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

Research Scholars’ Epistemological Predicament

A Chandrasekhar Reddy (, Gitanjali Joshua, Ipsita Pradhan, Jangkhosei Touthang, Lalatendu Keshari Das, Mitaja Chakraborty, Priyam Sharma, Satheesh Perumalla, and Shilpa Krishna are research scholars at the Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad.

What is the position of research scholars in the knowledge food chain? Are they merely consumers of knowledge or can they also produce it? The University Grants Commission Regulations, 2009 and 2016 enforced two important rules: mandatory coursework on research methods and theory for MPhil and PhD programmes, and publication of at least one research paper in a peer-reviewed journal to be eligible to submit a doctoral thesis. An analysis of these regulations through the lens of research scholars offers an insight into the complexity of relationships between academic institutions, journals, and research scholars in the process of knowledge production.

The authors would like to thank Sundar Sarukkai and N Purendra Prasad for their comments on an earlier draft, which helped the authors refine their ideas, and for their continuous encouragement. The authors also thank the anonymous reviewer for their insightful suggestions, which helped them streamline the arguments.

In the introduction to her book, Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science, Australian sociologist Raewyn Connell (2008) notes that “social science is, at best, ambiguously democratic. Its dominant genres picture the world as it is seen by men, by capitalists, by the educated and affluent.” Notwithstanding the provocative stance of the work, Connell fails to mention that this dominant knowledge is produced by institutional academicians, with a little help from international governmental and non-governmental organisations (Zapp 2018).

The purpose of this article is not to critique Connell, either for presuming a homogeneous “south” (Muller 2009; Collins 1997) or for being ignorant of the segment of research scholars. As we will discuss a little later, research scholars, throughout the world, have predominantly been relegated to the position of consumers of knowledge that is produced by agents who decry their own helplessness in getting recognition as producers of knowledge. Our aim is to analyse the reasons, particularly in the case of India, that have caused research scholars to stay away from the production of knowledge debate and remain mere consumers of knowledge.

We take as the backdrop the University Grants Commission (UGC) (Minimum Standards and Procedure for Award of MPhil/PhD Degrees) Regulations of 2009 and 2016, which made courses on research methods and theories mandatory in MPhil and PhD, and required PhD scholars to publish at least one research paper in a peer-reviewed journal to be eligible to submit their thesis. Thus, we attempt to discuss, through empirical data, the problematic aspects of the relationships between academic institutions, journals, and research scholars in knowledge production. The article is divided into four sections. In the first, we discuss the debate around the politics of knowledge production in India and, while doing so, we try to demonstrate how it has bypassed the domain of research scholars. The next section discusses, in brief, the methods we used to collect empirical data to justify our claim. In the third section, we present data on five academic journals in India and show how research scholars view their relationship with these journals. Finally, we offer suggestions for the way forward.

The Debate So Far

By focusing on the training of research scholars in the theory and methods of social enquiry, on the one hand, and the dissemination of their work to the academic peer group in the form of published research papers, on the other, the UGC 2009 and 2016 regulations necessitated a greater engagement on the part of academic institutions and journals to create “competent” research scholars in India. The issue of competency is of seminal importance here. Veena Das (1993) claimed that research scholars (she uses the term research students) in India were not competent enough to take the discipline of sociology forward. Apart from the students themselves, Das blames academic institutions, the UGC, and professional bodies like the Indian Sociological Society for the situation.

Following Das, the “crisis” debate in Indian sociology, some of which took place in the pages of Economic & Political Weekly (EPW) and elsewhere, took a new lease of life, with contributions putting the blame on the nature of sociology itself (Deshpande 1994), the international politics of knowledge production in the style of Connell (Patel 1997), the decreasing importance attached to funding institutions like the Indian Council of Social Science Research (ICSSR), the increasing regionality in knowledge production (Chatterjee 2002), and on identity politics (Harshe and Patel 2003). These lines of reasoning, which in a subtle way decried the decreasing “merit” and “competency” in both students and researchers alike, culminated in the publication of the book, Doing Sociology in India (Patel 2011).

