Plenary sessions

“Methods and Methodology: Urgent Research on Social Mobility”

By Partha Nath Mukherji, Professor Emeritus, Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi

Research on social mobility is one of the most urgent and important areas of work. In a society marked by inequities of caste, class, community and gender, it is very important to know how the forces of rapid technological and economic changes are impacting economically exploited and socially discriminated people.

Research is ubiquitous. Not all researches, however, are necessarily scientific-academic. The application of methods derived and legitimated by scientific research, ipso facto, does not make a research scientific. To be scientific, research has to relate with the theoretical-conceptual field of abstractions. This requires the application of methodology. Conflating methods with methodology is a common fallacy. Methodology is the application of research method/s consistent with the logic of inquiry by which scientific research has to be carried out to make valid propositions about reality. This distinguishes instrumental/applied research from basic, foundational, fundamental research. Although the two types of researches are analytically separate, they also inter-stimulate each other. Whatever the type of research, they should combine rigour and relevance. Research carried with great rigour may get bogged down with unveiling the obvious; whereas research on very relevant theme or problematic, if done shabbily, will hardly carry weight.

Social sciences having originated in the west tend to view the rest of the world through the lens of paradigms that are indigenous to the west. It is necessary to critically assess the problems of parochialism, indigeneity and universality in the social sciences.

The problem of objectivity in the social sciences have been voiced. How do we go about it? Does objectivity mean value-neutrality? Is there a ‘captive mind’ syndrome that needs to be addressed? Such questions extend to fieldwork practices. If fieldwork is flawed, research loses on its truth value.

Selected references

Mukherji, P.N. (ed.) (2000), Methodology in social research: Dilemmas and perspectives (Essays in honour of Ramkrishna Mukherjee). New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Mukherji, P.N. and C. Sengupta (eds.) (2004), Indigeneity and Universality in Social Science: A South Asian Response. New Delhi: Sage Publications.

Mukherji, P.N. (2012), “Social Mobility and Social Structure: Towards a Conceptual-methodological Re-orientation”. Sociological Bulletin, 61(1), pp. 26-52.

“Circumstances, Effort or Good Luck: What Determines Social Mobility in India?”

By Ashwini Deshpande, Professor, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi

This talk will review the literature on inequality of opportunity and social mobility, starting with a brief reference to the international literature, which would provide the context for the evidence for India.  The talk will present the macro evidence on intergenerational mobility in education and occupation, along with references to case studies based on selected cities and/or on specific occupations. The talk will also present evidence on the differential patterns of mobility for different social groups. It will end with a discussion of a primary survey conducted by Prof. Ashwini Deshpande in Delhi which gauges interpersonal social mobility, in addition to intergenerational social mobility.

Selected references

Azam, M., Bhatt, V. (2015), “Like Father, Like Son? Intergenerational Educational Mobility in India”. Demography, 52(6), pp. 1929-1959.

Krishna, A. 2013. “Making it in India: Examining Social Mobility in Three Walks of Life”. Economic and Political Weekly, XLVIIII, pp. 38-49.

Motiram, S., Singh, A. (2012), “How Close Does the Apple Fall to the Tree? Some Evidence on Intergenerational Occupational Mobility in India”. Economic and Political Weekly, 47(40), 56-65.

Corak, M. (2013), “Income Inequality, Equality of Opportunity, and Intergenerational Mobility”. The Journal of Economic Perspectives, 27(3), pp. 79-102.

“Spatial Mobility and Networking: Internal and International Migration Contexts”

By Mohammed Abdul Kalam, Professor of Eminence, Department of Sociology, Tezpur University, Tezpur

Being footloose and wandering alone is not a human trait; not in the long term for sure. Individuals do roam about due to wanderlust but the desire to return to their roots is inherent in them. This desire to return to the group is overwhelming irrespective of the level of socio-economic integration. Also, most economic pursuits among early humans were group tasks among both men and women. Being together was a necessity not just for physical reasons of undertaking tasks and for security, but also for social and psychological reasons. Whether we deal with a society at the band level or with any of the highly industrialised ones, the urge to be with the group has never waned during human history and is not likely to, however individualistic a person may turn out to be. In the extreme situation of alienating oneself from a group, such behaviour will be branded as deviance from the norms of a society.

The craving to be with one’s own group has in a big way played a role in the construction of the other. The level of discomfort in social contexts is high in situations in which an individual has to exist in the midst of the other. Those who move from their own moorings into the realm of another society experience a degree of alienation and in order to overcome this they look for the familiar so as to bond. Of course there are pioneers in all societies who take the risk of being the first to migrate to a different locale but subsequent to such pioneering efforts, those who follow suit always look for the known and the familiar in alien situations. That is how networking comes about in spatial mobility irrespective of where such mobility and under what circumstances and in what contexts it occurs.

From the Indian (or subcontinental) perspective, factors of village ties, caste and kinship are predominant in the spatial mobility realm. What I have talked about elsewhere as the jump factor operates predominantly in spatial mobility. People skip, that is jump, nearby towns and cities and move to far off places as earlier acquaintance exists in the distant locales. This happens not just in internal migrations but also in international ones in spite of the fact that different sorts of settlement patterns are come across in different town, city and country contexts.

Selected references

Harvey, D. (2000), Spaces of Hope. Berkeley, University of California Press.

Kalam, M.A. (2005), “Identity, Space and Territory in India: An Anthropological Perspective”. In P. Gervais-Lambony, F. Landy, S. Oldfield (ed), Reconfiguring Identities and Building Territories in India and South Africa, New Delhi, Manohar.

Racine, J.-L. (ed.) (1997), Peasant Moorings: Village ties and Mobility Rationales in South India. New Delhi: Sage Publications. 

“Assessing Social and Spatial Mobility of Farmers in South India (1980s-2010s)”

By Frédéric Landy, Professor, Director of French Institute of Pondicherry

Social and economic change in village farms in South India has been dramatic during the last 30 years. Reduced farm size, « upward » and « downward » economic diversification of households, increased spatial mobility correspond to socio-political changes such as new class and caste hierarchies. A review of the literature on longitudinal research (villages revisited after several decades) brings a detailed analysis of these trends. More specifically, social scientists can wonder whether choosing the village as the ideal research level is still relevant given that mobility and migration concern places that may be far from the villagers’ roots. Have notions such as « caste », « village », even « agriculture » the same meaning as 30 years ago? My geographer’s view is that yet we should stick to village studies, even though it is necessary to integrate them into research at larger scales.

Selected references

Harriss, J., Jeyaranjan, J., Nagaraj, K. (2012), “Rural Urbanism in Tamil Nadu. Notes on a ‘Slater Village’: Gangaikondan, 1916–2012”. Review of Agrarian Studies, 2, 2, online.

Himanshu, Jha, P., Rodgers, G. (éd.) (2016), Longitudinal Research in Village India. Methods and Findings. Oxford University Press.

Landy, F. (2015), “Emiettement des exploitations familiales irriguées du sud de l’Inde”. In P.M. Bosc et al. (éd.), Diversité des agricultures familiales, Quae, pp. 285-300.

Methodological approaches in social sciences