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On-line version ISSN 2309-8392
Print version ISSN 0018-229X

Historia vol.54 n.1 Durban  2009




The universal in the particular: Universalising Social Science - Comparative possibilities


Die universele in die besondere: Die Universalisering van Sosiale Wetenskappe



Partha Nath Mukherji

Partha Nath Mukherji is Ford Professor holding the S K Dey Chair at the Institute of Social Sciences and former Director (Vice-Chancellor) of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai Currently working on democratic decentralisation in India Forthcoming publication in Asian Ethnicity: "Civic and Ethnic Nationalisms as Bases of the Nation State: Multiculturalism at the Crossroads?"




Two epistemological questions relating to the universalisation of the social sciences have been raised in this article. First, the social sciences that originated in the West are indigenous to the West, but are they necessarily universal for the rest? Second, can the universal always explain the particular, unless the universals in the particulars contribute to the construction of the universal? An argument is made for the indigenisation - as opposed to parochialisation - of the social sciences in the non-Western world in reaching out to the goal of universalising the social sciences. The way to go about it is to design researches that are able to generalise beyond the context. Indigenously designed research has to emancipate itself from the "captive mind" syndrome and follow the "logic of inquiry" driven by theoretical-methodological rigour. The argument is illustrated by critiquing the relevance of the concepts and theories of Western "modernity" and "multiculturalism" in the Indian, South Asian context.

Keywords: Assimilation; captive mind; common good; community development; Eurocentrism; generalisability; globalisation; indigeneity; integration; multiculturalism; nation state; panchayati raj; paradigms; parochialisation; pluralism; subsidiarity; tradition; universalisation; utopistic; Western modernity


Twee epistemologiese vrae met betrekking tot die universalisering van die sosiale wetenskappe word in hierdie artikel gevra. In die eerste plek kan aanvaar word dat die sosiale wetenskappe wat in die Weste ontstaan het, inheems aan die Weste is, maar is hulle noodwendig van universele waarde vir die res? In die tweede plek, kan die universele altyd die besondere verduidelik, tensy die universele in die besondere bydra tot die konstruksie van die universele? 'n Argument is te make vir die inheemsing - teenoor die parogialisasie - van die sosiale wetenskappe in die nie-Westerse wêreld vir die bereiking van die doelwit van die universalisering van die sosiale wetenskappe. Die wyse waarop dit bereik kan word, is om navorsing te ontwerp wat buite die konteks daarvan kan veralgemeen. Inheems-ontwerpte navorsing moet homself bevry van die "gevange gees" sindroom en die "logika van die ondersoek" volg, aangedryf deur teoreties-metodologiese nougesetheid. Hierdie argument word geïllustreer aan die hand van 'n kritiese ontleding van die betekenis van die konsepte en teorieë van Westerse "moderniteit" en "multikulturalisme" in die Indiese, Suid-Asiese konteks.

Sleutelwoorde: Assimilasie; Eurosentrisme; gemeenskaplike welsyn; gemeenskapsontwikkeling; gevange gees; globalisasie; hulpmiddels; inheemsheid; integrasie; multikulturalisme; nasiestaat; panchayati raj; paradigmas; parogialisme; pluralisme; tradisie; universalisme; utopisties; veralgemening; Westerse moderniteit



Full text available only in PDF format.



