Monday, November 03, 2008

More Sankara speaks... about reading?

Continuing my reading (previous post) of the collected speeches of Thomas Sankara, today I read the famous 1983 "Speech of Political Orientation" (Discours d'orientation politique) that intellectual Burkinabè still know of today, 25 years later. Supposedly, the speech was written by Valère Somé, whom I happened to meet this summer, ever so briefly! Well, mostly I overhead him "discoursing" in the hallway while I was coding survey responses... I didn;t get up to wander over and engage. How's that for revealing where I stand? My PhD mentors (and still much admired) Michael Watts and Pranab Bardhan will be shuddering if they ever read my callousness. Well, young revolutionaries never really inspired me. Almost always provoked a yawn more than an accelerated heartbeat. Hmm, have to re-examine my Durruti fixation in the light of that comment.

Anyway, and apropos of this blog, the interesting part in the speech is the emphasis placed on self-education and moral reform through reading. The young intellectuals of the revolution wanted everyone to be like themselves, reading and debating exciting works. They had absorbed a lot of Marxist-inspired readings, and it shows clearly in the speech. All that reading finally got turned into writing that mattered.

The more I think about it the more the speech reflects a certain kind of modernization ideology, where bringing material prosperity relies on transformation of the self. You have to want to work hard, honestly, and together for realization of the dream. Reading lots of books will help you do that. So then the interesting question is: Is that right? How much truth might there be in the whole "changing values" hypothesis? There are some development economists who work on this, and I'll try to come back to their work in another post, after I get a chance to see whether any of them mention reading itself as a way that certain values are brought into play.

I'll write more on the speech proper demain.

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