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From Knowledge Production to Knowledge Transmission: Exploring the Learning Context of Sociology at the undergraduate level.

Edward A. Rodrigues Introduction: The Context of this Paper This idea of presenting a paper on the subject of teaching Sociology at the undergraduate level as part of a seminar engaged in historicizing the growth of Sociology in India, presupposes a relationship, either positive or negative, between processes of knowledge production and those of knowledge transmission. Yet little or no evidence exists in the field of teaching sociology in India that can be usefully deployed for developing such an historical narrative. Even if the syllabus and teaching materials used by teachers of Sociology were to be counted as some kind of textual evidence, in themselves, these can only reflect in a limited way what actually transpires within the teaching of Sociology in an undergraduate classroom. In this paper, I do not claim to offer such an account to contribute to the history of teaching Sociology in this country. Instead, I use history as a means to interrogate my experiences of teaching Sociology at the undergraduate level with a view to unveiling the nature of ideological relations that underlie knowledge production and knowledge transmission within Sociology in India.

My starting point for such a discussion rests on the conviction that sociological practice at the undergraduate level forms an integral part of the larger institutional structure of Sociology that is engaged in research and teaching at both the undergraduate and post graduate level. Sociological knowledge at the undergraduate level performs the dual functions of acting, firstly, as a feeder for post-graduate departments, and secondly, as one would like to believe, a public function, wherein sociology students with a more open and critical mind can make a positive contribution to society through their diverse engagements within the social world they live in.1 Using this perspective on the role of sociological knowledge at the undergraduate level in India, I have attempted to develop my argument within this paper into three different parts. In the first part I look ..In part two, I take up the teaching of Sociology at the undergraduate level by situating the processes of knowledge production and knowledge transmission within the nature of the learning context discussed in part one. I argue that the development of sociology in India as a discipline combining both research and teaching was developed in the colonial period within the

structure of the University system. In this initial phase of institution building, I argue, that its practitioners were all drawn from the Brahmin caste and in giving shape to a sociology of India they were all motivated by interests and influences which privileged the study of traditional Indian society as opposed to all other aspects of a changing Indian society. In contrast, sociology as it developed in the European context was firmly centered in the enquiry of the new social order emerging from the societal transformations ushered in by capitalism and modernity within these societies. This difference as represented in the locations and fields of enquiry frames the distinctive intellectual orientation of the sociological discourse in India and Europe. While European Sociology focused on processes of macro social transformations and structured social relations at all levels of the social order; in India, the primary sociological orientation cohered around its core concerns with caste and Hinduism, proceeding to articulate these in the language of persistence and continuity.

Further, these concerns are crucial not just in shaping the dominant epistemic practices within Indian sociology, but it also structures the pedagogical practices that have influenced the teaching of sociology at the undergraduate level. From within such a perspective of sociology, I have tried to explore the practices of knowledge transmission within the sociology classroom, seeking answers to questions such as the following: What kind of pedagogical practices prevail in the teaching of sociology within the undergraduate classroom? How do learners relate their own life experience to this received knowledge of Indian society? What kind of Indian society does sociology produce for its learners? Or again, what is the ideological function of this received knowledge in the context of the larger Indian society?
Finally, in the concluding part of this paper, I return to the relationship between knowledge production and knowledge transmission with a view to assessing the impact of such a relationship for the future of sociology at both at these levels. I have argued that, at present, this relationship is characterized by a growing sense of disconnect that promotes a practice of sociology critically lacking in relevance for the student of Indian society. I argue that if sociology in India must assert its legitimate role of rendering intelligible the understanding of Indian society with all its conflicts and tensions, it must opt to function from within a framework of emancipatory rationality where the student in the classroom is able to make the connections for himself or herself between sociological knowledge and the everyday world he/she inhabits. To achieve this, however, it is imperative that knowledge production within Indian sociology relocate its vantage standpoint, as it were, on the side of modernity and its discontents. This paper does not claim to be a representative account of what goes on in an undergraduate sociology classroom in different parts of the country. Its observations and reflections are restricted to the author's own engagements in this field as well as the experience of other practitioners he has had occasion to interact with As a teacher who has been teaching sociology to undergraduate students for nearly two decades I have to admit that my experience in this field has made me deeply aware of the fact that there exists an ever-widening gulf between what sociology as a critical and reflexive discourse of society can achieve for the students and what the sociology so aptly labeled as a 'soft option' 2 ends up doing. Additionally, in making the undergraduate sociology classroom the focus of my interrogation, I have also attempted to highlight some of the larger constraints and obstacles, both internal and external, that have significantly influenced the practice of Sociology in the undergraduate classroom. In this paper I have attempted to interrogate the practice of sociology in the undergraduate classroom informed by a perspective of the discipline which is both critical and reflexive. In developing my argument, I have combined elements of a historical understanding of sociology as shaped in the colonial context of the Indian university system, together with a more personalized exploration of how this sociology is practiced in the undergraduate classroom. Notwithstanding the limitations of field and experience inherent in such a narrative, I do believe that such an exercise provides a useful way of thinking across institutional boundaries that separate those involved in the process of knowledge production from those involved in its transmission. In observing the dual functions of sociological knowledge operational within the learning context of sociology, I have argued that both teachers and learners subscribe to an understanding of Indian society that closely parallels the dominant perception of Indian society as developed within mainstream sociology. It is to these 'learning contexts'3, historically

