My Vision for the Future Development of Sociology at the University

EDUCATION, 12 Aug 2013

Pierre Celestin Bakunda – TRANSCEND Media Service

Like any individual, I am sensitive as to how society defines and labels me. I am a black, heterosexual middle class male and I have a strong attachment to each of these personal descriptors. However as a social anthropologist, I am able to detach myself from these labels and look objectively at my function within a greater social structure. The objective of my course is to teach people an alternative way of thinking about their own differences and how this defines them within society. Hopefully by changing how we participate in the world, we will become part of a complex dynamic through which the world itself will change.

Because my primary goal is to change how people think about these issues tend to focus my lessons on the most forms of difference. Forms that affect the greatest number of people also produce the most harm. Also, like any professor, I tend to stick to what I know best. As a result, I focus on almost entirely on gender, race, social class, and, in a less extensive way, sexual orientation.

Because the nature of class is unique, I do not analyse it in the same way that I look at other forms of difference. Class differences have huge effects on people’s lives, but class is fundamentally different from gender, race, and sexual orientation. The most important difference is that while we all have the potential to change our class position, other social profiles are almost impossible to change. Unlike class, differences of gender, race and sexual orientation are associated with the body itself. From the moment of birth, for example, people are categorised according to sex, based almost entirely on their physical attributes and appearance.

Conversely, class will still figure prominently in the course I will be teaching. Class differences and the capitalist economic system that produce them play a key role in social segregation by marginalising weaker people and how each of us experience such a situation is due to one’s feelings. The historical roots of modern racism, for example, are primarily economic, and while racism is a problem that involves all white people, how it plays out in in white people’s lives varies depending on their social class. The social advantage of being white will tend to be more significant for lower and working class whites than it will for whites in the middle and upper classes. A lack of class privilege can make it more important to draw upon white privilege as a form of compensation. Without taking such patterns into account, it’s difficult to know just what something like “race privilege” means.

To some degree, my course cannot help having a black, strait, male, middle-class point of view, because that is my own personal background. However, I am not limited to these social characteristics. They merely provide a bridge between my own experiences, and to some extent, every student’s life. I cannot know for example, what’s like to be a woman or someone who is not a person of colour or a homosexual in the society. Yet I can bring my experience as a black person to the struggle of black people – including black women and lower-class white men – to deal with the subject of racism. By the same token, I can bring my experience as a man to the male workplace – including gay men and men of colour – around the subject of sexism and male privilege. In the same way, I can bring my experience as a straight person to the challenge faced by heterosexuals – of whatever gender, race or class – who want to come to terms with heterosexism and homophobia.

I received my Ph.D.  in Social Anthropology almost eight years ago. During that time, I have designed and taught courses on class and capitalism connected to colonialism, such as: African Continent, Contrasts and Paradoxes and South Africa as member of BRICS, 5 emerging countries of which Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, the sociology of gender, feminist theory, and, with a female European colleague, race in the United States. I have written a book on “Rwanda, the Inferno of Implicit Rules” in which wives struggle in informal economy to make their families survive given the social class ladders.  I have been active in the movement against violence made against political prisoners  in Rwanda, etc. and have done diversity training in University Centre for Peace Studies in order to find out how all Rwandans should make social change and reconcile themselves through an inclusive dialogue.

None of this means I am in a position to say the last word on anything or that this course will reflect everyone’s experience of difference and privilege. If, however, I have succeeded in what I set out to do here – and only you will know if I have – then I believe the result will be a course that has something to offer, almost everyone who wants to deal with these difficult issues and help change the world for the better.


Prof. Dr. Pierre-Celestin Bakunda is teaching “Sociology of Africa” at EDHEC Business School, Lille – France and he is a researcher in Social Sciences. His focus is Conflict Transformation and Reconciliation in African Great Lakes Region. He is a Peace Activist who attended Peace Studies Programmes at the European University Centre for Peace Studies, Schlaining, Austria, and Wold Peace Academy, Basel, Switzerland. He is the author of Rwanda, the Inferno of Implicit Rules, L’Harmattan, July 2006, Paris; and his thesis, “The implicit Rules of the Rwandan Society and their Impact on Social, Political and Economic Development from 1898 to 1994, Anrt Press, October, 2007.”


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 12 Aug 2013.

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