangkan penelitian-penelitian di bidang ESC dan teknologi transfer inti serta teknologi rekayasa genetika untuk dapat menyelesaikan masalah kedokteran yang selama ini manusia seperti pasrah, tanpa bisa mengobatinya, misalnya beberapa penyakit digeneratif permanen seperti diabetes mellitus, alzheimer, parkinson, dan penyakit-penyakit kelainan genetis, bahkan penyakit AIDS. Pada hakekatnya penyakit-penyakit tersebut sudah dianggap penyakit yang sudah tidak mungkin disembuhkan karena adanya kerusakan permanen dari sel-sel tubuh manusia. Beberapa peneliti berspekulasi apabila seseorang membutuhkan transplantasi sumsum tulang belakang untuk menyembuhkan penyakit kankernya, maka kemungkinan dia untuk mendapatkan donor yang bersedia dan mempunyai kondisi genetis yang sesuai akan sulit. Kesulitan ini dapat diatasi dengan menggunakan kombinasi teknologi transfer inti dan rekayasa genetik, dengan memanfaatkan sel telur yang telah dienukleasi dan digantikan materi genetik yang sesuai, maka hanya dalam beberapa hari dia akan mendapat stem sel yang sesuai untuk ditransplasikan kepada pasien tersebut.


Rideout dan Hochedlinger (2002) menggunakan combine therapeutic cloning melakukan enukleasi sel telur tikus dan digantikan sel kulit dari tikus dewasa yang menderita penyakit genetis immuno deficiency. Percobaan ini menggunakan metode untuk memutar kembali developmental clock nucleus sel dewasa agar terjadi proses reprograming sel tersebut menjadi sel totipoten. Harapannya sel tersebut dapat merekonstruksi menjadi individu baru berupa embrio dengan kondisi genetik yang identik dengan donor. Setelah sel berkembang menjadi blastosis, sel diisolasi dan dibiakkan menjadi ESC.


Gambar 3: Metode combine therapuitic cloning oleh Rideout dan Hochedlinger (2002)


Culture tail tip cells

Nuclear transfer into

enuclated oocyte

Activate and culture to


Isolate isogenic

Rag2 -/- cells

Repair Rag2 gene

in ES cells


into EBs

Dissociate Ebs and infect

with HoxB4iGFP

Espand HSC culture

and transplant

Rag2 -/-


Terapi genetis dilakukan pada sel-sel tersebut, agar supaya sel-sel tersebut dapat ditransplantasikan, diperlukan adanya tambahan teknologi penyisipan immunocompromizegene, artinya tinggal selangkah lagi penelitian ini dapat dimanfaatkan untuk terapi genetis pada manusia (lihat gambar3).


Beberapa penyakit kebutaan seperti luka mata, gangguan kornea maupun katarak, selama ini masih bisa diatasi di dunia kedokteran, katarak dapat dibuang, kornea dapat ditransplantasikan, glaukoma dapat disembuhkan. Tetapi bila terjadi kerusakan ataupun kematian pada sel-sel fotoreseptor akibat age-related macular degeneration, retinitis pigmentosa dan diabetes sangat sulit sekali disembuhkan, dan pasien-pasien ini akan mengalami kebutaan total seumur hidupnya. Penggunaan stem sel baik embryonic maupun adult stem cell sangat bermanfaat seperti penelitian yang dilakukan oleh Young (2002).


Penelitian tersebut menunjukkan bahwa ketika stem sel diinjeksikan ke retina tikus yang buta karena faktor-faktor genetis, ada sesuatu yang menakjubkan, sel-sel tersebut bergerak menuju retina yang rusak dan berubah menjadi sel-sel retina normal (normal-looking retina) dengan serabut-serabut saraf penglihatan normal (normal-looking nerve fibers) dan mengembang menuju lokasi penglihatan normal, seperti saraf-saraf optic memberitahu otak (susunan saraf pusat) apa yang sedang terjadi di depan mata tikus tersebut. Young (2002) juga menambahkan bahwa stem sel mempunyai potensi untuk melakukan rewriting developmental rules, sehingga dalam kasus ini stem sel berpotensi untuk memperbaiki retina yang rusak. Meskipun dari penelitian ini masih belum bisa menunjukkan bahwa tikus tersebut dapat melihat, tetapi dari penelitian ini sudah menunjukkan satu langkah ke depan yang sangat berarti dalam aplikasi penelitian ESC.


Resiko Aplikasi Teknologi Embryonic Stem Cells

Selain hal-hal positif tentang teknologi ESC, ternyata pada aplikasinya banyak sekali kendala teknis yang dihadapi oleh para peneliti bidang ini. Antara lain adanya resiko sel-sel ESC tersebut berkembang menjadi sel-sel tumor ataupun kanker. Beberapa penelitian menunjukkan bahwa problematika pembiakan sel secara in vitro yang dilangsungkan dalam waktu yang cukup lama akan menyebabkan sel-sel tersebut mengalami transformasi kromosomal, sehingga sel-sel tersebut akan menjadi aneuploid. Peristiwa ini sering disebut “in vitro transformation”. Perilaku sel tersebut sebenarnya secara teoritis sudah diketahui oleh banyak peneliti sejak lama. Seperti Paul (1975) yang menyatakan bahwa bila sel-sel dibiakkan dalam waktu yang lama, sel akan mengalami transformasi secara spontan. Sedangkan Quintilla dkk. (1986) menyatakan sel-sel tersebut bisa menjadi sel-sel abadi/lestari (immortal cell lines), sel-sel neoplastik, ataupun sel-sel malignant. Penyebab-penyebab kejadian transformasi sel sampai sejauh ini belum sepenuhnya dapat diatasi oleh para ilmuwan, adanya kompleksitas sistem pembiakan untuk menghasilkan sel-sel yang telah terdiferensiasi merupakan salah satu penyebabnya. Sehingga pada saat ini para peneliti ESC sebenarnya masih berjuang untuk mengatasi hal ini. Apabila para peneliti telah dapat mengatasi masalah ini, mereka masih juga harus menghadapi masalah lain yaitu bagaimana mengisolasi sel-sel yang telah terdeferensiasi? Sel yang telah terdeferensiasi adalah sel yang sudah mempunyai fungsi sangat spesifik, sehingga bagaimana mengisolasinya secara tepat tanpa mengganggu dan merusak sifat spesifikasinya, merupakan problem ilmiah yang tidak mudah dijawab dengan tuntas, belum lagi persoalan transplantasi sel yaitu persoalan immunologis bagi resipien.


Masalah-masalah tersebut menyebabkan beberapa peneliti yang menentang penggunaan teknologi klon embryonic stem cell menganjurkan untuk tidak menggunakan embryonic stem cell dalam mengatasi problem penyakit degeneratif atau penyakit genetis. Mereka lebih setuju untuk menggunakan adult stem cell seperti yang di lakukan oleh Cavazzana-calvo (2000) yang dapat menyembuhkan 3 bayi penderita penyakit genetic immunodefiensi dengan menggunakan terapi genetis yaitu dengan menggantikan stem cell dari sumsum tulangnya dengan stem cell sumsum tulang belakangnya yang telah dilakukan terapi gen, sehingga tidak terjadi penolakkan terhadap transplantasi ini oleh tubuhnya sendiri. Bayi-bayi tersebut tumbuh menjadi anak-anak normal tanpa ada perlakuan pengobatan lagi. Penggunaan adult stem cell dapat mengatasi kesulitan sistem kultur dan sistem isolasi ESC, sehingga peluang sel-sel tersebut mengalami transformasi in vitro dan persoalan isolasinya dapat diatasinya. Tetapi beberapa peneliti juga masih mempertanyakan efektifitas keberhasilan penggunaan teknologi adult stem cell ini, sehingga proses dialektika saintifik tentang aplikasi ESC maupun adult stem cell juga masih memerlukan waktu yang panjang terutama apabila kita mengharapkan thesis untuk dijadikan titik temunya dan memecahkan masalahnya atau mungkin justru antithesisnya yang kita dapatkan.


Mengabaikan Pertanyaan yang Tak Terjawab.

Rupanya prospek baik dari teknologi ini membuat para peneliti kurang sabar menunggu hasil-hasil penelitian-penelitian di bidang ini. Beberapa peneliti telah menggunakan embrio-embrio manusia untuk membuat klon ESC, sehingga reaksi keras di masyarakat bermunculan di mana-mana. Mulai dari politisi, negarawan, rohaniawan, maupun para peneliti stem sel sendiri. Seperti yang telah dideklarasikan oleh beberapa peneliti dari Massachuset pada tanggal 12 Juli 2001 bahwa mereka telah memulai membuat kloning manusia untuk menghasilkan ESC. Aplikasi teknologi ESC meskipun banyak kendala-kendala teknisnya, tetapi menurut saya teknologi ini mempunyai prospek cukup baik. Di bidang kedokteran, beberapa peneliti berharap bahwa penemuan lebih lanjut akan benar-benar mewujudkan cita-cita mereka. Saya pun berharap dapat mewujudkan cita-cita ini apabila saya bisa mendapatkan grant lanjutan untuk melakukan penelitian di bidang ini secara lebih mendalam. ESC sangat bermanfaat untuk digunakan pada terapi-terapi penyakit-penyakit degeneratif permanen, seperti alzheimer, diabetes mellitus, kerusakan-kerusakan permanen dari sel atau jaringan pada organ-organ vital, akan sangat berarti buat manusia maupun kemanusiaan. Kelemahan-kelemahan teknologi ini memang menunjukkan adanya banyak pertanyaan saintifik yang tidak mudah dijawab oleh para ilmuwan, tetapi pertanyaan-pertanyaan tersebut seperti sengaja dilalui begitu saja oleh para ilmuwan. Sekali lagi di kala saya mencoba melupakan sebuah pertanyaan, ternyata saya akan ketemu dengan pertanyaan lain yang lebih mengusik hati maupun pikiran saya sebagai peneliti. Tanpa kita sadari perkembangan sain dan teknologi yang telah dilakukan oleh manusia sudah demikian cepatnya dan sudah sangat mempengaruhi segala sendi-sendi dan relung-relung kehidupan manusia itu secara simultan, sehingga sain dan teknologi sangat mempengaruhi perubahan-perubahan budaya manusia. Teknologi ESC merupakan suatu contoh kasus. Seperti yang saya ungkap sebelumnya bahwa sebenarnya manusia masih belum selesai memecahkan satu masalah, bagaimana membiakan embrio secara sempurna pasca blastosis? Pertanyaan ini belum terjawab dengan baik, tetapi manusia mencoba melangkah lebih lanjut dengan mencoba membiakkan embrio pasca blastosis dengan mengisolasi sel-sel tersebut, sehingga terjadi proses simplifikasi pembiakan. Simplifikasi sebenarnya beresiko tinggi, karena dia berusaha menghindari faktor-faktor kompleks yang seharusnya terjadi. Logika sederhana ini akan menghasilkan suatu premis bahwa simplifikasi akan mengandung risiko yang bersifat unpredictable future akibat diabaikan faktor-faktor komplek tadi. Pengembangan teknologi ESC secara teknis masih banyak mengandung resiko-resiko seperti dikemukakan sebelumnya.


Kesadaran Adanya Intelectual, Instintive dan Religious Space.

Persoalan-persoalan teknis metodologis tersebut seharusnya menyadarkan kita, apabila kita mencoba mengaplikasikan teknologi tersebut pada manusia. Aplikasi teknologi ini akan mengusik akan arti sebuah makna, saya termasuk orang yang yakin bahwa manusia memiliki sebuah kebutuhan akan jawaban atas pertanyaan tentang “makna” karena jawaban pertanyaan ini bersifat imaterial atau batiniah. Pertanyaan tentang makna hidup, tujuan hidup, apa yang terjadi sesudah kematian, merupakan contoh betapa manusia memerlukan jawaban yang tepat agar kehidupannya tidak kehilangan orientasi. Kondisi ini menunjukkan bahwa manusia bukan hanya mahluk yang mempunyai intelectual space tetapi juga religious space. Pada dasarnya pula manusia adalah mahluk yang selalu gelisah, sebuah fenomena kejiwaan yang tak dimiliki oleh mahluk lain. Kegelisahan menunjukkan bahwa setiap manusia merindukan akan kebahagian, religiusitas menjadi kerinduan, seni dan keindahan menjadi dambaan, cinta kasih menjadi perekat dan penguat kehidupan. Kegelisahanlah yang mendorong manusia untuk membuat hidup ini menjadi lebih punya orientasi, dan menyadarkan manusia, bahwa mereka memiliki harapan dan impian. Saya termasuk orang yang meyakini bahwa manusia di samping mempunyai intelectual space dan religious space, juga mempunyai instinctive space. Instinctive space merupakan sifat manusia sebagai mahluk biologis. Instinctive space pada dasarnya merupakan kekuatan untuk mempertahankan hidup dan melangsungkan kehidupan biologis kemaklukannya. Tetapi apabila manusia hanya mengandalkan kelebihan intelectual dan instinctive space maka manusia akan menjadi mahluk yang sangat diperbudak untuk menguasai dan mengembangkan teknologinya yang tanpa tahu makna akan hakekat tujuan hidupnya. Manusia benar-benar akan menjadi the survival is the fitest seperti teori yang dikemukakan oleh Darwin. Di dalam masalah teknologi ESC dalam aplikasinya mengandung dilema pemaknaan, di satu sisi ESC diharapkan dapat mempunyai nilai kemanusiaan terutama bila dilakukan secara hati-hati dan diaplikasikan untuk penyakit-penyakit yang selama ini sulit diobati. Di sisi lain percobaanpercobaan yang sudah dilakukan, ternyata menggunakan embrio manusia itu sendiri, yang bisa berarti melakukan perusakan pemaknaan nilai-nilai kemanusiaan itu sendiri.


Dari dilema ini para peneliti ESC yang mendukung penuh penelitian ini berhadapan dengan para rohaniawan dan beberapa peneliti yang tidak sepaham dengan aplikasi ESC ini. Ada dua titik ekstrem dalam memandang aplikasi teknologi ESC. Mereka yang menolak tanpa kompromi maupun beberapa peneliti yang mendukung total pengembangan teknologi ini. Meskipun mereka yang menolak terdapat beberapa pendapat, misalkan selama dilakukan rekayasa embrio itu pada binatang mereka masih menerimanya, tetapi kalau dilakukan pada manusia, mereka sama sekali menolaknya. Para peneliti ini mencoba mencari alternatif dengan menggunakan adult stem cell, artinya penggunaan adult stem cell yang berasal dari bagian tubuh manusia masih bisa ditolerir, tetapi kalau sampai terjadi perusakan embrio yang mereka yakini sebagai calon manusia mereka menolaknya. Tentu saja bila kita berdiri pada titik-titik ekstrem, maka pemecahan masalah tidak akan mungkin tercapai, tetapi berada di titik tengah pun bukan berarti dapat memudahkan pemecahan masalah apalagi menyangkut masalah krusial manusia, pada pemecahan masalah krusial titik tengah bisa menjadi suatu sifat ambigu yang belum tentu dapat memecahkan masalah tersebut.


Adanya kutub-kutub semacam ini justru dapat memunculkan proses transendensi manusia. Proses trasendensi manusia ini muncul melalui suatu proses penyadaran akan adanya keterbatasan untuk memahami fenomena fenomena alam, dan akan mengakibatkan memunculkan dimensi religiositas manusia. Kesadaran adanya banyak persoalan saintifik yang tidak dapat dipahami secara sempurna oleh manusia dan problem pemaknaan sebuah kehidupan manusia, menimbulkan sebuah keyakinan pada diri kita bahwa manusia untuk memahami fenomena alam memerlukan religious space di dalam dirinya.