shaped within colonialism, that I shall turn to with a view to understand how they continue to condition both learners and the learning process. The Learning Context of Sociology at the Undergraduate Level A useful and indicative way of gauging the status of any discipline at the undergraduate level is taking note of the general way in which any discipline is perceived by the majority of its teachers and students. Compared to Economics or Psychology or even English, which are all considered 'difficult', 'demanding', and above all 'not easy to score', even to this day, at the undergraduate level, sociology is considered as a 'soft' discipline. This implies that it is neither demanding in terms of the effort called for, nor is it very difficult as far as scoring marks is concerned. Even if such observations underlie the instrumentalist nature of college education where the degree takes precedence over everything else, the fact remains that as a discipline Sociology ranks very low in the list of liberal arts disciplines at the college level. While the disciplines considered difficult may attract meritorious students, for the average students pursuing a college education, the choice of subjects has always been determined by how easy it is to graduate in a given discipline. Perhaps such perceptions are themselves not uncommon to students anywhere. What I do think uncommon is the way such perceptions function as self-fulfilling prophesies wherein practitioners tailor their practices within the learning context to fit the label of soft and easy. This is no doubt an unfortunate situation because in every dimension of the learning context, be it pedagogical practices, teaching materials, syllabi, evaluations etc the general tendency has been to direct one's teaching and evaluation towards the 'lowest common denominator' [LCD]. This LCD refers to students with a low ability for comprehension and articulation within the English language, as such their performance within any discipline is unsatisfactory often ending up in failure. In order to meet the learning requirements of such students, teachers have to ensure that their teaching material and explanations in the classroom remain as simple as possible. Yet, the LCD has also been used by teachers to rationalize and legitimize a great deal of dilution of the discipline at all levels. Colluding with this sentiment of catering for the LCD is a larger caucus of educational profiteers who have rendered most activities within the learning context irrelevant by producing a host of 'guide books' directed at helping the vast majority of students to cope with the examinations. Often written by undergraduate teachers, these guides ensure that students can get through the examinations without any kind of constructive engagement with the subject. How does one account for such a trivialization of the discipline? To what extent does the knowledge field, its contents, methods and practices contribute to such a deterioration of the discipline at the undergraduate level ? Quite clearly, there are larger factors that undermine the quality of undergraduate education as a whole. Even if one were to acknowledge these larger constraints, I do believe that a deeper understanding of the learning context of sociology at the undergraduate level could throw some light on how practitioners of sociology at this level are strategically involved in ensuring that the discipline continues to function as a 'soft' discipline.

