The Social Sciences
Between Eclecticism and Synthesis
By Juan Luis Martín
In this essay written specially for ISLA, Dr. Martín examines
the state of Cuba's social sciences in light of the island's difficult
position in the globalized world. He offers an historical review of
the discipline's development in Cuba, and shows that social scientists
today play an increasingly decisive role within Cuba's changing society.
Dr. Martín is director of Cuba's
Center for Psychological and Sociological Research (CIPS). He also coordinates
the Social Science seciton of Cuba's Academy of Science.
As in other fields of scientific endeavor, social sciences in all countries
tend to be shaped by three basic factors:
a) The specific problems that a society faces at any given period of
b) The dominant theoretical and methodological approaches used by the
international scientific community;
c) The specific cultural traditions of a given society.
The relationship between these elements has become increasingly contradictory
during the present historical juncture. This will probably lead to a
deep transformation in the role social sciences play at a global scale.
The ascent of capitalism and the emergence of nation-states brought
with them the birth of modern social sciences. Similarly, the simultaneous
processes of globalization-fragmentation are bringing forth deep changes
in the agenda of problems to be solved by humanity in all its distinct
social groupings. This will result in profound transformations in the
issues, theories, methods and probably the very nature of the social
sciences, as indeed natural sciences are now changing.
Cuban social scientists are not exempted from this process. We are affected
by it in a very particular way because of our country's history and
The History of Cuban Social Sciences
Cuban social sciences have gone through five stages during their historical
a) Pre-scientific social essays. This stage spans the 18 th and 19 th centuries and is distinguished by a
high productivity, creativity and depth of ideas. The essays do not
conform to today's theoretical or methodological standards, or requirements
of empirical verification. Rather, they reflect the way social sciences
were practiced elsewhere starting in the 19 th century.
b) Positivistic stage, which spans the dependent capitalist republic
during the first half of the 20 th
century. This stage is characterized by the progressive (though
not exclusively so) influence of positivism, and the emergence of scientific
research proper, particularly in the fields of historiography, ethnography,
economy and sociology.
c) Regeneration and Innovation stage, spanning the years 1960 to 1974.
This period is characterized by the predominance of the Marxist paradigm
as a dominant theory, both in its Western and Latin American schools
d) Exegesis and "Technicifation" stage, spanning 1975-1985.
This period is characterized by two distinctive traits: the increasing
influence of the Eastern-European school of Marxism (though highly simplified
and vulgarized), and the development of professional institutions of
applied research, linked to the state's central administration.
e) Rectification stage, spanning 1986-1990. This period is characterized
by a critical analysis of the Eastern-European influence, and a reappraisal
of the historical, national and Latin American roots of social thought.
The international changes that occurred during the 90's and their impact
in Cuba are leading to the emergence of new problems and historical
processes. This has brought about a new stage of scientific activity
that places the social scientific community at a crossroads between
sliding towards eclecticism or contributing to a new synthesis of the
The sudden collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, the economic ascent
of China and Viet Nam, the simultaneous processes of globalization and
fragmentation, the increase of environmental problems, both at regional
and global levels, the increased flow of communication due to the telecommunications
revolution, are all external factors that influence the social and economic
life of our country, as well as the thought and action of the social
The collapse of Eastern Europe brought about the crisis of a dominant
theoretical paradigm. The new context allowed for a critical evaluation
of its premises, together with a reevaluation of socialism's practice.
The Cuban "Rectification Process" that began in 1986 generated
diverse effects on our social sciences. Among them, the recognition
of sociology as an independent discipline, and the re-opening of this
field in two universities. Other changes brought about by Rectification
were the diversification of information sources and contacts with other
academic communities; the implementation of a broad program for social
research on Cuban society; and an increased publication of national
As a result, a more integrated view of international social sciences
began to take shape, and the groundwork was layed for the discipline's
active role in society by providing diagnosis, evaluation, projection,
in some cases, proposals. It is within this context that Eastern-European
socialism collapsed, provoking two basic effects on social science research:
On the one hand, academic exchange with Eastern Europe and the Soviet
Union was reduced to zero (they had been the main source of exchanges
during the 1975-1986 period). This allowed for more diversified relations
with other academic communities, exemplified by the 18 th Congress of the Latin American Sociology
Association (ALAS) in 1991, with over 3,000 participants from all over
Latin America. This Congress marked the reestablishment of dialogue
with the region's social research communities. Later, contacts with
the North American academic community were broadened, especially through
the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) congresses, as well as
with Western European academics, through several collaborative projects.
