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Social Science and Democracy: An Elective Affinity

July 04, 2015

Ever wonder why social sciences, including philosophy, flourish today only in democratic societies? There are many rich countries in the world; Saudi Arabia, China, and Russia, for example, but their social sciences are in a miserable condition. Interestingly, there has been a resurgence of social sciences with the return of democracy in many Latin American nations, such as Mexico, Chile, and even Colombia. Now that Cuba is opening up somewhat, let us see, if in the years to come, it becomes a significant contributor to this sphere of knowledge.

What makes this issue even more interesting is that many of these rich and powerful, but non-democratic states, have indeed made great strides in the exact sciences. China and Russia can match the advances in electronics, physics, medicine, transportation, and in a whole lot of other associated areas, with the best worldwide. Bring in sociology, political science, economics, even history, and these countries falter and fail to make the grade. This is not an overt defense of these disciplines; maybe some societies are happier without them and do not even notice their absence. Nevertheless, it is hard to evade the conclusion that it is only in democracies that social sciences are pursued actively. The question then is: Why is there such an “elective affinity” between the two?

Neither Western nor Eurocentric

Alongside, we must also consider the charge that social sciences are western oriented and, therefore, their categories make little sense in Asian and African societies. The concepts they employ, the questions they raise, are of little meaning to places like India, for instance. If this were true, then to argue, as we just did, that democracies alone have developed social sciences could be masking a more superficial prejudice. Democracy now becomes just a cover for modern social sciences to appear culture-neutral. In actual fact, however, they are only addressing purely European or American cultural and historical concerns. It is this line of thinking that has prompted many non-western critics of social sciences to delve into, and promote instead, indigenous categories. In their view, a corrective of this sort would not only be more authentic but would also expose the universalistic pretensions of the social sciences.

Before we give in to this conclusion, we must remember that the social sciences are a recent development even in Europe and America. The themes, theories and terminologies they work with are very removed from their earlier indigenous, or traditional, forms of thought. When these knowledge systems first came about, they were novel in those parts of the world as well. They drew none of their analytical powers from the intellectual conditions of medieval, or even, late medieval, Europe.

Take, for example, the concept of secularism. Secularism is not a term that can be found, in its current form, in traditional Europe. The secularism of today came to life well after absolutism was dead and buried in that continent. This term does not simply mean the separation of church from state, as is popularly understood, but actually stands for a system where an individual is free to decide what is true. Even after the church was spectacularly undermined by King Henry VIII, secularism did not come to Britain. The Pope had been humiliated by the state, surely that should have been the beginning of secularism?

But, no!

Secularism had to wait for a few more centuries before it could really make its entry on the world stage. If at one time, knowledge came from the church and nobody dared challenge that source, now it was the state that took over and did just about the same. Those who asked questions, just questions, nowhere near offering alternative points of view, were severely persecuted and prosecuted by absolutist rulers. The famous astronomer, Tycho Brahe, advised fellow scientists to keep their instruments light as they may have to flee at a moment’s notice (see Koestler 1990: 290-7). There was no telling when their patron, the monarch, would be upset by them. Interestingly, some of the medieval astronomers actually masqueraded as astrologers to win the favours of the rulers under whom they served.

Therefore, when some Indian scholars argue that secularism is a western term what they forget is that it appeared very late even in Europe. It truly came into its own when beliefs, knowledge, information and viewpoints were freed from a superior agency’s reach and did not need its sanction. It was not enough for truth to shift headquarters from the priest’s pulpit to the prince’s chamber. The transition from: “this is true because the church or the king says so” to “this is true for me because I believe it to be true” took a long time to surface. It is only after this became, more or less, standard practice, that we might begin to accept the arrival of secularism and, with that, of modernity too.

As long as knowledge was a lump of beliefs that was handed down from above, whether church or state, secularism was out of the question. It had to wait in the wings till the conditions were right for the individual to ask the all important question: “Before I believe what you say, prove it to me” (Mannheim 1936: 31). While all sciences need secularism to thrive, the need is the greatest in the social sciences because here we are studying people in action. Their lives do not remain static primarily because the contexts they live in differ vastly across the globe and in history. Regardless of time and place, water always quenches thirst, rainbow always arcs the sky and burning fire always brings both smoke and light. None of these require democracy to appear, nor have they changed in any way after its arrival.

