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The State of Sociology in Nepal

September 21, 2012

Sociology and anthropology are  two distinct disciplines.  Anthropology is ‘the study of man’, whereas sociology is ‘the study of the human society’. Till the second half of the 19th century, both the disciplines were  similar, due to the common acceptance of the evolutionary theory as intrinsic to an understanding of man, society and culture (Voget 1975; Beals and Hoijer 1965;  Carneiro 1973; and Dahal 1984). But Nepal seems to be the unique country which is yet to separate sociology and anthropology into two distinct departments. Rather we find both the disciplines under the same roof in the name of “department of sociology/anthropology”. One may raise a question asking why it is so. And what was the reason behind it? Prof. Andre Beteille’s observation seems to provide a good answer to those queries. According to him, “identity of the Indian sociologist abroad for, whether he/she likes it or not, there he/she is presented as an anthropologist” as the United States and Europe often define “the study of Indian society as anthropology rather than sociology” (Beteille 2000). Beteille’s argument helps understand the view of Western scholars on the issue of sociology/anthropology in Nepal as well. In fact, the study of South Asian society including Indian society and culture has been placed within the province of anthropology by the Western scholars. And some of the evidences state that India tried to assert against the sentiment by creating many distinct departments in the country but Nepal is yet to do so.

Generally, dichotomy and antagonism that exists between sociologists and anthropologists is very old and a crucial one in many other countries. But, this sort of rivalry does not exist in Nepal as  it has been quite successful in getting rid of  antagonism that exist   between the twin sisters-sociology and anthropology  in developed countries. In fact, almost looking like a polygamy department of twin sisters, It can be called a unique department of Tribhuvan University (TU) where sociologists and anthropologists  are under the same roof , work together, show affection to each other, exchange their subject matters, learn each other’s methodology and are ambitious to know each other’s ways of looking into research problems (Devkota 1984:51). If to quote Dahal (1984), “I have no quarrel if anthropologists and sociologists pursue a similar type of socioeconomic research in Nepal…where the multi-ethnic and multi-cultural complex are evident, the urgent need is to utilize the anthropological and sociological tools for the purpose of studying and attempting to obtain much greater depth of understanding of man (may be human being)-society-culture and the problems of development". However, he has alerted that the common approach may negate the academic excellence of a student who is pursuing a higher degree either to become an anthropologist or a sociologist.

Regarding the history of research on the very discipline in Nepal, the subject did not attract much attention till  the end of 1960s even though there were a few sociological/anthropological works, mainly by western scholars by way of doing  research. Even if the advent of democracy in 1951 provided a space for producing social science knowledge through teaching and research (Hachhethu 2002), it was only in 1970 that Professor Ernest Gellner of the London School of Economics was invited by the TU to submit a report on the need of the sociology/anthropology department (Macdonald 1974:27). Along with Gellener’s recommendation, the department came into existence only on July 15, 1973.  The department was established at the then Institute of Nepal and Asian Studies (INAS), which later was  renamed as Center of Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS), and interestingly the discipline was begun at the research level (Dahal 1984). Once the Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences was formed, TU realized to have a department of sociology/anthropology and sent five students to India for M.A. program in sociology/anthropology in 1977 under its faculty development program. The next year, in 1978, the Dean of the Institute urged Nepali experts to design a syllabus for an M.A. programme in sociology/anthropology. The culmination of these efforts finally saw the establishment of the teaching department of sociology and anthropology at TU in 1981. In this way, sociology has been accorded full recognition as a subject of teaching and research at the university.