These “meritocratic” views of social science research in India can be seen as on par with self-help books on publishing journal articles (Sword 2012; Belcher 2009) and other works which put the blame on individuals for a so-called lack of rigour. In other words, what restricts the growth of social sciences in India, according to these scholars, is the diminishing rate of “originality” in research. To give further sustenance to the “meritocratic” thesis, a study by Guetzkow et al (2004: 198) dissected meritocracy, specifically in the humanities and social sciences, into various segments by equating them with “originality.” The study held benchmarks such as “original approach, understudied area, original topic, original theory, original method, original data, and original results” to be crucial to understanding “originality” in research. However, what concerns us here is the language used to describe the researchers whose proposals and academic papers do not get accepted by the concerned committees for funding. As the authors argue,

Applicants’ whose proposals were deemed original were often described with such adjectives as adventurous, ambitious, bold, courageous, curious, independent, intellectually honest, and risk-taking. They were also viewed as “going out of the way,” “challenging the status quo,” “thinking for themselves” and “having a passion for ideas.” Likewise … scholars whose proposals lack originality … were deemed to be unmotivated or incapable of independent thought and were described with terms that include: conformist, complacent, derivative, facile, gap-filling, hackneyed, lazy, parochial, pedestrian, rehashing, tried, traditional, uncritical, “spinning their wheels;” or alternatively, fashionable, trendy, “shambolic,” slavish, “riding on the band wagon” or “throwing around buzzwords.” (2004: 203)

So, for Guetzkow et al, and for the participants in their study, it is always desirable to be part of the group which produces original works and not the ones which refrain from doing so. In order to attain “merit” and “originality,” scholars need to follow the formulae presented in the study; otherwise they will forever remain among the class of underachievers, roaming in the wastelands of the academic world. It is highly possible that similar judgments are made of other scholars who can/cannot get their works published in credible journals.

Looking at the above debates, two lines of thought emerge. First, for established institutional academics (both in India and elsewhere), research scholars do not even constitute a footnote in the field of academic knowledge production. Second, despite the self-help nature of the recommendations, no real change has happened in the publication scenario. To give an example, between 2007 and 2016, the journal Contributions to Indian Sociology has published only four papers which were written by research scholars based in India (out of a total of 65). This is not more than 2% of the published work. Going by the discussion previously outlined, one might conclude that this status quo is a result of research scholars being a “lazy” lot, who are “incapable” and “incompetent” producers of knowledge. Teaching standards, pedagogy, and inclusiveness in the disciplinary practices did not figure as prominently in these debates as the hypothetical notion of a crisis in the discipline.

We suggest that the debates on the “crisis in Indian sociology,” as they have been conducted so far, need to be seen merely as a friendly, internal critique of the established paternal figures (who are also the gatekeepers) of the discipline. In the following pages, we try to reopen this debate. Weaving it around the UGC 2009 and 2016 regulations, we attempt to problematise the so-called meritocratic notions of the privileged sections of the Indian academia about research scholars through empirical data and bring the latter’s voices to the forefront.

Data and Methods

The study has at its backdrop two Young Researchers’ Workshops and one academic writing workshop organised by research scholars of the Department of Sociology, University of Hyderabad in 2015, 2016, and 2017, respectively. The participants (from Departments of Sociology) of these workshops came from institutes of repute from across India: from the north, Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University; from the west, Gujarat Central University, Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, and Tata Institute of Social Social Sciences (TISS) Mumbai; from the south, National Institute of Advanced Studies, Mahatma Gandhi University, Kerala, IIT Madras, Madras Institute of Development Studies, University of Hyderabad and TISS Hyderabad; from the east, Utkal University, Centre for Studies in Social Sciences, and North East Hill University. The purpose of this sampling was not to draw a boundary between good and bad institutions or research scholars, but to decipher the position of research scholars coming from these institutes in the knowledge production hierarchy.

To broaden the data pool for this article, we also included PhD students from other disciplines within the social sciences. In total, we interviewed (via email) 40 participants (20 male and 20 female) belonging to various disciplines of the social sciences. The aim of the survey was (i) to look at the interaction between research scholars and the journals that they would like to publish in; (ii) the challenges in pursuing academic writing and academic research with respect to the language(s) of the social sciences; (iii) other constraints that research scholars have to confront during their research; and (iv) their views on research scholars as consumers and/or producers of knowledge.