Democracy as “Other” Seeking and “Error” Seeking

In the social sciences the situation is vastly different. Before democracy, the context for the pursuit of social sciences just did not exist. Nor were certain kinds of data, that are the staple items in modern sociology, political science, economics, and so on, even available, or considered to be valid. Social sciences were born when a new context came to the surface and when a new set of facts became relevant for the first time. It is this twin thrust that together propelled the growth and advance of the social sciences.

In terms of context, it is now relevant, no, essential, to frame observations with the understanding that what others do impacts on the self, even defines it. This aspect, which is so central today, did not actually exist with the same kind of valency and weight in the past. In earlier times you had communities, groups, solidarities, tribes, castes, affines and blood relatives, living, for the most part, within their confines, but we had no society. For that to emerge, it was necessary that wide ranging interactions happen across these primordial frontiers, on a regular and institutionalized basis. As this took a long time coming, it stands to reason that social sciences, that expressly studies such societies, too arrived only recently in human history.

When there is society people need to connect outside their immediate sphere of influence where familiarity reigns on the basis of rules that are inward looking. As Burckhardt, the 19th century Swiss scholar of the renaissance noted, the adage: “Parma rejoices because Cassius sleeps within its walls” (Burckhardt 1990: 107) rang true in medieval Europe as well. With the coming of society, it is no longer possible to remain tightly bound within pre-existing groups and categories. From now on, the awareness of the “other” becomes pivotal to the constitution of even one’s self.

In a democracy, the salience of this context becomes all the more significant in everyday, routine behaviour. No policy or economic initiative can now take place without considering a multiplicity of interests, even those originating from less privileged quarters. This is why it makes eminent sense to characterize Britain’s 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act as a major step in the establishment of democracy. From now on labour was no longer confined to parish run poor houses, but could move freely in search of jobs.

In days, when there was no “society”, the past and the present mingled unproblematically, only to be disturbed in times of war. This explains why historians often argue that though India saw many invasions, the basic structure of society remained the same. Let us not forget, not just wars, there were revolts too; but even these revolts did not make a substantial difference to routine lives, and the past soon re-established itself. If there was any awareness of the “other” it was one of hostility and distance- not one where it was necessary to make common ground and realize freshly negotiated relations. If truth be told, this practice does not come easy and must be ingrained by a democracy that is ever vigilant and constantly on guard, lest we fail.

So much for context, let us now turn to how democracy brought to surface a new, grand fact. From now on we must we must accept human beings as rational goal seeking actors, who are liable to make “errors” (Parsons 1959: 46). This became possible only when democracy set in place universal laws which compelled everybody to accept the general rules of interaction, leaving actual choices open. Therefore, an error which does not violate the universal law, is acceptable, even encouraged, for that is what allows for innovation and enterprise in all fields.

Innovations outside the context of universal rules are more like adventurism and cannot be properly integrated within modern societies. Those who are intrepid enough to break the norms and bonds that conventions impose are the only people capable of such daring performances. It is only when adventurism is normalized does innovation come into being and for this to happen it is essential to have universal rules in place. It is only after this universality sets the outer limits of what cannot be done that a new world opens up. Now we are faced with a number of choices but we are also liable to making a number of errors too. This is a welcome price to pay; it is only when one is unafraid of making errors, do innovative things happen.

The best example of this is in sport. It is hardly a coincidence that sports came into our world only with democracy. In tradition, people played games, frolicked, had fun, but did not engage in sports. The transition from games to sport came with the establishment of universal rules. These were known to everybody in advance, including the spectators, and applied equally, to all players, regardless of birth and social station. This, in a microcosm, is what democracy does across social fields on a much wider scale. The referee blows the whistle not when a player commits an error and, say, fails to kick the ball into an open net, but when the striker fouls and trips the goal keeper.

What does this imply? The answer is clear but not always appreciated. As individual errors are not penalized as deviant behaviour, there is always scope both for improvement and for innovation. As long as the universal law is not violated, all errors that respect its boundaries are actually welcome. Who knows how many errors Michael Jordan made before he perfected his art of leaping in stages? Or, take Mohammed Ali: his famous “rope-a dope” tactic came out of his admission of the errors he committed against younger and stronger boxers in the past.

It can well be the case, that actors make an error, in their own estimate, in the selection of ends too. It is only when errors find structural acceptance that they can often evolve to bigger things that the world had hitherto no inkling of. This in turn forces us to accept that there are many ways towards attaining certain ends, provided they are allowed for by the universal rules in place. Think of sport again and any confusion on this question should disappear.

