Institute of Perception Studies

Perception is opinion and judgment, based on both cognitive and intuitive understanding. Perception is essential for knowledge, and is a gateway for explorations that are inductive, deductive, as well as intuitive, predictive. The Institute of Perception Studies (IPS) unifies the various aspects of the social, political and cultural, to reveal the underlying disparities that societies across the world have accepted as ‘normal’. Citizens are the inadvertent practitioners of perceptions created by the normative and experiential devices of perception-making of politics and policy, evidenced in the sociological and economic distress. However, distress in the contemporary world is under-explained and less understood because of its normalisation through a shared perception of its inevitability and, therefore, invisibility. The main objective of IPS research has been to unravel ‘new distress’ through a redefinition that makes the concept as well as the solutions more inclusive.

Distress understood only through economics neglects a far more wide-spread and insidious version that has come to represent the state of developing democracies like India. While poverty and deprivation may be examples of direct distress, there is an indirect distress prevalent as discontent in society that remains uncharted and, therefore, unaddressed. Even the expression of discontent, notably through the anti-incumbent vote, does not address the indirect distress with the same alacrity and commitment as financial distress of the markets, industry or banks is tackled. Further, such indirect distress is often dismissed by compartmentalizing it within a community or a sector, which assists in diminishing its severity in perception and reach. As a result, the direct distress of corporations and industry has a better chance of recovery than individual distress of citizens when it is reversible, until the long-term neglect changes lives irreversibly and irreparably. The objectives of IPS are the following: One, to redefine distress in Indian democracy beyond its perception. Two, to demarcate different kinds of indirect distress. Three, to find methodologies of distress. Four, to identify interventions that can reverse distress.

Before redefining distress, there is a need to examine how even the present definition of financial distress represents only a selective interpretation of it. Distress is relatively easy to define monetarily as it is inherently visible and, therefore, measureable. However, the following few aspects will take a deeper look at the way distress is understood.

Financial distress represents a degradation in income, saving, spending, repayment and general financial status. The individual may no longer be able to meet demands of life based on necessity, or aspiration, and severely impact his/her growth, investment and activities like asset-building. Unaddressed economic distress among a majority of individuals of a community, or sector may lead to financial collapse, as the recent economic history of the world has shown. The ‘recovery,’ as it is often termed, is also measured in financial terms, through the improvement in the condition of the individual, mainly through expenditure rather than income. It is understood, especially in broad terms, that the expenditure of a certain nature represents surplus income or assured income. This narrative fits sales figures of FMCGs, housing, luxury goods, entertainment, etc., which increase when the individual is able to plan and invest in possessions that he or she can do without.

However, perception plays a crucial role in the masking indirect distress. For example, as the 2008 US sub-prime crises proved, not all expenditure is healthy and not all consumer goods are bought by individuals with surplus income. The sales statistics of housing, for instance, are no proof for absence of distress. Similarly, the statistics that 50 percent of all motorcycles in India are bought in rural areas does not point to the lack of rural distress in the country. The distress that hides behind loans taken for soft goods like computers may be invisibilised also through high repayment rates, which may not reveal the difficult conditions under which the loans were repaid. The debt and distress surveys typically do not go beyond defaults and repayments. The circumstantial distress of the debtors is not always manifest in such figures and may lead to long-term irreversible impact on their lives through choices they have to make.

The question, therefore, is what is distress? Distress may be defined as a diminished state of the individual in which he/she must survive without choice. Such distress is marked by being more experiential rather than empirical and may or may not be demonstrable as caused due to one or two causes. Thus, it may be considered preliminarily as an indirect distress that defies observation and reportage. Indirect distress may be of four different kinds. One, distress may be caused due to the economic state of an individual. Two, distress may be the mental/physical state of the individual. Three, distress may be the political condition of the individual. Four, distress may be the cultural and social position of the individual.

To restrict the understanding of distress to any specific categorization would be to relegate other kinds of distress. A positivist approach towards the study of distress may not be comprehensive, and once again, relay on the structural framework of statistics. An interpretative methodology may be the only way in which distress can be entirely understood, and even addressed.