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Relating to the Society

Roland Lardinois

Edited by Maitrayee Chaudhuri
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 435, Rs. 695.00

By Yogendra Singh
Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2004, pp. 240, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 2 February 2005

“Classroom teaching (...) scarcely relates either to the society in which we live or to the life aspirations and anticipations of students. It does not “bring out” what a student learns as a member of society prior to joining the university. For instance, the intellectual equipment of concepts, categories and principles of their relationship that a student learns before coming to a university is not accessed with an existing grid of textual knowledge. The result is that a separation takes place between ideas, categories and principles that are used in everyday life and those that are acquired from social science thinking.” -- The Practice of Sociology, Introduction, p. 7.   Sociology in India has already an established tradition of critical thought on its own development and experiences which make this disciplines one of the “the most reflexive among the social sciences and humanities in contemporary India”, as Mary E. John rightly states it in the book edited by Maitrayee Chaudhuri. While a reflexive attitude has been growing in importance in social sciences amongst European academics for the past 20 years or so, it has always been a permanent feature of Indian sociologists who had to cope, right from the beginning, with the colonial origins of their discipline. The two volumes under review illustrate this reflexive posture on a personal and a collective mode.   The essays collected by Yogendra Singh may be read as a contribution to the reflexive mood of the discipline by one of its actors over the second half of the 20th century. The reader will get some insights on the history of sociology in India although there is no fresh news that we don’t know already. The essays altogether lack in empirical data. They are more akin to socio-philosophical thoughts on man and society, well illustrated today in France by Alain Touraine, for example, in which the author engages a polite dialogue with the ancestors or with some contemporary masters of the discipline but whithout exposing himself too much. The book would have gained in coherence had the essays been rewritten to escape overlaps.   What makes the collection of papers edited by Maitrayee Chaudhuri interesting is that the collective project of examining the practice of sociology emerged from sociologists engaged either in teaching or in conducting research but without forgetting their experience as former students of sociology in India. Too often, it is true, sociologists fail to relate their view ...

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