With democracy, therefore, it is not as if there is just one ordained way to doing things and that everybody must take just that one route. Obviously, some of the ends and routes chosen to attain them will be in error, and that is the name of the game. Now there are different ways of raising children, leading a married life, choosing jobs and professions, making friends, and the list goes on. In the past, these choices did not exist; in fact, one did not even have friends- only relations. Notice closely the intimate connection between allowing for errors, even error seeking, and the awareness of others as aspects of the self.

Errors do not affect the pure sciences the way they do the social sciences. In a laboratory, an error can be sequestered and even hushed up, but this phenomenon would fall in the realm of the "sociology of science". The facts as seen in a test tube or petri-dish, or particle accelerator, or whatever, are not in error; but an analyst might make mistakes in reading them. In the social sciences, however, errors constitute the empirical material itself, and that makes all the difference. It is, therefore, in this thicket of trial and error that social scientists find their facts. Making a mistake may be unfortunate from a personal point of view, but from a disciplinary perspective of the social sciences they are absolutely fundamental raw material. It is because these “errors”, and their fall outs, happen often enough that social scientists get their both their data base and their concepts.

Democracy then is the necessary condition for the emergence of social sciences, for it is only now that acceptance of errors within universal rules becomes unexceptional. Even when some find it difficult to break with traditional prejudices, they are constrained in public life to keep their primordial instincts on hold. This begins, first and foremost, from the admission that if we can make errors ourselves and choose another route, then such opportunities should be available to others as well. Differences do not just lie with other people; they often lie within us too. This immediately reveals the distance the present has moved from the past; we can now, for the first time, understand the gravitas behind the term “tradition”.


Imagine yourself as an economist in a pre-democratic society. You would hardly know what to study and what concepts to use. For all practical purposes, the market was known and buyers and sellers of commodities and services were pre-fixed and tagged from the start. Medieval “karkhanas” produced for a defined category of buyers and for this skills were certainly needed, but not enterprise.

It is only after we acknowledge that others contribute to the economy that we can even conceive of something like the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In fact, it took a while for this fact to toil its way to prominence. Though it was being talked about from the early decades of the last century, it was only after World War II that economists agreed on how to standardize and measure it. GDP is not out there in the real world, it is an abstract idea whose worth became noticeable only with the awareness of “others” in the economy (see Coyle 2014: 47).

Nor was there really an option earlier to make an “economic” error within the system. It is for this reason the phenomenon of risk taking did not arise either, because buying and selling was either an outcome of custom or of patronage. There was no “hidden hand”, no market disequilibrium, no errors of judgment that led to economic swings and bankruptcy. If people managed to fall on bad times from a position of wealth and privilege there were just about two routes open: finance a losing war or get bested in a game of dice. Conversely, win a war and win a fortune and win yourself a position at the top of the hierarchical pecking order.

As an economist again, where is the room to look at matters like “entrepreneurial skill” for that implies taking calculated risks? In the past, neither was land easily alienable, nor labour free to move around (recall the 1834 Poor Law Amendment Act), and status was defined from the start. If we take them together, it is easy to realize why economics as a scholarly discipline, with its challenges and puzzles, had no place in pre-democratic times.

The term “hidden hand” is now used freely, but Adam Smith employed it only thrice. Though he had coined the term he did not run riot with it for the time was not yet right for its robust application. By the early decades of the 20th century, however, this phrase was hard to miss. It was used all the time because it sat well with an entrenched democracy and, its cognate, a risk taking economy. Not just that; when we think of the “hidden hand” today we find that these words have gained a symbolic aura that spills well outside the disciplinary margins of economics.

As errors take place in a context where multiple interests interact, as they should in any true “society”, a democracy must eventually conduct its economy with this sensitivity. Therefore, while the market tells us how the hidden hand operates, occasionally the exposed hand of the state is necessary to keep social equilibrium in place. If the economy rights itself again, it is simply because the basic principles that govern economic transactions still remain firm. If the government were to break this code and give in to the interests of one class or the other, then it will take that much longer for a hurt economy to heal. In essence, this is also what Goran Therborn argues, but from a Marxist perspective (Therborn 1978: 242-3). This again reveals, in bold, the salience of the two all important features of democracy, viz., awareness of others, the cross cutting of interests, and the admissibility of errors

Even while calculating the marginal utility of any factor of production, there is scope for errors because every constituent of the phenomena in question is not homogenous. Change the composition of the factors and new numbers come up, but who makes that all important decision on the mix of land, labour, capital and enterprise? The error prone business person! That sometimes this individual succeeds, is because the system allows for errors in its governing principle.

