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Commonsense at Centrestage


Saraswathi Raju

CONTEMPORARY INDIA: A SOCIOLOGICAL VIEW
By Satish Deshpande
Penguin/Viking, New Delhi,, 2003, pp. 213, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 2 February 2004

In this era of cross-cutting issues and research, claiming a particular expertise as one’s own may sound incongruous, but I cannot resist the temptation of confessing what I had always felt while reading Satish Deshpande and that is: reminding geographers that someone else is doing what they ought to have done. I not only enjoyed the most, but also used his earlier work on embedded spatiality even as globalization processes seem to be challenging the concept of spatiality because of ever-increasing transnational and diasporic narratives extensively in my teaching and research. Therefore, despite being a little apprehensive because of my academic background in geography, I took up the assignment of reviewing the book. I must say the initial sense of unease reduced further when I read what the author has to say about the ‘intended audience’ as ‘a non-specialist one, including the general reader’ . . . ‘academics from neighbouring disciples, and students across the social sciences and humanities’ (page 18). This is a point I would come back to later.        The author in a self-reflective mood has undertaken a journey to explore the pitfalls of sociology as a discipline—arguing that as compared to other ‘’complex’ subjects requiring ‘specialized knowledge’ sociology has often been equated with commonsense of every day life and for this reason it has failed to inspire awe. He points out, however, that sociological commonsense is a taught skill—encapsulating ‘a whole range of shared, socially inculcated values, attitudes and habits of thought’ that helps one to make ‘sense of the world’ unlike ordinarily understood meaning of ‘commonsense’ as ‘naturally’ acquired skill or knowledge (p. 2). This common sense teaches to decode ambiguity and nuances and look at society with a squint—no neatly laid out canvass or naïve generalizations. Sociologists on their part have to be constantly reminded of this ‘commonsense’ shaping social reality and stand centre stage—within the world of commonsense, albeit not content with the popular version of commonsense, but as an involved critique, no longer practicing a ‘pure and scientific sociology’.                  The author’s concern is with certain topics and perspectives that have been under represented in sociology despite the disciplinary orientation of sociology, best fitted to deal with them. The author points out that sociology has followed an evolutionary track much influenced by anthropology and as such, caste, kinship, region and rural and tribal communities have dominated sociological discourses. Noting that this in ...


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