I am standing here at the start of a serious task. I need to make it clear to a diverse audience what I am worth, my vision on the contribution of research, the extent to which I command the problem at hand and whether I can place this question within a scientifically sound paradigm. At the same time, I need to ensure that the paradigmatic discourse is comprehensible to all those who are interested in why this issue is being discussed today, and in seeing academic insights translated back into clear and understandable language. An oration was, perhaps, not meant for the latter, but it seems to me that this bonus is fitting under the current need for civil society to get involved in understanding and solving social issues.
Society from the perspective of the child
Why the concern for child labour? I would probably never have become engaged on my own accord. My agenda was much broader. It was, and still is, an agenda that focuses on the macro-story: the story of global inequalities, of political machiavellism, of social discrimination and exclusion, of development assistance and the story of the big narratives, feudalism, capitalism, neo-liberalism and socialism. When I went to India for continuing my studies I saw it all, and my experience there played an important role in my intellectual formation for which I am thankful to the country, my fellow students and my professor gurus of those days.
I learned there what in daily practice of the specific discipline may sometimes be threatened with extinction: the knowledge of the historic, the macro-economic and the sociological context. I once received, upon my arrival in Amsterdam, a postcard of thanks from a student in a far off country with the words that she accredited to me, or to Khalil Gibral, but that I accredited to her: ‘ S/he who doesn't see the part in the whole, doesn't see the whole’. This points to the academic researcher who in the multistructural and multicausal social system must try to make clear the diverse strings of a social phenomenon. It has to do with the explanations that lie beyond the surface, and those explanations, for example for the phenomena of child labour, are of a complex nature. Gathering insights into multi-causality is the work-terrain of the academic.