Pemahaman akan sain dan makna kehidupan manusia dibatasi oleh dimensi ruang dan waktu. Bahkan dimensi metafisika yang berusaha keluar dari demensi ruang dan waktupun merupakan dimensi tersendiri dari pemahaman manusia yang digambarkan oleh Fariduddin Attar dalam Ismail (1980) sebagai suatu usaha manusia untuk keluar dari peti besar yang tertutup di atasnya, namun manusia masuk dalam satu peti besar yang lain.


Bisa saja manusia berusaha menembus cakrawala dari dimensi ruang dan waktu berupa pemikiran-pemikiran filosofis ataupun metafisika, tetapi itu berarti manusia memasuki dimensi yang kebenarannya bersifat sangat spekulatif. Cara berpikir spekulatif manusia ini membuat kegelisahan manusia itu sendiri, kegelisahan tersebut memerlukan sebuah jawaban, tetapi jawabannya bagaikan seseorang melihat fatamorgana, jawaban yang tidak sebenarnya, sehingga manusia sadar atau tidak selalu menyisakan relung religi dalam dirinya. Relung religi ini yang saya sebut sebagai religiositas dari seseorang.


Religiositas ini yang menyebabkan manusia mempunyai rasa dipendensi, faktor dipendensi ini merupakan faktor tak terbantahkan yang menyadarkan manusia adalah sebatas mahluk juga, sama dengan mahluk ciptaan yang lain. Dia pasti sangat tergantung dengan hukum-hukum alam, dia akan mengalami proses alamiah seperti mahluk-mahluk lainnya, manusia tidak bisa melawan proses alam terhadap dirinya, meskipun dirinya merasa dapat melampaui batas cakrawala dimensi ruang dan waktu. Sebagai contoh fisikawan besar Stephen Hawking yang sangat yakin akan kemampuan manusia untuk dapat mengetahui segala sesuatu seperti teori yang diungkapkannya yaitu “Theory of Everything” (TOE) dia yakin bahwa manusia dapat menangkap pikiran Tuhan (Mahzar, dkk, 1998), yang berarti dia yakin kemampuan manusia untuk dapat melewati dimensi ruang dan waktu. Tetapi seperti kita ketahui semua bahwa dia sendiri tidak mampu mengatasi proses alamiah biasa akibat menderita amyotropic latheral

sclerosis. Artinya pada saat itu dirinya sebenarnya sangat dipendensi terhadap sebuah hukum alam biasa yang siapa saja bisa mengalaminya dan tidak berdaya untuk menolaknya. Manusia merupakan mahluk yang dipenden tetapi sekaligus mempunyai kemampuan untuk mengembangkan otonomi seluas-luasnya. Ia adalah makhluk di antara mahluk-mahluk lain, karena itu di dalam diri

manusia terdapat seluruh unsur kemahlukan yang ada, namun juga memiliki unsur yang terhubung dengan dimensi ilahiah, sebagai akibatnya manusia

merupakan mahluk yang mempunyai kreatifitas sangat menonjol.


Dependensinya harus terangkat ke dalam otonominya, dipendensinya bukan merupakan keterbatasan mutlak (fatalis) melainkan sebuah kebebasan untuk memilih dari otoritas otonominya. Puncak dari transendensi bukan merupakan kebebasan tanpa batas atau ketidak berdayaan total, melainkan kesadaran akan keterbatasan dari sebuah penemuan akan kebenaran illahiah. Sebagai mahluk yang mempunyai religious space, manusia tidak boleh terjebak dalam kesederhanan atau simplifikasi instinctive. Manusia bukan hanya mahluk yang hidupnya hanya cukup dipenuhi sekedar makan, minum, selamat dari mara bahaya dan hubungan seksual. Ada butir kehidupan yang tidak dikenal oleh mahluk lain, seperti kasih sayang, keterharuan, kerinduan, keluhuran budi, yang kesemuanya menunjukkan adanya space di atas insting manusia. Manusia berkewajiban mengangkat dimensi instinctivenya ke dimensi religi dengan menggunakan intellectual spacenya, maka manusia akan menemukan sebuah makna kehidupan.


Perlukah Bioetika ?

Etika memang tidak termasuk dalam domain ilmu dan teknologi yang bersifat otonom, tetapi dalam penerapan teknologi membutuhkan dimensi etis sebagai sebuah pertimbangan. Pertimbangan ini akan mempunyai implikasi lebih lanjut dari perkembangan ilmu pengetahuan dan teknologi. Pada dasarnya ilmu pengetahuan dan teknologi seharusnya berfungsi untuk mengembangkan nilai-nilai kemanusiaan, bukan untuk menghancurkan nilainilai tersebut. Tanggung jawab etis bukanlah berkehendak mencampuri atau bahkan menghancurkan otoritas ilmu pengetahuan dan teknologi, tetapi bahkan dapat sebagai umpan balik bagi pengembangan ilmu pengetahuan dan teknologi itu sendiri, yang sekaligus akan lebih memperkokoh eksistensi manusia dan kemanusiaan itu sendiri. Bioetika sebenarnya adalah bagian integral dari etika yang saya ungkap sebelumnya, tetapi saya memang menginginkan akan sebuah penekanan etika terhadap masalah biologis. Hal ini disebabkan perkembangan ilmu biologi bersama-sama dengan bioteknologi berlalu sangat cepat terutama setelah tahun tujuh puluhan dengan ditemukannya teknologi rekombinasi DNA, kloning di tingkat DNA, aplikasi teknologi fertilisasi in vitro pada manusia, sehingga akhir tahun 90-an seperti teknologi kloning ESC perkembangan ilmu ini sangat signifikan. Perkembangan ini pada hakekatnya sangat positif sekali, tetapi sangat bisa secara langsung menghadapi masalah etis.


Sebagai ilmu pengetahuan, biologi adalah ilmu yang netral, bahkan ilmu ini justru akan memperkaya pemahaman manusia akan adanya sebuah proses penciptaan yang sangat cerdas. Pemahaman semacam ini seharusnya akan menyebabkan peningkatan proses penyadaran akan adanya sang Khalik Sang Maha Adil itu, sehingga akan menyebabkan manusia merasakan adanya sebuah makna kehidupan. Tetapi dalam kehidupan ini selalu saja ada kesenjangan antara apa yang sedang terjadi dan apa yang seharusnya terjadi. Kejadian pembuatan klon ESC pada manusia, begitu pula terhadap kelompok clonaids yang berusaha matimatian membela dan memproduksi kloning manusia. Hal ini menyadarkan kita akan perlunya ada suatu etika di bidang biologi yaitu bioetika.


Bioetika tidak untuk mencegah perkembangan ilmu pengetahuan dan teknologi tetapi menyadarkan bahwa ilmu pengetahuan dan teknologi mempunyai batas-batas dan tanggung jawab terhadap manusia dan kemanusiaan. Banyak ilmuan yang secara ambisius akan mengembangkan teknologi biologi tingkat tinggi namun tanpa memperhitungkan sebuah perkembangan sosial dan kultural masyarakat. Banyak ilmuwan sering mengabaikan baik dan buruk yang menjadi tata nilai masyarakat, karena mereka merasa bahwa ilmu pengetahuan tidak berada di domain tersebut. Sehingga katagorisasi normatif sangat sulit untuk didiskusikan oleh para ilmuwan, seolah-olah baik dan buruk bukan urusan mereka, mereka hanya menganggap itu urusan para kyai dan pendeta.


Di sisi lain, tidak bisa di pungkiri bahwa para Kyai dan pendeta selalu terlambat mengantisipasi perkembangan Ilmu pengetahuan dan teknologi, karena mungkin mereka merasa berada di domain yang berbeda dengan para ilmuwan, mereka mencoba mendakwahkan misi ajaran-ajaran dari Tuhan yang mereka yakini pada masyarakat awam, tanpa disadari bahwa para ilmuwan bergerak jauh lebih cepat dibanding para pendeta dan kyai tersebut mempengaruhi masyarakat awam, terutama untuk membentuk suatu tatanan budaya tekno-sosial yang biasanya malah mengorbankan mereka. Sebagai contoh sederhana, bahwa masyarakat awam sangat aprisiatif sekali dengan perkembangan Iptek; hal ini dapat dilihat kursuskursus komputer yang merupakan pruduk teknologi canggih (hitech) telah berkembang sampai ke desa-desa, mereka mau mengorbankan sejumlah uangnya untuk mengikuti kursus-kursus semacam ini dengan sangat serius.


Di sisi lain, para kiyai dengan berapi-api khotbah di hadapan jamaah, tetapi ternyata sebagian besar jamaah terkantuk-kantuk mendengarkannya. Realitas ini menunjukkan bahwa tidak bisa di pungkiri kekuatan ilmu dan teknologi benar-benar telah memasuki ke relung kehidupan yang sangat hakiki dalam mempengaruhi tekno-sosial masyarakat, melebihi kemampuan para rohaniawan mempengaruhinya. Seharusnya para ilmuwan tanpa harus menunggu rohaniawan untuk menyadari akan perlunya bioetika, dari proses memahami fenomena alam yang setiap hari kita alami sudah seharusnya semakin menyadarkan kita akan keperluan itu. Pada hakekatnya seorang ilmuwan adalah seorang pemimpin umat manusia yang mempunyai kekuasaan luar biasa; dia bisa menghancurkan umat manusia, dia bisa membahagiakan umat manusia, tergantung kejujuran hatinya. Para ilmuwan memang bukan pemimpin struktural tetapi pemimpin kultural, hasil dan karyanya akan mempengaruhi budaya manusia. Saya termasuk orang yang sangat yakin bahwa ilmu itu selalu netral, dia tidak berpihak pada subyektifitas manusia, tetapi dia selalu berpihak pada hukum alam. Hukum alam ini dalam bahasa yang lebih religius sering disebut “Sunatullah”. Kebenaran Sunatullah merupakan kebenaran yang tidak berpihak kepada keimanan seseorang, tetapi manusialah yang seharusnya mengimaninya, bahwa Sunatullah adalah ayat ayat yang ditulis dan didesain oleh Sang Maha Pencipta dan Sang Maha Agung, Sang Maha Pencipta yang keberadaan-Nya tidak tergantung presepsi manusia, meskipun sering dipresepsikan oleh manusia. Dia tidak tergantung “Teori of Everything”-nya si Stephen Hawking, Dia juga tidak tergantung “Teori Relativitas”-nya si Einstein, tetapi justru segala sesuatunya tergantung kepadaNya, kesadaran semacam ini akan menghasilkan tatanilai yang dianut oleh para ilmuwan, tata-nilai yang akan mengilhami perilaku ilmuwan sebagai wujud tanggung jawab kemanusiaannya. Produk-produk teknologi hasil temuan mereka seharusnya sarat dengan tanggung jawab kemanusiaannya dan berorientasi pada pengabdian kepadaNya.


Daftar Pustaka

Cavazzana-calvo, M. 2000. Gene Therapy of human of Human severe Combined

immunodeficiency (SCID)-X1 Disease. Science: 288,669-672.


Damjanov, I., A.Damjanov, dan D. Solter. 1987. Production Of Teratocarcinomas From Embryos Transplanted to Extra-Uterine Sites. Teratocarcinomas and Embryonic Stem Cells. Appractical approach. Di edtit oleh E.J. Robertson. IRL Press. Eynham,Oxford.England. hal 1-17.


Djati, M.S. 1998. Pengaruh Suplementasi PMSG dan hCG pada Proses Fertilisasi In Vitro dan Kultur Klon Embrio Sapi dengan IGF-1. Disertasi.


Djati, M.S.,G.Ciptadi, F.Fattah. 2002. Short term Viability of goat embryonic Stem cells on vesiculart rophoblastic feeder cells in vitro. Presented on “ 12th Federation of Asian Veterinary Associations Conggress and 14th Veterinary Association Malaysia Congress 2002. Subang. Kuala Lumpur.


Gearhart, J. 1998. New Potential for Human Embryonic Stem Cell. Science. 282:



Hartl,D.L., dan E.W. Jones. 1998. Genetics Principles and Znalysis. Boston: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.


Ismail, Taufiq. 1980. Taufiq Ismail Membaca Puisi. Taman Ismail Marzuki. 30-31

Januari 1980. hal 23. Kaurany, J.A. 1987. Scientific Knoweledge, Basic Issues in The Philosopy of Science. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Publishing Company

Klug, W.S., dan M.R. Cummings. 2000. Concepts of Genetics. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.


Mahzar, A., Suseno, F.M., Leksono, K.,Liang, O.B., Saswojo,S. Liong, T.H., Saidi, Z. 1998. Melaju menuju Kurun Baru: Respons Cendikiawan Indonesia Atas

kuliah “Melenium Evening” Stephen Hawking. Bandung: Mizan


Paul,J.1975. Cell and Tissue Culture. London: Churchill Livingstone Quintanilla,M., Brown, K., Ramsden,M., Balmain, A. 1986. Carcinogen specific mutation and amplification of Ha-ras during mouse skin carcinogenesis. Nature 322:78-79.


Rideout W., dan Hochedlinger, K.2002. Combine therapeutic Cloning, Embryonic Stem Cells, and gene to Correct a Genetic defect in Mice. Proceeding of national Academy of Sciences. 98: 16726-30.


Young , M.2002. Neural stem cells cam repopulate damaged retina. Eye Research Institue and Havard Medical School.The Scientist, 16 (12):1.


Zubair, A.C. 2002. Dimensi Etik dan Asketik Ilmu Pengetahuan Manusia kajian filsafat ilmu. Yogyakarta: Lembaga Studi Filsafat Islam (LESFI)



Jurnal Universitas Paramadina, Vol. 3 No. 1, September 2003: 102-123

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Posted by pada Juli 28, 2008 in cultural studies, philosophy


Bioregionalism and Global Education

Bioregionalism and Global Education

Contention and Confluence

Paper presented at the Fourth Annual Kent State University Symposium on Democracy

Huey-Li Li


In view of the far-reaching impact of globalization, many concerned educators have undertaken critical examinations of the complex and complicated relationship between globalization and contemporary educational policies and practices across national and regional boundaries.1 On the one hand, there has been continuous advocacy for global education, which encompasses varied socially responsive educational programs addressing the adjustment needs of living in an interdependent global village.2 On the other hand, many concerned educators influenced by bioregionalism have made concerted efforts to incorporate “place-based knowledge” into the formal curriculum.3 At first glance, bioregion-based education and global education appear to be incompatible or even incommensurable. After all, global education aims at fostering an awareness of our living “in a cocoon of culture whose circumference equals the circumference of the globe,” as suggested by Lee Anderson.4 In contrast, bioregion-based education stresses the need to preserve local ecological systems and to establish the bond between members of a local community and their “place.”

However, it should be noted that both “the global” and “the local” are conceptual constructs. In reality, there is no irrefutable demarcation between the global and the local. Moreover, while the globalization of the political economy seems to form a global monoculture, the emergence of postmodernism, postcolonialism, and multiculturalism clearly indicates the continuous diversification of human cultures. As Edward W. Soja notes, “all that was local becomes increasingly globalized, all that is global becomes increasingly localized,”5 and the bifurcation of the global and the local appears to be problematic. Can global education aim at raising a global awareness without exploring diverse local cultures, especially the culture(s) of one’s own local community? Can bioregion-based education exclusively focus on preserving one’s local bioregion without addressing global environmental protection, world peace, and universal human rights?