Economics, as a discipline, would not have a leg to stand on if it were not for the basic principle that people make mistakes in judging how others will behave. Flip the coin and we can also find several instances when entrepreneurs made the right call and won. Sometimes there will be miscalculations, sometimes, spot-on decisions, but at every turn there is a risk of making an error at the individual level. This feature is present at even the highest echelon of the economic establishment in a democracy. Is this the right time for quantitative easing? Should the exchange rate be pegged at a certain level? Should that be against all major currencies, or just a few? Course corrections occur on all such decisions and sometimes things may go completely wrong.

In a totalitarian economy, unlike a democratic one, the scope for such instances is severely restricted because most things are administered. That being the case, decisions are taken from above and we have a re-play of the dominance of “objective knowledge”. Once again, this leaves the individual with little chance of contemplating an economic option with the assertion: “prove it to me.” When was the last time you have ever heard of a good economist coming out of dictatorial and non-democratic society? There are a few you could name, but all of them tried hard to figure out if there was any scope of reconciling a free market within a totalitarian economy.

Political Science

The situation with political science is all too obvious. Democracy demands that there be universal franchise where everybody votes. That this took some time to evolve does not take away from the fact that authority comes only with popular mandate, freely exercised.

Political Science, as we understand it, would lose its entire raison d’être if the first categorical distinction between power and authority were not to be made. Look closely, for it is here that the overwhelming sense of the “other” manifests itself. Power can be exercised without a true society coming into being; alien rulers and invaders can issue diktats that force people to do their bidding. There have been countless studies to suggest that in medieval and pre-modern times, the source of power was a distant monarch whose rule was exercised by local satraps. For this arrangement to be realized it was not required for rulers to be aware of other people, just keeping track of hostile potentates was enough.

Once we make the transition from studying power, or even influence, to examining the roots of authority, we are face to face with society where other people count (see Weber 1946). For power to become authority, it is necessary that it be acknowledged as legitimate even by those who may not have voted for the party, or parties, that head the current government. Democracy not only accepts the multiplicity of interests in society, it also considers this fact to constitute its necessary condition. Yet, on all occasions, conflicting views and ends must be expressed within the framework of free and fair elections. This is important, for no matter which party wields authority, it does so, not in the name of God, or King, but People. In order to succeed, any authority seeker must balance the conflicting interests of the agriculturists, industrial labourers, the white collar class, and so on.

The list is actually very long, for almost all of these fractions have sub-fractions, which, in their totality, compel those in politics to pay attention to “others”. Botch that up, make mistakes with these numbers, then you are done for now and can, at best, live to fight another day. This brings us directly to the issue of error admissibility in democracies. This feature is writ large in the very nature of popular elections. Regardless of how charismatic a leader may have appeared in the past rounds at the polls, the future of such people is never certain. In a democracy those in authority can never take their elevation for granted.

As voters can change their minds, and are even encouraged to do so (error correction), you can be on the saddle one day, and unseated the next. Once again, for political science, it is imperative that errors be admissible within the system so that people can make and unmake mistakes, but within a bounded set of rules. Without democracy, no choices, no elections, no recanting and no anti-incumbency factor, either. In fact, if one is not allowed to make mistakes and then correct them subsequently, elections would be a total farce-something of the kind that happens in North Korea, or in monarchies and theocratic societies.

Let us take a further step. Why is it that only in democracies the study of the constitution is so absorbing and that there are so many experts who devote their life’s work to this subject? The answer, very simply, is because these documents are, at the very least, open to amendments. This is a clear admission that even hallowed founding figures can make mistakes, and big ones at that. They too can commit errors, hence the amendments. These changes too are not final and can be subjected to further re-thinking. If the constitution were written in stone, like the tablet of Moses, then there would be only worship and no political science. This is why constitutions make it a point to leave enough room, and procedural directions, for amendments. Obviously, the authors of these texts realize that they too are prone to committing errors, and these might well be spotted by later generations.

While all democratic constitutions allow for amendments, in no case will they tolerate a dilution of their foundational principles. Democracies often present these binding constraints under different rubrics. If in USA they are called “inalienable rights”, in India they are clubbed as “basic structure of the constitution”. But, no matter what the term, it is almost certain that such restrictions will always be there. It is, therefore, within these constraints that amendments are allowed, but in every case, after considerable discussions at a number of levels. As the constitution lays down the basis of universal laws, care must be taken that any amendment to it does not affect the sanctity of its being.


