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The role of social science and orientation of cultural development
29/8/2017 9:48' Send Print
Illustration. Photo: VNA

On the relationship between social science, cultural factors and development

Talking about social science is talking about people, society and culture. More precisely, people, society and culture are objects, targets of social science and humanity studies. When studying specialized objects, social science and humanities have deepened the mystery of the human factor as a goal and motive force for development. It is people and free development of the people (not the impressive numbers of GDP, growth rate or modern facilities of material civilization) that are the ultimate goal, and the center of development. Today, social science asserts that human beings with their wisdom are resources, which the more they are exploited the more they become richer without limit, while other resources become exhausted and limited with increasing exploitation.

Based on results of quantitative research and some precise science, social science provides theoretical tools for governments to choose optimal development solutions, and avoid achieving economic growth at all costs without paying attention to people. Social science advises who is the rational and competent stakeholder to effectively solve social problems, meaning which issues the government should deal with and which issues families should do.

In economic activities, social science, though still has constraints, has reached a very high level in strategy and tactics to mobilize resources, real causes of growth, unhealthy growth models, growth trap forecast, integrated solutions of the market’s "invisible hand" with deliberate macro regulations of the state. It is regrettable that in relation to the dream on prosperity of countries, many of the causes to failure pointed out by economics and other social sciences have not received adequately attention. The ultimate cause is still poor awareness or temptation to selfish interests, because of which policies sometimes are counterproductive and the country misses chances of success.

Historical lessons and lessons learned, in the perspective of social science, always suggest solutions and provide insightful advice to issues, especially hot one. Social science has warned that many lessons of the past have been forgotten "accidentally" or “have not been learnt by heart" and then people have to pay higher prices.

Today's social science understands culture with the revolutionary perspective. The concept of culture came about very early, but cultural studies, cultural sociology, and the perspective considering culture as an intrinsic factor of development, capable of defining the future have emerged not long ago. At the beginning of the 21th century, social science considered culture as "soft power" of nations. Guns or even aggressions (hard power) in dealing with situational and immediate developments can subdue “Soft power”, and “soft power” is capable of bringing about sustainable development. Culture is not only a product of social production, but deep-rooted in social life. It sets out direction, manner and appearance of development. It means that no matter what level of development, people and communities of each society can only feel secure and progressive when development does not go beyond traditional identity, break with history, and turn away from the universal values of humanity and humanitarian tendencies. Successful states are both modern and traditional societies, which both make breakthroughs, inherit, and are unique but not exceptional. "Unlike anyone" and "no longer being themselves" are dangerous extremes.

Given the above, we would like to remind that culture and social science are factors that are increasingly having organic relation with the development of nations. Countries, which flourish and develop, especially those having long tradition, do not underestimate the cultural factor and social science. Reliable strategic centers and think tanks are intellectual machine in social science. This is because due to its ability to direct action, social science is often a spiritual and psychological mainstay providing ideological and cultural strength, in-depth scientific foundation for countries to timely develop responding strategies or policy from political solutions to economic breakthroughs or strategies to protect national sovereignty. Today, regardless of the mode of development, nations consider human values and cultural identity the first raison d’etre of their existence.

Geopolitical position of Vietnam in the 21st century

Vietnam has a rich cultural tradition of several thousand years. Under the lens of social science and humanities, this acknowledgment defines the country’s continued development. Historical development, cultural patterns, national acumen, ways of thinking, ways of making a living, mode of behavior among others with all their strengths and limitations will be definitely inseparable from the present and the future. And optimal or rational development will come to those who bring into play their cultural strengths, recognize their inherent constraints to grasp and control opportunities in the globalized world.

In comparison with peoples and countries near and far, Vietnam has always been positively evaluated in terms of culture. It is not accidental that former leader of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew observed: "Vietnam is one of the strong-willed and most capable peoples in Southeast Asia. Vietnamese students who come to Singapore under the ASEAN scholarship program are very serious about their studies and often get highest scores."

However, difficulties arising from applying cultural theory in development lie in the fact that the effects and impacts of culture which are often not close, direct and with immediate benefits brought about by culture for stakeholders are not attractive and even sometimes reduce economic benefits, or are at the expense other benefits. In addition, culture, in the sphere of policy consultancy, is a difficult-to-measure element. There have been cases where one cultural benefit has been met at the expense of other more fundamental cultural interest.

In terms of geopolitical aspect, in the 21st century, Vietnam has a very special position on the political board of the region and the world, and is a significant regulating factor in regional and world geopolitical order.

In the 20th century, causes of the wars for national defense and national liberation were inseparable to the country's geopolitical position. Currently while America is turning to Asia-Pacific in its strategy and China is pursuing its "China Dream," Vietnam's geopolitical position once again becomes important beyond expectation of all parties.

The problem is that, if Vietnam’s special political and geographical position is not duly attached importance to, the pursuit of and interests of some large countries may be violated. In recent years, think tanks of many big countries have realized this reality. In addition, it is not accidental that big countries’ strategies have manifested behaviors taking into account Vietnam.

Located in the intersection of civilizations, Vietnam has always been a space for landing, settlement and convergence of many religions, many ways of life, and many forms of civilization. The Dong Son civilization, Sa Huynh culture, Oc Eo culture, Dai Viet civilization from the Dinh and Le dynasties to the 20th century in relation to contemporary external civilizations and cultures are not inferior in terms of level of development.