In response to the above questions, I first explore the complicated interplay of local and global environmental concerns. I point out that as culture plays a significant role in shaping bioregional boundaries, bioregion-based education cannot cultivate a meaningful bioregional sensibility without addressing political and economic globalization. Next, I examine the conceptual connections between bioregion-based education and critical global education. Instead of decentering “the great macrostructural dominant group,”6 I argue that the integration of global education and bioregion-based education must attend and attest to diverse subordinate groups’ individual and collective agency in order to facilitate the ongoing “globalization from below.” Finally, I reexamine the inherent epistemic privilege of W. E. B. DuBois’s conception of “double consciousness.” I conclude that concerned educators, like cultural hybrids, metaphorically speaking, must “double” their double-consciousness as they query the dynamic and complex intersections between the global and the local.


Nature and Culture in the Interplay between the Global and the Local

To a large extent, we are living in a global village, as envisioned by Marshall McLuhan.7 Nevertheless, localities do not evaporate in the process of globalization. Popular slogans such as “think globally, act locally,” “local struggles with global support,” and “local problems with global solutions” illustrate the intricate relationship between the local and the global. Thus, Timothy Luke calls our attention to the existence of a “glocal” space where the global intersects with the local.8 The existence and expansion of transnational corporations (TNCs) especially rely on the construction of such “glocal” space. To illustrate, after Sony purchased Columbia Pictures in 1989, Akio Morita made the following interesting remarks: “I don’t like the word ‘multinational.’ I don’t know what it means. I created a new term: ‘global localization.’ That’s our new slogan.”9 While the slogan “global localization” cannot disguise transnational corporations’ endeavors to globalize their market, it still reveals recognition of various local cultures, which continue to thrive and flourish despite the powerful forces of economic globalization.

The dialectic interplay between the global and the local is especially evident in worldwide environmental movements. On the one hand, because the impact of today’s ecological problems such as greenhouse effects cannot be enclosed within a particular region or nation,10 phrases such as “one earth, one family” have permeated mass media. On the other hand, there is no solid and well-established international environmental coalition. In fact, we continue to evidence the tension between developed and developing countries, a not-in-my-backyard mentality, and environmental racism. Bioregionalism, in particular, questions and confronts the continuous globalization of the political economy rather than promote a global environmental coalition. Bioregionalism is neither a monolithic school of thought nor a unified environmental movement. In fact, bioregionalists’ discourses on the concepts of nature and culture tend to be incoherent, ambivalent, and irresolute. Doug Aberley points out that as bioregionalists are committed to decentralism, they are unlikely to form a central committee in order to offer a univocal definition of bioregionalism. Also, bioregionalists are more concerned about reflecting on “the needs and values of living-in-place” than about crafting “a seamless theoretical construction or utopian diatribe.”11 Nevertheless, their divergent perspectives regarding the relations between nature and culture shed significant light on the dialectic interplay between the global and the local.

Martin Heideggar claims that modern natural science “dissolved nature into the orbit of mathematical order of world-commerce, industrialization, and in a particular sense, machine technology.”12 Likewise, Lewis Mumford, the proponent of ecoregionalism (an early version of bioregionalism), argues that modern science and technology have enormous power in shaping the international political economy, which in turn appropriates the global ecosystem.13 To Mumford, the modern bureaucratic nation is incapable of resolving the current cultural and ecological crises. Instead, he promotes ecoregionalism to address the need to develop an alternative geography that could integrate culture with nature. In line with Mumford, Gary Snyder, a contemporary bioregionalist, advocates for “Cultural and individual pluralism, unified by a type of world trial council. Division by natural and cultural boundaries rather than arbitrary political boundaries.”14 Seemingly, both Mumford and Snyder recognize the interconnections between nature and culture. To them, modern science, technology, and nation did not develop in a social vacuum; rather, certain cultural values facilitate and sustain the construction of modern science, technology, and nation. At the same time, they appear to regard nature as a normative concept that we need to abide by in order to form an ecologically congenial culture. In Snyder’s own words, what bioregionalists envision is “a planet on which the human population lives harmoniously and dynamically by employing a sophisticated and unobtrusive technology in a world environment which is ‘left nature.’”15

Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann further promote the idea of “living-in-place,” which means “following the necessities and pleasures of life as they are uniquely presented by a particular site, and evolving ways to ensure long term occupancy of the site.”16 As modern science and technology have disrupted one’s place, Berg and Dasmann encourage us to participate in reinhabitation by “becoming native to a place through becoming aware of the particular ecological relationships that operate within and around it.”17 Elsewhere, Peter Berg also proposes “a bioregional model” that can identify “balance points in our interactions with natural systems, and figures of regulation that can operate to direct or limit activities to achieve balance.”18 Berg’s bioregional model parallels Haenke’s belief in the existence of ecological laws, which we ought to observe in order to establish bioregion-based societies.19 Similarly, Kirkpatrick Sale in his influential book Dwellers in the Land promotes an economics of self-sufficiency within one’s “natural regions.”20

Despite the global impacts of modern science and technology, bioregionalists are more concerned about nature as it exists in their own “region” or “home place.” In Dream of the Earth, Thomas Berry claims, “The Earth presents itself to us not as a uniform global reality but as a complex of highly differentiated regions caught up in the comprehensive unity of the planet itself.”21 Many bioregionalists have made concerted efforts to identify the boundaries of these presumably distinguishable and yet interconnected regions.22 On the one hand, some bioregionalists believe in the existence of “natural” rather than artificial boundaries. For instance, Gene Marshall states, “My local bioregion is a collection of communities within some meaningful boundaries determined by the factors of basic land topography, watersheds, flora and fauna habitats, altitudes, rainfalls, temperatures, and other such factors.”23 Kirkpatrick Sale also wrote that a bioregion is “a place defined by its life forms, its topography and its biota, rather than by human dictates, a region governed by nature, not legislation.”24 On the other hand, some bioregionalists are inclined to consider human culture as they endeavor to map out the bioregional boundaries. For example, David McCloskey claims, “Ecoregional boundaries are natural wholisticemergents,” that can be identified by looking “to the special ways in which the face of land, tectonic forces below, weather patterns above, the flow of waters, flora and fauna, native peoples, and cultural identities coverage and reinforce one another” (emphasis mine).25

As discussed above, bioregionalists seem to share a common belief that cultural norms should reflect the natural norms that are inherent within one’s biotic community, not vice versa. To many bioregionalists, modern science and technology are nurtured and sustained by ecologically uncongenial cultural values. Moreover, they point out that most historic and contemporary political boundaries do not correspond with natural ecological boundaries. Above all, the formation of today’s urban cities appears to infringe or even contravene bioregional boundaries.26 Urbanization also has contributed to the dislocation of “native” people and the erosion of “indigenous” place-based knowledge. Migrants’ uprootedness and diasporas reflect the fragmented bioregions.27 To the bioregionalists, as political boundaries deviated from natural boundaries, they often only served the purpose of meeting the needs of political and economic elites.28 Thus, bioregionalists advocate for the devolution of power to “native people” in a given bioregion in order to preserve the human culture that is consonant with “the ecological law” or “the bioregional model.” It is clear that bioregionalists are committed to promoting cultural adjustment to natural bioregions. However, it is impossible to validate the existence of pristine bioregions because of constant and continuous reciprocal interactions between nature and culture.29 Shrader-Frechette and McCoy explain:


Knowing that one is acting in accord with nature is often defined as a condition in existence before the activities of humans who perturbed the system. . . . The definition is flawed, however, both because it excludes humans, a key part of nature, and because there are probably no fully natural environments or ecosystems anywhere. Because natural systems continually change, it is difficult to specify a situation at one particular time, rather than another time, as natural. We are unable to define natural in a way free of categorical values.30


As bioregionalists endeavor to reconstruct ecologically uncongenial culture, they also stress human agency in mapping and remapping bioregional boundaries. In other words, the presumably self-evident bioregional boundaries actually are subject to human reasoning and interpretation.

Kirkpatrick Sale claims, “The borders between such areas (bioregions) are usually not rigid—nature works of course with flexibility and fluidity—but the general contours of the regions themselves are not hard to identify by using a little ecological knowledge.”31 Most bioregionalists highly value ecological knowledge that is grounded in indigenous cultural traditions, fostering the recognition of the interdependence between nature and human culture. Nevertheless, the mapping of bioregional boundaries and bioregional planning derive from the science of ecology and has become highly technical at both theoretical and practical levels. Wolfgang Sachs points out:


Ecology is both computer modeling and political action, scientific discipline as well as all-embracing worldview . . . the science of ecology gives rise to a scientific anti-modernism which has succeeded largely in disrupting the dominant discourse, yet the science of ecology opens the way for the technocratic recuperation of protest.32


In fact, bioregional assessment grounded in the science of ecology has emerged as an indispensable measure for managing and restoring ecosystems. Margaret Herring states, “Bioregional assessments integrate a broad range of information about the social, economic, and ecological conditions within a region in order to provide a basis for making decisions and taking action. They are bioregional, which is to say they are ecosystem-based, delineated by natural processes and elements rather than by planning units and political jurisdiction.”33 Yet, professionals trained in bioregional assessment have become aware of “the mismatch between the desire for political certainty and the inherent uncertainty of natural systems.”34 In fact, bioregional assessment and the ensuing bioregional planning are to be determined mainly by a political process even though the delineation of bioregion might be a natural process.

Bioregional assessment and planning are committed to facilitating one’s reinhabitation in one’s home place. Reinhabitation requires concerted efforts to become “native” in one’s bioregion by acquiring ecological knowledge about one’s biotic community. However, to many of the dislocated people in urban areas, the acquisition of political and economic knowledge outweighs ecological knowledge. Instead of inquiring into the local land topography, watersheds, flora and fauna habits, various grassroots environmental organizations have shown greater concerns for the political systems and processes that sanction irresponsible toxic waste disposal in working-class, low-income, and predominantly minority communities.35

The “natives” in the so-called third world nations are especially keenly aware that the destruction of their home places is mainly due to colonization and the globalization of the political economy. While it is essential to revalue and relearn their indigenous ecological knowledge, a better understanding of the political and economic dimensions of the global/local assemblage appears to be a more urgent issue. In “Privacy by Patent: The Case of the Neem Tree,” Vandana Shiva and Radha Holla-Bhar offer an insightful analysis of multinational corporations’ privatizing the developing nations’ natural resources. In India, neem trees have been used as medicine, toiletries, contraception, timber, fuel, and agricultural aid for centuries. As multinational chemical and pharmaceutical corporations “discovered” the benefits of neem trees, they patented various forms of neem extract for considerable profit. In this increasingly globalized commercialized society, indigenous Indians realize that “the unfortunate logic of patenting is that if you can’t beat patentees, you may have to join them.”36 Thus, the new alliance of farmers and scientists in India applied for a collective patent (collective intellectual property rights) that could both protect their intellectual property and return the commercial profit to the needed local communities.37 This case indicates that place-based knowledge can be globalized for private interests or collective interests, depending on the value systems. Yet, the imbalanced power relationship between the developed and the developing nations has sustained the current political and economic systems that in turn shape the formation of a global monoculture, transforming “all public mass media and their contents into opportunities to sell ideas, values, products, in short, a consumerist world view.”38 Thus, Vandana Shiva points out,


The “global” in the dominant discourse is the political space in which a particular dominant local seeks global control, and frees itself of local, national and international restraints. The global does not represent the universal human interest, it represents a particular local and parochial interest which has been globalized through the scope of its reach. . . . The “global” must accede to the local, since the local exists with nature, while the “global” exists only in the offices of World Bank/IMF and headquarters of multinational corporations. The local is everywhere. The real ecological space of global ecology is to be found in the integration of all locals. The “global” in global reach is a political, not an ecological, space.39 (emphases mine)


Shiva’s call for “the integration of all locals” echoes the recent advocacy for a “global civil society” that is “a transnational formation of primarily non-governmental organization that is functionally place-based but normatively global.”40 The establishment of a global civil society is based on a commitment to integrate local activism with global networking. Richard Gordon points out,


Globalization in this context involves not the leavening impact of universal processes but, on the contrary, the calculated synthesis of cultural diversity in the form of differentiated regional innovation logics and capabilities. . . . The effectiveness of local resources and the ability to achieve genuine forms of cooperation with global networks must be developed from within the region itself.41


Clearly, the local is a “site both of promise and predicament,” as suggested by Arif Dirlik.42 In response to globalization of the political economy, a nostalgic attempt to preserve or to restore the simplistic and intact past can easily result in futile efforts.43 Instead, it is essential to keep the boundaries of the local open.44 In other words, the local is always situated in the global context. At the same time, interlocking localities shape and form the global. Thus, bioregion-based education as a socially responsible educational reform must attend to the dynamic global and local assemblage. In the following section, I will explore the conceptual connections between bioregion-based education and global education.


The Conceptual Connections between Bioregionalism and Global Education

As ongoing globalization affects almost every aspect of human existence, “global education” has gained considerable currency in addressing varied issues regarding “the compression of the world” and “the intensification of the consciousness of the world as a whole.”45 Roland Case points out that there are two dimensions of global education: the substantive and the perceptual. According to Case, the substantive dimension focuses on the acquisition of knowledge regarding global systems, international events, world cultures, and global geography, while the perceptual dimension emphasizes the cultivation of open-mindedness, resistance to stereotyping, non-chauvinism, empathy, and so on.46 To Roland Case, “the perceptual dimension is the lens for the substantive dimension.”47 However, proponents of global education do not share a common perceptual lens in determining what types of substantive knowledge are to be included in or excluded from the curriculum. Nor do they ascertain a consensus of unified pedagogical aims and methods for the deliberation of global education. On the one hand, international organizations such as the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund (IMF), national, state, or local governments and some prominent transnational corporations are inclined to promote curricular reform that aims at equipping students with the knowledge and skills necessary to compete in the global market and reap the benefits of economic globalization.48 This approach does not endorse critical inquiries into the causes and consequences of globalization. Rather, it tends to be proactive toward globalization of capitalist economy and leads to the homogenization and standardization of formal and even informal educational curricula and practice.49 On the other hand, there are concerned educators who advocate for global educational programs that embrace multiculturalism, social justice, world peace, and the establishment of ecologically sustainable global communities.50 Although these latter pedagogical aims appear to be unrealistic or even unattainable, they could function as “a regulative ideal” that illumines educational reform in face of the elevation and prevalence of violence and ecological destruction across cultural and national boundaries. Instead of undertaking an empirical inquiry into curriculum planning and the implementation of a critical approach to global education, I, in what follows, will examine the common pedagogical aims of bioregion-based education and the critical approach to global education—a demystification of the modern conception of development and a reevaluation of marginalized cultural traditions.

