Evolving Relevance of Sociology

The recent attempt of Lucknow University to have regional sociologies is a welcome attempt
"With the blossom of American Functionalism, success of Chicago school, the leadership of European historical societies became critical of Sociology."
"With the blossom of American Functionalism, success of Chicago school, the leadership of European historical societies became critical of Sociology."Maxpixel [Creative Commons]

Sociology emerged as a champion discipline out of ‘The Great Transition Thesis’ of holism and contrast. Though bestowed from philosophy, it soon assumed its distinct position in the hierarchy of sciences in the line of disciplines to ouster out its rival discipline psychology.

Its claim was scientific understanding of human interaction; nevertheless, it fell in classic disputes soon after disciplines, places and history were ranked and shaped by philosophy and even by sciences.

Unlike psychology, it did not become rigid, stackable to the diverse understanding of human nature, even to scienticism. It had come from the womb of modernity.

In theory and in methodology as well, it nudged through the process of compartmentalization, when the world was divided, in disciplines and places, mind and body, Ideologies and reason to the faith and revelations. It was alleged to be grooming the motif of centrality, consensus and referent mono European culture.

Since modernity was mapping up exercise, Sociology rightly at that point in time took refuge in experience and complimented with science in ‘induction and deduction’ process in its mode of methodology. Sociologists became scientists, despite hue and cry made by our rival disciplines of philosophy and psychology.

Positivism shaped the direction of history and gave content to modernity to set binaries and basis to form European centrality.

Through its mega theories of conflict school and Functionalism, it rendered psychology confined to its teaching room and cat lab experimentations. It took the world of knowledge by storm by giving two mega theories of Dialectical approach and Functionalist perspectives.

While on one side, it would negate history laying emphasis on structures and roles to suit a historical societies and it’s on word flourishing, on the other it would respond to the historical societies, through its dialectical understanding. Sociological methodologies became political apparatus dividing the world in two blocks of power and domination.

Scholarship had no grudge; it could choose its line. European dialectical scholarship and American functionalism had come to stay with university curriculum in post colonial societies as well. With the blossom of American Functionalism, success of Chicago school, the leadership of European historical societies became critical of Sociology.

Its soil became hostile to its rooting. China dumped books of sociology in pits. It empowered European brand of Marxism emerging from France and Germany, the states became critical of sociology as a discipline in the places where it had germinated.

The aftermath of two world wars, German holocaust and then rise of existentialism and feminist movements all over the Europe, modernity had its last breaths. The critics thought that Sociology was over? This was a myth created. Sociology found new ways to explore interaction, while mitigating its pride from mega theories to micro and middle range theories. It had changed its forms. Sociology felt the pulse and molded itself to address it.

Sociology turned its back to positivism, captured the moment and took upon itself to pay the requiem to modernity. Its rival disciplines were taken by surprise. For; they had thought that sociology has lost the sheen of its asset, methodology. French, German psychoanalysis were making strides with structuralism. Their hold on it was as if it had paid Sociology in the same coin. However, this excitement did not last. Sociology made formidable comeback to accept its classical disputes and allowed itself for convergence. Max Weber had given it space and possible modes and connections to link interaction and action with non positive stances, thereby bridging positivists and neo positivist for unending endeavor. His seminal articles and writings to link it with literature and demean scienticism offered Sociology a renewed role that was taken upon by phenomenology to give alternate to positivism. Though one may claim that it was maturing of sociology to opt for or make process of correction from Functionalism to Neo Functionalism and Conflict to Neo conflict theories, but the fact of matter is that it had made convergence with anthropology, psychology and literature, especially with linguistics to explain human nature, interaction and human mind in holistic mode.

Without discarding positivism, in its notional stance, it has stated that day to day events have meaning and sociology has task to understand and explore those meanings. Since methodology has been its main armament, it overcame that danger that had caused by the collapse of Functionalism. It accepts both dialectic and structuring contributions of forefathers, at the same time, added narratives to it. The cultural studies are the part of sociology. If Lacaun has given life to Freud’s psychoanalysis, Weber at initial stage and Habermas at the time of crisis  and now Bauman in the era of liquidity have made Sociology not only relevant to understand human interaction,  but also given  us to realize how human nature would response to ‘civilization and repression’, interface  between human intelligence and artificial intelligence.

Sociology is a collaborative discipline. If it has taken promise from positivist, it has adjusted the gloom of critical thinkers. It has bridged the unresolved questions of philosophy with the understanding of post structural perspectives. It has opted for deconstruction and post colonial humiliation and exploitation beyond the dialectical approach in literary terrain of histories of narratives. China, European countries are back to spend money on Sociology with renewed fervor. Micro think tanks of post structural schools and cultural studies of post colonial societies are becoming treasured contents of the discipline. The new scholarships on Taoism and Confucianism along with the Greek thought are mapping the subjectivity of history. Gone are the grounds for comments, ’sociology is a painful elaboration of obvious’. ‘It is a bad prose’. It has passed that stage with convergence and rejections of perspectives to make its tale uninterrupted. Psychology with cognitive linguistic branch is our collaborator, not a rival anymore.

In India, sociology was established between the two wars, but finally had its journeying after independence with its first sociological conference, held at Dehradun in 1955. It set its trajectories. Since, highly influenced by modernity, its representational quintessence had two clear cut demarcations taken up by two lead university of the country. Delhi School of Economics adopting Functionalism, as its broader trajectory had its contributions in the light of Functionalism. It finds all its researches, more or less, under the umbrella of Srinivasian model of Sanskritization. Its influence is deep and range is wide to  explore anything within that matrix. JNU, while accumulating sociology in a structural way, experimented with all its streaks. Credit should go to its stalwarts, who introduced sociology beyond conventional terrain, at least in methodology. Perhaps, in 80s, such researched dissertations were in JNU, which are based on phenomenological approach and also exploration of history and biography, at least in methodology.

Nevertheless, European scholarship has its concerns about the aftermath of globalization, challenges of digital revolution and interface of human intelligence with artificial intelligence, enhance of domination and repression through the means of surveillance and augment of manufactured uncertainties in order making; it has invoked identified traditions and started revisiting the ‘unfinished agenda’ of modernity. It finds human codifications are not matching with machine codifications. Therefore, the historical societies and its explorations become imperative to fill in the blanks of epistemological gap. In India, the needs for indigenization of knowledge and limitations of western categorization to comprehend the social realities were severely felt, as early as in 1950s, when Sociology as a discipline was introduced in the universities. The whole debate of Saran versus Pocock, Bailey and Dumont in the journal ‘Contributions to Indian sociology’ stands to this testimony. How critical A.K. Saran had been to the western codifications in delimiting the scope of Indian civilization. His vigorous intervention still needs full attention of our young sociologists in the pursuit of understanding human nature and human interactions. This will come with efficient interventions in sociological imagination with regional unexplored repertoires of knowledge. The recent attempt of Lucknow University to have regional sociologies is a welcome attempt to comprehend India in analytical categories with its diverse streams of accumulative knowledge.

This would be a supplement to modernity project or make way for the alternative to modernity, which has become the need of the hour.  In view of our rich past and unexplored philosophies and narratives, regional sociologies can find common grounds of episteme that needs to be explored. Let it should get proper attention. Kashmir in historical existence has episteme of a different kind. It can show us the way.

The author is an Emeritus professor in sociology at Banaras Hindu University

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.

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