It is important to note that when the discipline was established at the Bombay University, the teaching of sociology was not part of its objectives. As Savur [2006] observes it was a research-oriented discipline, with an agenda of developing knowledge of Indian society. Yet teaching was introduced very early in the life of the department. Students who chose sociology at the post graduate level would generally have done a graduation in Philosophy, Economics, or the language disciplines which had already been established at the undergraduate level. At the undergraduate level sociology was first established in St. Xaviers College in the early fifties, this was quickly followed by Elphinstone College, and then later on in Wilson College. In the following three decades, Sociology departments were opened up in a number of city and suburban colleges : today there are over thirty under graduate departments of sociology which annually prepare over two thousand students for the B.A. degree in sociology. In the seventies when a majority of these departments were established the number of students who took the B.A. degree exam in Sociology stood at almost four thousand.4 Quite clearly, even though the departments have increased, the number of students opting to specialize in sociology has begun to fall and as I will discuss later this has been one of the issues accounting for the 'soft' discipline status. How were these departments of Sociology established? Was there any University directive in this regard? Was there any policy decision at the State level highlighting the importance of such liberal arts disciplines in the larger context of a changing Indian society. Unfortunately, what actually stimulated the growth of these departments was the need of college managements to attract more students to their college. It was as if underlying market logic based on students demand determines the fate of these disciplines at the college level. Philosophy and the Languages are a case in point, until the end of the sixties these were flourishing disciplines and attracted a huge number of students at the undergraduate level. By the seventies the tide had turned and students' interests shifted leading to the closure of many of these departments. Instead, Sociology it would seem witnessed a high point in the seventies when it attracted a large number of students at the undergraduate level. One of the reasons often given by both teachers and students for the rise of sociology at the undergraduate level is that Sociology as compared to Philosophy was considered [rightly or wrongly] as being more relevant. Implicit here is the acknowledgement that Sociology was more closely linked with the realities of modern Indian society as compared to the esoteric concerns of philosophy. Papers like Urban Sociology, Industrial Sociology, Sociology of Education, Women and Society etc. were seen as engaging with Modern Indian society and to that extent were seen as having some kind of use value for the interested students. Whether this was the case or not, I want to suggest that the overall pedagogical orientation of the discipline over the decades came to be cast in the mold of a soft discipline. I shall deal with some of the reasons here positioning my observations within the learning context. The Learning Context of Sociology at the Undergraduate Level A useful and indicative way of gauging the status of any discipline at the undergraduate level is taking note of the general way in which any discipline is perceived by the majority of its teachers and students. Compared to Economics or Psychology or even English, which are all considered 'difficult', 'demanding', and above all 'not easy to score', even to this day, sociology at the undergraduate level is

considered as a 'soft' discipline. This implies that it is neither demanding in terms of the effort called for, nor is it very difficult in terms of scoring marks in exams.

Even if these observations underline the instrumentalist nature of college education where the degree takes precedence over everything, the fact remains that as a discipline sociology ranks very low in the list of liberal arts disciplines at the college level. While the disciplines considered difficult may attract the meritorious students, for the average students pursuing a college education, the choice of subjects has always been determined by how easy it is to graduate in a given discipline. Perhaps such perceptions are themselves not uncommon to students anywhere. What I do think is uncommon, however, is the way such perceptions function as self-fulfilling prophesies wherein practitioners tailor their practices within the learning context to fit the label of 'soft' and 'easy'. This is no doubt an unfortunate situation because in every dimension of the learning context, be it pedagogical practices, teaching materials, syllabi, evaluations etc. the general tendency has been to direct one's teaching and evaluation towards the 'lowest common denominator' [LCD]. This LCD refers to students with a low ability for comprehension and articulation within the English language; as such, their performance within any discipline is unsatisfactory often ending up in failure. In order to meet the learning requirements of such students, teachers have to ensure that their teaching material and explanations in the classroom remain as simple as possible. Yet, the LCD has also been used by teachers to rationalize and legitimize a great deal of dilution of the discipline at all levels. Most teachers would agree that a rigorous and challenging learning context is crucially dependent on the intellectual competence of the teachers, the standard and quality of the teaching material transacted, the kind of pedagogical practices adopted by teachers in the classroom and the kind of knowledge which becomes the object of an intersubjective engagement between teachers and students. Let us consider each of these separately. In terms of their intellectual competence, all sociology teachers at the college level are equipped with an M.A. degree they acquire at the post graduate department in the University. However, whether it is a weakness of the foundations at the undergraduate level, or a lack of textual exposure to the depth of sociological knowledge at the post-graduate level, there appears to be a kind of blame game involved here. Postgraduate teachers often complain about the poor quality of training that their student have received at the undergraduate level. In turn, heads of departments of sociology at the undergraduate level often complain of the low level of intellectual competence among candidates with an M.A. degree in Sociology. Quite clearly on both sides there are admissions that reflect concern about the low level of competence amongst teachers of sociology5. At the undergraduate level, given the culture of guide books that dominate the learning context, it is quite possible to imagine a student of sociology achieving a B.A. degree without him/her ever engaging with a single sociological text throughout the entire three years of this B.A. program. The introduction of quality controls like the NET and now SET exams for postgraduate students wanting to enter the teaching profession has no doubt helped but the paucity of such teachers, combined with faulty management policies at the time of recruitment, only adds to this pool of incompetent teachers6 and as I will argue later, even NET and SET cannot guarantee that the successful candidate is equipped with a sociological imagination which I believe is so crucially relevant for teaching sociology. Clearly then, there is something about the nature of sociological knowledge that renders it redundant in the face of

