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Options before social scientists in neo-liberal set-up having majoritarian face

By Vidyut Joshi* 

Social sciences emerged at the onset of the Enlightenment age. Immanuel Kant proclaimed that henceforth the central theme of discourse in philosophy will be human beings and not God. Since then, the relationship between ‘me’ and ‘the other’ has become a central theme of intellectual endeavour. Now, me and other relationships have three forms: conflict, competition and cooperation or harmony.
Three world views developed around these three patterns. The socialist worldview had conflict as a base, with equality as a cherished value. Competition is the base of liberalism, with freedom (to compete) as a cherished value. Harmony is at the base of humanism, with fraternity as a basic value. Today, liberalism and neo-liberalism have become almost unipolar world views. Liberalism claims to be following the three great values of the French Revolution: liberty, equality and fraternity.
In recent times, neo-liberalism has developed a system that makes all three values truncated. Liberty, or freedom, has been reduced to the level of my choice as a consumer. Equality has been taken as reducing and abolishing old ascription-based inequality. The rising new and achievement-based inequality is not only not opposed but also eulogised in the name of creativity and achieving society. In place of fraternity and harmony, we have cutthroat competition. A competitive society is considered good. The market is more important now.
We have achieved growth. But the basic harmony between human beings and between human beings and other elements of the environment has vanished. So, environmental issues, rising achievement-based inequalities, violation of human rights, rising poverty, failure of market institutions and unnatural lifestyles giving rise to many lifestyle diseases have made many thinkers and social scientists to change the value base of social sciences to restructure social sciences.
The new value base could be ethics, equity (social equity, to be specific) and ecological harmony. Keeping these three values as the base, we will have to restructure social sciences to have a better and more humane world order.

