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Issues and Concers

Ujithra Ponniah

By T.K. Oommen
Oxford Collected Essays, 2013, pp. 265, Rs. 850.00


This is the second edition of a collection of essays, which were first published by T.K. Oommen in 2007. This collection has three new essays on three distinguished sociologists/social anthropologists in India—Y.B. Damle, M.N Srinivas and G.S Ghurye. These essays were written over the span of T.K. Oommen’s professional career and address issues and concerns with regard to the production and circulation of sociological knowledge in South Asia at large and India in particular.   In the introduction to the book, Oommen identifies three ‘persisting tensions’ in sociology—first is the convoluted relationship between sociology and social anthropology in postcolonial countries. He locates the source of the problem in the origin of both these disciplines in the West and their journey to the colonies. In the West, anthropology was a product of colonialism and studied ‘other cultures’ and small-scale societies while sociology was a product of modernity and studied the modern formations in the society. The end of colonialism however acted as a death knell to practising anthropology in the above ways. Regressive labelling like ‘savage’, ‘primitive’, ‘black’, ‘oriental’ were rejected by non-western social anthropologists. No longer were these categories distinct in the postcolonial world but coexisted in the state territory. Hence, the agreement reached between sociology and social anthropology in the New World Order was that the first would focus on society while the latter on culture, facilitating a peaceful coexistence. Oommen argues that in the postcolonial countries the originary distinction of sociology and social anthropology collapse in their practice and are irrelevant.   The second tension in the practice of sociology is the claim made by sociology of scientificity. Oommen argues that ‘if matter is the object of study of material sciences and life is the focus of life sciences, culture is the central theme of social sciences’. By culture he means the capacity to create meaning which can be deciphered only with the help of those who create it. Hence as opposed to life sciences in social sciences the method of verification will have to be different. This also implies that ‘objectivity’ with its capacity to be universal and generalizing will not be possible in social sciences. Oommen argues that this does not mean social sciences are not objective; what they have is ‘particularised objectivity’ which is specific to the context. He further argues that contextualization should happen both in spatial and ...

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