To a large extent, global education like multicultural education aims at raising students’ awareness of cultural pluralism within and beyond national boundaries. As mentioned before, substantive knowledge about cultural diversity and global interdependence can be instrumental in ensuring the best interests of transnational corporations. The perceptual dimension of the critical approach to global education is to be distinguished from a worldview that is in support of ever-growing global capitalism. Philip McMichael points out that development “is perhaps the ‘master’ concept of the social sciences, and has been understood as an evolutionary movement bringing rising standards of living.”51 In view of the lack of reciprocal interactions between people of developing and developed nations, many concerned educators who develop global education programs have made efforts to incorporate a critical inquiry into the ideological underpinning of the global pursuit of development. Such a critical inquiry aims at unveiling how growth-oriented development has become a conceptual vehicle that allows the developed nations to maintain worldwide hegemony and affluence. It also attests to the limitless evidences documenting that the global pursuit of growth-oriented “development” sustains poverty and contributes to the worsening of ecological problems in third world countries and beyond.52 Instead of denouncing developing nations’ monetary debts to the developed nations, there are increasing acknowledgements of the developed nations’ “ecological debts” to the developing nations. In effect, critical global education endeavors to demystify “development” as an intrinsically good and morally worthy international project. It also acknowledges the interconnections between ecology and economics; that is, “ecology should provide the approach, the framework for an understanding of the interrelationships of social and environmental systems; and economics should provide the means of quantifying those interrelationships in the light of such an understanding, so that decisions on alternative courses of action can be made without undue difficulty,” as suggested by Edward Goldsmith.53 By challenging the global pursuit of development, global education in developed nations represents what John Fien and Jane Williamson-Fien call “a fundamental re-education of the Western public” that has a responsibility to “make this a more peaceful, just and ecologically sustainable world.”54 In developing countries, such a critical inquiry into the constitutive values of growth-oriented development stands for a counterhegemonic effort to reorient ecologically exploitative cultural practices.55

In addition to critiquing the ideological underpinning of development, proponents of critical global education also call for a reevaluation of indigenous cultural traditions in order to shed significant light on the delineation of alternative concepts of development. For instance, in his attempt to offer an alternative concept of development, Phrase Rajavaramuni points out that the word “development” in Thai is phatthana or charoen. Neither refers to material growth in quantity. Instead, the Thai concept of “development” can mean reduction or elimination of unnecessary things in a certain context.56 From this perspective, the pursuit of development entails moral obligation to curb our endless desire for material production and consumption. In line with proponents of critical global education, there is a burgeoning book series that documents, interprets, and disseminates indigenous local knowledge systems. To Ladi Semali and Joe Kincheloe, the editors of the book series: Indigenous Knowledge and Schooling, it is essential and feasible to “use indigenous knowledge to counter Western science’s destruction of the earth. Indigenous knowledge can facilitate this ambitious twenty-first century project because of its tendency to focus on relationships of human beings to both one another and to their ecosystem.”57 Certainly, the reclaiming of indigenous knowledge systems can be easily transformed into the form of commodity in advanced capitalism, as suggested by Frederic Jameson.58 Nevertheless, the emerging field of indigenous knowledge systems could expand the substantive dimension of global education, which would in turn reshape the perceptual dimension of global education.

As discussed above, bioregion-based education reform and critical global education are not logically antagonistic. In fact, the intersection between the globe and the localities is not necessarily a postmodern or late-capitalist cultural phenomenon. To exist as human being, each person must have a body that resides in one place or varied places throughout his or her lifetime. Edward S. Casey points out that “place is the phenomenal particularization of ‘being-in-the-world.’”59 Although political, economic, and cultural institutions have made deliberate efforts to set variant boundaries that shape our ethnic, racial, and national identities, the localization of “place” or “bioregion” cannot conceal that “being-in-the-place” is, in fact, coextensive with “being-in-the-world.” Hence, it is not surprising that varied versions of cosmopolitanism flourished in different historical and cultural contexts. Martha Nussbaum applies the “very old ideal of the cosmopolitan” to “the person whose allegiance is to the worldwide community of human beings.”60 At the same time, ancient or contemporary proponents of cosmopolitanism do not necessarily advocate for the relinquishment of one’s affinity with one’s locality. Paul Rabinow defines cosmopolitanism as “an ethos of macro-interdependencies, with an acute consciousness (often forced upon people) of the inescapabilities and particularities of places, characters, historical trajectories, and fates.”61 Similarly, Martha C. Nussbaum suggests that one can become a citizen of the world without giving up local affiliations. Specifically, one must recognize that one is always surrounded by “a series of concentric circles,” namely the self, the immediate family, the extended family, the local community, the nation, and the world.62 In the same vein of thought, Walter C. Parker, Akira Ninomiya, and John Cogan advocate multidimensional citizenship in order “to capture the personal, social, spatial, and temporal aspects of the citizen identity that are necessary for meeting the challenges of the early 21st century.”63 More specifically,


The personal dimension involves mainly the personal commitment to nurture a citizen identity among one’s other identities and with it a civic ethic characterized by socially responsible habits of mind, heart, and action. The social dimension involves the ability and willingness to work with other citizens in a variety of public settings creating common ground. . . . The spatial dimension refers to the modern requirement that citizens see themselves as members of multiple overlapping communities: local, regional, nation, and global. . . . The temporal dimension means that citizens need to mount simultaneously a past-present-and-future outlook.64


The cultivation of multidimensional world citizenship might appear to be a monumental task. To undertake such a monumental task, it is crucial to recognize how varied binaries (that is, the global versus the local, nature versus culture, and modern universal science versus traditional indigenous knowledge system) regulate and shape our cultural as well as educational practices.

To illustrate, teaching and learning about the “place,” the core of bioregion-based education, can enable one to gain a better understanding of such “a series of concentric circles” and of the multidimensional nature of world citizenship. Ivan Illich notes that modern educational systems in both developed and developing nations are inclined to guide persons “away from their natural environment and pass them through a social womb in which they are formed sufficiently to fit into everyday life.”65 As modern education severs the organic connections between humans and nature, modern schooling also opts to sustain rather than reconstruct our homogenized political and economic systems. Psychologist Richard Borden points out that the “study of ecology leads to changes of identity and psychological perspective, and can provide the foundations for an ‘ecological identity’—a reframing of a person’s point of view which restructures values, reorganizes perceptions and alters the individual’s self-directed, social, and environmentally directed actions.”66 Studying one’s place echoes Arne Naess’s advocacy of ecophilosophy—“a philosophical world-view or system inspired by the conditions of life in the ecospheres.”67 As discussed before, the interplay between culture and nature shapes conditions of human life. Thus, bioregion-based education represents a deliberate effort that can cultivate “a sense of place(s),” thus leading one’s immediate self-identity into the personal, social, spatial, and temporal dimensions of citizen identity.

Furthermore, modern sciences actually originated from place-based indigenous knowledge systems. In his attempt to integrate science and place-based knowledge, Bruce Evan Goldstein argues that the construction of sciences indeed is embedded in culture. Nevertheless, the development of modern sciences has set scientists “apart from everyday social interaction and into a structured, methodologically explicit relationship with technical instruments and the elusive materiality of nature.”68 The training of scientists epitomizes the tendency of homogenized modern schooling to segregate students from their biotic and cultural community. In line with constructivist science, Goldstein points out:


Place-based knowledge cannot be replaced by scientific understanding because place-based knowledge is constantly regenerated through the active participation of the individual (mind and body) with place and culture. Scientific knowledge is also the product of an active relationship between scientists, their tools, and the natural and cultural worlds. But it is not the same subject, the same place, or the same culture. . . . Engaging in place-based science requires that bio-regionalists interact with community members in unaccustomed ways. To accomplish this requires face-to-face encounters between scientists and community members where they can exchange opinions and information, and develop a common base. This public forum should be capable of not only considering data but also negotiating new research methods and procedures.69


All in all, teaching about one’s place is not simply a reactionary effort to counteract the process of globalization.70 Rather, teaching about place involves an effort to reclaim human agency through participatory reevaluation of indigenous cultural values, through inquiry into place-based ecological knowledge, and through the establishment of global community. As a result, learning about one’s place could facilitate one’s appreciation of bio- and cultural diversity at both local and global levels.


In-between the Global and the Local: Doubling the “Double Consciousness”

At a conceptual level, the integration of bioregion-based education and critical global education appears to be a cogent idea. Still, we might caution that the integration not be confined within a modern liberal framework that tends to inscribe marginalized groups as a monolithic “Other” while acknowledging and promoting cultural pluralism.71 Frantz Fanon points out that colonizers are able to impose intolerable “alterity” and “otherness” onto the colonized.72 In addition to military and economic oppression, the imposed alterity leads to distorted individual and collective identities of the colonized people. It is noted that interlinking social institutions in the modern industrialized nations have indeed imposed alterity and otherness onto subaltern groups in the so-called developing nations. Thus, both bioregion-based education and critical global education stress the need to decenter the dominant cultural values and demystify the imposed alterity of the marginalized groups. “Invisibility” and “marginality” might accurately characterize the positionality of “others,” but such an overgeneralization and totalization of “others” appear to oversimplify the power structure within and beyond educational institutions. Following Fanon’s thought, Charles Taylor argues that the marginalized people’s “first task ought to be to purge themselves of this imposed and destructive identity.”73 But, does the demystification of alterity and otherness eventually lead to a due recognition and appreciation of cultural diversity? To Taylor, the formation of one’s individual identity depends on one’s dialogical relations with others. To ensure a positive formation of one’s identity, Taylor endorses “a politics of universalism, emphasizing the equal dignity of all citizens, and the content of this politics has been the equalization of rights and entitlements.”74 The procedural dimension of “equalization of rights and entitlements” protects individuals’ rights to be nourished by marginalized cultures in order to fulfill their human potential and to flourish. Within this liberal framework, it is logical and desirable to extend equal individual human rights to the recognition of equal worth of all cultures. To a large extent, the reevaluation of indigenous knowledge systems is to elevate “the marginalized groups” to equal status with dominant group(s). However, such an endeavor is simply an instrument to facilitate the due recognition of all persons regardless of their group affinity and identity. In other words, the dominant liberal democratic model of multicultural education stresses equal representation and recognition of individual persons rather than oppressed groups. Thus, Kwame Anthony Appiah argues, “the fundamental thought of the cosmopolitanism I defend is that the freedom to create oneself—the freedom that liberalism celebrates—requires a range of socially transmitted options from which to invent what we have come to call our identities.”75

This liberal democratic framework is problematic. First, Charles Taylor’s theory of “recognition” is similar to John Rawls’ argument that rational human beings have a moral capacity to wear “the veil of ignorance” in order to recognize one’s and the other’s “original position.”76 To John Rawls, seeing “differences” could facilitate a justification of social oppression, whereas unseeing “differences” facilitates the pursuit of justice. To Charles Taylor, the politics of recognition is to see through differences in order to attain a due recognition of fundamental human equality. However, from the standpoint of Marcos Sandoval of the Triquie people of Oaxaca, it is unclear why “Westerners represent justice with a blindfolded woman.” To the Triquie, the pursuit of justice is based on compassion rather than neutrality or impartiality. Thus, they believe that the goddess of justice should keep “her eyes well open” in order “to fully appreciate what is happening.”77 In particular, differences are not necessarily “given.” Instead, “differences” are socially constructed and institutionalized, supported by power structure, resources, and rewards. The fictional “original position” requires one’s moral imagination and understanding. Yet, wearing “the veil of ignorance” does not necessarily facilitate a contextual understanding of how the construction of “differences” supports and justifies the dominant group’s privilege and the marginalized groups’ plight. In other words, the reification of “the veil of ignorance” devalues the lived experiences of the marginalized groups and discourages the “learning to learn from below”78 of the dominant group. Second, while the dominant group can easily impose a generalized “alterity” onto all the marginalized groups, differences among the marginalized groups are discernable and contribute differently to oppressive systems, simultaneously sustaining or subverting the hegemony. To be blind about such differences is to obstruct our understanding of the operation of the oppressive systems in their totality. Hence, Rawl’s “veil of ignorance” is not conducive for all marginalized groups “to seek situational unity” in the liberation movement.79

In view of the limitations of modern liberalism, the integration of bioregionalism and global education must reckon the limitations of an abstract universalism that is devoid of all the particularities. More specifically, as the advocates of bioregionalism and proponents of global education are eager to denounce Western cultural values as contributing factors to all the social ills ensuing from industrialization and global capitalism, they often fail to inquire into how non-Western cultural values might sanction and support growth-oriented development. Without recognizing the diversity of so-called non-Western developing nations in the global pursuit of development, presumably socially reconstructive educational reforms can easily dismiss the persistent resistance movements in societies that divulge the subaltern people’s agency. In other words, the perceptual perpetuation of victimization of subaltern people can lead to the romanticization of rather than the empowerment of marginalized indigenous cultural traditions. In brief, the integration of socially responsive educational reforms must be a delicate and balanced educational endeavor that can acknowledge “‘distinctive cultural and political practices of oppressed people’ without highlighting their marginality in such a way as to further marginalize them.”80 In consequence, raising our multicultural awareness ideally should entail recognition that cultural formation is a dynamic and interactive process,81 and cultural differences are “the product of human work.”82 It follows that the globalization of the political economy is neither predetermined nor unquestionable. Hence, it is possible to reorient globalization; that is, the International Monetary Fund, the World Banks, and numerous transnational corporations need not reign over globalization. Globalization can come from below—“the integration of all locals” as suggested by Vandana Shiva. The postcolonial perspectives that stress differences and asymmetric power relationships are especially helpful in positioning academic discourses in ways that could actively promote continual dialogue across cultural and political boundaries and beyond established traditions.

Divergent postcolonialist perspectives, to a certain degree, share a common acknowledgment of the colonized or marginalized people’s agency in their encounter with hegemonic forces. To Dirlik and Bhabha, oppression and resistance are imbricated in the process of colonization. Thus, it follows that colonization results in cultural hybridization rather than wholesale cultural imperialism.83 In the postcolonial era, ongoing globalization heightens our awareness of the dynamic and interactive nature of cultural formation within international communities. Consequently, hybridity embraces both anticolonial and antiessentialist strategies in confronting and challenging established hegemony. The integration of bioregionalism and global education goes beyond the negotiation of ethnic identities and resolution of ethnic conflicts. If the pursuit of social justice and human equality is the underlying ethical foundation of such an integrated educational reform, then educators must attend to the reciprocal interactions between the interlocking social forces and individual and collective human agencies. Kai Nielsen argues, “Justice is only possible . . . where there are common bonds of reciprocity.”84 In the age of globalization, the pursuit of the common bonds of reciprocity as a process of decolonization must go beyond the center-periphery framework. In other words, it cannot focus exclusively on decentering, what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak terms “the great macrostructural dominant group.”85 After all, “the great macrostructural dominant group” alone is unable to sustain economic exploitation and ecological destruction at the global level. According to Arif Dirlik, the goal of postcolonialists “is to no less than abolish all distinctions between center and periphery as well as all other ‘binarisms’ that are allegedly a legacy of the colonist ways of thinking.”86 Omnipresence is the very nature of hegemonic apparatuses, but the operation of hegemonic apparatuses can be contextually variegated. Instead of decentering the dominant group or predominant cultural norms, a critical inquiry into the in-betweenness of diverse subordinate groups can prove to be fruitful to question or even subvert the operation of hegemonic apparatus. As mentioned before, the demystification of growth-oriented development tends to focus on the operation process of hegemonic apparatuses and their dreadful consequences. Such discourse not only makes the marginalized groups essential but also renders them powerless victims. In accordance with postcolonial perspectives, the pursuit of development is never one-sided. In addition to developing critiques of the predominant Western cultures, it might be more beneficial to dissect the marginalized groups’ complicity in sustaining or agency in subverting oppressive systems in different cultural settings.87

