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Understanding Social Realities

Abhijit Dasgupta

Edited by Partha Nath Mukherji and Chandan Sengupta
Sage Publications, Delhi, 2004, pp. 405, Rs. 680.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 12 December 2005

From time to time social scientists in South Asia have commented on the relevance of the Euro-centric concepts and theories to the study of non-European societies. These theories are regarded as ‘universal’ and applicable in all kinds of social research, both in the developed and the developing world. As opposed to this, several scholars have pointed out the significance of indigeneity or the quality of being indigenous in social science research. Stalwarts Benoy Kumar Sarkar, Radha Kamal Mukherjee, R.K. Saran, and many others wrote about the need to develop indigeneity. This volume may be seen as a continuation of the debates raised by the pioneers of social science research in South Asia. This volume includes 17 essays, written by scholars from Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan, who have reexamined the debates on indegeneity and universality in the social sciences in South Asia and pointed out the need to develop an alternative theoretical paradigm. The themes of the essays are different, but the authors share some common concerns. They are unanimous on the point that in social science research in South Asia the efficacies of the theories considered as universal needs to be reexamined, and there should be space for a dialogue. The decolonization of social science research is urgently required for a better understanding of complex social realities. In other words, they are pleading for a paradigm shift in social science research in South Asia. These common concerns have been summarized by Partha Nath Mukherji in his introduction.   Mukherjee raises some fundamental points in his introductory note e.g. the social sciences that originated in the West, are they necessarily universal? Does the universal always explain the particular? Is such universality possible in social science? (p.16). Scholars from South Asia first raised these issues in a conference on ‘Teaching and Research in Social Sciences’ which was held in Shimla in 1973. The issues were debated again in 1983 in a conference of the Association of the Asian Social Science Research Council. Finally, in 1997, social scientists from South Asia met again in Bombay at a conference on ‘Sociology in India: Heritage and Challenges’. The problems of universality and indigeneity were discussed at length there. Most of the papers in this volume were presented in the Bombay conference.   Immanuel Wallerstein points out why in a rapidly changing world we need to create a form of knowledge that can comprehend and engage ...

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