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The Colonial Experience

Social institutions are human inventions. Their existence as well as their continuous existence requires collective human effort in terms of collectively believing that these institutions (1) exist, (2) have certain tasks to perform and are authorized to perform them, (3) that they are justified to do so, and (4) individuals within such institutions are warranted in believing (1), (2) and (3). By collectively believing these factors, social institutions acquire their reality.

Eventually, they are able to evolve a life of their own to the extent that human behavior and ultimately, social action can be modified, affected and even conditioned by social institutions. The possibility of such is evident if one considers that the aforementioned creation of social reality involves a creation of ontology which thereby leads to the formulation of conceptions of knowledge which determine the modes of exercising power within society.

It is important to note that power and knowledge directly imply each other since there is no power relation that has no correlative conception of knowledge nor is there any conception of knowledge that does not presuppose a conception of power relations. From what was stated above, one is led to the conclusion that human inventions somehow mould human beings to certain attitudes and dispositions. In relation to this, there are power relations involved between and among social agents and even among social institutions.

This is evident if one considers that as social institutions evolve a reality of their own, we find these realities impinging on our very existence and liberties thereby directly affecting human agency. In order to understand this, it is important to conceive of power relations as characterized in terms of conflict or alliance between forces on the basis of different force relations within the social field. Within such a field, the human agent is affected by methods of operationalization that enable the production of orderly, obedient, and productive individuals.

Human agency is thereby determined by the different power relations that act upon individuals. Power relations, in this sense, also determine the strictures or boundaries of an individual’s freedom. Such a conception of human agency appeals to a negative form of liberty since liberty is defined as an individual’s ability to act in a variety of ways in such a fashion that not all possibilities for action are eliminated for the individual.

Within such a scheme, the individual may be properly conceived as a subject of power since he is both endowed with certain capacities or possibilities for action while at the same time being subject to power relations. Within the aforementioned conception of social reality, the individual thereby becomes an active creator of social reality since all forms of social interaction may be viewed as affecting the field of all possible actions within the social field. The manner in which the power dynamics within social reality affects human agency is evident in colonized societies. According to Hardt & Negri (2001),

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