ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Challenges in Social Science Research

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The social sciences have always been treated as a poor cousin of the natural and physical sciences. The latter have for long enjoyed the enviable status of the darlings of the state. And the reasons are not far to seek. It is they, so runs the argument, who find solutions for areas ranging all the way from agriculture to the country’s defence. That virtually every problem which science and technology tackles has societal ramifications is rarely perceived with any degree of clarity. Worse, it is all too easy to overlook the fact that policy, be it in agriculture, irrigation or defence, has to be informed by a more holistic understanding of social processes. And not many in the higher echelons of power are guilty of such a broad view. Inevitably such a technocentric view results in gross unfairness in resource allocation between the physical and social sciences. Admittedly the former need more resources given their input requirements but even so the social sciences get short shrift. The inequity is compounded by the declining share of higher education in the overall budget for education.

Prior to independence research in the social sciences was carried out almost exclusively in universities. There was hardly any funding from outside. Despite this Indian social scientists produced trail-blazing work. After independence the picture has changed dramatically. A host of institutions emerged mainly due to the initiative of the state, in particular the central government. At least in part the support extended to social sciences was a fairly explicit recognition of the contribution they could make to policy. A landmark was the creation of the ICSSR which even today is a sort of an apex body in this sphere. ICSSR was created to promote critical research. Although funded by the state it was (still is on paper) autonomous. The expectation was that it would encourage long-term oriented inquiries. Government support generally focuses a little too sharply on ‘policy relevance’. This may not include work which is likely to lead to a broad understanding of emerging trends. It tends to discriminate in favour of certain disciplines, economics being the leading example. ICSSR was thought of as an institution which would develop a more holistic approach towards social science research. And for an impressive length of time it fulfilled this expectation.

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