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Sociology in Schools and Colleges

Maitrayee Chaudhuri

The poor quality of the large number of sociology textbooks in the market1 is perhaps the most tangible evidence of the state of higher education in general and of the discipline in particular. But textbooks are simply the end product of a much larger process that reflects a whole array of problems that afflict higher education today.2 (i) Teaching as a profession is unattractive with low social status. It is assumed that people with all options exhausted join this3 . And this unfortunately is not entirely untrue. (ii) While teaching itself is accorded a low status, the teaching of social sciences generally (with the notable exception of economics) are almost always seen as irrelevant and entirely dispensable. And even here sociology occupies the bottom rung. (iii) It is seen as a subject that requires no expertise, dealing with issues like family and marriage and strange exotic cultural practices. That these usually involve women and the private sphere strengthens the prevailing dominant view that this really is non-serious stuff. The shabby production of much of the textbooks, the poor and often crude language and the general poor quality worsen an already sorry state of the subject. (iv) Furthermore the ablest from the sociological profession have not seriously engaged with textbook writing.4 While all these features reflect the generally poor state of higher education from where teachers, authors and other resource persons will be drawn in, there are also some specific features which mark sociology textbooks. Any effort to improve them has to engage with this disciplinary legacy.   I would like to stress upon academic competence and training because a widely held folklore is that the opaque nature of sociology textbooks stems from the abstruse level of academic discourse in which sociology professors normally communicate. Schoolteachers therefore plead for simple and short texts, not undesirable goals in themselves. But my own experience, though limited, is that the opaqueness stems from a whole set of other sources, only part of which (an important part no doubt) is the writing style of the concerned author.   There are two causes for the opaqueness. The first is sheer incompetence where the author transfers her own conceptual confusion to the student. The second is more deep-rooted and can be traced to the disciplinary legacies of sociology in India. The two are not unrelated. As Sharmila Rege has observed, common to the curriculum of most sociology courses at the ...

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