IN the fourth decade of the last century, Alexis Carrel, a French Surgeon, Nobel laureate and Sociologist bemoaned the lack of integrated and comprehensive “science of man”. Carrel went on to write an entire treatise “Man The Unknown” to circumscribe the lacunae, flaws and misgivings arising out of the unprecedented progress in Positive (Material) sciences and the lag experienced by Normative (Social) sciences. Carrel had truly predicted that galloping progress in science and technology, with little or no attention to social sciences, endangered the entire society and posed challenges like social chaos, hyper-consumerism, unchecked capitalism, large scale poverty, crimes and social and international paranoia. The predictions have turned true and an asynchronous relationship between material and social sciences has thwarted our society and world against the issues and conundrums of all breeds. Our society, based on and driven by the principles of Capitalist economy as it is, has asymmetrically favoured sciences that result in increase of capital and material productivity and ignoring social sciences to the point of neglect.
What picture emerges in our minds as we try to think of social sciences? It is usually an image dominated by the graphics of armchair scholars, skimming through abstract ideas and given to theories least pertinent to human lives. These images of a sociologist, which remove him farther away from the orbits real social business and project him into some abstract space are both inadequate and incorrect. If atoms are the constituents of matter, individuals are the constituents of society and call for Sociological investigation and understanding as much as atoms call for scientific understanding. Society is neither the domain of biology nor physics, but rests on principles that are called Sociological principles and by their nature call for Sociological understanding. It is society and men living therein which form the raison de etre of sciences, of all technological adventures and all other activities implied by the term “Positive Sciences”. In any case of Social disequilibrium, any episode of social disaster or any accident of social import, the material progress loses its worth and meaning. This makes the question and importance of social sciences an inevitable phenomenon and any lag or lapse on this front entails the coup of civilization. In this context, where social sciences rise to the occasion of embracing the entire civilization in its lap, what are the contours and responsibilities that Social Sciences and Humanities are supposed to assume?
Social Scientists are auditors of society, which evaluate, not only the micro issues in their quantitative aspect, but also examine and scrutinise the qualitative stability of social superstructure on the whole. Social Sciences and Humanities are indispensable in determining our relation to our own self, to society and the physical world at large. Any policy making which doesn’t incorporate insights and understandings from social science is bound to commit excess and errors. It is by virtue of social sciences that a whole-scale understanding of society is brought in and policies, remedial measures, initiatives are adopted accordingly. In absence of proper Sociological understanding, the remedial measures adopted and the policies followed, not only end in fiasco but sometimes backfire in a bad way.
The aforesaid assistance in policy making is by no means the only or the primary role assigned to Social Sciences. Their role in resolving social tensions, in retaining values in the face of denuding modernity and their importance in stabilising institutions is well understood and acknowledged. In a world where the issues of identity, individuality, lack of meaning and such are conspicuous, the role and responsibility of Social Sciences is augmented multi-fold. Having said that, the importance of Social Sciences is so obvious that our policy makers, administrators, educationists and governments should have been proactive about the same. But the dismal state of social sciences is a cause of concern not only from an academic point of view but from a social point of view too. As we entrust our material well being to scientists and technocrats, so is it obligatory to make Sociologists and Social scientists the trustees of our social health, lest we discover our society in the throes of anarchy and disorder.
There has been another factor compounding the decline of social sciences which has to do with the general academic orientations in our society. There has been an ascendancy in the number of students opting for sciences for the past few decades and this suit has been followed under the influence of two presumptions – one is that parents envisage their child’s education as some sort of investment and desire of high returns. They see science and associated academic fields as the fertile ground from an investment point of view and therefore direct their wards towards science. This alerts us to the deeper social malice which sees education not as means of enlightenment but a subtle form of gamble where investments are made in education with the prospect of higher returns. There’s another misconception – and indeed a graver one surrounding social sciences. Social sciences have come to be seen as something which are intellectually less vigorous and which do not require academic excellence. Those opting for social sciences are being covertly seen as lacking intellectual stamina and academic merit in comparison to their scientific peers and this has catastrophically influenced the choices of students, who are forced to opt for Sciences to meet their familial and group pressure. Both these tendencies are regressive which distort the reality to the effect of causing loss of brilliant manpower invested in social sciences. There is no relation of the order of inequality between Positive and Normative sciences, but they complement and supplement each other in pursuance of the larger whole.
Another tragedy has hit the evolution of social sciences and that comes from the fact that students under peer pressure, pressure from family and other circles are discouraged to opt for social sciences as these are mistakenly seen as academic disciplines of lesser order. The fever of engineering and medical studies, accompanied by few other professional courses has grabbed the academic horizon and a scant number of students are seen opting social sciences, while as the majority of students, most of them being sharp and bright are lured towards professional courses. The ill-founded and irrational stereotype surrounding social sciences needs to be shed off at the earliest and it needs to be borne in mind that at the apex of social hierarchy are social scientists, whose visions and insights shape and influence the entire society.
The responsibility of tilting the academic bob towards social sciences is something incumbent upon all the stakeholders – public as well as governments. In a society like ours, festering as it is with social diseases of all sorts, the urgency to take social sciences seriously gathers more importance and indispensability. Having witnessed widespread wars and violence, systemic exclusion of people, humanitarian issues of humongous order, the task can’t be delayed.
- Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer
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