As we wanted to show the correlation between institutions of repute and academic publication on the one hand, and researchers as knowledge producers, on the other, we selected journals accordingly. Through discussions with our respondents, we came across a number of journals in which these research scholars wanted their works to be published. These are: EPW, Contributions to Indian Sociology, Sociological Bulletin, Social Change, Indian Economic and Social History Review, Social Science and Medicine, Journal of Indian Anthropological Society, Social Scientist, Labour and Development, Indian Journal of Labour Economics, Man-and-Development, Sage Journals, Journal of Religion, Indian Political Science Association Journal, Journal of Northeast India Studies, Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, Indian Journal of Gender Studies, and History and Sociology of South Asia.

However, almost all our participants wished to see their authored articles in the following five journals: EPW, Sociological Bulletin, Contributions to Indian Sociology, Indian Economic and Social History Review, and Social Change. All these journals have their editorship based in India and are considered by both publishers and contributors as the gatekeepers of academic knowledge production. Therefore, we decided to focus on these five journals for a more detailed analysis.

To collect data from the above-mentioned journals, a total of 1,450 articles were reviewed. This includes all the research papers published between 2007 and 2016 in Sociological Bulletin (154), Contributions to Indian Sociology (129), Indian Economic and Social History Review (166), and Social Change (252) respectively. Owing to the large number of articles published in EPW, only 50% (749) of research papers published in the Special Articles section were considered. The papers were further sub-divided into categories based on institutional affiliation, regional location (both within and outside the country), gender, research scholar, and single or joint authorship. The results were tabulated and codified using Microsoft Office. In the following sections, we will discuss the results of this exercise in detail.


We have divided this section into three subsections in which we analyse (i) the disaggregated data from the five journals in terms of regional location of authors, their gender division, and representation of research scholars in the published works as authors or co-authors; (ii) the research scholars’ opinions regarding their interactions with the journals, the predicaments that resulted from the UGC notifications, challenges in pursuing academic writing and academic research in the social sciences, other constraints that the research scholars face while they are engaged in research, and finally, their views on themselves in the consumer/producer debate; and (iii) a way forward.

Representation in Journals

Disaggregated data on the regional location of authors (Table 1) shows that East and North East India contribute very little to these journals. Central India’s contribution is also close to marginal, except in the case of Social Change, wherein 11% of authors are from academic institutions located in Central India. As both Chatterjee (2002) and Guru (2002) have noted previously, academicians located in institutes in North India are overwhelmingly represented in all these five journals. Even within this group, institutions like Jawaharlal Nehru University and Delhi University post a larger share than others. Given the data we have at hand, we cannot help but agree with Guru’s (2002: 5004) assertion that the “apex court of social sciences (is) in Delhiand this has created an ecosystem in which academicians located in Delhi have positioned themselves as the guiding light in the production and distribution of knowledge about themselves as well as others. It has created a form of cultural hegemony of these academicians over the Indian social sciences. Incidentally, these academicians also happen to be the same ones who periodically amuse themselves by writing obituaries of the disciplines they are part of; in this case, that of sociology.

The distribution of regional institutional affiliations points at the creation of a centre with knowledge disseminating from that place, through publications, to the rest of the country. It shows a practice of social sciences that is involved in the othering of institutions that are not located in this created centre (Oommen 2013). This centre systemically puts those researchers who do not belong to it at a disadvantage, thereby producing marginalisation in the group of researchers in India. The global distribution of institutional affiliations tells a similar story. While the knowledge produced is about India, the high proportion of contributions from institutions located in the United States and the United Kingdom shows who can be authentic producers of knowledge. It will be interesting to see data from institutions affiliated to India that are actively engaged in producing knowledge about countries of the global North. The geographical locations of institutions that the authors are affiliated to, therefore, prove to be vital. So, to use Connell’s (2008) argument, the global South further creates a north and a south within itself, which is indicative of the privileged status that this north has in terms of publications and, hence, control over what gets to be produced and distributed for consumption.