Let us now turn to sociology. This discipline’s primary objective is to refract phenomena through classes, categories, genders, occupational groups, and so on. If we are discussing marriage, then we must look at it in terms of its actual practice by refracting it through categories, such as those mentioned above. Depending upon the theoretical point that is being pursued, different layers will become important: sometimes caste, at other times class, or even religion, occupation, and so on. This demands an awareness of “others” in the first place, or else such an exercise in refraction could never be conducted.

It is on account of refraction, of the kind just mentioned, that sociology is able to resist popular conceptions of reality, more specifically, the aura of essentialism (Berger and Luckmann 1967). If sociology were not to conduct such exercises, fixity in form and presentation would have characterized all social phenomena, rendering them unworkable as scientific variables. Further, essentialisms allow biases of all sorts to thrive unchecked, which is why the first enemy of sociology is everyday, lay theorizing. Consequently, sociology is a science that self consciously digs deep into the comparative method (Beteille 2002: 102). In doing so, it is not just variations in space, but those over time, too, that become relevant for examination. This forces the scholar to be dispassionate and critical, especially towards what is closest to one’s heart.

Take away this method from sociology and we will immediately be grounded by such stark relativism that it would be impossible to converse across contexts. It is through comparative studies we get to the understanding of the general features of a social phenomenon, whether religion, marriage or social preference. Alongside a new standard has also come in place and that is the awareness of how context makes for the difference in the manifestation of social facts.

This is why it is not difficult either to demonstrate sociology’s link with democracy. As can be easily surmised, it is in the awareness of “others”, the context, that this discipline most ostensibly defines itself. In this case, it is not the realm of authority, or wealth creation, that is uppermost, but how people interact within and across cultural borders and economic boundaries. It is this attribute of deliberate refraction that allowed sociology to be a pace setter in a number of areas, most notably, the study of social mobility. Briefly put, sociology is a subject where relations between people matter because the whole is, very explicitly, greater than the sum total of its parts.

However, if we are not living in a democracy, where is the freedom to refract and ask those questions most relevant to the discipline? In a monarchical, dictatorial or theocratic dispensation, those in power would wonder why such an exercise was being carried out in the first place. Without the freedom that democracy allows, any enquiry along these lines runs the risk of being labeled as subversive. A democracy, on the other hand, finds nourishment from such investigations. This is because all aspirants to authority must compete against one another in trying to gauge how best to represent multiple interest groups.

A misreading can happen here. Sociology might create the impression that it is activist in orientation, or that it prompted by policy makers and their immediate interests. Nothing could be more incorrect. At the same time, it is also true that those in democratic political circles can profit from sociology. They can learn about the tensions inherent in a social setting and also apply the results of refraction that sociologists are so adept at performing. If policy makers want a complete picture of the nature of the problem they are dealing with, they can turn to sociology. If, on the other hand, sociologists are tempted to work at the behest of activists, they would taint the refracted data to suit non-academic interests.

Whether or not activists are attracted to sociology, this discipline is best equipped to handle the all important question regarding the direction of change. This issue always succeeds in generating red-hot contestations on all sides and that, more often than not, obscures the view. It is here that sociology can help in plotting out the options available such that we move steadily towards being a more inclusive society. In operational terms, this translates into greater participation, and greater tolerance of differences and errors. At the very heart of sociology, it may be recalled, nests the proposition that people make errors, but also try to correct them, in seeking goals through means not pre-determined.

The point, by now, has been made and there is little advantage in labouring this issue by bringing in history and philosophy. In essence, the same argument holds, with some nuances, of course, that take into account the particularities of these disciplines. History, properly speaking, is an obsession with the present. We do not look at the past for past’s sake, but from the vantage point of our finite lifetimes. In this process we realize that all heroes have feet of clay, and no era, or age, however triumphant, is actually golden. The critical mind inflicts itself on our scrutiny of bygone periods and forces us to bend to the democratic context. It is this that makes it possible for us to accept flaws of the past and how earlier epochs have influenced social relations in the present. Without this, history would be a colourless chronicle, or a colourful hagiography- in both cases academically useless.

Philosophy, likewise, went through a tremendous transition with the coming of democracy. Even till the late nineteenth century, the major problem that concerned thinkers like Immanuel Kant was to figure out what makes the “self” a “self”. How does the self perceive, acquire consciousness, appreciate art, think abstract, think aesthetic, and so on. However, from the time of Hegel there was a spirited emphasis on the relationship between “self” and “other”. As society and democracy began to matter, it fell upon Hegel to first raise the issue of civil society as a complement of ethics (Hegel 1945). By doing this Hegel showed us how ethics was a contemporary phenomenon and vastly different from what we take morality to be.

