BY MOHAMMAD ASIF
But whose veg thali and/or chicken thali should one have? Should one have Veg-chicken thali of life-world or social-world? Or should one have Thali as an adjective or as a noun? Thali as an adjective is exclusive and thali as a noun is inclusive.
Social sciences have been pre-occupied from its very inception with what it means to opt for a social inquiry to make sense of socio-cultural world. Our meal (Thali) is a daily activity at university canteens and is an object of social inquiry. What does it tell us about our sociality and sense of doing the Social Science. As the three-time Pulitzer winning author, Thomas Friedman states that he starts his day as a learner by not wasting his breakfast by having it alone. So, the question is what our thali tells us about our learning processes.
Biologically it is hunger that drives us to eat but modern societies are indelibly possessed by consumerism, therefore, our food choice is also scripted by it. University campuses are a meeting ground for students coming from dissimilar backgrounds-cultural, economic, literary and many more. Canteen is a meeting ground of speckled life-worlds and social-world at university campuses, and they can and cannot be a high pitch of conspicuous consumerist activities.
This makes us believe that anything that is costlier is of a higher quality and it becomes really a symbolic of one’s socio-economic status. This thing has high psychological consequences which is at the core, among the many factors, of an inclusive-exclusive discourse. Here, it is very observable to observe the very struggle of self in the submergence of life-world into a social-world.
Social Sciences as a discipline made entry into the realms of disciplines as an attempt of systematic knowledge production with its own set of methodological reflections on our attitude towards society and culture. The primary focus of it has been to enable us to develop scientific understandability of what it means to be a social being.
In this respect, social science as academic discipline provided us with a critique of mechanical behaviour which was considered to be the realm of non-human beings and domain of humane behaviour was advocated for humans.
Since the many subfields of the social sciences are, in one way or another, concerned with social phenomena, humans are expected to have a solid understanding of the components that go into making up the idea of a social phenomenon.
This gave birth to separate subfield, called Social Phenomenology. Phenomenologists believes that social world is a human construct, and it is collective of ‘Life worlds.’ In between life world and social world is caught ‘Self’ for which a recent phenomenon emerged in social sciences called inclusive-exclusive discourse.
By life-world can be understood as a person living in his circumstances or in his shoes - where did he come from, what challenges he is facing in life and after all how life is treating him. That is quite different how he poses himself in public. Social-world can be understood socio-cultural areas- office, university, or simply social surroundings. Now the question is how is ‘Self’ perceived in both the worlds- life-world as well as social-world. We as ‘Self’ in a society carry our life worlds and always struggle to submerge them in social world. Does Self fit (un)well there? Moving forward with the metaphor of ‘thali’. What does ‘thali’ tell us about the self in its very struggle to contribute to and get contributed from, in the life world and social world communion.
Thali, I take both as a noun and as adjective. Noun is the name of anything, and adjective is anything that (un)qualifies the quality/ status of that thing. Let us take the case of two thalis symbolically. Thali without any suffixes or prefixes--noun and Thali with suffixes or prefixes--adjective. At canteen when ones ask for a thali, without any unnecessary stress on the suffix or prefix it informs that hunger is a biological phenomenon, and when excessive stress on the suffixes or prefixes that means it is a status phenomenon at work. Citing an example, I happened to be at a canteen to have thali where some of my colleagues were discussing something at a busy ticket counter. When the senior fellow asked for a veg thali (which was the lowest in the price), two girl students were also there to get tickets. Who upon hearing the veg thali got gobsmacked-explicit in their uncanny expressions. One of his friends suggested him to go for non-veg thali for maintaining the mask of social world. I could read well to how status is contested over thalis. Later, when I joined them for lunch his junior friends suggested that he always makes them feel comfortable by taking veg-thali thereby they feel confident having thali as informed by their life world. So, it means thali is symbolic of social exclusion and inclusion at the canteen. Exclusion means getting singled out either by words, expressions, or actions, which gives a self a sense of shame and spaced out.
This then triggered me with a set of questions. Whose ‘thali’ one takes at the canteen? Should one take the thali of life world - or should one take it of social world? Or should one take thali as a noun or as an adjective? In universities, we, especially as social science students, our food choices should not be imposed on others overtly or covertly. Social sciences demand us to go incognito of our socio-economic status and cognito of our academics. If you make one feel out of the place by over-stressing the pre-or-suffixes of your thali, then you are practicing what is called exclusion which in the words of Amartya Sen reflects capability depravation that is not letting ‘Self’ as a creative potential to either to contribute or get contributed by the communion of my life-world into the social-world which is the life-worlds of all of us taken collectively. If you take thali as noun, you are practising social inclusion- that is not only the ‘self’ as other is accommodated but also its otherness- that otherness is to have thali of my choice without overstressing of suffixes or prefixes. Thalis in a university food court is a social phenomenon and it tells a lot about our sense of doing social science.
As per the social cognitive theory mostly used in psychology, social interactions have a direct relation with the learning activities of individuals just by observing their surroundings because human mind is neuroplastic. The thali should be a training ground for us as social sciences students in particular and students in general to train us for humane behaviour where insult leave humiliation should be out of sight. This way we would be practicing social inclusion by our common practices to make structural changes and practice it further in our social world. As George Bernard Shaw in in his much-acclaimed play, ‘Arms and The Man’ Says That ‘man is the creature of habit.’ It not about our or somebody’s else affordability to go for any thali as is the case of Thalinomics but it is the sense of making sense of studentship and social sciences
Dostoevsky in Brothers Karamazov, axiomatically says “Beauty is mysterious as well as terrible god and devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man-(battlefield is what worried Dostoevsky).” I would say thali is mysterious, both noun and adjective are fighting here, but the battlefield is ‘Self’ if we would take thali as thali, we then would be liberating self from victimhood of battlefield. Let’s put self at the central stage in the process of social sciences learning.
Mohammad Asif, Ph.D. Scholar, Department of History, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.
The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.