In order to check the contentions made by Connell (2008) and others that the social sciences have a preponderance of male researchers over their female counterparts, we also looked at gender as a parameter. Historically, women have been subjects about whom knowledge is created. In a context where institutional and familial set-ups are still largely patriarchal, it is not surprising that almost all the journals (Contributions to Indian Sociology turned out to be an exception) have a higher proportion of male authorship (Table 2). However, it can be seen that amongst research scholars, female authorship is higher than male authorship. Among publications authored by research scholars, Sociological Bulletin had 77.7% female authorship, while Social Change had 35.4% female authors. However, when it comes to institutional academicians as authors, both these journals, follow the same trajectory as elsewhere, with male authors outnumbering their female counterparts by a large margin. It is contrary to the actual situation in India’s social sciences departments, which more often than not see women research scholars outnumber their male counterparts. The data, we believe, is indicative of the fact that despite being more productive than their male counterparts in terms of journal papers at the stage of being research scholars, the careers of these young women researchers do not automatically translate to the same trajectory in knowledge production.

After looking at the data on the hegemony of New Delhi and males over knowledge production in India, we looked at the proportion of articles published in these journals that are authored by research scholars. The data from 2007 to 2016 shows an abysmal picture. It is difficult to make sense of the fact that out of 1,447 papers published over a span of 10 years, only 12.88% of articles, on average, came from research scholars. Sociological Bulletin, with 17.5%, had the highest proportion of contributions from research scholars, while Contributions to Indian Sociology had the lowest, with 6.2% (Table 3). However, it needs to be taken into consideration that these articles by research scholars came in two categories, namely, single authors (this includes research scholars based in India and abroad), and joint authorship with a senior academician. To give an example, EPW published 69 research papers in which research scholars were credited. Of these, while 36 papers belonged to research scholars (Indian, foreign, and Indians working in foreign universities), 33 papers were co-authored with an established academician. In this scenario, the adjectives like “lazy lot” and “incompetence,” as suggested by Guetzkow et al (2004), appear insufficient to account for the huge gap in the number of publications by research scholars vis-à-vis senior researchers. Nor can they help us answer our question: How can research scholars be producers of knowledge, as demanded by both academicians of repute and institutions like the UGC?

To investigate further on this question of knowledge hierarchy we moved to our counterparts located in the social science departments of different universities in India. The following section shows how research scholars viewed their relationship with the journals, the challenges they confronted, and their position in the knowledge food chain.

Producers of Knowledge

As we discussed at the beginning of this article, the purpose of this study is not merely to critique academicians who have been writing obituaries of sociology or journals for not giving enough space to the work of research scholars. It is important not to externalise the issues of research scholars to gain sympathy from our readers. Rather, the agenda for the study is to showcase, by following an empirical method, the reality of the ecosystem that involves academic institutions, journals, and research scholars and how it has the ability to create both “lazy lots” and “fearless producers of knowledge” among research scholars in India. On this path, let us continue further on our discussion about research scholars and their interaction with academic journals.

Interaction between research scholars and journals: Of the 40 respondents that we interviewed, only half have publications in peer-reviewed journals. Further, among those who have publications, only 20% were the sole authors of their work while 80% were credited as co-authors along with their supervisors. One of our participants shared his experience with EPW: According to him, when he sent his manuscript on a political movement in North East India as the sole author, EPW rejected it stating that the journal had already published enough on that topic. However, when he resent the same paper to the journal with a few minor changes, this time co-authored with his research supervisor, EPW had no issues in accepting the same (after revising it as per the reviewer’s suggestions). Although the research scholar got his paper published in EPW, his experience with the journal remained sour with respect to the status of research scholars in academic knowledge production.

Other reasons mentioned for rejection by journals were that the papers did not comply with the requirements of the respective journals, that they lacked “rich” empirical work, or that the papers did not have strong theoretical justifications, among others. One of the researchers said, “rejection of the papers also depends on the ideology of the journals. Left-oriented reviewers have labelled my article as pro-industry and right-oriented ones had problems with my critical analysis of genetically modified technology that the corporates like Monsanto tried to bring in Indian markets.” Echoing the concern of our above respondent, all the 40 research scholars we interviewed expressed that the “right networks” and “social capital” are important to get papers published, particularly in India’s top journals.