In the meantime, concerned educators need to avoid both romanticization and normalization of postcolonial perspectives. In particular, the formation of hybridity in both contexts of colonialism and globalization is not based on reciprocal cultural interactions between the dominant and the subordinate groups. Often, only “the selected few” from the marginalized groups are allowed to participate in the project of cultural hybidization. These selected few have emerged as what Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak calls “metropolitan hybridists” whose diasporic location distances them from the other underprivileged subjugated people.88 Furthermore, as hegemonic apparatuses continue to impede hybridization among varied subordinate groups, it is uncertain whether all marginalized people will be able to assume unqualified epistemic privileges as they critique dominant groups’ extensive hegemonic forces that interpellate diverse subaltern groups in varied ways. In other words, it can be illustrative to assume that cultural hybridization can always entail a radical departure from cultural assimilation in the colonial and postcolonial contexts. Without sustaining continuous efforts to demystify the established hegemonic institutions and without the radical human reflectivity that entails auto-criticism, postcolonial cultural hybridization can be reminiscent of cultural assimilation embraced by Western imperialism. Anne McClintock points out that the term postcolonial “metaphorically . . . marks history as a series of stages along an epochal road from ‘the pre-colonial,’ to ‘the colonial’ to ‘the post-colonial’—an unbidden, if disavowed, commitment to linear time and the idea of ‘development,’”89 which still reflects Western cultural hegemony. Similarly, Diana Brydon argues, “When post-colonial theorists embrace hybridity and heterogeneity as the characteristic post-colonial mode, some native writers in Canada resist what they see as a violating appropriation to insist on their ownership of their stories and their exclusive claim to an authenticity that should not be ventriloquized or parodied.”90

In redressing the postcolonialists’ aforementioned entrapment, it might be important to revisit W. E. B. DuBois’s conception of “double consciousness” in the postcolonial and post–civil rights era. According to DuBois,


After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with a second-sight in this American world—a world which yields him to true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder.91


DuBois’s conception of “double consciousness” emphasizes that the formation of self-perception and collective racial identity is historically situated. The duality of consciousness indicates a fragmented psychic space where marginalized and subjugated people are able to assume epistemic privilege in resisting and reappropriating varied hegemonic apparatuses, such as education and laws. Stuart Hall points out that cultural identity is “not an essence but a positioning. Hence, there is always a politics of identity, a politics of position, which has no absolute guarantee in an unproblematic transcendent ‘law of origin.’”92 Paul Gilroy argues that African Americans’ “true self-understanding” is entangled with a “true understanding” of their collective diasporic “racial identity,” emerging “national” identity in the United States, and boundary-less Pan-African or even universalistic human identity. Thus, we can only locate the “black essence” through “routes” rather than “roots.”93 To a certain degree, DuBois’s conception of double consciousness appears to reflect Hegelian dialectics. After all, the formation of double consciousness is a dynamic and never-ending process striving to remove varied “veils” that inhibit true self-understanding in order to reintegrate one’s consciousness. However, the attainment of true self-understanding does not suggest a consummation of one’s “true” self-identity. Nor could we “fossilize” the essence of any group through the “routes” of identity formation. Just as cultural hybridization “is not the ‘free’ oscillation between or among chosen identities,”94 the “doubling” of one’s consciousness cannot be “free” from critical awareness of one’s vulnerability to and complicity in sustaining the surrounding social systems. Hence, the formation of double consciousness is not simply a cognitive process of constructing a self-identity or ethnic identity. Rather, DuBois’s conception of double consciousness engenders a moral commitment to “learning to learn from below”95 in order to envision a society in which people have the courage to reconstruct its oppressive social hierarchy. Such a moral commitment is a volitional human activity that could beget the “doubling” of one’s double consciousness further. Cornel West remarks:


A sense of history is so very important to allow us to get beyond it. Without confronting it, there is very little chance. A sense of history would serve as the crucial pillar for the kind of public conversation that we need to have about race, class, gender, and sexual orientation. . . . The sense of history ought to be linked to an expansion of empathy . . . something called courage in the form of self-criticism. How do we get beyond simply having the courage of our convictions and actually have the courage to attack our convictions? The only way we can grow and mature is by taking seriously what Socrates said—the unexamined life is not worth living. But then we can add the insight of Malcolm X that the examined life is painful. It hurts. It leaves us vulnerable. And, of course, good teaching is all about unsettling perspectives and unstiffening prejudices and allowing persons to be emancipated and liberated from whatever parochial cocoon they find themselves in at the moment. Each and every one of us is always linked to some parochial cocoon; we are never free. It is a perennial process that takes courage.96


Our courage to foster never-ending self-criticism is the key to demystifying imposed alterity and to unveiling the dynamic process of cultural hybridization and the formation of “double consciousness.” In short, the formation of double consciousness is a nexus of interconnected processes of generating and regenerating dialogical human relationships. Likewise, the integration of bioregionalism and global education is a commitment to facilitating an ongoing cultural dialogue and conversation about coexistence, reconciliation, and hybridization. In other words, the integration of bioregionalism and critical global education is not simply a celebration of marginalized cultural traditions. Concerned educators, like cultural hybrids, must undertake a critical and reflective inquiry into their own pedagogical values—values that shape their understanding of the dialectic interaction between the global and the local.



On the one hand, globalization is conducive to fostering our appreciation of human cultural diversity. On the other hand, globalization sustains rather than challenges Euro-American hegemony. Therefore, globalization provides a useful focal point from which educators can examine the multicultural landscape of education in the new millennium. In particular, there have been constant debates on the perplexing tension between pursuing cultural unity and preserving diverse cultural traditions. Such an either-or bipolar perceptual framework undermines our ability to recognize that the formation of “cultural unity” and “cultural diversity” is always historicized. The above discussion explicates that global education aiming at world peace and global ecological sustainability need not spurn bioregionalism. Likewise, by no means is place-based knowledge circumscribed by parochialism. In fact, by rebalancing modern culture with the biosphere, bioregion-based education can become the key to raising our awareness of global interconnections. The confluence of global education and bioregional-based education indicates the possibility of developing a “global” perspective that is sensitive to the interrelatedness of today’s ecological problems and to the particular needs of local communities.



1. See Nelly P. Stromquist and Karen Monkman, eds., Globalization and Education: Integration and Contestation across Cultures (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000); Nicholas C. Burbules and Carlos Alberto Torres, eds., Globalization and Education: Critical Perspectives (New York: Routledge, 2000).

2. Lee Anderson, Schooling and Citizenship in a Global Age (Bloomington, Ind.: The Mid-American Program for Global Perspectives in Education, 1979); James M. Becker, ed., Schooling for a Global Age (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979); Elise Boulding, Building a Global Civic Culture: Education for an Interdependent World (New York: Teachers College, 1988); Barbara Benham Tye and Kenneth A. Tye, Global Education: A Study of School Change (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1992); Carlos F. Diaz, Byron Massialas, and John A. Xanthopoulos, eds., Global Perspectives for Educators (Boston, Mass.: Allyn and Bacon, 1999).

3. Bruce Evan Goldstein, “Combining Science and Place-Based Knowledge: Pragmatic and Visionary Approaches to Bioregional Understanding,” in Bioregionalism, ed. Michael Vincent McGinnis (New York: Routledge, 1999); Gregory A. Smith and Dilafruz R. Williams, eds., Ecological Education in Action: On Weaving Education, Culture, and the Environment(Albany, N.Y.: State Univ. of New York Press, 1999); Frank Traina and Susan Darley-Hill, eds., Perspectives in Bioregional Education (Troy, Ohio: North American Association for Environmental Education, 1995; Madhu Suri Prakash and Gustavo Esteva, Escaping Education: Living as Learning within Grassroots Cultures (New York: Peter Lang, 1998).

4. Anderson, Schooling and Citizenship in a Global Age, 249.

5. Edward W. Soja, Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory (London: Verso, 1989).

6. Jeremy Brecher and Tim Costello, Global Village or Global Pillage: Economic Reconstruction from the Bottom Up (Cambridge, Mass.: South End, 1998).

7. Marshall McLuhan, The Global Village: Transformations in World Life and Media in the 21st Century (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1989).

8. Timothy Luke, “Placing Power/Sitting Space: The Politics of Global and Local in the New World Order,” Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 12 (1996): 620.

9. Interview with Akio Morita, Newsweek, October 9, 1989, 66.

10. Richard Benedick, Ozone Diplomacy: New Directions in Safeguarding the Planet (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1991).

11. Doug Aberley, “Interpreting Bioregionalism: A Story from Many Voices,” in Bioregionalism, 13, 36.

12. Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper and Row, 1980), 63.

13. Lewis Mumford, The City in History: Its Origins, Its Transformations, and Its Prospects (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1961).

14. Gary Snyder, “Four Changes,” in The Environmental Handbook, ed. Garrett De Bell (New York: Intext, 1970), 330–401.

15. Ibid.

16. Peter Berg and Raymond Dasmann, “Reinhabiting California,” “Ecologist 7, no. 10 (1977): 399–401.

17. Ibid.

18. Peter Berg, Figures of Regulation: Guides for Re-Balancing Society with Biosphere (San Francisco, Calif.: Planet Drum Foundation, 1982), 103.

19. David Haenke, Ecological Politics and Bioregionalism (Drury, Mo.: New Life Farm, 1984).

20. Kirkpatrick Sale, Dwellers in the Land: The Bioregional Vision (San Francisco, Calif.: Sierra Club, 1985).

21. Thomas Berry, Dream of the Earth (San Francisco, Calif.: Sierra Club, 1988), 168.

22. Sale, Dwellers in the Land; Doug Aberley, ed., Boundaries of Home: Mapping for Local Empowerment, (Gabriola Island, B.C.: New Society, 1993).

23. Gene Marshall, “Step One: Mapping the Biosphere,” in Boundaries of Home, 55.

24. Sale, Dwellers in the Land, 7.

25. David McCloskey, “On Ecoregional Boundaries,” in Boundaries of Home, 56.

26. Daniel Deudney, “The Philadelphian System: Sovereignty, Arms Control, and Balance of Power in the American States-Union, circa 1787–1861,” International Organization 49 no. 2 (Spring 1995): 191–228.

27. Mitchell Thomashow, “Toward a Cosmopolitan Bioregionalism,” in Bioregionalism, 120–32.

28. Aberley, “How to Map Your Bioregion: A Primer for Community Activists,” in Boundaries of Home, 80

29. Oran R. Young, International Governance—Protecting the Environment in a Stateless Society (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1994).

30. Kristin Shrader-Frechette and Earl D. McCoy, eds., Method in Ecology: Strategies for Conversation (Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1994).

31. Sale, “Principles of Bioregionalism,” in The Case against Global Economy and for the Turn toward the Local, ed. Jerry Mander and Edward Coldsmith (San Francisco, Calif.: Sierra Club, 1996).

32. Wolfgang Sachs, ed., The Development Directory (London: Zed, 1992), 30.

33. Margaret Herring, introduction to Bioregional Assessments: Science at the Crossroads of Management and Policy, ed. K. Norman Johnson, Frederick F. Swanson, Margaret Herring, and Sarab Greene (Washington, D.C.: Island, 1999), 1.

34. Ibid., 7.

35. Clene Krauss, “Women of Color on the Front Line,” in Debating the Earth: The Environmental Politics Reader, ed. John S. Dryzek and David Scholosberg (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1998), 493–503.

36. Vandana Shiva and Radha Holla-Bhar, “Privacy by Patent: The Case of the Neem Tree,” in The Case against Global Economy and for the Turn toward the Local, eds. Mander and Coldsmith, 146–59.

37. Ibid.

38. Leslie Sklair, Sociology of the Global System (New York: Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1991), 76.

39. Vandana Shiva, “The Greening of the Global Reach,” in Global Ecology: A New Arena of Political Conflct, ed. Wolfgang Sachs (London: Zed, 1993), 149–50.

40. Ibid.

41. Richard Gordon, “Globalization, New Production System and the Spatial Division of Labor,” in The Division of Labor—Emerging Forms of World Organization in International Perspective, ed. Wolfgang Litek and Tony Charles (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1995), 181–207.

42. Arif Dirlik, “The Global in the Local,” in Global/Local: Cultural Production and the Transnational Imaginary, ed. Rob Wilson and Wimal Dissanayake (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1996), 22.

43. Bryan Turner, “A Note on Nostalgia,” Theory, Culture, and Society 4, no. 1 (1987).

44. Dirlik, “The Global in the Local,” 22.

45. Mike Featherstone, Scott Lash, and Roland Robertson, eds., Global Modernities (London: Sage, 1995), 40.

46. Roland Case, “Key Elements of a Global Perspective,” Social Education 57, no. 6 (1993): 318.

47. Ibid.

48. Joel Spring, Education and the Rise of the Global Economy (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 1998).

49. James Tooley, The Global Education Industry: Lessons from Private Education in Developing Countries (London: Institute of Economic Affairs, 1999); Philip W. Jones, World Bank Financing of Education: Leading, Learning, and Development (London: Routledge, 1992); John W. Meyer and Francisco O. Ramirez, “The World Institutionalization of Education,” in Discourse and Comparative Education, ed. Juergen Schriewer (Bern, Switz.: Peter Lang, 1999), 111–32; Roger Dale, “Globalization and Education: Demonstrating a ‘Common World Educational Culture’; or, Locating a Globally Structured Educational Agenda?” Educational Theory 50, no. 4 (2000), 427–48.

50. Jan L. Tucker and Peter J. Cistone, “Global Perspective for Teachers: An Urgent Priority,” Journal of Teacher Education 42, no. 1 (1991): 3–10; Barbara Barnes, Learning Architecture for the 21st Century (Glendale, Calif.: Griffin, 1998); Louise Boyle Swiniarski, Mary-Lou Breitborde, and Jo-Anne Murphy, Educating the Global Village: Including the Young Child in the World (Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Merrill, 1999); Susan C. Brown and Marcella L. Kysilka, Applying Multicultural and Global Concepts in the Classroom and Beyond (Boston. Mass.: Allyn and Bacon, 2002).

51. Philip McMichael, “Globalization: Myth and Realities,” Rural Sociology 61, no. 1 (1996): 26.

52. See William Savitt, ed., Teaching Global Development, (Notre Dame, Ind.: Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 1993) and Vincent D’Oyley, Adrian Blunt, and Ray Barnhardt, eds., Education and Development: Lessons from the Third Word, (Calgary, Alberta: Detselig1994); Gerald L. Gutek, American Education in a Global Age (Prospect Heights, Ill.: Waveland, 1993).

53. Edward Goldsmith, A Blueprint for Survival (London: Tom Stacey, 1972), 13.

54. John Fien and Jane Williamson-Fien, “Global Perspectives in Studies of Society and Environment,” in Studying Society and Environment: A Handbook for Teachers, ed. Rob Gilbert (South Melbourne: Macmillan, 1996), 129; C. A. Bowers, Education, Cultural Myths, and the Ecological Crisis: Toward Deep Changes (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1993).

55. Ashis Nandy, “Cultural Frames for Social Transformation: A Credo,” Alternative 12 (1987): 113–23.

56. Surichai Wun’gaeo, “Religion and the Civilization Process: The Case of Thailand’s Buddhism in a Comparative Perspective,” in Senri Ethnological Studies No. 29: Japanese Civilization in the Modern World, ed. Tadao Umesao, Helen Hardacre, and Hirochika Nakamaki (Osaka: National Museum of Ethnology, 1990), 113–20.

57. Ladi Semali and Joe Kincheloe, foreword to The Heartbeat of Indigenous Africa: A Study of the Chagga Educational System, by R. Sambull Mosha (New York: Garland, 2000).

58. Frederic Jameson, “Postmodernism, or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism,” New Left Review 146 (1984): 53–92.

59. Edward S. Casey, Getting Back into Place: Toward a Renewed Understanding of the Place-World (Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press, 1993), xv.