Despite being  late in Nepal, the discipline is rich in research in terms of quality and numbers of books and authors. Also the discipline has two more distinct features. First, unlike other social science subjects, this discipline is almost completely untouched by Indian researchers. Second ,  research on Nepali sociology/anthropology has constantly been initiated and promoted by Western authors (Hachhethu 2002:55) It is said that overseas scholars have made a remarkable contribution in exploring and expanding work in the discipline, primarily in the areas of ethnography, development and social change (Dahal 1984). By the mid-60s, the native sociologists/anthropologists were also producing their own research works. As far as student enrollment was concerned, the department of sociology/anthropology has been quite popular since its existence. That is why, in a short period, more than 17 constituent and affiliated campuses of TU[1] started teaching sociology/anthropology course at MA level in the country. In fact, many campuses have no students or very few students in social science subjects like History, Culture, Geography, Psychology, and Political Science, and only a few subjects including Sociology/Anthropology, Rural Development, etc. are popular in those campuses. According to Triratna Manandhar, the former Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences, most of the social science disciplines are practically of no use in governmental and non-governmental sectors, since they are based mainly on traditional theories and practices (Manandhar 2009). "The concerned governmental and non-governmental organizations also argue that most of the social science graduates have not been able to cope with modern techniques and methodology. Hence, the main responsibility to make social science disciplines popular and useful lies on TU which produces numerous manpower on social science every year to be absorbed in administrative, educational and social sectors of governmental and non-governmental organizations," Manandhar further states. To quote K.B. Bhattachan, it is “due to ever-growing activities of international non-governmental organizations in Nepal and their increasing demand for sociology and anthropology graduates to work with them the discipline has become very glamorous (Bhattachan 1997:17). Another reason for student pressure on sociology/anthropology is that all students who passed diploma level irrespective of their disciplinary backgrounds are eligible to join  MA level study in this subject. That is why, new universities[2] are also trying to introduce sociology/anthropology courses within their limitations. For example, Kathmandu University, which is mainly related to technical and professional subjects (Manandhar 2009), has already introduced some of the sociological/anthropological courses under the Development Studies, Human and Natural Resources Study, and Social Work discipline even if there is no separate department of Sociology/Anthropology.

Yet, despite the popularity of the discipline within the country, it seems that the social science discipline, particularly in TU started facing severe effects due to the decreasing allocation of budget for the discipline. It is the TU which stands the main contributor covering almost 89 per cent of the student enrolled in higher education till today. According to data, 25.56 per cent out of total students of 60 constituent campuses of TU belongs to Humanities and social sciences in this year (2012) (TU Brochure 2012). Out of the total annual graduates of 54, 519 including Bachelor's level, Master's level, MPhil and PhD in 2009/10, the share of Humanities and Social Sciences was more than 21 per cent (Bajracharya 2012:63). But given the  budgetary allocations, it is the discipline which has received only 10 per cent budget last year. Analyzing the trend , the proportion of the budget provisioned for Humanities and Social Science discipline in fiscal year of 2008 (2064/65) was 15.91 per cent. Then it was down to 13.77 per cent in the year 2009, 11.3 in the year 2010 and 10.00 in the year 2011 (for details, see TU, 2011). As a result, many faculty members have not done serious academic works mainly because of their indulgence in consultancy business outside the university. Since the consultancy trend gets momentum, private Research Centers and NGOs have become prominent places for research along with the sufficient financial support from foreign donors. But one has to remember that a university is different from   other institutions including NGOs and INGOs in terms of producing knowledge and well-informed, motivated and cultured citizens for the nation.  Again to quote Beteille (2000), a university should stand for the unity of teaching and research. In the modern world, no university can afford to neglect research; at the same time, universities in a poor country cannot afford to promote research at the expense of teaching. Here, Jawaharlal Nehru’s quote seems to be relevant , according to which “a university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for progress, for adventure of ideas and for the search of truth.  It stands for the onward march of the human race towards ever higher objectives.  If the universities discharge their duty adequately, then it is well with the nation and the people.  But if the temple of learning becomes a home of narrow bigotry and petty objectives, how then will the nation prosper or people grow in stature”. If Nepal ignores such a spirit of university and and start distancing from the university system, especially in knowledge production business, it is bound to face more crisis than  it faces today. 