* I wish to sincerely thank my two anonymous reviewers for their perceptive and encouraging comments
1 A Giddens, Social Theory and Modern Sociology (Polity Press, Cambridge, 1987), p 25
2 "Introduction: Sociology in Europe", in B Nedelman and P Sztompka (eds), Sociology in Europe: in Search of Identity (Walter de Gruyter, Berlin, 1993), pp 1-23         [ Links ]
3 I Wallerstein, "Letter from the President", International Sociological Association, April 1997         [ Links ]
4 I Wallerstein, "Eurocentrism and its Avatars", Sociological Bulletin, 46, 1, 1997, p 22         [ Links ]
5 Wallerstein, "Eurocentrism and its Avatars", p 24
6 PN Mukherji, "Introduction: Indigeneity and Universality in Social Science", in PN Mukherji and C Sengupta (eds), Indigeneity and Universality in Social Science: a South Asian Response (Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2004), pp 15-65         [ Links ]
7 This is in response to the position taken by one my reviewers, from whose comments I have benefitted greatly He argues: "And I doubt that 'universality' - a fairly totalising idea - is a valid aspiration even in the physical sciences Let me illustrate It is generally believed that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius (actually 99 61°C, but who is measuring?) However, this is not universally valid as water will boil at this temperature only under standard pressure of 1 bar Change the environmental pressure and the boiling point of water changes The same 'kettle' of water at the top of Mount Everest will boil at 65°C The point here is that while the argument of the boiling point of water being 100°C may be valid, it is only so under conditions of atmospheric pressure; it is not valid in a universal sense This point of disengaging 'generalisation' from 'universality' is even more important in the context of sociality " My counter argument is: If the relationship between boiling point and atmospheric pressure is found to be invariant, it is universally generalisable; it matters little in what kettle the water is boiled
8 For example, the monocultural Western concept of the nation state does not apply to the plural non-Western world By definition, the multi-ethnic countries disqualify Currently, by the same yardstick Western European nation states are facing the challenges from "multiculturalism" It is possible to conceptualise the nation state with experiences from culturally plural, post-colonial countries such that it better embraces realities of both: the Western and non-Western worlds in an era of rapid globalisation of the labour market and immigration
9 DP Mukerji, "Indian Tradition and Social Change", in T K Oommen and P N Mukherji (eds), Indian Sociology: Reflections and Introspections (Popular Prakashan, Bombay, 1986), pp 1-15         [ Links ]
10 PN Mukherji, "Sociology for What? Rethinking Sociology in an Era of Transformatory Changes", Sociological Bulletin, 55, 2, May-August 2006, pp 172-200         [ Links ]
11 Panchayat is the native expression for the traditional decision-making council of village elders that used to operate in the villages of India through the millennia Mahatma Gandhi sought to model an entire secular-legal polity, the panchayati raj (literally the rule of the panchayats), after the traditional panchayat system, giving the village panchayats the status of local self-governing units of power
12 Immanuel Wallerstein distinguishes utopia from utopistics He defines utopistics as "the analysis of possible utopias, their limitations, and the constraints on achieving them It is the analytic study of real historical alternatives in the present It is the reconciliation of the search for truth and the search for goodness Utopistics represents a continuing responsibility of social scientists But it represents a particularly urgent task when the range of choice is greatest" I Wallerstein, "Social Science and the Quest for a Just Society", in P N Mukherji and C Sengupta (eds), Indigeneity and Universality in Social Science: a South Asian Response (Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2004), p 80         [ Links ]
13 C C Taylor, A Critical Assessment of India's Community Development Programme (The Community Projects Administration, Government of India, New Delhi, 1965), p 4         [ Links ]
14 PN Mukherji, "Participatory Democratisation: Panchayati Raj and the Deepening of Indian Democracy", ISS Occasional Series 34 (Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi, 2007), pp 1-35         [ Links ]
15 Mukherji, "Participatory Democratisation", p 18
16 The principle of subsidiarity holds that the central authority in any society/state should not exercise such functions as can be carried out competently by lower sub-State levels of authority, but rather the former should support the latter and help to coordinate their activities for the benefit of the society/state See J Manor, The Political Economy of Democratic Decentralisation (International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, Washington DC, 1999), pp 4-6         [ Links ]