60. Martha Nussbaum, “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism,” in For the Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism, ed. Joshua Cohen (Boston. Mass.: Beacon, 2002), 4.

61. Paul Rabinow, “Representations Are Social Facts: Modernity and Postmodernity in Anthropology,” in Writing Culture: The Poetics and Politics of Ethnography, ed. James Clifford and George E. Marchus (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1986), 258.

62. Nussbaum, Cultivating Humanity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1997), 60.

63. Walter C. Parker, Akira Ninomiya, and John Cogan, “Educating World Citizens: Toward Multinational Curriculum Development,” American Educational Research Journal 36, no. 2 (1999): 127.

64. Ibid.

65. Ivan Illich, Toward a History of Needs (Berkeley, Calif.: Heyday, 1978), 76–77.

66. Richard Borden, “Ecology and Identity,” in Proceedings of the First International Ecosystems-Colloquy (Munich: Man and Space, 1986), 1.

67. Arne Naess, Ecology, Community, and Lifestyle, trans. David Rothenberg (New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989).

68. Goldstein, “Combining Science and Place-Based Knowledge: Pragmatic and Visionary Approaches to Bioregional Understanding,” in Bioregionalism, 157.

69. Ibid., 162.

70. David Harvey, “Between Space and Time: Reflections on the Geographical Imagination,” Annuals of the Association of American Geographers 80 (1990): 418–34.

71. Charles Taylor, “The Politics of Recognition,” in Multiculturalism: Examining the Politics of Recognition, ed. Amy Gutmann (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1994).

72. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth, trans. Constance Farrington (New York: Grove, 1968).

73. Charles Taylor, “The Politics of Recognition,” in Multiculturalism, 26.

74. Ibid., 37.

75. Kwame Anthony Appiah, “Cosmopolitan Patriots,” in Cosmopolitics: Thinking and Feeling beyond the Nation, ed. Pheng Cheah and Bruce Robbins (Minneapolis: Univ. of Minnesota Press, 1998), 97.

76. John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap, 1971).

77. Prakash and Esteva, Escaping Education, 4.

78. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “The New Subaltern: A Silent Interview,” in Mapping Subaltern Studies and the Postcolonial, ed. Vinayak Chaturvedi (London: Verso, 2000), 333.

79. Ibid., 472.

80. Maxine Greene, “The Passions of Pluralism: Multiculturalism and the Expanding Community,” in Freedom’s Plow: Teaching in the Multicultural Classroom, ed. Teresa Perry and James W. Fraser (New York: Routledge, 1993), 187.

81. Cornel West, “Marxist Theory and the Specificity of Afro-American Oppression,” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, ed. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press, 1988), 17–33; Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Cinematic Representation,” Framework 36 (1989): 68–81.

82. Edward Said, “Identity, Authority, and Freedom: The Potentate and the Traveler,” Transition 54 (1992): 4–18.

83. Dirlik, The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism (Boulder, Colo.: Westview, 1997); Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture (New York: Routledge, 1994).

84. Kai Nielsen, “Global Justice, Capitalism and the Third World,” in International Justice and the Third World: Studies in the Philosophy of Development, ed. Robin Attfield and Barry Wilkins (New York: Routledge, 1992), 18.

85. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, “Can Subaltern Talk?” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture, 333.

86. Arif Dirlik, “The Postcolonial Aura: Third World Criticism in the Age of Global Capitalism,” Critical Inquiry 20 (1994): 329.

87. Aihwa Ong, Flexible Citizenship: The Cultural Logics of Transnationality (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1999), is especially helpful for us to gain a better understanding of the previously colonized and marginalized people’s individual and collective agency in the expansion of global capitalism.

88. Spivak, “The New Subaltern,” 331.

89. Anne McClintock, “The Angel of Progress: Pitfalls of the Term ‘Postcolonialism,’ Social Text 31–32 (1992): 85.

90. Diana Brydon, “The Whie Inuit Speaks: Contamination as Literary Strategy,” in Past the Last Post: Theorizing Post-colonialism and Post-modernism, ed. Ian Adam and Helen Tiffin (New York: Harvester/Wheatsheaf, 1991), 195.

91. W. E. B. DuBois, “The Souls of Black Folk,” in Three Negro Classics (New York: Avon, 1965), 214–15.

92. Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Identity: Community, Culture, Difference, ed. Jonathan Rutherford (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990), 226.

93. Paul Gilroy, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press, 1993), 127.

94. Lisa Lowe, Immigrant Acts (Durham, N.C.: Duke Univ. Press, 1996).

95. Spivak, “The New Subaltern,”333.

96. Cornel West, “A Grand Tradition of Struggle,” English Journal (July 2000): 43–44.


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Reason in Revolt: Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science

Reason in Revolt: Marxist Philosophy and Modern Science

By Alan Woods and Ted Grant

This book, by Ted Grant and Alan Woods published in 1995 coinciding with Engels’ centenary, defends the validity of the philosophical writings of Marx and Engels using the most important scientific discoveries of the twentieth century as a proof. With a foreword by Eric Lerner, author of The Big Bang Never Happened.The book has also been published in Spanish, Italian, Urdu, Greek, Turkish, German and Indonesian. Buy Online!
Buy online from Wellred Books!


Part One: Reason and Unreason

  1. Introduction

  2. Philosophy and Religion

  3. Dialectical Materialism

  4. Formal Logic and Dialectics

Part Two: Time, Space and Motion

  1. Revolution in Physics

  2. Uncertainty and Idealism

  3. Relativity Theory

  4. The Arrow of Time

  5. The Big Bang

Part Three: Life, Mind and Matter

  1. The Dialectics of Geology

  2. How Life Arose

  3. The Revolutionary Birth of Man

  4. The Genisis of Mind

  5. Marxism and Darwinism

  6. The Selfish Gene?

Part Four: Order Out of Chaos

  1. Does Mathematics Reflect Reality?

  2. Chaos Theory

  3. The Theory of Knowledge

  4. Alienation and the Future of Humanity


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Glossary of Terms

Glossary of Terms

Please note that this glossary is not intended, for reasons of space, to be exhaustive. To avoid repetition, terms explained in the text are not generally included here.



Alphabetical list
Adaptive Radiation
Allopatric Theory
Amino Acids
Causality, the Law of
Covergent Series
Logical Positivists
Malthuisian Theory
Quantum Mechanics
Sufficient Reason, Law of
ThermodynamicsAdaptive radiation.- Evolution, from a primitive type of organism, of several divergent forms adapted to distinct modes of life.

Allopatric Theory.- The theory that the evolutionary divergence of populations into separate species, which no longer interbreed, takes place in geographically separate places

Amino Acids.- Organic compound containing both basic amino and acidic carobxyl groups. Amino acid molecules combine to make protein molecules and are therefore a fundamental constituent of living matter.

Causality, Law of.- The law defining the interdependence of cause and effect—the necessary connections between phenomena. Causality is an essential question in the struggle between materialism and idealism.

Chromosomes.- A chain of genes found in cells. They are present in all cells in the body and consist of DNA and a supporting structure of protein.

Cognition.- The process by which human thought reflects and observes the real world.

Convergent Series.- Number series in which the successive partial sums obtained by taking more and more terms approach some fixed number or limit.

Cytoplasm.-All the protoplasm of a cell excluding the nucleus.

Determinism.- A belief that all processes are predetermined by definite causes and natural laws and can therefore be predicted. Biological determinism and mechanical determinism are two variations of this premise. Indeterminism is the reverse of this—a belief that events are governed not by laws but by pure chance.

Dialectics.- From the Greek words for dispute and debate, this is the science of the general laws governing the development of nature, science, society and thought. It considers all phenomena to be in movement and in perpetual change. Marxism linked this concept to materialism and showed the process of development in all things through struggle, contradiction and the replacement on one form by another.

Diploid.- Cell with chromosomes in pairs. DNA.- The molecule that carries the genetic information in organisms (except RNA viruses).

Dogma.- A blind belief in things often without a material base.

Eclecticism.- A mechanical and/or arbitrary collecting of concepts or facts without any preestablished principles or structures. Eclecticism is often used to attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable such as idealism and materialism.

Electrons.- Elementary particles that possess one unit of negative charge and are a constituent of all atoms.

Entropy.- One of the main notions of thermodynamics, where it is normally viewed as a measure of disorder. In isolated systems, it is used to determine the way in which the system will change if heated or cooled, compressed or expanded. Thermodynamics holds that the entropy of a system can never decrease but only increase and that a state of maximum entropy is marked by a state of balance in which no further conversion of energy is possible. This has been used to justify the erroneous idea of the “heat death of the universe.” In recent years, I. Prigogine has reinterpreted the Second Law of Thermodynamics in a way which defines entropy differently. According to Prigogine, entropy does not mean higher disorder in the generally accepted sense, but an irreversible process of change which generally leads to more highly ordered states.

Empiricism.- A teaching on the theory of knowledge which holds that sensory experience is the only source of knowledge and affirms that all knowledge is founded on experience and is obtained through experience. The opposite to rationalism. The main failing of this is a tendency to reject reason as a means of deduction in favour of a metaphysical exaggeration of the role of experience alone.

Electromagnetism.- The study of the effects of the relationship and interplay between a magnetic field and an electric current. For example the electrical creation of a magnetic field in a conductor.

Eugenics.- A doctrine which holds that the human race can be “improved” by selective control of breeding to eradicate less “desirable” traits in society. The supporters of eugenics argue that social problems are caused by inherited genetic traits in people which can be bred out to resolve the problem for future generations. The logical conclusion of this theory is deeply racist and reactionary based on dubious research and prejudice.

Eukaryotes.- One of the two major groups of organisms on Earth (the other being Prokaryotes). Characterised by the possession of a cell nucleus and other membrane-bounded cell organelles.

Gene.- A unit of heredity; a sequence of base pairs in a DNA molecule that contains information for the construction of protein molecule.

Genome.- The entire collection of genes possessed by one organism.

Genotype.- Genetic constitution (the particular set of alleles present in each cell of an organism) as contrasted with the characteristics manifested by the organism.

Gradualism.- The theory that all evolutionary change is gradual rather than occurring in leaps and jumps.

Haploid.- Cell with single set of chromosomes.

Lamarckism.- The theory that acquired characteristics can be inherited and that any new genetic variation tends to be adaptively directed rather than ‘random’ as stated by Darwin.

Logical Positivists.- A variation on positivism which attempts to combine subjective-idealist empiricism with a method of logical analysis.

Lysenkoism.- A revival of Lamarckism in the USSR under Lysenko who sought to affect the hereditary modification of plants by certain treatments. his research was subsequently discredited but was heavily touted by Stalinists in its day.

Malthusian Theory.- The theory developed by Thomas Malthus which claimed that population levels were responsible for social problems and should be checked to resolve them since uncontrolled population increases occur on a geometrical ratio whereas the increase in resources occurs on an arithmetical basis. This is not so but laid the basis for the belief that nothing could be done about the problems of the world. In its most extreme form it was the basis for an acceptance of famines etc. as unavoidable and socially necessary.

Meiosis.- Cell division in which a cell gives rise to daughter cells with half as many chromosomes.

Metaphysics.- There are two definitions of this word: the one used by Marx and Engels, and the other more traditional conception. In Marxist terminology, metaphysics is a method which holds that things are final and immutable, independent of one another and denies that inherent contradictions are the source of the development of nature and society but rather that nature is at rest, unchanging and static. All things can be investigated as separate from each other. Nowadays, the word reductionism would often be used instead.

The more traditional philosophical definition derives from Aristotle who used the word metaphysics to describe the branch of philosophy dealing with universal concepts as opposed to the observation of nature (in Greek, “meta ta physika” means “that which comes after physics”). Later on it became a synonym for abstract idealist speculation.

Mitosis.- Cell division in which a cell gives rise to daughter cells with a complete set of chromosomes.

Monad.- A primary organic unit. A chemical element having a valency of one. The monad played a central role in the idealist philosophy of Leibniz.

Mutation.- An inherited change in the genetic material; a change in the genotype

Neutrons.- One of the two types of particle which form the nucleus of an atom—the other being the proton.

Nodes.- The points in a wave system where the amplitude of the wave is zero. In Hegel, the nodal line of measurement was one where the line is interrupted by sudden leaps, denoting qualitative change (“node” here means “knot”).

Nucleotide.- A biochemical molecule used as the basic building block of DNA and RNA.

Palaeontology.- The study of fossils and other records of ancient life.

Phenotype.- Manifested attributes of an organism (e.g., eye colour).

Photon.- Units or ‘packets’ of electromagnetic radiation.

Plasma.- A gas that contains a large number of positively and negatively charged particles (ions and electrons). This can occur when a gas is raised to extremely high temperatures (e.g., the outer regions of the sun) or in an intense electrical field. Plasma physics is an important branch of modern science.

Polymorphism.- The coexistence of several well-defined distinct phenotypes or alleles in a population.

Positrons.- The antiparticles of electrons—having the same mass but a positive charge.

Positivism.- An idealistic current which believes in “positive” facts rather than abstract deductions. It denies that philosophy is a world outlook and states that belief should be concentrated on a description of facts rather than an analysis of them. Positivism claims to be neutral and above philosophical outlooks, interested in processes but not willing to go beyond the boundaries of the status quo. In effect they confirm the maintenance of existing social structures.

Prokaryotes.- One of the two major groups of organisms on Earth (the other being Eukaryotes).They have no structured cell nucleus and no membrane-bounded organelles.

Proton.- One of the two types of particles which form the nucleus of an atom—the other being neutrons.

Protoplasm.- Substance within and including plasma-membrane of a cell or protoplasm.

Quantum Mechanics.- The mathematical description of the workings of the atomic and sub-atomic structures.

Quarks.- According to particle physics these sub-atomic particles are believed to be the constituents of elementary particles known as hadrons. Five or possibly six different sorts are thought to exist, but new discoveries are being made all the time.

Quasars.- Quasi-stellar radio sources (quasars) were first detected by virtue of their radio transmissions and appear to show the small bright centres of distant galaxies (although some believe that they are not as far away as people imagine but are moving at high speeds).

Rationalism.- The theory which holds that reason is the unique source of knowledge as against empiricism which holds that perception is the source of knowledge.

Reductionism.- A belief that all scientific laws and processes relating to complex systems can be reduced down to basic scientific laws. Physicalism was a version of this.

Relativity, Theory of.- The laws of relativity (relationship between an object and an observer or another object) considered and developed by Einstein. Einstein’s general theory deals with motion, gravity, time and the concept of curved space. The theory which deals with constant velocities is called the special theory. The most famous part of these laws is that which shows the relationship between mass and energy (E = mc2).

Speciation.- The process of evolutionary divergence i.e., two species being produced from one source.

Stasis.- A period in which no evolutionary change takes place in the development of a species.

Sufficient Reason, Law of.- A principle that holds that a proposition can only be considered true if sufficient reason for it can be formulated.

Syllogism.- A doctrine of inference, historically the first logical system of deduction, formulated by Aristotle. Every syllogism consists of a triad of propositions: two premises and a conclusion.

Systematics.- Study of the diversity of organisms.

Taxonomy.- Study of classifying organisms.

Thermodynamics.- The branch of physics concerned with the nature of heat and its transformations. The First Law of Thermodynamics is generally referred to as the Law of the Conservation of Energy. The Second Law deals with the concept of increasing entropy (see under entropy).