Agenda for social sciences

Today, we do not have liberty, in the sense of making our own decisions. At the most, we have only market choice. Structures have become so large that an average individual’s voice is not being heard in the system. They do not remain a full-fledged individual. They have been reduced into and fragmented in various types of numbers. They are an Aadhar Card number, they are a PAN card number, they are a licence card number, they are a voter card number and more. They do not have their interests represented in almost any decision-making process.
So, we will have to bring back their ‘Swaraj’. We will have to design institutions where an individual can meaningfully participate and get justice. This can happen only through the value of equity or social equity. In the same way, reducing inequality and bringing about egalitarianism need ethics.
Since decision-making has come to stay in the hands of a few and not all who are affected by the decision, inequality is increasing beyond tolerable limits. My freedom is considered as my freedom to compete. Under such a situation, the self becomes too much of a decisionmaker.
Remember, Gandhi said that the emoluments of a barber and a lawyer should be the same, as each one has the right to live by their work. This being so, while deciding the details of distribution, the decision-maker will have to keep the others in mind. If others are also considered, the inequality will be less, and others will also have the freedom to participate in the decision-making process. Ecological harmony includes social harmony.
So, harmony between human beings and between human beings and other elements of the environment will have to be maintained. This will need restructuring in the social sciences. In the same way, our development greed has destroyed our natural resource base and broken our harmonious relationship with the other elements of the environment.
We will have to bring back this harmony between human beings and between human beings and other elements of the environment. In order to do so, we will need a new agenda for the social sciences. Some such points could be as follows:
1. First, we will have to open the social sciences, as advocated by the Gulbenkian report. An issue or a problem never belongs to a single discipline. If you are a sociologist and working on poverty, you need to know some economics, some political science and some cultural anthropology. Unless you do so, you cannot comprehend the problem in a substantive manner.
I learnt this in 1980, when I was studying the issue the rehabilitation of Sardar Sarovar Dam outsees. I realised that I needed to know some civil engineering, some law and some public administration. Knowledge is not bound by disciplined boundaries. That is why we now have a new term, ‘polymath’.
2. In this LPG (liberalisation, privatisation and globalisation) era, we are all set to become a competitive or achieving society. All our institutions are being redesigned on the foundation of competition. Now, where the pattern of relationships in society is concerned, there is more harmony and cooperation between members of a community or group. There is less competition and even less conflict. Now, the LPG era wants to break this basic fabric of society, and I am sure it is going to create many problems in the future.
We need to rebuild society based more on harmony, as harmonious relationships provide peace and happiness. We will have to work on indicators of harmonious relationships. A good topic of research would be to study the impact of this sort of competition on members of society. Social scientists will also have to work on the percentages of harmony, competition and conflict in various types of human relationships.
3. Many countries of the world have democratic governments. Those who have not are likely to adopt democratic governance. Now, democracy means the participation of citizens and other stakeholders in decisionmaking. Of course, we have participative democracy, so we cannot participate directly at the state or federal level in decision-making. But at the community level, at the village level, citizens can certainly participate in direct decision-making process.
The decision-making process is becoming so centralised that even in some places, elected representatives who are supposed to make village-level decisions cannot do so simply because of the absence of democratic values. We have structural democracy, but that is not functional simply because some are more equal. When an elected representative cannot participate, what can we say about common citizens!
Tendency for dissent, democratic space and participation are reducing. Many nation states are resorting to hegemonic rules. In 2020 we found that at least some national leaders who were elected for a certain period and taking advantage of their office, they extended their terms or were re-elected for more than two terms. They are Xi Jin Ping of China, Putin of Russia, Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus, Shekh Hasina of Bangladesh, Ayatullah Khomeini of Iran, Denial Ortega of Nicaragua, Ismail Omar Guelleh of Djibouti, Imoimile Rahmon of Tajikistan, Hunsen of Cambodia Paul Bia od Cameron and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda. Some of these rulers have been in the saddle for more than three decades.
This is clearly a violation of the value of equity. The task before social scientists is to redesign political institutions so that each citizen gets participation at their own level.
4. These days, we all are enthusiastic about artificial intelligence (AI). We will have to study the impact of AI on job structure and the dominance of machines over human beings. When I say this, I mean that any scientific innovation is welcome. We do not oppose machines as such. But we will have to oppose the adverse impact of machines on human society and have a science policy with ethics.
If a machine is going to become ‘The Terminator’, then we need to bring an ethics committee in place and remould the research policy and design to bring ethics back. Nowadays, we have ethics committees in research. We also have ethics committees in many public decision-making processes. Social scientists will have to work further to have ethical consideration in almost all public decision-making processeethic
5. Poverty is not absolute. It is related to inequality. More inequality means more poverty. The very word ‘poor’ can be understood in relation to the word ‘rich’. Of course, it is not possible to establish total equality, but we can design institutions to reduce poverty and inequality. We will have to study relationships between work units and compensation. Such studies were being carried out earlier.
Nowadays, social scientists do not take up such studies. Everybody works for eight hours a day. What should a person get for what type of work? What is a perk? Should there be rentiers who get money without putting in any type of work? What should be the difference between the highest and the lowest income?
What should be the difference between the lowest level of living style and the highest level of living style? If political positions cannot be given hereditarily, why should public companies be given to sons and daughters? In terms of income, what is the undue advantage of a position? Remember, more inequality, more autocracy, and less democracy.