So, does it mean that in order to comply with the UGC guidelines for submission of PhD theses, the research scholars should look at “alternative” journals, some of them also known in colloquial language as “paid journals”? Among our respondents, 10% accepted paid journals as an option to meet the requirements of the UGC. One of them said,

As per new UGC guideline for submission, at least one research paper should be published related to the PhD topic. I know many of my seniors who had opted for paid journals as there was no other way to submit the thesis on time. One of my seniors was waiting for his work to be published as a part of an edited book for almost one year, but it came very late and hence he had to opt for the paid one. There are many similar cases which I know [of]. In my case, I am in my last stage of submission and have sent two different articles to two different peer-reviewed journals, but they have not responded till date. So, I may have to opt for paid journals. If UGC keeps making life miserable and unbearable, we will have no other option but to rely on these paid journals to get published, which in turn can mean finishing PhD, which in turn makes [the] unequal space of academia more unequal.

However, 90% of our respondents opined that they do not want to get their work published in paid journals. They felt that paid journals have poor quality papers. The practice of paying in order to get one’s work published, our participants argued, needs to be seriously discouraged as it is also unethical. They felt that there should be no business in academics, further explaining the point made by our last respondent that paid journals accentuate inequality among research scholars based on their ability to spend money to buy publications. One of the respondents said,

The obsession to publish, which is also many a times structurally/institutionally created, leads the researchers to opt for such journals. In the world of asymmetric information, publications work as market signaling about the quality of an academician. This is exactly where the paid journals are counterproductive. Simply put, since one can “buy” the publication(s), it is hardly reflective of the true ability of the researcher. In most cases, those are substandard because anyone can buy a publication for himself/herself. It actually reinforces inequality. The more I can pay, the more publications get added to my CV, and in turn, [the] more market value I derive. It basically creates a downward spiral in terms of both academic quality and material distribution in the society at large.

Apart from the journals, the research scholars we interviewed also questioned the bureaucratisation of UGC guidelines regarding the number of publications needed for submission of PhD theses and for faculty promotions. As one respondent noted with irony,

Academic journals in India are not compatible with social sciences in India. UGC compares natural sciences with social sciences. We cannot conduct research in a short span of time, nor is that kind of research fruitful for knowledge production. Writing two papers, three papers should not be the goal. There are fake publishing houses which publish underdeveloped papers, then are they really contributing to the social science knowledge?

As research scholars struggle to get their work published, so as to meet the minimum criteria to submit their theses, the plea to both the UGC and journals is not that research scholars be treated as a special group. Rather, the concern here is that the bureaucratisation of academic processes, which gives a lot of power to the management, overshadows the constraints faced by research scholars working in the social sciences in general, and sociology and social anthropology in particular, since the latter have to spend considerable amount of time doing fieldwork and then writing their descriptive analysis of the incidents and processes in the field. With journals of repute not giving enough space to research scholars, the UGC is effectively forcing these students to adopt means that are not always ethical to get their work published.

Certain private deemed-to-be-universities demand two published papers from PhD students (enrolled in the university and in research centres that award degrees from that university), but with the added provision that these have to be in journals indexed in Scopus. This is an absurd requirement as it is not applicable to the social sciences and humanities. To add to the problem, they do not accept peer-reviewed papers in edited books, which, unlike in the natural sciences, is a standard practice in these fields. The bureaucratic structures in the university are applying this rule without thought and arbitrarily, affecting the research culture of PhD students. In this situation, research scholars are becoming producers of knowledge for sure, but the launching pad they are able to get is too fragile to give them a firm ground to grow as serious researchers. This brings us to another crucial aspect which has concerned the research scholars we interviewed, namely how to strengthen academic writing and research.

