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The newness in sociology

This era is predominately ‘a data era’ shaped by Artificial Intelligence and widespread knowledge realm of science and creativity
11:58 PM Feb 23, 2024 IST | Prof Ashok Kaul
the newness in sociology
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What is newness in sociology?  Each ensuing moment is a fresh moment and it cannot be captured, but taken as it, so is the bankruptcy of theories and ideologies. Our founding fathers had tried to capture it, but failed. There is a whole debate from Functionalist to Conflict school, from Middle Range theories to Structuralism to predict or reveal the pattern of change; nothing has come out of it. It is precisely what poetry and science fiction  tell us sociology could not keep peace with it. If change has to come through human agencies that human agency is unsighted, which conflict school has made us to believe. It is what has caused disillusionment in critical sociology. Presuming that change comes by patterning social structures, which produce equilibrium in the society, but it come out only a realm of power and domination, in its exploratory analysis. Post modern perspectives have made us aware that market, state and society is in a knitted structure that has become managerial, bureaucratic, routinized through surveillances, which is a form of late capitalism. It destroys critical thinking.

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The unprecedented changes in information technology and impact of globalization have caused reversal of primary groups. Hebermas put it aptly that ‘legitimacy crisis would occur because social life has lost its mystery’. All spheres of life are politicized. The growth of ‘instrumental rationality’ has undermined the public sphere and it has become a sphere of interest groups to influence the state. The irony is, the measures deemed necessary to overcome disparity lead to diminishing of freedom of individual. It is in this direction, as Popper would tell us that possibility is that it can regress to closed society. It is happening all over the world. The market has become a knowledge mechanism, through which highly diverse range of information is dispersed. It has capacity of influencing people’s choices, steadily. Since market is not controlling mechanism, it is all about purchasing power, we need state intervention in the management of economy and society. The difficulty is that state has not enough capacity to meet the needs of all people; hence it tends to be regressive or engaging people in mundane issues. The choice of individual and collective lean to ideology, as conceived earlier is misleading. The reality is that those who do not have much purchasing power swim in the current political discourse and those who can afford, tend to be on the mode of individual market radicalization. This is the era of post truth and ramifications of late capitalism. One wonders whether the interest of individual should be guided by a group consciousness or should it go individual understanding. Then issue arises, can that group sustain the individual from such challenges. Since so called primary groups are in receding mode of power and domination, these groups no longer can tie individual to its traditional loyalties. It has put us at acrossroads, whether composition of society is required on given parameters, which our founding fathers of sociology had discerned or need new paradigms?

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What could be then newness of sociology? Pattering the change or producing the equilibrium mechanisms have been rendered insignificant. Despite dialectics model from the  conflict school has validity in methodology, and equilibrium understanding, as a result of  patterned structures  are tried models in a society; yet global nature of market and society connected through dominant instrumentality of power  to produce profits have  taken sheen from these established theories. Although,  the predicament of social sciences, particularly of sociology, as such was diagnosed well in its inception, the failure of modern with such abrupt fast speed dismantling ‘social’ so quickly was not predicted. Andre Betille back in 1997 through his article in Sociological Bulletin has made us aware about this disenchantment; however, he has given us renewed hope through methodology that ‘newness would begin to emerge only if we carefully scrutinize the existing knowledge’. Having knowledge and scrutinizing it with acumen and passion are important for a researcher. This era is predominately ‘a data era’ shaped by artificial intelligence and widespread knowledge realm of science and creativity.  Sociology takes rebirth in the contours of this era. The picture of social dynamics is emerging from the perpetual struggle for advantage among variety of groups, as they pursue their interests in all spheres.  There is no equal access to power and resources. Struggle for better life chances and preserving dignity of an individual have become crucial to the centrality of dynamics. The low potency of economics depriving pleasure pursuits have gone to the route of primordial solidarity to make for the loss. It is a plural world, multicultural in nature, its axis is diversified migration, internal as well as external. The emergence of social classes as communities and nature of new classes, formed mainly through symbolic capital are resorting to reinventing the traditions. The purpose of religion might not be conceived what it essentially preaches, but its functionality to make an individual a part of solidarity, beset with material advantages explains its resurgence. Its capacities have not yet exhausted in attracting the individual for this worldly gain. Religion like, market branding advertisements has tended to be contesting realm.

The religious asceticism remodeled in cult and sect traditions is a way to share power and have the pursuit of pleasure. Religions like late capitalism have new unstated meanings. There are considerable concerns about what the transition of AI implies for the reorganization of capitalism in denouncing the codifications of the past, including religion. Though it is difficult to predict the outcome, but it would seriously impact labour force and lead to political conflicts and tacit discord on religious lines. This invokes us not to discard our intellectual traditions of knowledge, its free acceptance and understanding with passionate mind for quest of humanity.

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Prof. Ashok Kaul, Retired Emeritus professor in Sociology at Banaras Hindu University

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