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Local and Ontological Structures

Dev N. Pathak

Edited by Veena Das & Ranendra K. Das
Oxford University Press, Delhi, 2010, pp.304, 850.00


The intellectual progenies of the enligh-tenment, the modern social science disciplines, have an arguably checkered posterity marked with junctures of scholarly rivalry for superiority. Each had to engage with the quest of a Darwin and a Newton. Each had to be theoretically flamboyant enough to underline the proximity with indubitable natural sciences. The pristine value of scien-tific rationality in the study of 'the social' had to be reflected in the methodological, concep-tual and theoretical orientations. Economics, among social science disciplines, could man-age to be jubilant with the hardcore data-work. It could relish the quantifiable and improvise upon the statistical. Perhaps, it was with this realization of distinction that economists even contemplated a status for their discipline dis-tinguishable from social science as a whole. Their study is no joke and their subject matter is no nonsense. Philosophical utilitarianism added a veritable halo to the claim of objec-tivity for the studies in economics. Man, thus, appeared like a pleasure-profit maximizing Robinson Crusoe, with an arsenal of rational choices. Other disciplines in social science, arguably softer in approaches and methodo-logical orientation, had to compete with the superiority of Economics. Psychoanalytically, it was like scholarly penis-envy vis-a-vis econo-mics, characterizing the so-called soft discip-lines. The brotherhood and rivalry between economics and other social science disciplines is fraught with such simplistic tales consisting of some truth and some myth. For, there has been a profound engagement with the issues of socio-economic life in the early sociological and social anthropological reflections. In the classical sociology, there are ample evidences of the trinity, Marx, Weber and Durkheim, attempting to respond to the problems with both the approaches at once-the economists and the psychologists. The model of Homo Economicus could not address the questions raised by the classical thinkers; the question, such as how is society possible, was nearly glossed in the debates in economics. Any model of the human, mirroring the image of an atomized producer-worker-distributor-consumer, was not adequate for comprehen-ding the intrigue of 'the social'. The seeking for answers, in the very domain of scientific-rational reasoning, presented to the classical thinkers a pretext to reflect upon the socially embedded economic behaviour of humanity. History afforded umpteen evidences toward this objective. Unlike the statistical reduction-ism, or even vapid idealism and hollow pon-tification of political economists, early social anthropologists and sociologists sought to understand the structural narratives under-pinning the economic actions. The social structure, with its cultural components, reli-gious ...

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