DATE: Wednesday, 29th August, 2012
CHAIR: Dr. Farid Uddin Ahmad, Department of Sociology, SAU
Ravi Nandan Singh, Assistant Professor, Hindu College
Jyoti Sinha, Visiting Faculty, Brown University
Sreedeep, Research Scholar, Centre for Study of Social Systems, JNU
Nivedita Ghosh, Assistant Professor, LSR
Irfanullah Farooqi, Research Scholar, Centre for Study of Social Systems, JNU
The seminar was initiated by Dr. Ahmad with a discussion on the conventionality and unconventionality in sociology, and the impending need to recognize and appreciate new pathways in the discipline today.
The following were the key arguments put forth by the guest speakers.
Ravi Nandan Singh on Ways of asking questions when your informants refuse to talk: Methodological questions involved in studying the morgue–
Singh, while borrowing from his fieldwork in Denmark and Benaras, identified the declaration of death as an institutional emergency, as everyone around becomes alert and there is an immediate need to separate the dead person from the living. He ascertained that with post modernity, there is a shift in the authority to declare death, in that it now lies with doctors. He also pointed out that the morgue has no institutional function, since there is no transformation in the dead body’s ritual state. Singh argued that when these informants refuse to speak, it may be essential to speak with the living. Also, deathly peace is always associated with equivocation.
Questions asked by the audience:
- What was the relevance of Google alerts in the study?
To move away from specific insights.
- What if someone is declared dead but is not?
Legitimacy of science is questioned when someone comes back from the dead. Since it is a speech act, and there is a shift in the manner of declaration of death, the legitimacy of the doctor is taken.
- Is the dead body seen as merely an object? Is there a completely secularized dealing with dead bodies in Denmark?
Soon after the declaration of death, the body is a new object as well as a subject. In Denmark, the dead body is dealt with in a very organized and systematic way, with those working there coming to work exactly at eight in the morning and closing the shop sharply at two, without any exception.
Jyoti Sinha on Doing Sociology with/for/of workers: the case of Jharia coal mine workers–
Sinha began her discussion on her fieldwork experience, by pointing out to the importance of making sense of social interactions in order to ‘do’ sociology. She argued that there are some questions that need to be addressed when looking at the coal miners in Jharia, such as- Who are these workers? How are they shaped by the atmosphere? What is the men-women workforce ratio? – At the same time looking at how the social construction of gender happens, and how health and safety issues at the site are dealt with. She also spoke extensively on the everyday life of women workers and the economic conditions.
- How was access to the workers gained?
It was not easy gaining access, especially to the women workers. There was a need to convince the family, authorities, which took about two to three months.
Sreedeep on Photography and Sociology: the twain does meet–
Sreedeep spoke very passionately about the growing trajectories of sociology and photography, both being products of modernity and having their origin in the same century. He vehemently stressed on the role of images in sociology (theory)- as a part of not-taking, and an aid in substantiating arguments- while citing the example of gender debates being substantiated with sexist ads. He argued that the State and the West, by way of funding the discipline and thereby being the “big daddies”, leave no space for visuals and images in the discipline. He drew on the similarities between sociology and photography. Both the sociologist and the photographer need to- have an objective notion of empathy in the field, resolve dilemmas of what to include or exclude from the vast field, and go into the field with an open mind, overcoming ‘habitual scene’. He ended his presentation with a power point including visuals that he had worked on over the past few years, cutting across four themes- presence of larger than life brands in cities; places where these brands have managed to ‘intrude’; coexistence of these brands with local ones; and the contradictions that might emerge out of it.
- Unlike a sociologist, who looks at historical events and preexisting themes in society, isn’t a photographer waiting for things to happen in order for him/her to capture them?
It is definitely only possible to cover things that make sense so limitations do exist.
- What was the need to include captions?
Simply because the artist did not want to speak.
- What are the dynamics behind using the camera in field?
The usage of camera in the field is certainly restricted as one cannot go about capturing things around without really being stopped.
Nivedita Ghosh on Camera in the field: Exploring the possibilities of a visual research method–
Nivedita Ghosh began with a brief insight into how the camera works in a field. She emphasized on the need to treat the camera not as merely an instrument to record things, rather, as something capable of influencing action and recording social interaction and ‘networks’, that is a major part of the discipline of sociology. She spoke about some existing literature on the use of camera- Representative and Processual studies. While the former interprets meanings, the latter looks at the everyday life of images including exposure, location, lens and the like. She argued that with the emergence of critical theory there was a divide between the objective and subjective dimensions of using a camera, which needed to be bridged. She also finally illustrated the two kinds of visual data gathered by the fieldworker- Social Setting, which freezes people in time; and Social Interaction, which includes a set of ‘actants’, all of which affect the final product.
- Is the basic argument overlapping with that of Sreedeep’s?
Not really. Because Sreedeep deals with the ’post-production’ of images, that is, the interpretative aspect of visuals, while this discussion was more focused on the technical aspects, and the creation of images.
- What are the dynamics behind using the camera in field?
One has to hang around with the camera till people in the field get bored eventually.
Irfanullah Farooqi on Reading Poetry in Sociology: A Researcher’s Rejoice–
Farooqi started off his basic argument of the sad lack of appreciation for poetry in the discipline of sociology today. He drew our attention towards the fact that the discipline today is dominated by the market, international publications and an institutional setup, and for most part in its history, by a Marxist ideology. He emphasized on the necessity for the discipline of sociology to have its own literary imagination and language. Most works on poetry and metaphors have come to include the poet’s allegiance to a certain camp, rather than the poetry itself. He pointed out to the need to look at the scope, instead of reasons to engage in discussion; and the unfortunate state of poetry in sociology, while film studies still gains some acceptance in the discipline.
- How is poetry important in Sociology?
Understanding the social in the context of poetry is very significant. Being obsessed with social without considering poetry and other literary sources would be problematic. Also, the politicized version of art becomes important for sociologists looking at poetry.
The basic lesson taken from this seminar was that it is crucial, more importantly today than ever before, to broaden our canvas in order to understand society at large. An understanding of theoretical ideas and concepts requires the usage of those tools of the society that are a true reflection of the reality. As encouraged by the speakers at this seminar, using photography and literary sources become vital in so far as they help in substantiating theoretical arguments, as well as gaining an insight into the people’s perception of reality and analyzing them against the theoretical backdrop. Also, it is essential to have a proper understanding of the methods to be used to elicit information from respondents at the site, who may vary in character and according to the context.
Madhulika V Narasimhan
M.A. Sociology, III Semester
South Asian University