Social Change and Social Structure
The Social Change and Social Structure (or the Sociology) Unit has evolved out of the UNESCO’s Asian Region Centre, which was merged with the IEG to form an Asian Research Centre in 1967. With the phasing out of UNESCO support, this Centre was converted into the ‘Social Change and Social Structure’ Unit of the IEG in 1974, and has since been funded by the ICSSR’s Maintenance and Development Grant to the Institute. The Unit presently has three full-time members, each with diverse research interests information on which can be found on their respective web pages.
Over the last three decades, the Unit has conducted research on a wide range of topics including:
- The comparative study of development, especially its cultural and political aspects
- Communalism and ethnic conflict; processes of rural transformation
- The emergence of professionals and other middle class elites
- The dynamics of religion, secularism and modernisation
- Social policy in respect to education
- Urbanisation and health
- The changing role of social institutions such as the family
- Contemporary media networks
- Gender relations
- Urban studies
- Social ecology and environment
While work on other Asian societies was prominent at the time when the Asian Research Centre was active, the current research activities are primarily focused on India. The faculty has co-supervised more than a dozen Ph.D. dissertations in Sociology, both from Indian and foreign universities. The Unit also has the editorial responsibility for the journal, Contributions to Indian Sociology. Recent collective efforts by Unit faculty have included PhD dissertation research workshops, capacity building workshops and academic conferences on a variety of topics.
II. Agenda for 2015-2020
While continuing to work on these and related themes, the specific areas of research planned for the next five years include the following:
1. Urban studies: The focus will be on ‘new urbanism’, or the emergence of new social and spatial forms in the ‘world-class’ city. It will examine collective action such as middle-class activism and participatory governance, relating these political forms to the spatial reconfiguration of the city through the construction of elite places of residence, work and consumption, and the demolition of working-class settlements and informal work. This work explores how new urbanism affects social inclusion and exclusion; transforms cultural identities, aspirations and practices among different social groups, and the institutional structures that collaborate to create its legitimacy in the public sphere.
2. Social ecology: The focus will be on the cultural politics of nature, examining discursive and material practices around the control and use of natural resources. It will study changing forms of rural and urban environmental campaigns, alliances and strategies in the context of economic liberalization. This research will continue to explore elite appropriations of nature as exemplified by ideologies such as ‘bourgeois environmentalism’ and concepts such as ‘the Anthropocene’, tracing their effects on landscapes, livelihoods and cultural identities, especially subaltern ones. A subsidiary line of enquiry will examine the social production of nature in contemporary horticultural practices, especially urban gardens.
3. Labour and migration: Research on ‘new labour’ will focus upon rural and small-town youth, exploring the relationship between educational and economic disadvantage and the demands for technical and ‘soft skills’ in a globalised and rapidly transforming job market. The project involves studying collaborations between private and government bodies involved in skills training. It will explore the social and cultural dimensions of social exclusion in a time of both rapid change as well as rural-urban mobility.
4. Food studies: This research focuses on the impact of ‘industrial foods’ such as soya, palm oil and poultry on (i) consumption practices across social strata in rural and urban areas; (ii) the organization of the food chain in terms of processing and trade; and (iii) the political ecology of agriculture. Over the next five-year period, this research explores the social, economic and ecological aspects of food and agriculture as traced by the careers of industrial food commodities by focusing on the themes of diets, commodity networks, and agrarian ecology, with a regional focus on western and central India.
5. Histories of knowledge production: Ongoing work in the sociology unit also seeks to develop projects in the areas of historicising social science and policy frameworks, interrogating key developmentalist assumptions of the ‘social’. Another important area of work will focus on the shifting relation between the realms of the ‘vernacular’ and the Indian social sciences since the late 19th century. This new work around ‘Language Archives and Democratizing the Indian Social Sciences’ argues for the need to critically map the complex history of managing the academic–vernacular relationship in India.