The increased contact with academic communities of diverse theoretical
viewpoints initially brought about a certain imitative tendency, due
to a lack of internal maturity. But soon the Cuban scholars learned
to rediscover the importance of their own intellectual experience, and
to expand their paradigms through an interaction with new ideas.
The second effect was the development of a more reflexive attitude towards
the possible ways of perfecting socialism. Initially, Perestroika generated
a strong sympathy in Cuban academic circles, resulting in frequent proposals
of reforms similar to those adopted in the Soviet Union. The outcome
of the Soviet experience provoked a more measured evaluation of the
possible ways of perfecting the system.
In contrast with the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe, the economic
ascent of China and Vietnam has produced an increased attention to these
countries. The result has been a set of detailed studies of "market
socialism" in its achievements, as well as its theoretical and
practical difficulties. This has brought about a series of research
projects, both within and outside of the National Programs of Science
and Technology, leading to several publications and colloquia from 1994
The Eastern European collapse raises profound questions regarding the
theory of contemporary socialism-building, of capitalism as a social
system, and how these phenomena are played out in history.
As with the general political scenario, these circumstances have gradually
imposed on social sciences a reexamination of the different views on
socialism that have been accumulating since the end of the 19 th century. No theoretical synthesis has
been achieved which could lead to a precise and pragmatic platform.
The diverse approaches to socialism have been put forth in the following
conceptions: that of the First International, with its focus on socialism
as a process that belongs to countries with a highly developed work
force; the Second International focused on a gradual transition directed
by a party of the masses; the Third International focused on socialism
as a viable process for countries with a medium and even low capitalist
development, led by an avant-garde party; the Fourth International,
with its theses of a World Revolution. This conception held that socialism
is a path of liberation and development of Third World nation-states.
Also, Asian processes emerged which held that a socialist market was
a vehicle to construct socialism (Amín, 1996).
The Cuban Revolution inserts itself within this sequence, with a strong
emphasis on the role that subjective factors play. Ethics as a foundation
of politics, and as a mechanism for mobilization and social cohesion,
was particularly focused on (Rojas, 1993).
The applicability of these different ways of thinking about socialism
and its construction is conditioned by the state of today's capitalist
system. This is the most important strategic challenge faced not only
by Cuban social sciences, but by the intellectual community that continues
to believe in the need of finding a formula for social organization
which can offer humanity a rational and ethical alternative to capitalism's
Socialism and Globalization
To the questions derived form the construction of socialism are added
those that flow from globalization. The present nature of this process
makes it an object of increasing scrutiny for two fundamental reasons:
a) Its impact on the Nation-State as an historical form of community.
This is a crucial point for any revolution whose essence rests not only
in class struggle, but also in the rescue of the identity and sovereignty
of a nation.
b) Globalization raises a host of new questions in the fields of international
relations, economy, cultural dynamics, the evolution of social classes.
Ultimately, the question should be posed of whether capitalism will
be able to assimilate globalization without itself collapsing or crushing
The historical evolution of the Nation-State, as well as the dynamics
of international relations, are of great importance to us, given Cuba's
size, geographical position and natural resources. The dominance of
these combined factors greatly affects Cuban society.
The path presently taken by globalization is defined by the spread of
neo-liberal economic policies. This raises very sensitive strategical
questions on the future of the Cuban Revolution. The accelerated processes
of centralization and capital concentration, on the one hand, increases
the power of transnational corporations, creates large blocks dominated
by them, and standardizes culture. On the other hand, globalization
increases the number of people in the world who are economically and
socially impoverished (in what would seem a turn-of-the-century variant
of the "immiseration of the working class" that Marx foresaw)
(Petras, 1998), aggravates environmental problems, and radically polarizes
Globalization shows us the urgency for an alternative model to capitalism
and mobilizes solidarity towards those who want to build such an alternative.
This paradox makes the continuous evaluation of the globalization process
an essential task for Cuban social sciences.
Cuba's vulnerability to growing global and regional environmental deterioration,
due to its insular position, its relatively small size and the increasingly
important role of tourism in its economy, has attracted the attention
of the academic community. Thus, institutions like the newly created
Environmental Agency (Agencia de Medio Ambiente) have generated an new
demand for specialized researchers. Similarly driven research centers
have appeared in some universities as well.
The Transformation of Cuba
Changes in the international scene have led to accelerated internal
transformations in Cuba's social fabric. The strongest impact has been
in the economy, particularly the transformation from a State-run economy
to a mixed economy. Property has been diversified (expansion of cooperative
property, appearance of freelance work, and joint ventures), the currency
has been "dualized," State-run companies have been decentralized,
and tourism has gained new importance. These changes have generated
an extraordinary range of social, political and cultural impacts, by
modifying the basic processes of production and distribution developed
during the 60's, 70's and 80's.
