Understanding Phenomenology & the Cultural Turn in Social Sciences

The fifth day of Research Methodology Workshop began with a stimulating and a very informative lecture on Phenomenological Methods in Research by Dr. Yogendra Singh, Professor Emeritus, CSSS, Jawaharlal Nehru University.

Yogendra Singh blogHe said that Phenomenology goes into the issue of grounded realities, which are actually constructions rather than realities, because they can be ideationally constructed. From this point of view, he explained, phenomenology is not merely a deductive system, albeit its formal advantages. He also explained ‘deductive system’ terming it ‘subjective to prediction and explanation’. “Most formal methods and theories in social sciences are based on the logic of deduction and induction”, Prof. Singh said. He defined ‘induction’ as ‘an observed reality’, and explained the idea of ‘deduction’ using a set of propositions.

Prof. Singh then outlined the details of existential phenomenology and said that it is a phenomenology which is subjective and is related to individuals. Identifying Emile Durkheim, a French sociologist as an existential phenomenologist, he outlined the terms such as transformation of conscious, crime laws, civil laws, sanctions etc from works such as Suicide and Crime and Custom in Savage Society. In this context, he buttressed Durkheim’s understanding of what he calls “man in society and society in man”. Nevertheless, he also problematized the polemics and controversies over Durkheim’s phenomenology.

Dwelling on the Existential Phenomenology, he traced dialectics between existence and representation. He drew a contrast between social reality as representation on one hand and as individual existence on the other. He opined that the French and Dutch philosophers mainly contributed to this branch of knowledge.

He also hinted that phenomenological theory uses an aspect of content which is called ‘sentiment’, and not ‘ideas’. In this respect, he beautifully touched upon the dichotomy between the heart and mind calling the former source of sentiment and the latter as source of cognition.

The next two lectures were delivered by Prof. Saugata Bhaduri from School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, JNU in which he spoke at length on the whole possibility of cultural turn in Social Science.

bhaduriAt the very outset, he explained the inter-linkages among culture, ideology and power. He pointed out that people are well-fed with an ideology through which a certain power flows. Therefore, he said, cultural phenomenon cannot be brushed aside.

Quoting extensively from the Frankfurt School widely renowned in cultural studies, he said that no social structure can be built without a culture.

In his elaboration of the theme, he referred to different, divergent and myriad interpretations of culture stemming from the Frankfurt School, Raymond Williams, Matthew Arnold, Theodor Adorno etc. He also explained how culture can be viewed as an antidote to the rapidly increasing industrialization.

However, Prof. Saugata critiqued the popular Indian view of culture and literature, particularly the saying which goes on in Hindi: “sahitya samaj ka darpan hai” (literature is a reflection of society). He said that culture at best can reflect extremely pessimistic, inert and flawed aspects. Here, he discussed the idea of ‘Cynicism’ and ‘Kynicism’, two diametrically different terms used in cultural studies.

Explaining the whole idea behind the term culturally duped coined by Matthew Arnold in his book Culture and Anarchy, Prof. Saugata said: “Culture is used as a tool through which the power fools and dupes the masses. Thus, they are made to consent to the normative power, repressing what they would have originally been otherwise”.

Here, he made a notable point: “While indeed there is a strong tradition that culture is used as a means to dupe the people, but I believe that it is an extremely narrowed interpretation of culture”. He concluded saying that “culture, on the contrary, can be treated as means not to dupe, cheat or alienate people but to actually lead them to an alternate truth that is defined in its criticality through fruitful enjoyment of love, pleasure and affinity.

This entry was published on December 18, 2015 at 3:04 pm. It’s filed under Announcements, Communication Studies, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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