Back to Main Index



Foucault dan Posmodernisme


Foucault dan Posmodernisme

Oleh: I. Bambang Sugiharto *


“Posmodernisme” itu macam hantu. Orang bisa ngotot menganggapnya tidak ada dan omong kosong. Meskipun orang bisa juga bersikukuh menganggapnya kenyataan paling real hari ini. Orang bisa bilang bahwa itu mode intelektual yang sudah mati, atau malah keguguran sebelum lahir. Akan tetapi, bisa juga sebaliknya: paradigma yang baru saja lahir dan sedang berkembang kini. Istilah itu menyandang demikian banyak nuansa yang campur aduk, sehingga argumentasi apa pun sepertinya bisa saja diterima. Maka mendudukkan Foucault dalam konsep yang tidak jelas itu dengan sendirinya menjadi tidak bisa definitif pula.



Istilah “Posmodernisme” bisa menunjuk pada berbagai arti yang berbeda, bisa berarti : aliran pemikiran filsafati; pembabakan sejarah (erat terkait pada pergeseran paradigma); ataupun sikap dasar/ etos tertentu. Masing-masing membawa konsekuensi logis yang berbeda, meskipun bisa saling berkaitan juga. Apabila yang kita maksudkan adalah aliran fllsafat, maka ia menunjuk terutama pada gagasan-gagasan J.F. Lyotard, yang paling eksplisit menggunakan istilah itu. Namun bila yang kita maksud adalah babakan sejarah baru yang meninggalkan kerangka berpikir modern (“Pos” modern), maka mereka yang paling sibuk memetakannya adalah Charles Jeneks, Andreas Huysen, David Harvey dll. Di sini orang bisa berdebat dengan sangat nyinyir kapan persisnya terjadi pergeseran paradigma besar-besaran dan apa persis yang bergeser itu sehingga bisa menyebut zaman ini “post”-modern. Jangan-jangan segala pergeseran itu justru radikalisasi dan segala kecenderungan modern sendiri, sehingga alih-alih “post”, semua gelagat itu mesti disebut “most” : most-modern. Pada titik inilah kita mesti mendudukan berbagai wacana dan orang-orang macam Habermas, Anthony Giddens, Ernest Geliner dsb. Akan tetapi, bila Posmodernisme kita artikan dalam arti luas, yakni sebagai segala bentuk “sikap dasar” (etos) yang mencoba kritis terhadap pola pikir dan prinsip-prinsip modernisme, maka tiba-tiba “Posmodernisme” mencakup wilayah isi, aliran filsafat dan tokoh yang amat luas. Ia menjadi istilah-payung yang memayungi demikian beragam gelagat di berbagai bidang, bahkan yang saling bertentangan sekalipun. Celakanya, karena bisa berisi apa pun orang lantas juga menganggap istilah itu kosong tanpa isi. Dan istilah “posmo” menjadi bahan olok-olok untuk apa pun yang tidak lazim, ganjil, bahkan tidak senonoh. Ia menjadi karikatur. Maka tak usah heran bila tiba-tiba “Posmo” menjadi nama sebuah tabloid kienik. Dan bisa saja ada warung bakso atau situs porno yang bernama “Posmo” juga.

Tulisan ini cenderung berbicara tentang arti yang ketiga itu, yakni posmodernisme sebagai segala bentuk sikap kritis terhadap pola pikir dan prinsip-prinsip modernisme. Saya kira sulitlah disangkal bahwa hari-hari ini memang bermunculan demikian banyak kecenderungan kritis baru, yang pada titik-titik tertentu toh memaksa kita memahami kemodernan secara berbeda. Dan ini tidak hanya mencakup satu dua aliran pemikiran. Ia mencakup demikian banyak gejala yang sangat kompleks di segala bidang. Menganggap segala istilah “the end” yang heboh bermunculan dalam begitu banyak bidang hari-hari ini (The end of philosophy, of ideology,of science, of histoiy, of art, of nation-state, etc.etc.) sekadar sebagai kelatahan modis belaka rasanya terlalu simplistik dan menunjukkan kekurangpekaan yang serius.

Sebagai istilah-payung memang posmodernisme dalam arti luas ini bisa terasa kosong, bisa diisi apapun juga. Akan tetapi barangkali ia mesti dilihat ibarat keranjang besar, kosong, meskipun keranjangnya ada. Dan itu sebetulnya sama saja dengan istilah “modern” sendiri, yang juga bisa diisi apapun juga.

Orang bisa menyebut teknologi modern, pola pikir modern, pesantren modern, bahkan gaya cukuran modern atau gudeg modern,dst. Dan orang bahkan bisa menyebut berbagai aliran filsafat yang satu sama lain saling bertentangan macam rasionalisme, empirisme, materialisme dan idealisme, semua sebagai filsafat “modern”, alias berada dalam satu keranjang yang sama. Artinya, keranjangnya toh ada. Ada kecenderungan-kecenderungan dasar yang sama.

Beberapa kecenderungan dasar umum posmodernisme yang bisa dianggap sebagai kerangka keranjang, misalnya:

(1) kecenderungan menganggap segala klaim tentang “realitas” ( diri subyek, sejarah, budaya, Tuhan, dsb.) sebagai konstruksi semiotis, artifisial dan ideologis;

(2) skeptis terhadap segala bentuk keyakinan tentang “substansi” objektif (meski tidak selalu menentang konsep tentang universalitas);

(3) realitas bisa ditangkap dan dikelola dengan banyak cara dan sistem (pluralisme);

(4) paham tentang “sistem” sendiri dengan konotasi otonom dan tertutupnya cenderung dianggap kurang relevan, diganti dengan “jaringan”, “relasionalitas” ataupun “proses” yang senantiasa saling-silang dan bergerak dinamis;

(5) dengan begitu cara pandang yang melihat segala sesuatu dan sudut oposisi biner pun (either-or) dianggap tak lagi memuaskan; segala unsur ikut saling menentukan dalam interaksi jaringan dan proses (maka istilah “postmodernisme” sendiri pun mesti dimengerti dalam interrelasinya dengan “modernisme”, alih-alih melihatnya sebagai oposisi);

(6) melihat secara holistik berbagai kemampuan (faculties) lain selain rasionalitas, misalnya: emosi, imajinasi, intuisi, spiritualitas, dsb.; serta

(7) menghargai segala hal “lain” (otherness),yang lebih luas, yang selama ini tidak dibahas atau bahkan dipinggirkan oleh wacana modern (mis. kaum perempuan, tradisi-tradisi lokal, paranormal, agama, sehingga segala hal dan pengalaman yang selalu mengelak dan pola rumusan kita).

Akan tetapi, keluasan memang berarti juga kekaburan. lnilah memang masalahnya: kekaburan istilah “posmodern” sebagian besar adalah karena kekaburan istilah “modern” itu sendiri. “modern” dalam arti mana yang dikritik “posmodernisme” itu. Berbagai kekisruhan dalam menempatkan tokoh mana dijalur mana berakar pada persoalan itu. Artinya, kendati posmodernisme bisa dicanangkan prinsip-prinsip dasarnya yang sama, – yang membuatnya bisa mencakup demikian banyak aliran – toh selalu bisa juga dilihat perbedaan-perbedaannya pada tingkat rincian-rincian. Dan sudut ini, Foucault bisa dilihat baik sebagai salah satu tokoh posmodern sekaligus juga tokoh modern, tergantung dari perspektif mana kita melihatnya.

Foucault Posmodern

Tentu saja anggapan bahwa Foucault itu tokoh posmodern pertama-tama berawal dari identifikasi antara Posmodernisme dan Pos-strukturalisme, wilayah berkubangnya Foucault. Dan ini sebagiannya karena kecenderungan wacana estetik-kultural di AS sejak tahun 60′an. Kecenderungan revitalisasi Avantgardisme-Eropa di Amerika saat itu membawa tendensi-tendensi yang melahirkan arus estetik baru yang kemudian disebut “Posmodern”. Arus estetik ini misalnya bagaimana pun mengubah anggapan-anggapan ideologis modern tentang “style“,”bentuk” , “kreativitas” dan terutama tentang “tugas” dan “hakikat” kesenian dalam kehidupan dan masyarakat. Leslie Fiedler, misalnya, mengacu pada ekspressi seksual dalam seni, mengangkat “Pencerahan kelamin” (genital enlightenment) dan membela literatur pop. Ihab Hasan mengajukan “Estetika bisu” (Aesthetus of silence).  

Susan Sontag mengusulkan cara pandang erotik (lawan hermeneutik) terhadap seni, menekankan pengalaman sensual dalam apresiasi, alih-alih interpretasi kognitif-intelektual. Di situ yang ditolak bukanlah modernisme en bloc, melainkan modernisme yang telah menjadi bagian dan konsensus liberal konservatif, yang telah menjadi affirmatif, impoten dan kehilangan kekuatan kritisnya.

Kalau di situ terlihat Avantgardisme disusul oleh Posmodernisme estetik, maka saat itu serentak juga kritik seni ala Teori Kritis Frankfurt -yang cenderung mengutamakan kedalaman isi dan substansi rasional seni- disusul dan dilibas oleh kecenderungan baru: Pos-strukturalisme, yang lebih mengutamakan permainan semiotik di permukaan karya. Cara pandang terhadap karya seni yang tadinya menekankan kejeniusan sang senimannya (writerly text) diganti menjadi kebermainan si penikmatnya dalam mengotak-atik sesuka sendiri bentuk karya itu (readerly text) dengan kebahagiaan yang mereka sebut: jouissance ( Barthes). Konkruensi antara Posmodernisme dan Pos-strukturalisme inilah agaknya yang membuat orang cepat menghubungkan keduanya seolah satu kubu. Lagipula pos-strukturalisme yang memperkarakan teks apa pun itu memang juga cenderung mencampurbaurkan teks sastra dengan teks-teks kritis-filosofis, atas nama intertekstualitas.

Akan tetapi juga dari sudut isi gagasannya pos-strukturalisme memang merupakan sumber yang subur bagi argumen-argumen pos-modernisme. Kecenderungan Pos-strukturalisme untuk mengkritik konsep tentang manusia sebagai subjek rasional, konsep metafisis tentang pengetahuan, kebenaran, identitas, dan sejarah adalah salah satu landasan paling meyakinkan yang digunakan oleh Posmodernisme.

Bila dalam paradigma modern, kesadaran dan objektivitas adalah dua unsur yang membentuk subjek rasional-otonom, bagi Foucault konsep diri manusia sebenarnya hanyalah produk bentukan diskursus, praktik-praktik, institusi, hukum ataupun sistem-sistem administrasi belaka, yang anonim dan impersonal namun sangat kuat mengontrol (Madness and Civilization; The Order of Things dan The Archeology of Knowledge). Bahkan, Iebih dalam lagi, Foucault seperti ingin membongkar keterkaitan yang biasanya dianggap niscaya antara kesadaran, refleksi-diri dan kebebasan. Skeptisisme epistemologis yang ekstrim telah membuat Foucault menyejajarkan pengetahuan, subjektivitas dengan kekuasaan, dan karenanya menganggap segala bentuk kemajuan/ pencerahan entah di bidang psikiatri, perilaku seksual atau pun pembaharuan hukum – selalu saja sebagai tanda-tanda kian meningkatnya bentuk kontrol atas kesadaran dan perilaku individu. Bukan oleh agen atau rezim tertentu, melainkan oleh jaringan relasi-relasi semiotis, diskursif dan administratif, yang sebetulnya anonim-impersonal tadi.

Salah satu hal yang paling inspiratif bagi Posmodernisme adalah memang sikapnya dalam memahami fenomena modern yang bernama “pengetahuan” itu, terutama Pengetahuan Sosial. Ia memperkarakan tentang “Apa itu pengetahuan” secara genealogis dan arkeologis; artinya, dengan melacak bagaimana pengetahuan itu telah beroperasi dan mengembangkan diri selama ini Kategori-kategon konseptual macam “kegilaan”, “seksualitas”, “manusia”, dan sebagainya yang biasanya dianggap “natural” itu sebetulnya adalah situs-situs produksi pengetahuan, yang membawa mekanisme-mekanisme dan aparatus kekuasaan; kekuasaan untuk “mendefinisikan” siapa kita. Ilmu-ilmu sosial dan ilmu kemanusiaan adalah agen-agen kekuasaan itu. Dan kendati kekuasaan itu tidak selalu negatif-repressif melainkan juga positif-produktif (menciptakan kemampuan dan peluang baru), toh secara umum ia memaksa kita memahami kemodernan bukan lagi sebagai pembebasan, melainkan sebagai proses kian intensif dan ekstensifnya pengawasan (surveillance), lewat “penormalan”, regulasi dan disiplin (I, Pierre Riviere…; Discipline and Punish; Power/ Knowledge).

Hal menarik yang membuat Foucault sering dimanfaatkan oleh para jurubicara “posmo” adalah pengertiannya yang spesifik tentang “kekuasaan” itu. Baginya kekuasaan bukanlah soal intensi individu, rezim ataupun kelas sosial tertentu, bukan pula soal relasi produksi dan eksploitasi, melainkan jaringan relasi yang anonim dan terbuka. Sebenamya Foucault nyaris tidak mencanangkan sebuah teori ontologis tentang kekuasaan, sebab ia lebih berfokus pada partikularitas relasi-relasi (penjara, rumah sakit, rumah sakit jiwa, sekolah dan sebagainya.).  

Kekuasaan adalah soal praktik-praktik konkrit yang lantas menciptakan realitas dan pola-pola perilaku, memproduksi wilayah objek-objek pengetahuan dan ritual-ritual kebenaran yang khas. Praktik-praktik itu menciptakan norma-norma yang lalu direproduksi dan dilegitimasi melalui para guru, pekerja sosial, dokter, hakim, polisi dan administrator, misalnya. Kekuasaan mewujudkan diri dalam pengetahuan, tetapi pengetahuan pun lantas melahirkan kekuasaan.

Dengan begitu terlihat pula bahwa bagi Foucault perjalanan sejarah pun kehilangan unsur teleologis. Sejarah adalah permainan dominasi dan resistensi yang bergeser-geser, grouping dan regrouping. Dalam sejarah itu misalnya, manusia memang sempat terbebas dan rantai kontrol eksteral-fisik, tetapi hanya untuk dibelenggu oleh rantai kontrol internal-mental oleh diri sendiri ( Madness and Civilization). Maka istilah-istilah macam kesederajatan, kebebasan, keadilan, dan sebagainya hanyalah alat-alat bagi permainan relasi kekuasaan macam itu saja. Ini tentu berjajaran dengan pola pikir Nietzschean, yang misalnya melihat tuntutan orang tertindas terhadap keadilan semata-mata sebagai dalih mereka untuk mendapatkan kekuasaan. Dalam kerangka macam ini sejarah sebagai proses sinambung ke arah emansipasi bagi Foucault adalah semacam fantasi saja.

Demikian seperti halnya Derrida, yang juga tidak melihat arah akhir sejarah sebagai satu dan pasti, Foucault menguatkan kecenderungan pluralisme pemaknaan sejarah di kalangan postmodernis. Bagi kaum Pos-strukturalis “makna” memang bukan sesuatu yang mengandung keniscayaan. Korespondensi antara sistem semiotik/ diskursif dengan realitas bukanlah satu banding satu. Ia selalu membawa banyak kemungkinan dan mudah berubah.

Akhirnya perlu disebut jasa lain dari Foucault bagi Posmodernisme adalah: ia menampilkan Otherness secara lebih konkrit dan grafis, dengan analisis-analisisnya atas pihak-pihak yang dalam modernitas biasanya dianggap tidak normal dan tidak lazim, yakni kaum homoseksual, orang gila, tubuh, rumah sakit, dan sebagainya. Dan dengan begitu membukakan wilayah-wilayah wacana baru.

