A Window to New Possibilities

According to C.W. Mills, the famous sociologist, “neither the life of an individual nor the history of a society can be understood without understanding both”. This statement perfectly explicates the panel discussion that was conducted by the sociology department on the 3rd of February on the topic ‘Theoretical Imagination: A Double-Edged Sword’. This discussion was one of its kinds; for, unlike other (monotonous) text heavy seminars and discussions which the students struggle to relate to, this one revolved around the several issues that the students of sociology deal with. Indeed as promised, it lifted the numerous cobwebs from our minds and enchanted us by instilling in each one of us certain clarity of vision. In addition, the fact that the panel included not just stalwarts in the world of Indian Sociology -such as Professor Edward A. Rodrigues and Professor Avijit Pathak (-both of whom belonged to CSSS, JNU) – but also young students of sociology -such as Hashmat, Kanika, Rashmi and Sandhya – made it unique.
The discussion consisted of three parts. In the first part, student panelists opened the discussion by sharing their opinions on classical sociology. Some of the key issues that emerged from their discussion were: the various discomforts that they faced with classical theories of sociology, the need to correct one’s vision in order to see things from a fresh perspective, the need to understand theories beyond textbooks, the significance of critically engaging with texts and so on. The same issues were reinforced by a small power point presentation which was a beautiful mosaic of poetry, caption-less pictures and videos. Thus, for example, the caption-less pictures embodied the idea that there is no one fixed way to look at things and the song ‘Ye hai Bombay Meri Jaan’ symbolized the famous Marxian notion of alienation of man.
The first part of the discussion served as a kind of infrastructure upon which the superstructure (to extend the Marxian analogy) of the second part of the discussion rested. In the second part, Professor Rodrigues and Professor Pathak responded to the first part of the discussion, leaving the audience spellbound. In my opinion, these two experts represented two different schools of thought as far as the pedagogy of sociology is concerned. Hence, on the one end of the spectrum stood Prof. Rodrigues who emphasized upon the need to rely on texts (and not be afraid of them!) as a window to understand the world around us; while Prof. Pathak, who spoke about the need to take sociology outside the classroom, the need to go from “near” to “far” (and not the other way round!) and to apply it to one’s own context, stood on the other end of the spectrum. However, a common theme that emerged from both their discussions was the need to apply sociology to one’s own setting.
The final part of the discussion was devoted to a question-answer session that lasted over cups of tea. This session too drove home the fact that texts serve as building blocks for understanding and applying sociology in a broader sense.
This idea of applying sociology to one’s surroundings fascinated me and made me wonder about the various instances that could be explained by employing sociology. It motivated me to look for examples so as to practice this activity. I would like to narrate one such instance – the one hour long ride to my second cousin’s wedding. I noticed that once we all sat in the car, we were all quiet. While, my dad concentrated on trying to drive on a slightly foggy night, my mother tried to catch a power nap. I and my brother were immersed in our mobiles. This particular instance reminded me of Marx’s notion of alienation of man from his species-being. The next thing that captured my attention was a huge hoarding of the movie “Goliyon ki Rasleela- Ramleela” at Ansal Plaza. In this hoarding, the actor Ranveer Singh seems to stand taller than the female lead of the film Deepika Padukone. What amused me was that in reality, Deepika seems to be of the same height (if not taller) than Ranveer. Yet the poster seemed to suggest otherwise. Was it because the fact that a female is taller than a male hero, threatened the notion of a macho man? This question took me back to the Dumontian notion of hierarchy, only this time it is a gender (and not a caste) hierarchy. Once we reached the wedding venue, I was reminded of Goffman’s discussion of how the world’s a stage and the concepts of front stage and back stage haunted me for quite some time. The dressing room where I joined my sister who looked stunning in her bridal attire was a sort of back stage where we cousins cracked jokes in order to de-stress my nervous sister. On the other hand, the banquet hall where the other guests of the family gathered was the front stage where family and friends mustered to bless the newly-wed couple. I must also (somewhat embarrassingly) admit that Weber’s notion of verstehen too became a part of this night, for my cousins were teasing me that once I am done with my post-grad, I too will have to get hitched. Albeit I dismissed this joke by trying to convince my cousins that my marriage is not going to happen anytime soon, I could imagine (for a few fleeting seconds), while escorting my sister to the wedding hall (with the song ‘Veda sajaya’ in the backdrop), how nervous I would feel when I actually get married. The goose bumps in my arm could vouch for it! Another thing that captured my attention (on my way back home) was a huge billboard of a well-known coaching centre that guaranteed its candidates success in competitive exams. This reminded me about the whole Parsonian debate about achievement v/s ascription. The last instance that captured my imagination was a message that I heard on corruption delivered in public interest by Arvind Kejriwal on the radio. It took me back to his election campaign. This triggered some interesting thoughts in my mind. I wondered whether the establishment of the Aam Admi Party in New Delhi (by overthrowing the 15 year long Sheila Dixit government) could be compared to a kind of proletarian revolution envisaged by Marx in which the have-nots (represented in this case by the AAP) would replace the haves (represented in this case by bid political parties like Congress and BJP).

I found the panel discussion to be very enlightening. It made me conscious of the importance of understanding sociology in a not-so-traditional way. It, in fact, even encouraged me to go one step further by applying sociology to my own context. Clearly, this panel discussion has taught me some valuable lessons to be a good sociologist.

Nikhaar Gogna

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