17 G Mathew and A Mathew, "India: Decentralization and Local Governance - How Clientelism and Accountability Work", in A Hardenius (ed), Decentralization and Democratic Governance: Experiences from India, Bolivia, and South Africa (Almquist and Wiksell International, Stockholm, 2003), pp 13-61         [ Links ]
18 The Canadian House of Commons under the leadership of Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau of the Liberal Party adopted the Announcement of Implementation of Policy of Multiculturalism within Bilingual Framework The Canadian Multicultural Act received royal assent on 21 July 1988
19 P Kelly, Multiculturalism Reconsidered (Polity Press, Cambridge, 2002), p 2         [ Links ]
20 T Phillips, "Deal with Difference through Integration", International Conference on Multiculturalism, Italy, 24 September 2004 www cre gov uk/Default aspx LocID-0hgnew00s RefLocID-0hg00900c001002 Lang-EN htm Emphasis added         [ Links ]
21 T Phillips, "After 7/7: Sleepwalking to Segregation", speech delivered at the Manchester Council for Community Relations, 22 September 2005 www cre gov uk/Default aspx LocID-0hgnew07s RefLocID-0hg00900c002 Lang-EN htm         [ Links ]
22 Trevor Phillips is the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality in the UK
23 A Giddens, "Misunderstanding Multiculturalism" (1987), p 25 Accessed in 2006 at html
24 T Modood, "Rethinking Multiculturalism after 7/7", 2005 http://www opendemocracy net/conflict-terrorism/multiculturalism 2879 jsp Emphasis added
25 B Parekh, "What is Multiculturalism", Seminar No 484, 1999 Emphasis added
26 For a more detailed discussion on this theme see P N Mukherji, "Western Construction of Multiculturalism and Challenges to Nation-State Building in Nepal and India", in K N Pyakyuryal, B K Acharya, B Timseena, G Chetri and M D Upreti (eds), Social Sciences in a Multicultural World: Proceedings of the International Conference held on 11-13 December 2006 (Sociological/Anthropological Society of Nepal (SASON), Kathmandu, 2008), pp 20-36
27 Mukherji, "Western Construction of Multiculturalism, p 27
28 This is not consistent with the nation-state of the classical conceptualisation
29 Paul Kelly describes the "circumstances of multiculturalism" as referring to the existence of "more than one culture in the public realm", even if "one may find themselves subordinated to another culture" This is incontrovertible The problematic is how to go about this fact of "circumstance of multiculturalism" The ideological positions range from: (a) the enforcement of "coerced uniformity" of the monocultural nation state; to (b) "a robust application of egalitarian or libertarian principles of justice and rights such that the consequences of group differences and conflict ... can be dealt with"; to (c) "rethink our categories and values and offer a new form of theoretical language or ideology" Kelly, Multiculturalism Reconsidered, p 4
30 Pluralism (Political Philosophy), Wikipedia Accessed 28 January 2009 at http://en wikipedia org/wiki/Pluralism (political philosophy)
31 Pluralism (Political Philosophy), Wikipedia
32 Mukherji, "Introduction: Indigeneity and Universality in Social Science", p 32 Emphasis added
33 I Wallerstein, Open the Social Sciences (Vistaar Publications, New Delhi, 1996), pp 49-50         [ Links ]
34 Wallerstein, Open the Social Sciences, p 58
35 Wallerstein, Open the Social Sciences, pp 59-60
36 S H Alatas, "The Captive Mind and Creative Development", in P N Mukherji and C Sengupta (eds), Indigeneity and Universality in Social Science: a South Asian Response (Sage Publications, New Delhi, 2004), pp 83-95 Reproduced from International Social Science Journal,         [ Links ] 26, 4, 1974
37 Y Atal (ed), Social Sciences in Asia (Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1974), pp 20-22
38 Cited in Y Atal, "The Call for Indigenization", International Social Science Journal, 33, 1, 1981, p 11         [ Links ]
39 D R Rajalingam, "Sri Lanka", in Y Atal (ed), Social Sciences in Asia (Abhinav Publications, New Delhi, 1974), p 239         [ Links ]
40 Cited in Atal, Social Sciences in Asia, p 21
41 See Mukherji, "Indigeneity and Universality in Social Science", pp 19-20
42 SC Dube, "Social Sciences for the 1980s: from Rhetoric to Reality", International Social Science Journal, 34, 3, 1982, pp 497-500         [ Links ]
43 This section draws substantially from Mukherji, "Introduction: Indigeneity and Universality in Social Science", pp 33-35
44 C Tilly, Regimes and Repertoires (University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 2006), pp 182-183         [ Links ]
45 I Wallerstein, "New Revolts against the System", New Left Review, 2002, p 29 Accessed on 29 April 2008 at http//www newleftreview org/A2420
46 M Edelman, "Social Movements: Changing Paradigms and Forms of Politics", Annual Review of Anthropology, 30, 2001, pp 285-317         [ Links ]
47 Wallerstein, Open the Social Sciences, pp 59-60 Emphasis added
48 With the market meltdown this has become true even of the developed world

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