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Letter from the Editors: Going Beyond Common Sense

Image from laughingsquid.com

Verstehen is back with a new batch of articles written by undergraduate and graduate students of Sociology and Anthropology! Let us flex our imaginations and explore everyday encounters using alternative lenses.

This issue has a bit of popular entertainment lined up for you, with an examination of an intriguing trend in the music scene, and a review of a movie many have anticipated.  We are also bringing you some post-Yolanda/Haiyan musings that, we hope, will allow for a rethinking of our notion of charity and of how we deal with the environment.

What these articles have in common is their use of various sociological and anthropological perspectives in the attempt to understand the things we see, hear, and experience every day. One of the goals of sociology and anthropology, and indeed of this publication, is to encourage efforts to go beyond common sense in explaining social phenomena.

We are born into a culture and into patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting. The world we experience is imbued with meanings that people are constructing and reconstructing in interactions with one another. And because we are privy to those meanings, social analysis should therefore come easy to us, right? What we may be unaware of is that our take on society is often nestled within the realm of common sense – the product of us living and breathing society.

Common sense has its dangers.  In using common sense to explain social life, we tend to assume that our views are correct especially if we have experience of the phenomena we speak. We tend to privilege our own realities over other realities and other subcultures. Common sense explanations provide a narrow and limiting view of the diversity around us, and could lead to the creation and furthering of stereotypes and prejudices.

Going beyond common sense, beyond how we ordinarily see the world, is a step in being able to locate ourselves within a multiplicity of meanings and voices, and towards a broader understanding of why we are the way we are and why things happen the way they do. We hope that the series of articles in Verstehen’s “season two” would take you in that direction. Sit back, relax, and let your sociological imagination and anthropological curiosity soar.

The Editors
December 2013

2 Comments

  1. Lost SA21 student says

    Hi! In SA21, we usually get this kind of idea on common sense. I was just wondering, how should a person know if he must accept something as common sense or otherwise? I mean, do we have to be skeptical about everything?

    I wish I discovered this site when I was taking my SA21 a year ago!

    • Andrea Soco-Roda says

      Hi Lost, thanks for interest.

      Common sense is everyday knowledge that is passed around and often accepted as fact. It is not necessarily wrong. The problem though, is that ‘common knowledge’ also includes prejudices, stereotypes, and assumptions about social life, and our common knowledge may not apply to people outside of our social groups – people who do not share our culture, subculture, norms, values, and beliefs.

      For instance, if you ask people why they brush their teeth, they would most likely give you hygiene as a reason. After all, not brushing one’s teeth does indeed lead to tooth decay. That is common sense. But what if you found out that more than half of the population in rural China have never brushed their teeth? When this piece of news first came out, a lot of people were appalled. The rural Chinese were judged and told to start brushing their teeth or suffer the dental consequences. It is but common sense to practice this basic hygiene requirement.

      Whose common sense are we talking about, however? These rural Chinese could have a different notion of dental hygiene. Many of them were found to be using green tea as a sort of mouthwash to clean their teeth. In the culture/subculture we subscribe to, we use a particular method that we tend to impose on others because it is believed to be the dominant mode, reinforced by capitalists who have a stake in people buying toothpastes and toothbrushes. We want others to brush their teeth in the way that we do. And we are grossed out if they have a stinky mouth, which might not be so bad for them.

      Closer to home, when people think of the bad traffic situation in the country, they usually blame jeepney drivers, taxi drivers, bus drivers, tricycle drivers, and motorcyclists. These groups of drivers from the lower socio-economic strata of society are obviously the source of build-ups and blockages on the road (common sense). While that is true to some extent, we often take for granted why these kinds of people have become that way, simply putting the blame on the lack of education. No one looks at how their attitudes can be the result of a kind of culture of poverty present in society. A culture that grew out of systemic inequalities manifested in a highly unequal distribution of wealth and a large cultural and economic gap between the rich and the poor. Inequality in the Philippines merits a long discussion, but suffice to say that it is in the best interest of the elites – those who control the resources – to keep the poor poor. And they do so in many ways, given their command of both the economy (the market) and the government. The ways these elites maintain power can also be linked to a mediocre system of governance that contributes to inadequate road and driving infrastructure, and also to the inability of many to access quality education, health care, housing, jobs, and the like.

      There are a lot of implications to applying only common sense in what we see, read, or hear. So, while common sense may be useful in some ways – it helps us get around, it would perhaps do the world a lot of good if people started digging further; if we started looking for reasons to why things are happening in ways that do not come easy; if we started considering other perspectives and points of view that might not be easy to accept as well. Thinking beyond common sense can also help us understand our own social position, subjectivity, and even our personal problems.

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