Introduction to Social Analysis

―Focusing on Common Priorities―

Ando Isamu SJ
Jesuit Social Center staff

  The way we see a problem usually determines our way of responding to it. The flow of information nowadays is unlimited and prudent selection causes headaches. This article might help people reflect on the implications involved in group choices (rather than personal ones). It deals with the “relationships” involved when important decisions must be taken on social and pastoral issues. I hope it will be useful for other programs as well.
  There are many kinds of social analysis, but they all require objective data and a common reflection, based on accepted criteria and with an orientation and commitment towards change. It may be necessary to come up with concrete programs to be implemented. A continuing system of checks to make ensure the possibility of renewal is also important.
  Let me offer some concrete examples. Take, for instance, the repeated call of Pope Francis to have our church doors open out to bring the Gospel everywhere, or his insistence on a Church involved with the poor and working along with them. “In her ongoing discernment, the Church can also come to see that certain customs not directly connected to the heart of the Gospel, even some which have deep historical roots, are no longer properly understood and appreciated. Some of these customs may be beautiful, but they no longer serve as means of communicating the Gospel. We should not be afraid to re-exam¬ine them.” (Evangelii Gaudium no. 43)
  Think about movements for peace in Japan, movements against nuclear energy or those dedicated to maintain a “peaceful” Japanese Constitution, not to change Article 9 of the Constitution, movements to support the official recognition of foreign migrants and refugees, movements to provide jobs and safe environment for the homeless, ecological movements, etc.

Can social analysis be of any help?
  To be sure, social analysis is not an easy solution to all problems. Stressing a Christian approach, it is an orientation to assist common reflection. Based on objective data, it is free, able to destroy all preconceived beliefs, and oriented to change whenever needed. It is not subject to pressures, whether secular or religious. It aims not at an “academic” kind of game but at “pastoral/social” action.
The following are steps to be considered in a pastoral approach.

    ◆ Experience, personal and common, to deepen knowledge of local realities. People’s feelings and all groups, to the exclusion of none, must be included.
    ◆ The analysis process starts by examining the interrelationships of experiences, the causes, the actors.
    ◆ A next step is recourse to the Scriptures and to official Church teaching, such as social encyclicals, which will raise new issues, suggestions, and answers.
    ◆ Fixing concrete programs of strategies for action and change: how, where, when, and by whom implementation will be carried out. This will invite further insights and new experiences, an open process that continues to grow.

  Jesus said to the multitudes, “Whenever you see a cloud rising out of the west, immediately you say, ‘A shower is coming,’ and so it is. And when you see the south wind blow, you say, ‘There will be hot weather,’ and there is. Hypocrites! You discern the face of the sky and of the earth, but how is it do you not discern this time?” (Luke 12:54-56)
  Pope John XXIII in his Encyclical Mater et Magistra (1961) offers the familiar method of analysis “see/judge/act” used by Cardinal J. Cardijn, founder of the Young Christian Workers. On the other hand, Pope Paul VI in Octogesima Adveniens no. 4 (1981) calls to action saying, “It is up to Christian communities to analyze with objectivity the situation proper to their own country, to shed on it the light of the Gospel’s unalterable words, and to draw principles or reflections, norms of judgment, and directives of action from the social teaching of the Church.”
  The 32nd General Congregation of the Society of Jesus (1975) describes the Jesuit mission as an integral approach to “the service of faith and promotion of justice.” In pursuing that mission, a serious effort must be made to understand socio-economic and political situations (Decree 4, “Our Mission Today” nos. 44, 74). The call to analysis is expressed in the following questions: “Where do we live? Where do we work? How? With whom? What really is our involvement with, dependence on, or commitment to ideologies and power centers?”

How to define social analysis
  Social analysis explores reality in a variety of dimensions. It takes up isolated issues as well as stressing policies or systems. It is important to consider the historical and not only the structural aspects. Social analysis also has limitations. In medical terminology, it becomes a “diagnosis,” but “treatment” is different. Nevertheless, diagnosis based on objective data is essential for proper treatment and healing.
  The use of “experts” will be useful, provided they are aware of the realities and are able to train the people who must take concrete steps to solve issues. Social analysis is not a “neutral” approach. We all bring along our values and biases, our commitments. Situations and approaches differ. It might become difficult and controversial due to complex situations, global and/or local views, strong stands taken not to change, precaution about new ways, etc. Some kind of a conversion is necessary. We tend to believe that our own ways and systems are better and there is no desire to make changes, especially substantial ones.

Social Analysis


  The article is merely an introduction to social analysis inspired by a book on “Social Analysis” published by the Jesuit Center of Concern, Washington, 1983.


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