The issues of social research
The University Scholarships Commission has encouraged its establishment in each university, at least once a year. It was made compulsory for upward career mobility. The proclamation of the “methodology guide certificate” does not constitute in any case a qualitative enrichment in the acquisition of an advanced methodology or the exceeding of the limits of the established research methodologies.
It simply exposes the limits of our research briefs and the need for care to be engaged in the rehearsals of the speeches received. In the past, sociology has been accredited with this added advantage over other disciplines as it could provide research methodology even to other disciplines in the humanities and social sciences. It is an empirical methodology based on an induction and deduction matrix, akin to the natural sciences.
Consequently, the framing of the problem with interpretations would be step by step and elucidated and enriched by statistics. It had more rationality through technicality than through the representation of human nature and the interface of social action in different contexts of power and cultural relativity. Although it was meant to be the triumph of reason, it turned out to be a continuation of organic concepts in Western thought.
The division of mind and body could easily be traced in Greek thought, especially in the “rational model of human nature”. Patriarchy, the human difference between slaves and masters, considered natural, mingled with the euro centrality of the referent culture. This was also justified in the succession of religious thoughts. Modernity tacitly justified it with a consensus on monoculture as the linear organic evolutionary culture, while rejecting the inner vision directed at humans from another world.
Agenda-based macro theories have been established to overcome limited human experience. Through systematic empiricism, the social world could be understood in terms of perceptions of reality and of issues that humans universally understand. The methods were quantitative and qualitative and could use subjective and objective knowledge through major primary research methods. However, the basic premise of this methodology was that the change is holistic and that modernity has unleashed the forces that make the new society contrast with the previous society. It sounded deep. Because modernity since the 17th century has produced a centrality of Europe which was a judgment on cultures. Europe was at the height of universal reason, and modernism was a cherished model of development. Nonetheless, the human struggle for common ideals beyond personal interests has proven to be a notional utopia. Shortly after World War 11 there was a change in intellectual focus, due to decolonization in the 1960s, followed by the collapse of communism in the 1980s, then a qualitative change through the process of globalization. who witnessed the inadequacy of old established theories and questioned the relevance of empirical methodology in the social sciences. Faced with such a contingency, the renewed debates throw on sociological and anthropological research moral questions which were to justify binary logics by comparative methods. The research methodology was meant to ignore or belittle indigenous cultures or judgments about cultural relativism. The methodology proved the application of the description of the political and ideological apparatus to reaffirm the foundations of racism, patriarchy and religiosity as well. As a result, the conventional sociology of positivism has lost some of its luster in defending functionalism by giving primacy to male and ethnocentric models. The dialectical approach has proved to be unanswered to cultural questions, especially on questions concerning the othererization of blacks, women and Asians. He falsely forged it into a class category. Sociological research, in particular studies of functionalism, was accused of repetition, of bad prose vocabulary “elaborating the obvious”, of painful waste of time. Hasley in the Global Sociological Presidential Address stated that “sociology could never take root in English soil which was hostile to it”. The unrest in universities and the rise of social movements in the 1960s have been blamed on the spread of sociology as a discipline in educational institutions. China banned it and put sociological books in pits. He ridiculed it as a tool for surveillance by Western powers to gain information and thus declare his superiority over other cultures. An apparatus of episteme to guide capitalism, has left branded functionalism as a discipline based on an agenda.
However, sociology has renewed its promise by opening its web beyond the conventional dialectical approach with a new fervor of the critical school. He enriched the obsolete model of functionalism by collaborating with other disciplines to infuse it with neo functionalism and the micro theories of the phenomenological school. France once again became the site of such centers, where anthropological and philosophical linguistic traditions were introduced to unearth the subjectivity of human nature and deconstruct the crust of power and domination of the human order. It changed the very orientation of sociological methodology.
The irony is that our universities, although aware of these developments, still feel reluctant to the convergence of theories and orientations. Our research theses, if we look closely, have the same material, the same approach and the same results that hardly took so much time and resources to be revealed. We have orientation and refresher courses to train us in new methodologies, but that makes little difference in learning or relearning. Students carry the same perceptions of the survey to the sample, from tools to methods, from observation to interpretations that we have repeated over the years. There is hardly any qualitative standard in the doctoral theses of our students. Western universities ensure that an appropriate review of literature all over the world is well analyzed. Simple descriptions hardly do a thorough search. We wear it indefinitely, knowing its futility. The reality bites that we have remained a one-dimensional entity barely beyond our archaic understanding of our subject. Confined to regional languages without any significant transfer of the literature of advanced sociological theories and contemporary research in reputable universities; teaching sociology in most universities in our country has become too easy and awkward a discipline. Sociology, in fact, is a sophisticated discipline. It takes a great intellectual sense which must have linguistic expertise, knowledge of literary nuisances, an understanding of cultural considerations and familiarity with current intellectual debates to cultivate the soul of the discipline. There is hardly any transfer of modern knowledge in the vernacular languages or Hindi which have replaced the English language as a medium for teaching and writing theses. It makes us and our students terribly ignorant, limits our scope of understanding, and demeans our discipline. The point is that sociology has become more relevant and more stimulating in view of the ramifications of COVID 19 on social processes and social institutions. A brutal shift towards virtual media and soft power has suddenly and transnationally become a dominant technology and an instrument of transfer of symbolic capitalism. It is a role reversal in the relationship of the public sphere to online interactions, a qualitative change in the form of primary and secondary groups. A new normal order, fluid, devoid of moral responsibilities, where the public is private and the private is under constant surveillance. Micro centers in Europe, in particular French intellectual traditions, work to bring together the thinking and theories of different disciplines to measure change. It has made sociology relevant, more demanding but beyond our reach, because we lack such competence and are unable to decipher our traditions. We have the advantage of being in the continuum with the traditions of civilizational knowledge, but we do not have the competence, as this requires a deep understanding of languages, cultures and the possession of a scientific temperament. The alternative to modernity needs the inoculation of consensual oriental deductions to multiple modernity. The uncertainty that hangs over the research methodology is that unprecedented global changes and the transcendent nature of human interactions across the digital world have brought culture out of its slumber, which in positivism or the ‘notion of forgery’, was missing or was intentionally ignored. However, it is not appropriate to blindly use culture as an analytical category of research. The very combination of cultural conservatism and identity politics has brought about an apparent paradox in bringing culture into an analytical framework. It takes a hard intellect and sustained global research with Western and Eastern sources of knowledge to work on multiple modernities. Undoubtedly, modernity or multiple modernities are seen to have their source in the Western civilizational framework, now ignored by Eastern scholarship. This is because little is known about indigenous traditions and its uncodified and unexplored episteme repertoire. This must be integrated into the unfinished agenda of modernity. This is what sociology can do.
Ashok Kaul is Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the Hindu University of Banaras