Challenges in Pursuing Academic Writing

Notwithstanding the seven parameters proposed by Guetzkow et al (2004) to judge originality in humanities and the social sciences, a common problem that was raised by our respondents was that there is little to no training in academic writing in the coursework offered by universities and research institutes. An argument that was highlighted in our interviews with research scholars, and universally suggested during the academic writing workshop in 2017, was that without adequate training in academic research and academic writing, research scholars and junior researchers find it difficult to even decipher the notion of originality in their work. A scholar explained this with a suggestion:

Often, PhD Students find themselves in a lonely world where there are few others doing the same thing. So, if there is coursework that integrates the PhD process it may help. Let me illustrate with an example. The PhD duration is on average five-six years. Less for humanities and perhaps more in the social sciences. But let us take an average of five years as the duration to start work, register or qualify for candidacy, pursue field work and write the thesis. The first year is when most students have the bulk of the coursework and then [they] are off to field stations and sites by the second year. Assuming that the field occupies the student for two years, the rigour of an academic space is no longer present and the students often return with a changed perspective and different questions. At this stage, it would be of great help to do another round of rigorous coursework that helps students assimilate and understand their data/material. So, a suggestion here would be to run through some basic coursework in the specialised field or have the batch of students work on their data together. For interdisciplinary subjects like art practice and visual anthropology, this would be helpful as the data that is brought in from the field is varied and often unstructured. This year-long exposure to [a] higher level of coursework will help the articulation and therefore, the writing process. It is also important to run writing programs of different levels of specialisation or advancement as the thesis is meant to be a work of academic merit and not a set of articles. So, to make the point again, coursework outside of regular or mandated coursework is necessary and not an option as it is a very difficult task to get from data sets and material from the field to a fully developed thesis.

An overwhelming majority (70%) of the research scholars interviewed were of the opinion that there is a need for training in converting data from the field into paper or chapters. Only 30% of the scholars interviewed believed that the research methodology coursework that is currently offered helped them in their research. A scholar said,

Of course, we have coursework, then we have group projects during MA, MPhil to get training on methodology. But what happens is that on the field, one finds it difficult because the supervisor is not involved; you are on your own. You keep on writing field notes, do interviews, but you hardly know if that is the way. Then you submit group reports. Does that experience then really help? I am not sure. There is no engagement. You have to apply your common sense based on contingencies. It greatly depends on how sociable you are. I really think there should be a proper training so that when we have data we should not be confused. There should be more engagement from the supervisor’s side. Our university conducts workshops and academic writing courses, but not much difference is seen. There should be a regular class for academic writing and academic research just like other classes, with a proper course. Workshops help, but regular mandatory training should be there.

The lack of structured training in research impacts the quality of research output and prevents the creative potential of research scholars in Indian universities from coming to the fore. In this scenario, language, particularly the so-called academic language, becomes a chimera for most students, including those in India’s elite universities. According to 80% of our respondents, academia is often inaccessible due to language barriers. They believe that academia is exclusionary because it relies heavily on comprehensive English language skills that are often limited to a few social groups. One respondent coming from a top university located in New Delhi stated that,

language is a crucial factor here. I have mostly studied in Bengali medium and therefore suffer from vocabulary poverty as compared to my friends who have studied in English all throughout. In one of the seminars of sociology, where I heard one of my friends presenting a paper, I was wondering whether she was speaking English. Later I realised that it is a mixed effect of subject-specific terminology and vocabulary opulence. Obviously, I didn’t feel included. Terminology too develops from social context. Some fixed body of language terminology and vocabulary poverty and elite-dominance structurally bar the flow of knowledge from alternative (native/local/subaltern) sources and traditions of knowledge.

Although 20% of our respondents indicated that the discipline of sociology is not completely exclusionary, they also insisted that it was not open about itself. The way it is practised marginalises female academicians and restricts the ability of researchers to bring forth data and ethnographies from diverse journals at the subnational level. Similarly, scholars who are not fluent in English are seen to be working on “less important themes” even if their ideas are absolutely original. They also face suspicion from established figureheads in their disciplines as to whether their work is “really sociological.” As some of our respondents noted, this kind of branding decreases the job prospects of these practitioners.

Another issue, which was reported by about 90% of our respondents, is financial exclusion. Our respondents pointed out three ways in which financial exclusion works to keep a large mass of underprivileged students from getting fully integrated in the disciplines they had the opportunity to be a part of.