Foucault Modern

Sebenarnya karya-karya Foucault, seperti halnya karya beberapa posstrukturalis lain, bisa juga dilihat sebagai pembacaan atas kemodernan. Artinya, alih-alih dikaitkan dengan Posmodernisme, bisa lebih tepat dilihat sebagai semacam “Arkeologi atas Modernisme”, alias pembacaan retrospektif atas batas-batas modernisme dan kegagalan ambisi-ambisi filosofis-politisnya yang ternyata tetap saja borjuistik.

Langgam dasar dari karya-karya Foucault dari sudut tertentu sebetulnya juga mirip dengan berbagai kritik atas modernisme seperti yang dilayangkan oleh Weber dan bergema pada sekolah Frankfurt (Adorno, Horkheimer). Misalnya, bahwa modernitas itu menekankan rasionalitas instrumental, berfokus hanya pada cara/ sarana (means) dan bukan pada tujuan (end); bahwa rationalitas ini mewujud dalam rasionalitas ilmiah, dsb. Bagi Foucault pun ilmu, yang lewat kecenderungan reifikasinya mengakibatkan keterlepasan dari misteri tujuan dan nilai hidup ( disenchantment) , adalah mitos baru. ilmu bicara banyak tentang siasat-siasat teknis, tetapi tak mengerti apa-apa tentang nilai dan tujuan hidup. Hal lain lagi adalah bahwa baginya sosok kekuasaan modernisme yang dominatif itu tidak lagi individual ataupun berupa kelas-kelas sosial, melainkan berupa mesin administratif “netral” dan impersonal bagai sosok Panopticon, dan bekerja berdasarkan aturan-aturan abstrak ( Discipline and Punish). Dan ini sebetulnya nyaris berjajaran juga dengan analisis Weber atas birokrasi atau proses kerja dalam pola organisasi kapitalisme, yang melihat pergeseran pola dominasi dari pola “tradisional” ke “legal-rasional”.

Akan tetapi cara dan sasaran pembacaan ala Pos-strukturalisme pada umumnya atas modernisme memang berbeda juga dari kritik modernisme ala Sekolah Frankfurt. Barangkali akar perbedaannya terutama terletak pada perbedaan pengertian tentang konsep “modernisme” itu sendiri. Bagi Habermas, misalnya, seperti halnya bagi tokoh Frankfurt Iainnya, “modern” itu berarti tradisi Pencerahan dan supremasi rasionalitas, yang hendak mereka selamatkan.

Sedang yang dimaksud dengan “modern” oleh para filsuf Pos-strukturalis agaknya adalah: tradisi kritis dekonstruktif Nietzschean, yakni energi “estetik” yang cenderung membongkar segala bentuk representasi. Ini memang membawa konsekuensi logis yang sangat berbeda. Dari perspektif Pos-strukturalis ini misalnya, rasionalitas Pencerahan adalah justru sosok teror dan pengekangan totaliter-struktural, yang melahirkan narasi-besar Hegel ataupun Marx, tetapi juga berbuntut pada totaliterisme Auschwitz ataupun kesewenangan ideologis Gulag. Dan sudut ini perspektif Pos-strukturalis persis berbeda secara diametrikal dengan perspektif Frankfurt.

Itu pula sebabnya kata kunci dalam kritik modernisme versi Pos-strukturalisme misalnya bukanlah “anxiety”, “alienasi” ataupun “negativitas”, melainkan “transgressi”, “tekstualitas”, “presensi”, “jouissance”, dan sebagainya. Kalau teori kritis beraroma melankolis, murung dan muram, maka pos-strukturalisme lebih diwarnai kebermainan gembira yang liar bagai merayakan anarkisme dan nihilisme. Istilah “gay science” dari Nietzsche bagus bila dikenakan pada perilaku kaum Pos-strukturalis.

Dalam kerangka itu sangatlah menarik artikel pendek Foucault yang berjudul What is Enlightenment. Secara eksplisit di sana ia menolak mengambil sikap pro ataupun kontra terhadap Pencerahan, sebab pemosisian terhadap altematif macam itu baginya totaliter dan simplistik, terasa bagai tindakan “pemerasan” (blackmail). Ia juga menganggap tidak penting istilah “pra-modern”,”modern” ataupun “posmodern” yang menunjukkan babakan-babakan sejarah. Sikap “dialektis” ataupun melihat segalanya dalam kerangka both-and ( “ini” sekaligus “itu”) baginya juga bukan jalan keluar. Yang dicanangkannya adalah sikap realistis yang melihat kenyataan bahwa dari sudut tertentu kita memang telah dibentuk oleh Pencerahan itu, namun ini tidak berarti kita mesti mempertahankannya dengan mencari dasar kesahihan baru bagi prinsip-prinsip universal Pencerahan yang telah ditancapkan oleh Kant. Alih-alih mencari kembali batas-batas pengetahuan dalam rupa struktur formal yang niscaya dan universal ala Kant, katanya, justru perlulah kita keluar dari batasan-batasan macam itu; mencoba kemungkinan-kemungkinan baru yang mendobrak anggapan tentang keniscayaan-keniscayaan macam itu. Yang diperlukan adalah: transgressi. Kalau Kant terobsesi oleh prinsip-prinsip universal, maka kita perlu bertanya mengapa tidak ada tempat yang cukup berarti bagi yang partikular dan kontingen, misalnya.

Dengan itu Foucault bukannya hendak menolak modernisme, melainkan memahami modernisme secara berbeda dari Kant. Bila bagi Kant hal yang inti dari modernisme Pencerahan adalah cita-cita menjadikan manusia matang, dewasa dan otonom, maka Foucault meragukan hasilnya. Nyatanya, katanya, hingga hari ini manusia tidak lebih matang dan dewasa ataupun otonom. Foucault Iebih suka melihat Pencerahan atau kemodernan dari paham penyair Baudelaire. Dalam kerangka Baudelairean modernitas adalah etos, sikap dasar, yang selalu memperhadapkan kenyataan real hari ini dengan potensi kebebasan yang mampu mengatasi realitas itu. Manusia modern di sini bukanlah manusia yang makin menemukan rahasia-rahasia atau kebenaran terdalamnya, bukan pula yang makin mampu membebaskan diri menuju diri sejatinya, melainkan yang terus-menerus mampu menciptakan kembali dirinya, mampu mengatasi batasan-batasan yang telah dicangkokkan atasnya. Dalam rangka itulah perlu kini kritik-kritik genealogis dan arkeologis, dan bukan kritik transendental Kantian. Artinya, yang diperlukan adalah melacak kembali jaringan-jaringan peristiwa konkrit dalam sejarah yang bisa memperlihatkan bagaimana pemahaman diri kita itu telah dibentuk, mengapa batasan-batasan tertentu dianggap niscaya dan universal padahal tidak mesti begitu, dan sebagainya. Ontologi kritis atas diri, katanya, mestinya berupa etos yang selalu berani melakukan analisis historis atas segala jenis batas yang dikenakan pada kita sekaligus bereksperimen untuk keluar dari batasan-batasan itu.

Segala kritik Foucault atas “diri subjek” modern agaknya mesti diletakkan dalam kerangka “Ontologi kritis atas diri” itu. Pada titik ini terlihat makin jelas ambiguitas sikap Foucault terhadap kemodernan. Di balik segala omongannya yang sangat berbau “antihumanistik” atau “anti-Subjek”, sebetulnya ia toh tidak naif, ia masih melihat manusia sebagai subjek tertentu. Hanya saja cara memandangnya memang khas. Maka Foucault sebetulnya masih membela modernisme dan modernitas, namun dengan perspektif dan caranya sendiri.

Bahkan ada yang menganggap omongan-omongan Foucault adalah nyanyian angsa (Swansong) dari kemodernan itu sendiri. Akan tetapi kita tahu juga memang, nyanyian angsa paling indah adalah nyanyian terakhir sebelum ia mati. Omongan-ornongan kaum pos-strukturalis memang memukau dan mengasyikkan bagai binar-binar kembang api. Namun, kembang api terasa memukau hanya di malam ri ketika modernisme sudah malam, gelap dan frustrasi.

*  Penulis adalah dosen filsafat pada Universitas Parahyangan, Bandung


Daftar Pustaka

Foucault, M., Madness and Civilization, London: Tavistock, 1967

—, The Order of Things, London: Tavistock, 1970

—, The Archeology of Knowledge, London: Tavistock, 1972

— , Power/Knowledge, selected interviews and other writings 1972-1977, ed. C. Gordon, Brighton: Harvester Press, 1980

— , Discipline and Punish, London: Penguin, 1977

—, “What is Enlightenment” dalam Knowledge and Postmodernism in historical perspective, ed. Joyce Appleby et al., New York : Routledge, 1996



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Posted by pada Juli 28, 2008 in cultural studies, philosophy


Third World and Third World Women

Third World and Third World Women


What geographical regions constitute the Third World? Who are Third World women? Who defines and writes about the terms “Third World” and “Third World Women”? The answers to the above questions are important to both postcolonial studies and feminist studies.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak explains that the term “Third World” was initially coined in 1955 by those emerging from the “old” world order: “the initial attempt in the Bandung Conference (1955) to establish a third way — neither with the Eastern nor within the Western bloc — in the world system, in response to the seemingly new world order established after the Second World War, was not accompanied by a commensurate intellectual effort. The only idioms deployed for the nurturing of this nascent Third World in the cultural field belonged then to positions emerging from resistance within the supposedly ‘old’ world order — anti-imperialism, and/or nationalism” (270).

KumKum Sangari argues that the term “Third World” not only designates specific geographical areas, but imaginary spaces. According to Sangari, “Third World” is “a term that both signifies and blurs the functioning of an economic, political, and imaginary geography able to unite vast and vastly differentiated areas of the world into a single ‘underdeveloped’ terrain” (217). Sangari is critical of the way “Third World” is used by the West to indiscriminately lump together vastly different places.

Chandra Talpade Mohanty defines the Third World geographically: “the nation-states of Latin America, the Caribbean, Sub-Saharan Africa, South and South-east Asia, China, South Africa, and Oceania constitute the parameters of the non-European third world. In addition, black, Latino, Asian, and indigenous peoples in the U.S., Europe, Australia, some of whom have historic links with the geographically defined third worlds, also define themselves as third world peoples” (5).

Cheryl Johnson-Odim explains that “the term Third World is frequently applied in two ways: to refer to ‘underdeveloped’/overexploited geopolitical entities, i.e. countries, regions, even continents; and to refer to oppressed nationalities from these world areas who are now resident in ‘developed’ First World countries.” Johnson-Odim further identifies problems some Third World women have with First World feminism: “While it may be legitimately argued that there is no one school of thought on feminism among First World feminists — who are not, after all, monolithic — there is still, among Third World women, a widely accepted perception that the feminism emerging from white, middle-class Western women narrowly confines itself to a struggle against gender discrimination” (314, 315).

The use of the term “Third World Women” by Western feminists has been widely critiqued. Mohanty uses the term interchangeably with “women of color” (7). She argues that “what seems to constitute ‘women of color’ or ‘third world women’ as a viable oppositional alliance is a common context of struggle rather than color or racial identifications. Similarly, it is third world women’s oppositional political relation to sexist, racist, and imperialistic structures that constitutes our political commonality” (7). Although she uses the term “third world women,” Mohanty argues that western feminisms appropriate the production of the “third world woman as a singular monolithic subject,” for a “discursive colonization” (51). Furthermore, western feminisms articulate a discursive colonization through the production of “third world difference”: “that stable, ahistorical something that apparently oppresses most if not all of the women in [third world] countries” (53-54). Western feminisms’ use of the category of third world woman and third world difference ties into a larger, latent cultural and economic colonialism: “in the context of the hegemony of the Western scholarly establishment in the production and dissemination of texts, and the context of the legitimating imperative of humanistic and scientific discourse, the definition of the ‘third world woman’ as a monolith might well tie into the larger cultural and economic praxis of ‘disinterested’ scientific inquiry and pluralism which are the surface manifestations of a latent economic and cultural colonization of the ‘non-Western’ world” (74).

Trinh T. Minh-ha argues that “‘difference’ is essentially ‘division’ in the understanding of many. It is no more than a tool of self-defense and conquest” (14). Trinh’s concern is with the use of the third world woman as the “native” Other in Western anthropology and feminisms. Answering the question “‘why do we have to be concerned with the question of Third World women? After all, it is only one issue among many others,’” Trinh replies: “delete the phrase Third World and the sentence immediately unveils its value-loaded cliches. Generally speaking, a similar result is obtained through the substitution of words like racist for sexist, or vice-versa, and the established image of the Third World Woman in the context of (pseudo)-feminism readily merges with that of the Native in the context of (neo-colonialist) anthropology” (17).

Self-defined Third World women who inhabit a place within First World feminist academia are also the subject of critique. Diane Brydon writes, “now that the marginal is being revalued as the new voice of authority in discourse, it is tempting to accept the imperial definition of the colonized as marginal” (4). In a direct attack on Mohanty and Trinh as well as bell hooks, Sara Suleri argues that,”rather than extending an inquiry into the discursive possibilities represented by the intersection of gender and race, feminist intellectuals like hooks misuse their status as minority voices by enacting strategies of belligerence that at this time are more divisive than informative. Such claims to radical revisionism take refuge in the political untouchability that is accorded the category of Third World Woman, and in the process sully the crucial knowledge that such a category has still to offer to the dialogue of feminism today” (765). Suleri claims that Mohanty’s “claim to authenticity–only a black can speak for a black; only a postcolonial subcontinental feminist can adequately represent the lived experience of that culture — points to the great difficulty posited by the ‘authenticity’ of female racial voices in the great game which claims to be the first narrative of what the ethnically constructed woman is deemed to want” (760). Similarly, Suleri attacks hooks and Trinh for claiming that “personal narrative is the only salve to the rude abrasions that Western feminist theory has inflicted on the body of ethnicity” (764). Suleri advocates examining how “realism locates its language within the postcolonial condition,” and suggests that “lived experience does not achieve its articulation through autobiography, but through that other third-person narrative known as the law” (766).

As the above arguments indicate, the terms “Third World” and “Third World Women” are by no means stable categories. Rather, these terms are a locus of contention not only between First World feminisms and Third World women, but also between Third World women themselves within the complex field of postcolonial studies.



Brydon, Diana. “Commonwealth or Common Poverty?” Kunapipi: Special Issue on Post-Colonial Criticism: 11-1 (1989): 1-16.

Johnson-Odim, Cheryl. “Common Themes, Different Contexts: Third World Women and Feminism.” Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Eds. Mohanty, Russo, Torres. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1991.

Mohanty, Chandra Talpade. “Introduction” and “Under Western Eyes.” Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Eds. Mohanty, Russo, Torres. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana UP, 1991.

Sangari, Kumkum. “The Politics of the Possible.” The Nature and Context of Minority Discourse. Eds. Abdul JanMohamed and David Lloyd. New York: Oxford UP, 1990.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. The Spivak Reader. Eds. Donna Landry and Gerald MacLean. Great Britain: Routledge, 1996.

Suleri, Sara. “Woman Skin Deep: Feminism and the Postcolonial Condition.” Critical Inquiry (Summer 1992): 756-769.

Trinh, Minh-ha. “Difference: ‘A Special Third World Woman Issue.” Discourse 8 (Fall-Winter 86-87): 10-37.




Author: Nicola Graves, Spring 1996

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