Session 1
Imagining Research
Prof. Tulsi Patel

The first session of the workshop started with a lecture on ‘Imagining Research’ delivered by Prof. Tulsi Patel, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. She commenced by inquiring about research questions formulated by the participants for their research. She also asked them to delineate the reason for developing particular research questions. Some of the questions stated by the participants were:
• How third gender is constructed by Indian films?
• What is the impact of social media on newspapers?
• The inquiry into the gender relations and marriage in Buddhist traditions.
• How ‘new media’ is used by ageing population?

She inquired whether the participants can see any commonality in the noted questions. Prof. Patel mentioned that all the questions are related to our surroundings. She asserted that social science research unlike natural science is a germination of what happens around us. A researcher is guided by observations, hunches, imaginations, intuitions, inferences, implications and perceptions. On the basis of what is being observed, imagination of the researchers evolve. When there is a difficult task is to give a definite boundary on what to imagine, the modus operandi in any research is to focus on the topic. Prof. Patel emphasised that what is ought to be research question is more difficult.

As a researcher, one needs to understand that a study can’t be conducted on an isolated event. So, a researcher should not complacent with the formulation of research questions alone, but also to permeate and acquaint with the literature in the area. She asserted that there is a need to spend ample time reading and constantly engaging with what is being read to give impetus to further thoughts and imagining.
Drawing on analogy of Marx, Prof. Patel stated that Marx can’t be bracketed into any area of specialisation. His work spreads across societies. He has raised question that cuts across all disciplines. Marx is not a mere economist, political scientist or sociologist, but he is a thinker and a great philosopher. Academia segregated into different disciplines with the purpose of administration of knowledge, but mind should not be restricted by boundaries of discipline. She subtly drove home to the point that it is required to think in a larger sense, but at the same time to narrow one’s topic to unambiguous research questions.
Further exemplifying her assertions, Prof. Patel got in-depth into the details of a topic – Third Gender Construction in Indian Films, spelled out by one of the participants. She said that one needs to go beyond what exactly is the topic suggesting. There is a dire need to ontologically understand the subject in selected topic. To understand third- gender in Bollywood, it is cardinal to understand the facts about the people’s source of knowledge regarding third gender, and their treatment in the society. Only after that a researcher working on this topic would be in a better position to understand research questions.

Organisation of knowledge in the society needs to keep in mind while formulating a topic. At this point, research topic and engagement with the literature in the area should interact with each other. The relation between ontology and epistemology is to be determined for narrowing a research topic. While drawing from Edward Shills, a social anthropologist in his work on “The Culture of the Indian Intellectual,” Prof. Patel explained that Shills understanding was a product of his placement, his positioning as an American intellectual. His observation was a commentary on India, whose academic institution he critiqued doesn’t allow any intelligent person to flourish. It is due to structure of Indian society which is traditional influences, the structure of academic institutions as well. She concluded that to make a proposition as Edward Shills today, one should then differentiate between two extreme concepts-traditionality and modernity. There is also a need to understand Shills positioning and vantage, and subsequently his idea of being traditional and modern. Today, one may also look at Shills’ parameters of scaling modernism and traditionalism.

Besides, Prof. Patel stressed that a research in social science has a direct relation with time in which it is being executed or conducted. Therefore, researchers need to imagine the site, time and placement of the research. It was concluded that we dwell more on methods rather than building research questions. Methods should inform and influence on how one has imagined the research. The research questions at the same time need to be contextualised. In social science, one does not assert their findings as universal laws of society, but as what can be deemed true for the moment. ‘Imagining Research’ hence is based on contemplating the research constantly at multiple levels from one’s surroundings while reviewing the literature, and making the assertion of what the outcome of the study would be.