Amatya, Soorya Lal, (2009) "Golden Jubilee of Tribhuvan University: Some Reminiscences" TU Golden Jubilee Souvenir.
Amatya, Soorya Lal, (2012) "Tribhuvan University: A Critical Apprisal" TU Bulletin Special 2012-13, pp.56-59.
Bajracharya, Hridaya R. (2012) "Access to higher Education in Nepal: Need for Ensurung Relevance and Quality" TU Bulletin Special 2012-13, pp.60-67.
Beals, A.L. and Harry Hoijer (1965), An Introduction to Anthropology. New York: The Macmillan Company.
Béteille, André (2000), "Teaching and Research", Seminar.
Bhattachan, K.B. (1997), "Sociological and Anthropological Research and Teaching in Nepal: Western  Adaptation Versus Indegenisation" in Prem K. Khatri (ed.), Social Sciences in Nepal, Some Thoughts and Search for Direction. Kathmandu: Center for Nepal and Asian Studies.
Carneiro, R. (1973), "Classical Evolution" in R. and F. Narolls (eds.) Main Currents in Cultural Anthropology. New Jersey: Prentice Hall INC.
Dahal, Dilli R. (1984), "Anthropology in Nepal: Infrastructure and Development" in Mohan P. Lohani (ed.), Social Sciences in Nepal: Infrastructure and Programme Development. Kathmandu: Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, TU.
Devkota, Padma Lal (1984), "Critique on Development of Infrastructure and Programmme in Anthropology in Nepal" in Mohan P. Lohani (ed.), Social Sciences in Nepal: Infrastructure and Programme Development. Kathmandu: Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences, TU.
Hachhethu, Krishna (2002), "Social Sciences in Nepal", Contributions to Nepalese Studies, Vol.29 Number 1, January.
Macdonald, A.W. (1974), "Sociology and Anthropology in Nepal" In Prayag Raj Sharma (ed.), Social Sciences in Nepal. Kathmandu: Institute of Nepali and Asian Studies, TU. 
Manandhar, Tri Ranta (2009), "Social Science Studies and Trubhuvan University," TU Golden Jubilee Souvenir, 2009
TU (2011), Statistical Bulletin, Vol. 8, No.1, June, Research Division, Tribhuvan University.
TU (2012), TU Brochure, Publication Branch, Trubhuvan University. 
Voget, Fred W. (1975), A History of Ethnology. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

[1] Tribhuvan University has become a very big National University with 60 constituent campuses and well over 826 affiliated community and private campuses till in 2011. Altogether 3,89,480 students are enrolled in the constituent (40.93%) and affiliate campuses (59.07%) in 2011/2012 of TU., for details, see Soorya Lal Amatya, "Tribhuvan University: A Critical Appraisal", TU Bulletin Special 2012-13, June, 2012.pp. 56-60.
[2] In fact, Tribhuvan University was only the university in Nepal till 1986. Once the government of Nepal adopted multi university policy as recommended by Royal Education Commission of 1983 and the National Education Commission of 1992, eight new universities- Nepal Sanskrit (formerly Mahendra Sanskrit) University  (1986); Kathmandu University (19991); Purvanchal University (1994), Pokhara University (1997); Lumbini University (2005); Agriculture and Forestry University (2010); Mid-Western University (2010), and Far-Western University (2010)- are established. Nepal Sanskrit University has introduced some disciplines on social sciences, but only as a supplement to its main subject i.e. Sanskrit. Purvanchal and Pokhara Universities have become merely affiliating institutions giving affiliation only to the technical subjects, mostly inside the Kathmandu Valley. However, Tribhuvan University stands the main contributor covering 88.6% of students enrolled (2010) in higher education. For details, see, Hridaya R. Bajracharya, "Access to higher Education in Nepal: Need for Ensurung Relevance and Quality" TU Bulletin Special 2012-13, June, 2012, pp.60-67.

Uddhab Prasad Pyakurel (PhD), Kathmandu University, Nepal
for Global Express, September 21, 2012

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