The Problem-Solving Mode: Social Scientists Back Home and the Limits of Critique
Abundant debates on the problematic positioning of intellectuals in the Global South are typically confined to migrant scholars and to the insider/outsider binary vis-à-vis their object/subject of study. Yet intellectuals back home—both those returning and those who never left—must also forge through the fraught politics of location and epistemic privilege as the other side of the same coin. Nowhere is the politics of location perhaps more striking than in the social sciences and among social scientists based in the Global South who have mostly been trained in Western universities or in Westernized local universities. As academics who mobilize knowledge in the context of state-led and international donor-assisted development projects, their work demonstrates that in the Global South the primary goal of social scientists should be to not only offer a critique but to solve a problem toward making institutions and systems fulfill their functions. In this problem-solving mode, the distinctions between “outsider” as critical-distant (i.e., opening everything up for discussion and debate following a scholarly tradition but may be oblivious of contexts and particularities) and “insider” (i.e., possessing knowledge of the local manifestations of universalized and globalized processes but may not be critical-distant) are to be erased. The “outsider” joins forces with the “insider” as the social scientist moves from being critical-distant to being socially embedded and then back again. This problem-solving mode urges social scientists back home to be critical of but yet part of the system as one tries to solve a problem.
Filipino social scientists; knowledge mobilization; problemsolving mode; World Bank