First, they are producing changes in class structure and social groups,
as new components emerge and traditional ones are transformed. Secondly,
they alter the allocation of investments, resulting in an increased
regional differentiation. Thirdly, changes appear in the paths for social
mobility, and with them transformations in collective organizations
and values. This calls for readjustments in the socialization processes
that may allow to maintain and develop the social cohesion within the
These transformations operate in the context of an increased information
flow, which continually broadens our frames of reference. The impact
of new information technologies is still impossible to evaluate, since
the Internet is still a very new presence in the island. The "information
highway" could produce either a numbing saturation or a way to
engage in deeper analyses. The path taken will depend in the theoretical
cohesion within the academic community. This is one of the reasons it
is important that our agenda include a critique of contemporary thought.
Cuban Social Sceinces Today
Research agendas have suffered a relative reordering due to the collection
of external and internal factors described above. The general objectives
of Cuban social scientists can be summarized in the following way:
- The analysis and systematization of socialism's tenets both nationally
and internationally, covering the historical, economic, political and
social aspects. This objective leads to the analysis of thought within
the Cuban Revolution, its historical sources, particularly José
Martí's work; an evaluation of the different readings of Marx,
as well as an analysis of the evolution of contemporary capitalism and
the causes of the collapse of socialism.
- The evaluation of globalization in its different aspects (economic,
social, cultural, environmental, legal and political), and its implications
for Cuba and other Latin American countries.
- The monitoring of changes in the internal social structure. Of special
interest are the effects at the objective level (scale, geographic distribution,
racial and gender composition, etc.), as well as at the subjective level
(perception, social representations, dominant values, etc.)
- The perfecting of the political system, particularly that of the State.
This encompasses issues such as the adjustment of the judicial system,
of the social policies, of the organization of emergent economies, such
as tourism, science and joint ventures.
- The perfecting of the socializing system, and its adjustment to the
new circumstances. This objective includes the educational system, mass
media, social control, criminal activity and biosocial problems such
- An evaluation of the changes in international relations and the Cuban
Revolution's network of alliances.
- Studies on emigration and relations with the Cuban community abroad.
Three National Social Sciences Programs have been initiated as of 1996
to cover the above-mentioned objectives. They are know by their working
titles: "Cuban Economy," "Economy and International Relations,"
and "Cuba Society."
The third program's purpose is to analyze Cuban society's present state,
and to forecast its future scenarios. Some of the topics are: civil
society, civil law, social structure, social subjectivity, religion,
regional municipalities, community and sustainable development, youth,
labor relations, family, educational systems, emigration, Cuban communities
abroad and Cubanology.
Along with the national programs are the Branch Programs, the Territorial
Programs and independent projects, all of which make for a very broad
and diversified scope of research. There are tight budgetary restrictions
for carrying out these projects, but the scientific community that undertakes
them has gained in experience and maturity.
From the institutional perspective, the same structure attained in the
previous stage has been maintained, with the exception of a new research
center at Havana University: The Center for the Study of Political Alternatives
(CEAP). Other working groups have emerged in the universities, without
yet attaining the status of research centers. The historical problem
inherent in specialized fields of knowledge is being addressed by integrative
projects such as Programas, el Polo de Ciencias Sociales.
In the publishing field, many more journals exist today than in the
80's. Journals such as Temas, Contracorriente, Cuadernaos
Americanos, Bimestre Cubano and Cuba Socialista, are
beginning to play an important role in contemporary intellectual debates.
Interestingly, given the many threats that Cuban society currently faces,
both the government and society in general pay much more attention to
these research projects than in previous years.
Cuban society has always been both an island and a crossroads. Within
it converge very diverse interests, influences and aspirations, all
drawing from a history and a culture of contrasts and particularities.
This set of factors, along with the present national and international
scenarios, carry with them a host of issues that make Cuba one of the
most interesting social laboratories in the world.
We social researchers have the responsibility of identifying these issues
and suggesting responses in tune with the ongoing quest for social justice.
As in all genuine scientific endeavors, this task requires a commitment
not only to our country, but also to humanity in general. Our work should
be driven not only by a quest for technical rationality, but also by
an ethical orientation.
The magnitude and complexity of the issues could lead to a fragmented
eclecticism in their study (eclecticism has a long tradition in Cuban
culture). Or it could contribute to the synthesis this new stage requires.
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Translated by ISLA. Spanish language original available upon request.
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