Friday, November 29, 2013

The Sociologist Andre Beteille on Democracy in India

When I studied Sociology at the University of Poona in the 1980s, I heard of Broom and Selznick, Margaret Mead, August Comte, Emile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, Karl Marx, and of course Andre Beteille. Today thanks to the Azim Premji University, I saw Andre Beteille in the flesh and heard him speak like the ‘sutradhar’ of our lifetimes in India. The venue was the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, on Race course road, Bangalore. I was impressed by the articulate views of a range of generations in the audience gathered there on 29th November, 2013. 
Padma Bhushan of India Andre Beteille

For someone, who studied in Kolkata when Lenin was both alive and had a lead influence on communists of Bengal, his alacrity on what may be fact and what is opinion is sharp. It edges the idealism of youngsters armed with fingertip internet information.

While his scholarship, focus and passion shone through – as if here were a political historian, I was absorbing the philosophical stance from which he treated sociology. His vantage point could shift in malleable form from historian to social relations student to political anthropologist. Yet he was unapologetic of taking on the categories he saw his world view from. For him structure and order were cornerstones of analysis of paradigms in democracy. He used a colloquial term to explain his perceptual position – the conformist. To have held that standpoint to hold out his categories of analysis is a feature of analysis in itself. 

His sociology may be seen as a sociology of regulation, and disorder to be seen as a sign of ‘movement’. For ‘movements’ like that of Anna Hazare, JP  Narayan, and the like would change and evolve into something like ‘parties’. Such legitimacy in Andre’s perceptual position is the necessary condition in which ‘meaning' is restored to regulate relations between institutional entities in society. He says, that the difference between Anna Hazare and JP was simply this – that JP was more self-critical and a thinker. And although Andre did not see it himself from the outside, he gives credence to the possibility that those within the movement, saw it coming before most could. E.g. Arvind Kejriwal created a political party. And this when the democracy we have in India hosts a multitude of parties under the swelling tent of liberty, quite apart from a multi-party democracy of 5 or 6 political parties that European nations have.

In terms of signs of deviance, we should look for patterns in factions, which according to him is an unstable entity in parties. It is difficult to pin down factions to stable properties. In fact, factions happen to find friends among university teaching staff too. In terms of regulation however, the academic function of a university, would be lost if faculty co-opted students within their factional identities.
Otto Scharmer's view of the world in 2013

On rather lighter notes, Andre’s pearls included the following :
  1.  Laws and customs are different units of analysis in sociology.
  2. Longer lasting democracies survive on good customs, not on good laws alone.
  3.  Somnathda, erstwhile Speaker of the Lok Sabha,  in his farewell speech wished none of the parliamentarians get re-elected. In his subsequent withdrawal, he expected a Brahmin’s curse to have a salutary effect in Indian society, as he confessed to Andre the sociologist whom he respected. So much for entrenched communism in India!
  4.   Lenin may have called India a zoo, and not a democracy, but more fatally, he may not have known his own country any better.
  5. One must not disdain disorder in Indian democracy as to wish it out of existence, but as in The Westminster model, make sure that the opposition is Her Majesty’s Royal Opposition. (His need for order to contain disorder a clear sign of the sociology of regulation, than the dialectic sociology of radical change).

Lastly, his most telling sign of democracy in India having brought about change is the average age of women at marriage. He would not have imagined this of the India of a 100 years ago. His one distillation of institutional resilience was if the institution survived the life of its founders! Indian democracy has survived, and we could be more hopeful than being in the grip of irrational fears of factions like Naxals and Maoists whose inherent structures would not help their endurance as institutions.

I am however left with how Andre's sociology of regulation may survive the age of the internet, and the mindless degradation of our ecology, if man proceeds without conscious attention to destroy givens.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Big is getting bigger

1. Mckinsey shared their piece n Big Data, Open Data et al this year.
2. Hans Rosling has been crunching numbers on global health, and shows how the world's 7bn may still have a chance to survive with evidence of falling population growth in countries such as Bangladesh, India and China.
3. MOOCs are beginning to catch the digitally connected and increasing speed of access to high quality education the world over.
4. Behavioral Economics is getting embedded into the grain of corporations. Some companies will get bigger and others will get smaller to be relevant.
5. Fields such as neurology are working on adjacancies with law to examine bio-ethics as a new frontier of human rights and obligations.

Change without preparation can numb. Innovators would do well to sensitise their eco-systems in embracing and coping with the emerging impact big data and big impact will soon have on the world.