First, they speak of the uncertainty that exists in institutions that do not have a fellowship system, which leaves many research scholars coming from rural and semi-urban areas in distress. They make it to such prestigious institutions only after facing intense competition. Confronting the lack of financial assistance at that point is really heartbreaking. It creates a psychological insecurity among students and increases the pressure to qualify for a Junior Research Fellowship, the process for which is arbitrary. Second, financial assistance can be sustained in a dignified manner if the governing bodies of institutions have autonomy. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. This has hampered both student intake and faculty recruitment, leading towards mediocrity. Third, the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has been asked to grade the performance of scientists and research scholars in the scientific fields. This approach—of objectively quantifying performance based on which governing body will approve aids, grants, and fellowships—will create a precarious situation for research scholars in the social sciences and humanities. Our participants feared that given the UGC’s and other quasi-state institutions’ inclinations towards natural science, the matrix suggested by CSIR (which funds natural science research only) might be implemented for the social sciences and humanities as well.

Support of the Educational System

After analysing a number of issues that affect relationships between academic institutions, journals, and research scholars, now let us address the question which constitutes the title of this article: Can research scholars be producers of knowledge? Our respondents did not provide us with any easy-to-preach, ready-made answers. Research scholars claimed that they are both consumers and producers of knowledge at the same time, although the former outweighs the latter by a considerable margin. The reasons range from worries about being perceived as inadequate by the scholarly community to the challenges of writing in ways required by academic journals. Nevertheless, they strongly felt that creating valuable producers of knowledge out of research scholars needs support from the whole education system, primarily to sustain the passion to be part of the knowledge production process. A few of our respondents felt that research scholars are not a uniform category and are divided by institutional and social locations. One of them elaborated on it in the following manner:

It depends on who, when, with whom, where is he/she doing the research, irrespective of the topic. The motivation for research is very critical here. It also depends significantly on the supervisor. One may be motivated to engage seriously with her/his topic, but if the supervisor’s objective is to maximise the number of PhD-holders under her/his supervision, then it is totally research for research’s sake. In many cases, it has been observed that the supervisor is too big to be of any help. The role of supervisor in this regard of knowledge consumption vis-à-vis knowledge production is of utmost importance for two main reasons: (a) the supervisor has more knowledge and experience so she/he would be in a better position to guide the research scholar in either direction; (b) PhD is done in most cases under a feudal setup. The power enjoyed by the supervisor and [the] vulnerability of the scholar could be detrimental to the main purpose of research. A frustrated scholar might shift from [having] enthusiasm to produce knowledge to being a mere consumer.

Apart from the research scholar–supervisor relationship, our respondents raised other pertinent concerns regarding them being considered producers of knowledge. The accounts of three respondents presented below lay out these arguments.

Respondent 1: “For good quality field study-based work, you need good funding. We don’t have [it]. The government decisions are regulated by corporate companies. [Due to the] lack of adequate funds, the quality of our research is comparatively bad with [respect to] EU academia. To be a good producer of the knowledge, we need to invest greatly in the area, otherwise we are consumers of them from the western world.”

Respondent 2: “Depends on the particular policymaking of the government with respect to higher education. Right now, I am a bit sceptical and I hope that the research in India does not turn itself into a passive entity rather than an area of inclusion as it should be. The less stifling the information flow, the better. Otherwise, the research scholars are both receptors as well as innovators.”

Respondent 3: “The role of institution is another important factor. A liberal environment is the basic need for knowledge. If the state and administration put hands together to kill the free-thinking ability of the scholars for their own political agenda, then certainly it is a clear case of state-sponsored production of mere consumers of knowledge. The larger political scenario in a society plays a fundamental role. Knowledge is what liberates us, but it cannot be produced without a liberal environment. The state policies too decide it. If the UGC, for example, promotes maximisation of publications, then that would certainly increase the number of publications through paid journals which as argued above is detrimental to knowledge production.”