Looking back at history, it can be seen that our forefather effectively dealt with this particular geopolitical culture. Lessons learned have been partly recorded in history books. Finding clever hints for the present and for the future is the responsibility of today's generation.

Lesson learned suggesting ways to future development, which the current generation has a responsibility to draw, first, is a cultural lesson. Along with its important strategic geographic location, Vietnam has a rich culture developed and cultivated over thousands of years of history and used in the nearly entire 20th century. Lessons from the past remain vivid. Patriotism is deep and persistent. The will "There is nothing more precious than independence and freedom," the thought "For the people," the spirit of "Benevolence and righteousness win over brutality," the tactic “Firm in objectives, flexible in strategies and tactics” are real cultural force if today's generation respect, exploit and apply.

Making culture the spiritual foundation, the goal and the driving force of development

First, in order for culture to play a role in promoting the country's development, culture must truly be the spiritual foundation, the goal and the driving force of development - this is not new in terms of theory, but especially essential in terms of macro management, practice and policy making.

It is not new in theory because since the early 1990s of the last century, several monographs and big seminars had many discussions about these contents. In spite of this, in reality, respect for the role of culture seems to be somewhat reduced. In many socio-economic projects, culture was taken over by economic purposes. To overcome this situation, the Resolution of the 9th Plenum of the 11th Party National Congress emphasized: "Culture must be placed on par with economic, political and social sectors." The culture characteristics of many cultural activities are also very low. Policies on culture sometimes violate cultural norms. The cultural feature in “a small part" of the people is besmeared in many relationships: patients and physicians, citizens and public authorities, police and other stakeholders, even teachers and students. Cases of big corruption have increased, violations of law have been more serious, and emotionless has been common. This situation should not be allowed to continue if the country wants to develop quickly and sustainably.

Second, in the current complex situation of defending national sovereignty, the cultural factors to be taken into account are the strength and the will of the people, patriotism of each person, the legitimacy of national defense. These are the "soft power" in the strategy of protecting sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country, besides military and political strength. The first cultural lesson of the national resistance wars is that the power of the human factor is always stronger than weapon.

Third, as the spiritual foundation of society, culture demands to exist as the soul of every macro policy imbued in all activities, to "shine the way for the people" (President Ho Chi Minh). That means strategies, tactics, policies, projects, activities must not fail to take into full consideration cultural aspects, put the culture to its right level, and must reach a certain level of culture. Culture must be seen as a benchmark for performance, in addition to socio-economic indicators. Public opinion, social morality and legal framework must be strong enough to prevent all that are non-cultural, or cultural inappropriate. Beside development speed, development humanism and healthy social life are measurements of the extent culture plays as the spiritual foundation of society.

Fourth, as the goal of development, culture must be present in the outputs of all strategies, tactics, policies, projects and activities. Any overall goal can be inappropriate if the cultural objectives are not taken into full account. If necessary, economic benefits must give in to culture benefits. People’s consensus and happiness are manifestations of the culture’s role as objectives of  development.

At present, it is rarely for economic gains to give in to cultural benefits but vice versa. Of course, cultural development does not necessarily cause waste to economic aspect of activity. If projects, and works on traditional culture, on Vietnamese identity, on development corridors for future generations only give attention to profits and income, the cultural significance is very likely neglected. Here, the role of macro-management, long-term visions and the will to develop is very important. Successful states have not lacked visionary politicians who dare to the helms.

Fifth, as the engine of development, culture is really a stimulant, promoting progress in each policy, in all situations, in different localities. In all contexts of the country, human potential must always be liberated; creative freedom respected, social democracy guaranteed. Social development cannot be considered rational if the potential have not been promoted or wasted; the people are restless.

At present, the real level of development and most of the development indicators of Vietnam are still in the state of potential besides the real lack of potential, especially the lack of high quality human resources. If the potential has not been liberated and brought to play or potential to be recruited has not been trained or attracted, development is difficult to be considered reasonable. In order to liberate potential to avoid waste, train and attract internal and external resources to meet development needs, make culture the real driving force of development, the creation of mechanisms, policies, creative environment for people plays an important role.

Sixth, when it comes to culture and development in a country, people often pay attention to common spirit of the nation - the concept of “spiritual atmosphere” is sometimes used to express and aassess level of people’s knowledge, livelihood and civil rights.

The miracle development of some of the new industrialized countries (NICs) in the 20th century has shown that culture will truly motivate development when the desire for development does not cool off in all people’s strata and in the government. The "dragon" countries are the ones where the governments are devoted to develop strategy, intellectuals are enthusiastic with every step of development of the country.

In Vietnam, the aspiration for development has always been highly appreciated by the world. The will for development of decades can be found anywhere, from ordinary people to responsible leaders. It is a precious cultural asset. However, there are also countries, after years of rapid growth, which are prepared to "take off”, lose opportunities because their desire for development has cooled off. The Philippines, Brazil, Peru are the cases in points.

How to keep up the desire for development is not too difficult. Nevertheless, this depends directly on the macro consensus, on the leader's vision, on the transparent strategies, and on the potential hidden behind practical steps of solving socio-economic problems. In recent years, although Vietnam has undergone difficult periods full of domestic and international socio-economic problems, the resurgence of the economy, the right and wise policy, works century have regained the confidence of the society. The desire for development has not cooled down. There is ground for hope in future.


This article was published in the Communist Review No 897 (July 2017)

Prof. Ho Si Quy, PhDAcademy of Social Sciences of Vietnam