The problematics of Social Research

Research methodology was alleged either to ignore or demean native cultures or judgements on cultural relativism

It has been for the last one decade that every college and each university has been engaged in research methodology orientation courses for the faculty and research scholars.

The University Grants Commission has been encouraging it to happen in every university, at least once a year. It has been made compulsory for the career upward mobility. Proclaiming of ‘Methodology attendant certificate’ in no way makes a qualitative enrichment in acquiring advanced methodology or overcoming the limitations of the established research methodologies.

It simply exposes the limitations of our research dissertations and care requirement to be engaged in the repetitions of the received orations. Sociology in the past has been accredited with this extra edge over other disciplines because it could provide a research methodology, even to other disciplines of humanities and social sciences. It has been empirical methodology based on induction and deduction matrix, akin to natural sciences.

Therefore, problem framing to interpretations would be step by step and elucidated and enriched by statistics. It had more rationality through technicality rather than representation of human nature and interface of social action in different contexts of power and cultural relativity. Although it was supposed to be the triumph of reason, it proved a continuation of organic concepts of western thought.

The split in mind and body could easily be traced in Greek thought, especially in the ‘Rational Model of Human nature’. Patriarchy, human difference between slaves and masters, which were considered to be natural were mingled in the euro centrality of referent culture. This was justified in succeeding religious thoughts as well. Modernity tacitly vindicated it through consensus on monoculture to be the linear organic evolutionary culture, while rejecting otherworldly inner directed view of humans.

Agenda based macro theories were established to overcome the limited human experience. Through the systematic empiricism, the social world round could be understood in terms of perceptions of reality and issues that humans comprehend universally. The methods were quantitative and qualitative that could utilise subjective and objective knowledge through major primary research methods. However, the basic postulate about this methodology was that the change is holistic and modernity had unleashed the forces that make new society contrast to the preceding society. It sounded profound. For, modernity since seventeenth century produced centrality of Europe that was a judgement on cultures. Europe was at a pinnacle of universal reason and modernism was a cherished model of development. Nevertheless, human strive for common ideals beyond self-interests proved notional utopia. Closely after the world war 11, there was change in intellectual orientation, owing to the decolonization in 1960s, followed by the collapse of communism in 1980s and then qualitative shift through the process of globalization that witnessed inadequacy of old established theories and questioned the relevance of empirical methodology in social sciences. Confronted with such contingency, the renewed debates cast moral questions on sociological and anthropological research that were just to justify binary rationale through comparative methods. Research methodology was alleged either to ignore or demean native cultures or judgements on cultural relativism. The methodology proved enforcement description of political and ideological apparatus for reaffirming foundations of racism, patriarchy and religiosity as well. Therefore, Conventional sociology of positivism lost some part of sheen for defending Functionalism giving primacy to male and ethnocentric models. The dialectic approach proved answerless to cultural questions, especially about issues concerning the othering of black, women and Asians. It misleadingly forged it into one category of class. Sociological researches, especially studies on Functionalism were accused of repetitions, vocabulary of bad prose ‘elaborating the obvious’, painful wastage of time. Hasley in the world sociological presidential address expressed that ‘sociology could never strike its roots in a soil of England that was hostile to it’. The unrest in the universities and upsurge of social movements in 60s were blamed to the propagation of sociology as discipline in educational institutions. China banned it and put sociological books into pits. It ridiculed it as a tool of surveillance by the western powers to have information and thereby, declaring its superiority over other cultures. An apparatus of episteme for guiding capitalism, left branded Functionalism an agenda based discipline.

However, Sociology renewed its promise by opening its canvas beyond conventional dialectical approach with new fervour of critical school. It enriched out-dated model of Functionalism by collaborating with other disciplines to infuse in it with neo functionalism and micro theories of phenomenological school. France again became the site of such centres, where linguistic Anthropological and philosophical traditions were brought in to unearth the subjectivity of human nature and deconstruct the power and domination crust of human order. It changed the very orientation of sociological methodology.

The irony is that our universities although are aware about these developments, still feel shy of convergence of theories and orientations. Our research dissertations, if we scrutinise, possess same material, same approach and same findings that hardly needed so much of time and resources to reveal. We have orientation and refresher courses to train in new methodologies, but it hardly make any difference in learning or relearning. The students carry same perceptions of survey to sample, tools to methods, observation to interpretations as we have been repeating over the years. There is hardly any qualitative standard in doctoral dissertations of our students. The universities in the west ensure that proper review of literature anywhere in globe is well analysed. Simple descriptions hardly make a profound research. We carry it on and on, despite knowing its futility. The reality bites that we have remained one dimensional entity hardly beyond our archaic understanding of our subject matter. Confined to the regional languages without any significant transfer of literature from advanced sociological theories and contemporary research in reputed universities; teaching Sociology in most of the universities in our country has become too easy and a gauche discipline. Sociology, in fact is a sophisticated discipline. It needs high intellectual acumen that must have linguistic expertise, knowledge of literary nuisances, understanding of cultural considerations and familiarity with the current intellectual debates to be cultivating the soul of the discipline. There is hardly any transfer of modern knowledge in vernacular languages or in Hindi medium that have replaced English language as a medium for teaching and writing dissertations. It makes us and our students awfully ignorant, limits our scope of understanding and demeans our discipline. The fact of matter is that Sociology has become more relevant and more challenging in view of the COVID 19 ramifications on social processes and social institutions. An abrupt shift to the virtual media and soft power suddenly and transnationally has become dominant technology and an instrument of transfer of symbolic capitalism. It is a role reversal from public sphere relationships to online interactions, a qualitative change of form of primary and secondary groups. A new normal, fluid order devoid of moral responsibilities, where public is private and private is under constant surveillance. The Micro centres in Europe, especially French intellectual traditions are working to bring on convergence of thought and theories of different disciplines to gauge the change. It has made sociology relevant, more demanding but beyond our reach, for we lack such competence and are unable to decipher our traditions. We have advantages of being in continuum with civilizational knowledge traditions, but we do not have proficiency, as it needs deep understanding of languages, cultures and owning of scientific temper. Alternate to modernity needs inoculation of consensus eastern deductions to multiple- modernity. The brewing uncertainty about research methodology is that the unprecedented global changes and transcendental nature of human interactions through digital world have raised culture from its slumber, which in positivism or ‘falsification notion’ were missing or wilfully ignored. However, it is not proper to use culture blindly as analytical category of research. The very combination of cultural conservatism and politics of identity have brought an apparent paradox to bring in culture in analytic frame. It needs hard intellect and sustained global research with occidental and oriental sources of knowledge to work on multiple modernities. No doubt, modernity or multiple modernities are perceived to have its source from the western civilizational framework, henceforth unheeded to by oriental scholarship. It is because little is known about the native traditions and its non- codified and unexplored repertoire of episteme. This needs to be blended in the unfinished agenda of modernity. That is what sociology can do.

Ashok Kaul is Emeritus professor of Sociology at Banaras Hindu university

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