The Future of Social Science Research

10th e-Lecture on “The Future of Social Science Research” by Prof G. Haragopal, National Law School of Indian University (NLSIU).

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Prof. Haragopal started the lecture by expressing his happiness over the fact that Research Scholars have formed an association at an all India level which he believes was long overdue because professional associations in India have somehow got crippled. Social support is very important in his view. Present and previous regimes think that these are the days of science and technology and that social sciences aren’t important. Social sciences do not receive the attention that they should. He went on to recall his own days as the Dean of social sciences in Hyderabad Central University where he gave a lecture to the academic council on the importance of social sciences, in an attempt to dispel their marginalization. In most universities in India, with the exception of Jawaharlal Nehru University, social sciences find themselves marginalized.

His major presentation was on the importance of social sciences because he feels that unless we are convinced as research scholars that we have a very important role or perhaps a more important one than the natural sciences, we won’t carry conviction with us. Speaking about the course he now teaches at NLSIU, a Masters program in Public policy, he said only 20 percent of the students come from social sciences background. He asked some IITians why they had joined a social science course? To which they replied that it is not enough for them to govern or in policy making to play an important role in the system. There’s a need to understand social dynamics. To organize, to manage, in policy making and even to use science and technology one needs a deep understanding of social processes.

Understanding of social knowledge is as important as science and technology. What is knowledge? Total human knowledge can be reduced into 2 domains: relation of human beings with nature and relations within human beings. Social science and humanities study the relations within human beings and science and technology deals with relations human beings with nature. In production technology helps, however, to enter into production, one has to enter into enter into relations with other human beings. These social relations are important. The relation between human beings is set by larger social structure. Every technological breakthrough calls for change in nature of relations between human beings, therefore Bernal in his book ‘Physics: the extension of man’ argues that every technological breakthrough is expansion of the presence of human beings in the universe. Science and technology first respond to the needs of the dominant sections of the society. Science doesn’t exist independently of human society. Science and technology are not neutral. Along with technological progress, human consciousness increases. One pandemic, COVID, and all our relations are ruptured. We as social scientists have to look at what has happened to our social
relations? What will happen to our institution, our organizations and our entire systems? Whether we will have pre – pandemic situation back? We are in a democracy, but we can’t use our freedoms. When there is breakthrough in science and technology, what are its implications for social relations? Einstein had written a paper in 1948 titled ‘why socialism?’. He argues that in every human being there is a solitary human being and a social human being, we are all both atomistic and social beings. Technological development is gradually making human beings more and more interdependent. He argues that as people become more and more a social being large number of social problems get solved. Today more and more are becoming solitary beings. Capitalism makes you atomistic. He argues that ultimately socialism will bring human beings to a collective effort. They must think of society and society must think about them.

Science and technology cannot study the nature of human beings. Social scientists try to explain human values, institutions, crisis, happiness, etc. Herbert Simon argues that human beings are in the pursuit of happiness. Science and technology are capable of giving human beings a comfortable life but comfortable life is not necessarily a meaningful life. Studying of nature has been prioritized because it gives comfort and human beings are obsessed with comfort which has led to romanticization of science and technology. However, meaning to life can be understood only through social sciences and humanities. Social sciences in India today are completely ignored and marginalized. Nature of relations are getting ruptured. Science and technology are rupturing relations. He argues that use of IT depends on the value system of society.

Social science knowledge deals with how human beings struggled throughout human history. People do experiments with different systems. We as social scientists study people’s experiments while natural scientists experiment on nature. Science and technology contribute to production, we study if production increases what is its impact on society. There have been debates going on that growth with distribution has to form a part of economics, Amartya Sen has done that. While science and technology are engaging with comfort, social science is looking for meaning in life, to have a society leading to a humane society through a humanizing of society and contributes to understanding of human dynamics. Unfortunately, knowledge is hierarchized. Knowledge he argues is horizontal not vertical. Society needs knowledge. Work is a source of pleasure and meaning to life which is forgotten now. View of life should become a little philosophized. Kasturi Rangan committee suggested that people should be trained in multiple disciplines. All will have to have a social science component. It’ll be the need of the hour. Social science’s necessity will be there. For the time being, obsession with science and technology has marginalized social science. His view is that crisis will unfold in such a manner if one ignores social knowledge, one will look for knowledge on why this has happened and look for good social scientists to explain causation. Although for the time being the situation looks a little dismal if you look at historical process and the way human society is unfolding itself, his conviction is as crisis deepens there will be no way for the powerful except for coming back to social science and have fine human minds looking into it and explain it and causal relations. Dror argues that as technology advances and if the human capacity doesn’t proportionately increase it’ll not know how to handle technology. There is a need to have holistic knowledge. Social science gives us the knowledge to handle the consequences of technology. Western society does give importance to social science. The situation in our country however looks dismal. This know gap will be very costly, sooner the policy makers realize this the better.

One of the questions asked was how can we use mixed methods research in social science and is it necessary to write a good worldview ?To which the speaker replied by asking why do people prefer to go to universities abroad? in Indian social sciences he says he finds two weaknesses : methodologically we’re not able to train scholars rigorously and that philosophy and theory are a bit ignored. What is important for a good social scientist he says is a base in theory and use of a rigorous method. Some training in theory is very important and method is very important as well. Some of the gaps in Indian social sciences can be corrected through this.

Astha Binzani,

PhD Research Scholar, Department of Political Science, Banaras Hindu University.

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