ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Challenge of Doing Sociology Today

Sociologists study how new societies evolve from the deadwood of the old, while anthropologists study a "static" culture that could not transcend its internal structures to become modern. Contending that this binary and its methodologies became the leitmotif of the organisation of anthropology/sociology in all former colonies, including India, this article points out efforts being undertaken since the 1970s to displace the social sciences from its colonial episteme, such as those provided by feminist perspectives.

This is an abridged version of the I P Desai Memorial lecture that was delivered at the Centre for Social Studies, Surat, on 12 April 2016.

Do the disciplinary reservoirs of knowledge, as we know of these in India today, facilitate an assessment of global trends and the way these affect not just us, but the entire world? This is the question this article deals with. Globalisation implies that we need not be constrained in our empirical investigations by the borders and manmade boundaries of a nation states territory. Rather we need and should examine empirical trends (both casual and consequential) that concern itself with a comparative analysis across, within, and criss-crossing these borders. As a consequence, we should ideally be able to assess all existing and potential group formations, intersecting local, regional, and global spaces. Does our legacy of doing sociology in India have the intellectual resources to frame such theories and practices? Or has this legacy restricted such ways of doing comparative global social science?

The article links three sets of arguments, which are presented in four different sections. First, I outline the current discussions on Eurocentric Orientalism, which argue that the binaries of universal and particular have framed social science knowledge about the West against the East. Using this template, I trace how this episteme organised the discipline of anthropology, the first subject that found institutionalised articulation in India in the late 19th century. Anthropology studied traditions, the institutions of religion, caste, and family and kinship, and these became the organising structure of the discipline of sociology when it made its presence felt in the early 20th century. In the next section, I indicate how nationalism confronted this colonial episteme, arguing that the new perspective called methodological nationalism reproduced many of the tenets of colonialism in various forms and practices within sociological traditions in India. I wrap up by mentioning some of the efforts being undertaken since the 1970s to displace the social sciences from its colonial episteme, such as the journey undertaken by feminist perspectives.

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