Poverty is not absolute. More inequality means more poverty. The very word poor can be understood in relation to the word rich
6. We will have to accept sustainable development as a philosophy of life and a credo of personal behaviour. We overconsume natural resources and spoil harmony between various elements of the environment. We will have to put a limit to ‘development’ and put a limit to consumerism. We all are now waste makers, as we purchase packaged consumer goods.
Packaged food is harmful to human health. We will also have to put emphasis on local markets instead of net marketing, as the net market is the generator of carbon and package pollution. Moreover, the reuse and recycling of waste materials is not a complete solution to environmental issues. The same way, carbon credit is like passing on my sin to somebody else. We will have to reestablish our harmonious relationship with the environment. We will have to restructure our economic institutions in line with sustainable development.
7. Social scientists will have to include lifestyle as an important topic of study from a sustainable lifestyle point of view. What could be an ideal type of lifestyle? Is our lifestyle in tune with ecological harmony? Our eating habits, our dressing habits, our work habits, our relationship with our colleagues, our family life, our overindulgence in showcased ceremonies and our faith in big structures, all of them bind human beings and take away the freedom granted to us by human rights.
We are gulping six slow poisons because of our fad for fast food. But we like taste, as if we eat for taste and not for nutrition. This unnatural lifestyle leads to many lifestyle diseases. For achieving a status and so-called wealth, we have started working for twelve hours a day or seventy hours a week.
Remember, citizens of Norway work for twenty-four hours a week, and Norway is one of the richest countries of the world. Working twelve hours a day is a clear violation of the 8 + 8 + 8 hours theory. We spend eight hours sleeping, twelve hours at work, two hours commuting and only two hours with our family and for other good things in life. We will have to study our lifestyle and devise new patterns of living.
8. Neo-liberalism has taken majoritarianism as its friend in this age. Majoritarianism prevails in almost all the countries. It could be in the form of race, religion, language or even culture. This sort of majoritarianism is disadvantageous to non-majoritarian groups in a country.
Language minorities, women, LGBTQs, tribals, dalits and blacks are all non-majoritarian groups. They do not have equal rights, though many countries provide for human rights. This is a clear violation of the equality value. We need equity for these groups. Amartya Sen has spoken for social justice. Now we need to establish the value of equity strongly and design institutions where every citizen has equal participation.
9. When Stiglitz advised the US government to reduce the role of the state in business affairs, he did not mean to cut down on the role of civil society as well. But we found that the civil society space is shrinking, and market institutions are taking away this role. Some family functions, such as rearing children, food, upkeep of elders and the like, are taken away by the market, weakening the family.
Some forty years back, Rajani Kothari had raised a movement called ‘Lokayan’ to strengthen the role of civil society organisations. For years, he and D. L. Sheth ran a journal called Lokayan. Many NGOs, CBOs and MBOs came to the forefront to speak for people at large. They participated in the public decision-making process.
This sort of situation also takes away space for dissent in the public field. Even our trade union movement has become weak. Employment-related organisations have gone weak. Now, no political leader of a stature would want to identify themselves as a TU leader. There must be a balance between political, social and business institutions in society.
10. If we want to have less inequality, we will have to decentralise our production process. Making potato chips or soap is not a rocket science that we need MNCs and big corporations to do that. Every taluka or block can manufacture 90 per cent of FMCG in a radius of 100 km. Moreover, the more distant the market, the greater the concentration of wealth.
Also, pollution and global warming will increase because of packaging and transportation. In this sense, I fully endorse the slogan of ‘vocal for local’. A decentralised market will also generate more employment and reduce inequality.
11. I do not understand when management science started treating human beings as resources. Earlier, when Elton Mayo studied industrial relations at the Hawthorne plant, he termed it as ‘relationship’. The paper that was taught in MBA in the 1960s was IR&PM. Now that nomenclature has withered away, and human beings are being treated as a ‘Human Resource’. What we teach today in business schools is ‘Human Resource Management’. Are living beings mere resources such as machines, finance and raw materials? Are they resources for production, or are they producers themselves? This sort of treatment by social science is derogatory treatment and violates human dignity.
12. As we will have to generate knowledge for decentralised markets, we will also have to generate knowledge for decentralised politics. There is a strong need to
reverse the pattern of locating and power at the local level. This means reversing the pyramid of authority and power in a way that permits base for political order to have the primary authority and the power to manage their affairs themselves. This will make local communities the primary building blocks of political organization by treating higher echelons as residuary holders of authority and power.
13. If there is one sector that needs ethics more than any other sector, it is the knowledge system, popularly known as the education system. It deals with the generation, dissemination and extension of knowledge. A scientist believes that science is rational, and it has nothing to do with ethics. They say that we only generate knowledge and do not put it to use or misuse.
If the government wants, it can have ethics committees and stop the misuse. On the other hand, our teaching institutions are domains of competition. Competition always neglects ethics. Rules support winners, and what happens to losers is to be seen. Now, we have ethics committees in research. We will have to have an ethical approach in the knowledge system.


We are in the phase of neo-liberalism, where the three values of liberty, equality and fraternity have been truncated by an achieving, competitive and non-harmonious market-driven system. We have to enter a new phase of rethinking about the basic values that can generate knowledge for an egalitarian, harmonious humane order.
*Former vice chancellor, MK Bhavnagar University; former director,Centre for Social Studies, Surat, Gujarat. These are excerpts from the author's Professor Radha Kamal Mukerjee memorial lecture, delivered at 48th ISSC, Vellore, titled "Restructuring Value Base Social Sciences in the Age of Neo-Liberalism". Click here read full lecture 


Jagdish Patel said…
money and muscle power needs to be dealt with for strengthening democracy.


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