Ethics is primarily about giving dignity to those we interact with even when we have not been properly introduced. Regardless of a person’s origin or circumstance, the “other” is always an aspect of the self. Nor can a man any longer look at his wife and children as property; he must now consider them as free citizens. After Hegel, the self was no longer alone because the “other” became its constant complement. This then set the framework for debates about what was “correct” practice as far as citizenship was concerned. This concern dominates contemporary philosophy even today. Habermas, for example, believes that the only real context for today’s lifeworld is the public space (Habermas 1987). Or, think of Levinas (Levinas 1998) for whom ethics was always about the “other people”. The “self” which, in isolation, ruled western philosophy from Descartes to Kant, now has had to make room for the “other”. This transformation should not be read as accommodative, but rather as constitutive, because philosophy today clearly admits that there really is no self without the other.

Not Euro-Centric but Citizen-Centric

It is time now to tie in the various strands. If we accept that a democracy signifies a concern for “others” and allows for errors being committed, then we are really talking of “citizenship”. Citizenship is really ethics writ large and it is this aspect that forms the corner stone of the basic statutes of democratic law and governance. Our constitution and our penal codes are premised on the acceptance of “others” as being ethical agents, ontologically similar to ourselves and complements of our being.

By the same token, if a citizen commits an error that does not impinge on the citizenship freedoms of others, then there is room for self correction. Law swings in only when freedom of “others” is trampled upon by the willful activity of those who seek goals with means that are contrary to the tenets of citizenship. Social scientists, however, go further. They try to strengthen citizenship for they realize that in doing this they would also consolidate their respective disciplines. This is why one reads with appreciation Jurgen Habermas because we find in his writings ways of advancing the cause of the public via a congregation of citizens. Or, when John Rawls advises policy makers to hypothetically go behind a “veil of ignorance” and try to imagine how the worst off could be best served (Rawls 1971:1055-6; 142-5).

Can we say, in fairness, that these are concerns that are “western”? It is true that scholars in Europe and America may have first raised such issues; perhaps, they also worked on them with great vigour. Yet, when we read their contributions why is it that they make sense to us? India may be backward, may be poor, but because we are democratic we can see the first glimmers of citizenship and, without consciously willing it, we want to acquire it in full.

We satisfy this urge by enquiring into issues such as that of urban and rural existence, of life in factories and fields, and how diverse linguistic groups and castes interact. These investigations are based on an indefinite range of actions that are “error” prone because they strive to integrate the self with the “other”. An ambitious exercise of this sort would be impossible if fallibility, at every step, were not allowed for. It would then be fair to suggest that our social sciences are not west oriented, or Euro-centric, but are designed to enquire into social conditions that only democracy can create. By the same token, it is democracy that allows economics, political science and sociology to co-exist happily and with profit. All of them depend on the same context, viz., society; and all of them must accept the grand fact that errors across all relevant social actions.

It is not surprising then that we, in India, have several world class sociologists, economists, historians and political scientists in our ranks. This is because we function under conditions, and with concerns, similar to our counterparts in the west; why, we ask very similar questions too. Now, what is wrong about that? And why should that be Euro-centric at all? When the “other” becomes so central, and when the acceptance of “errors” is routine, then we are actually talking about citizenship. In other words, the strength and depth of a democracy can be judged from the strength and depth of its social sciences. Take away democracy and watch sociology, economics and political science get wasted as if on barren soil.

Without going into detail on this subject, it is indubitable that democracy and citizenship are of a piece and you cannot have one without the other. Perhaps, autocratic societies can boast of a higher standard of living for those over whom they rule. Let us also grant that on some fronts such societies are richer, stronger and the health status of their population is enviable. However, if we are thinking of freedom of choice, the openness towards “errors” and the ground level realization that others impact the self, then these conditions are available only to citizens in a democracy. Consequently, it would be incorrect to characterize the social sciences as either Western or Euro- centric. If anything, they should be seen as citizen-centric, perhaps even citizentric, disciplines. 

I am grateful to Professor Andre Beteille and to Professor Deepak Mehta for their comments on this paper.

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Dipankar Gupta, Shiv Nadar University, India
for Global Express, July 4, 2015

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