The neo-liberal construct of the academic world (Connell 2013), with rules regarding publication in UGC-approved journals, and “points” for attending national and academic conferences systemically manufactures underachievers amongst research scholars. Connell (2008) has written about the international politics of knowledge production with the creation of the global North and the global South. The global South is an object of study for the global North. It refuses to become a homogeneous entity. Within the global South itself, there are hierarchies constructed along various axes, which affect research scholars in myriad ways. Within this paradigm, while studies on originality in the social sciences and humanities might remain a goal for many, the structural constraints posed by the practitioners of the discipline on the one hand and the exclusionary nature of quality journals on the other, serve to keep research scholars out of the purview of knowledge production. Even if they are becoming producers, a vast majority of research scholars’ work is published in journals that are not considered to be trailblazers in their fields. Thus, despite the attempts of the UGC to make research scholars producers of knowledge, the latter are not getting much help from journals. This is as true about the research scholars in India, as it is about their counterparts located in the elite academic institutions in the global North. A cursory look at journals like Current Sociology, Current Anthropology, Journal of Peasant Studies, and Journal of Agrarian Change, to name a few, would not show much difference from what our study has highlighted regarding the position of research scholars.

Therefore, we suggest that the wasteful “sociology in crisis” debate be relegated to the dustbin of history. In its place, a more inclusive approach, as suggested by our respondents, needs to be considered. The relationship between research scholars and institutional researchers should be a non-hierarchical structure. Established academic journals can open their gates to more papers solely authored by research scholars without compromising on the quality of work. This will reduce the patron–client relationship that has emerged in academic publishing in which research scholars need the name of their supervisors or some other senior researchers to get their work published. Journals can commit to publishing at least one paper by a research scholar per issue. Thus, research scholars can become worthwhile producers of knowledge, with or without the UGC’s publication requirements.


Belcher, Wendy Laura (2009): Writing Your Journal Article in 12 Weeks: A Guide to Academic Publishing Success, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Chatterjee, Partha (2002): “Institutional Context of Social Science Research in South Asia,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 37, No 35, pp 3604–12.

Collins, Randall (1997): “A Sociological Guilt Trip: Comment on Connell,” American Journal of Sociology, Vol 102, No 6, pp 1558–64.

Connell, Raewyn (2008): Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science, Crow’s Nest: Allan & Unwin.

— (2013): “The Neoliberal Cascade and Education: An Essay on the Market Agenda and Its Consequences,” Critical Studies in Education, Vol 54, No 2, pp 99–112.

Das, Veena (1993): “Sociological Research in India: The State of Crisis,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 28, No 23, pp 1159–61.

Deshpande, Satish (1994): “Sociological Research in India: The State of Crisis,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 28, No 23, pp 1159–61.

Guetzkow, Joshua, Michele Lamont and Gregoire Mallard (2004): “What Is Originality in the Humanities and the Social Sciences?,” American Sociological Review, Vol 69, No 2, pp 190–212.

Guru, Gopal (2002): “How Egalitarian Are the Social Sciences in India,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 37, No 50, pp 5003–09.

Harshe, Rajen and Sujata Patel (2003): “Identity Politics and Crisis of Social Sciences,” Economic & Political Weekly, Vol 38, No 6, pp 525–27.

Muller, Johann (2009): “Southern Theory: The Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science,” Globalisation, Societies and Education, Vol 7, No 4, pp 505–09.

Oommen, T K (2013): Knowledge and Society: Situating Sociology and Social Anthropology, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Patel, Sujata (1997): “Challenges to Indian Sociology,” paper presented at All India Sociological Conference, Hyderabad, India, 23–25 November.

— (ed) (2011): Doing Sociology in India: Genealogies, Locations, and Practices, New Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Sword, Helen (2012): Stylish Academic Writing, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Zapp, Mike (2018): “The Scientization of the World Polity: International Organisations and the Production of Scientific Knowledge, 1950–2015,” International Sociology, Vol 33, No 1, pp 3–26.

Updated On : 10th Jun, 2019


(-) Hide

EPW looks forward to your comments. Please note that comments are moderated as per our comments policy. They may take some time to appear. A comment, if suitable, may be selected for publication in the Letters pages of EPW.

Back to Top