some alternative. Pathak [2003] saw this in terms of the proximity of sociological Knowledge to common sense. Perhaps undergraduate teachers in sociology quite literally do function with a commonsense understanding of the world presenting sociology as common sense or vice versa. How does this low level of intellectual competence function within the learning context?. What are the kind of pedagogical practices employed and what is the teaching material that is transacted between teacher and students. The dominant pedagogical practices followed within the learning context involves the use of several strategies directed at two different objectives. Firstly, there is a certain quantum of the syllabus that must be transmitted to the students; secondly, how to keep the students engaged for the duration of the lecture. The most common strategy employed is the dictation of notes. At times the entire lecture time is devoted to dictation, at other times dictation is interspersed with cursory explanations of difficult terms or ideas present in the teachers notes. The use of such notes year after year has made certain teachers legendary in this pedagogical practice7. Notwithstanding the change of syllabus of a given subject, these notes and their dictation continues to engage the students in the duration of the lecture. Ever so often, the teacher would emphasize the importance of these notes by pointing to their relevance for answering certain questions in the examinations. Another practice often employed in the classroom is to present the particular topic for study in terms of a series of descriptive points taken up from different texts almost like a cut and paste job. No effort is made to critically engage the students either in the validity or relevance of the matter, or the context from which these have been excerpted. Most often, such descriptions / explanations pass of as unchallenged prescriptions that the students must study, because that is how these explanations must be presented in the examinations. The idea of an interactive class is often reduced to question - answer sessions where students are questioned on portions of the syllabus that have already been completed. Any effort to situate the student as a subject learner interrogating sociological knowledge from his/her own life experience is always countered by undermining such subject experience on grounds that it is not relevant from the exam standpoint or that such experience are too subjective and cannot be the basis for an informed discussion in sociology. Sociological discussions in the classroom very rarely break free from the expressed positions on any given subject matter held by the teacher. If the teacher is reasonably well informed on the subject and sensitive to the experience of the subject learners, the latter can benefit greatly from such discussions turning their engagement with sociology into a more critical and reflexive one. However, on the other hand, for the teacher whose only objective is to prepare students to pass the sociology examinations, such discussions are never welcome. Neither are they initiated, nor are they encouraged since such discussions can often unsettle and threaten the teachers own knowledge of sociology8. The learning context of sociology at the undergraduate level is thus very much like what Freire: [1972] termed as the banking model wherein students are filled with bits and pieces of information, which eventually get spewed out onto an examination paper not withstanding what the student has learnt or whether all this has any relevance for his/her own life experience. Not surprising then is the persistent grouse of sociology students as they fail to see the relevance in anything that they are studying. It is as if the goal of doing sociology is to do well in the B.A. examination.

One would not hesitate to say that, with very few exceptions, the learning context for sociology as represented in its pedagogical practices provides a deeply alienating experience for the learners as not only are their own subject experience never the object of sociological learning, the knowledge of Indian society they come to acquire within sociology offers no resemblances or connections to the everyday world they inhabit. Why has sociology at the undergraduate level, over the years worked itself to such a degree of irrelevance? How does one understand the contributions of those who oversee the discipline at the undergraduate level? To what extent have developments in the syllabus of sociology helped to counter such a malaise? The syllabus which gets transacted within the learning context is supposed to be developed by committees of experts constituted by the Board of Studies. I do not want to get into what some have termed as the politics9 of these Boards of Studies and the way in which they have so effectively worked towards the dilution of the subject on grounds of the LCD factor, or if the subject is made more rigorous and challenging, students would not understand, or that admissions to sociology will fall and this in turn will affect the employment status of teachers. Jose: [2003], has done excellent work on the syllabus and the way institutional structures have worked towards the dilution of the syllabus at every stage. From the standpoint of the learning context, I want to suggest that besides the institutional arrangements that work towards the dilution of rigor in a subject, there is also the very substantive and subversive role performed by teachers in ensuring that the syllabus remains 'soft' and easy. Given the democratic way in which these activities are conducted, it is interesting to see how the majority of teachers at the undergraduate level can function as a block to undermine any radical challenges to the syllabus10. The fact of the matter is that the real culprit in this effort to dilute sociology has been the Board of Studies working in collusion with the vast majority of undergraduate teachers of Sociology to keep the syllabus 'soft'. This kind of democratization that, in fact, endorses mediocrity and a trivialization of sociological knowledge poses a serious problem for raising the standards of teaching within the learning context. At the level of putting together the teaching material for a given syllabus, two types of strategies are often deployed. In the first instance any effort to standardize a set of readings is beset with all sorts of difficulties thereby making the entire exercise futile and impossible. In the second instance, teachers will persistently complain about the unavailability, of the given reference sources. In both cases what eventually happens is that within a very short time a 'guide' book is produced, with the specific goal of helping the student to cope with the examination. What is most unfortunate about developing and revising syllabi in sociology is that the entire activity is controlled and coordinated by undergraduate teachers in the complete absence of any higher intellectual body or group of experts who could monitor, assist, validate the quality and scope of a syllabus in any given subject of sociology. As a result, the various syllabi revisions that have taken place in Mumbai University as Jose: [2003] has so rightly reviewed display a tendency to dilute the subject content of sociology rather than to upgrade and reinvigorate the discipline with new concerns and new ideas so as to make sociology relevant with the times.

In point of fact, the syllabus within Mumbai University strategically works towards reinforcing the pedagogical practices that prevail within the learning context. For the students of sociology the learning context is one bereft of any serious engagement with textual materials of any kind11. Any effort to encourage reading of sociology texts is promptly queried from the standpoint of the syllabus and the examination. The idea that reference to a wider body of knowledge in sociology can vastly improve the quality of instruction for a given syllabus are constantly resisted on grounds that there is not enough time to cover the given syllabus, or that students will not understand what is being said. Nearly always the effort seems to be directed in discovering ways of how to achieve syllabus coverage by doing the minimum amount of reading possible12. A fairly common practice is to take recourse to selected paragraphs and pages from a text to teach a given topic. The task of understanding sociology from textual sources gets reduced to the singular objective of 'simplification'. In real terms, what this means is the putting together in a collection of simple descriptive sentences culled from the selected portions of a text in what the teacher believes is the explanation of the topic that must be transmitted to the students. Within such a learning context, the reading habit is equally absent amongst learners as well. The idea that learners would have to read some amount of text to effectively participate in classroom learning is both rare and uncommon. Students would generally refrain from reading on grounds that the text is too abstract or that its English is of a very high level. This attitude only reinforces their dependence on guides and notes obtained through classroom dictation. Not surprising then sociology at this undergraduate level lives up to its status of being a 'soft' and easy discipline. In taking up the learning context for sociology at the undergraduate level as a site for my interrogations and observations, I admit I have paid an undue importance to the practitioners and their practices within the learning context. I believe that the practitioners have a crucial responsibility in giving shape to the content and direction of the learning context. It is the practitioners of sociology who can radically transform the status of the discipline from its present status as a soft and easy discipline to a critical and reflexive enquiry into human society. Such a perspective however can neither be achieved through procedural changes, nor can it be realized by changes in the syllabus or teaching materials. All these can no doubt contribute greatly to the efficiency and intellectual quality of the learning context. The, core, however concerns the deeply ideological nature of the discipline. If the practitioners are not sensitive to this ideological dimension of sociology, they are unable to engage with the problematic that sociology unfurls within the learning context. There are neither truth statements nor truth claims in sociology of the kind asserted by disciplines that claim to be a science. As a discipline, sociology within the learning context sets itself up as an intellectual engagement with a given body of knowledge which the teacher brings with him/her into the learning context. The teacher is not just a communicator, even if that is one of the important functions that he /she performs within the learning context. How this intellectual engagement works itself out within the learning context has a direct bearing on how learners comprehend this knowledge within their own world of lived experiences. My own experience as a teacher informs me that this is a deeply ideological activity. I can either engage with the students in an instrumentalist fashion where my sole objective is to

prepare them for the examination or I can engage with them using the teaching material to critically open up a diverse range of enquiries which not only renders the text intelligible for the learners, it also encourages them to interact with it from their own existential position. I believe the former type of engagement overwhelmingly defines the learning context of sociology at the undergraduate level. It is constituted within a framework that, from the very outset, undermines the subjectivity of the learners, treating them as receptacles for collecting information. Ideologically such an engagement induces passivity amongst the learners and in a more general sense it reinforces in them an understanding of Indian society that is conservative and uncritically supportive of the received traditions whose knowledge has significantly contributed to the dominant conception of Indian society within Indian sociology.. Quite clearly such an engagement within Indian sociology was not only a Brahminical reading of Indian society, more significantly, from the standpoint of modernity, such a discourse of Indian society was unable to engage with the structures of domination and subordination, which excluded whole sections of marginalized groups from any part of the dominant discourse of tradition within Indian sociology. It is this dominant discourse within sociology that enters the learning context of Sociology through the common sense of the teachers and learners. It is this understanding of Indian society that subjects negotiate with in their interactions within the learning context and I want to submit that it is this knowledge of Indian society that subjects carry with them from the learning context into the larger world. Conclusion. In this paper I set about exploring the learning context of sociology within the undergraduate classroom with a view to understanding how processes of knowledge production and knowledge transmission are rendered intelligible to subject learners within the learning context. To do this I strayed into the history of colonial education to highlight the instrumentalist underpinnings of the learning context and how this instrumentalist pursuit of learning has produced a sociology within the learning context at the undergraduate level that is bereft of reflexivity and devoid of any critical engagement with the complex and turbulent realities confronting Indian society today. In my observations of the learning context I have shown how the practitioners of Sociology at this level have strategically functioned to render sociology irrelevant. In doing so, I have argued that the learning context of Sociology at this level has produced and legitimized in the form of common sense a knowledge of Indian society that is in keeping with the dominant discourse of society within Indian sociology In my concluding remarks, I want to return back to the learning context of sociology using it as a site on which to raise observations about knowledge production in Sociology. In my introductory section I had pointed to Quijano: [1993] observation of the tension between the instrumental and emancipative impulses within rationality. I had argued that it was the instrumental impulse for domination that shaped colonial development of education in India. I want to submit here that the instrumentalism of the learning context for sociology has time and again

been confronted with this emancipative impulse. It has made its presence in the form of practitioners who struggle to engage students in a sociology that is both reflexive and critical. They have encouraged students to think beyond examinations and careers and seek out inspiration from the vast amount of literature that engages with issues of domination and subordination that are so central to any emancipative understanding of Indian society. They have used the syllabus to often go beyond it by problematizing sociological knowledge in the context of their own life experience. Thus for example they have taught students to problematize the discourse of Caste within Indian sociology by foregrounding the public and the private domains of Caste insisting on an ideological interrogation of Caste in the domain of the private. For these students the learning context of sociology is a site for developing their own critical faculties by engaging with sociological knowledge from the vantage point of their own individual subjectivity. Unfortunately such an emancipative strategy within the learning context has often been confronted and silenced by the vast majority of practitioners who insist that it is an exception and can never be the norm since they work with the LCD. Sociology as such will continue in its journey towards irrelevance and the producers of Sociological knowledge would have to start acknowledging that the great intellectual contributions to the understanding of Modern Indian society in the decades since Independence have not come from sociology but from scholarship outside it. It is History that provided for an understanding of the 'subaltern, and the nature of dominance. It is political science that opened up the discussion on 'modernity'. It is psychoanalysis that pioneered work on Socialization practices in Indian society. It is women studies that have brought to light the issue of women's oppression in Indian Society and it is Economics that ushered in the debate on development. Each of these themes and many more like these rightly belong to the field of sociological enquiry. There is quite clearly a case here and an urgent one at that for the producers of sociological knowledge to assess their strategies of knowledge production.