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Sociology Research

 

 

‘Educate, Agitate, Organize’! Democracy is quite different from a Republic as well as from Parliamentary Government. The roots of democracy lie not in the form of Government, Parliamentary or otherwise. A democracy is more than a form of Government. It is primarily a mode of associated living. The roots of Democracy are to be searched in the social relationship, in the terms of associated life between the people who form a society.’      B.R. Ambedkar

 

ARC Mission Statement

At this particular moment in history, it is crucial to engage with the intellectual trajectories and the political life of B.R. Ambedkar- primarily trained as a political economist, anti-caste activist/philosopher and constitutionalist. His life, along with his writings, remains part of the less explored genealogies of human emancipation, referring to historically oppressed communities of India and their liberation. His approach to radical social democracy in the Global South is based on a broader philosophical framework of anticolonial thought vis-à-vis social freedom. This alternative anticolonial framework is animated by a project of emancipation that moves toward an equitable and just society for all. Ambedkar developed critical and radical perspectives towards the problematic idea of nationalism on cultural and religious lines.

Ambedkar envisioned socio-cultural and political freedom from the domination of colonial structures and social hierarchies institutionalised through religious dogmas based on gender and caste operated historically in South Asia. These religious and cultural hierarchies of race, caste and gender defined freedom in exclusivist ways. The continuation of these inherited historical socio-cultural structures weakened the scope of the emancipatory potential of political struggles against British Colonialism.

Ambedkar envisioned a future based on humanism through their intellectual and political critique of existing modes of understanding in the domain of knowledge and polity. Ambedkar argued for building equality and liberty based on fraternity as the fundamental feature of any democratic society. He asserted that equality and liberty could not be sustained without fraternity, or to put it radically; any society cannot claim democracy by merely having liberty and equality. The radical approach to democracy can only be sustained when liberty and equality rest upon the pillar of fraternity. This understanding of democracy in Ambedkar came from his engagement with the philosophical and theoretical framing of social democracy throughout his life. The idea of social democracy was primarily based on his reading of the caste system in India and the racial system in America associated with colonialism and imperialism throughout the world.

The intellectual path of Ambedkar coincides with the intellectual and political struggle to fight racism and Eugenics in social sciences in America. Ambedkar’s presence in the American academic and intellectual milieu coincided with a period when the social sciences were passing through a transitory phase, and the future was still uncertain. This encounter proved influential towards the later part of Ambedkar’s life when he became a significant figure during the last few decades of British Colonialism in India. His struggle for the emancipation of the “untouchables” remains at the forefront of all his political struggles. He continued to critically engage with the question of democracy in India even after independence and the adoption of the constitution.

Ambedkar communicated and engaged with several prominent thinkers of his generation and envisioned human rights for all as the basis of global democratic formations. Ambedkar belonged to the generation of W.E.B. Du Bois, John Dewey, Hannah Arendt, Kwame Nkrumah and others who fought against long histories of oppression, violence, majoritarianism and dehumanisation that made the twentieth century a catastrophic period. From a state of homelessness, to say, the total absence of human rights, Ambedkar envisioned a distinctive style of cosmopolitanism and envisaged a place where all could be at home, where the fundamental human rights of individuals and groups would be protected.

Through this collective engagement with Ambedkar's intellectual thoughts and political life, ARC will facilitate students of the social sciences, philosophy and humanities to broaden their understanding of social and political theory from a South Asian experience/perspective. At the same time, ARC will enable the broader academic and political community to engage with one of the most crucial emancipatory movements of the twentieth century, namely, Ambedkar’s pursuit of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.

 

Format

The ARC aims invites guest speakers to give on-line talks, once or twice a term.

 

Convenors and contact

The Ambedkar Reading Group at Cambridge (ARC) at the University of Cambridge is led by Kumud Ranjan, and Priyanka Kotamraju, PhD candidate at the Department of Sociology.  

 

Current meetings

No meetings are currently programmed.  Please check here for future announcements.

 

Past Meetings:

The Evolution of Ambedkar's Navayana Pragmatism

Speaker: Dr Scott R Stroud, University of Texas at Austin, author of The Evolution of Pragmatism in India

Chair: Professor Manali Desai, Head of the Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge.

Abstract: Many know of Bhimrao Ambedkar's educational experiences in the west. Some know of how much he thought of the classes he took with John Dewey. Almost nothing is known, however, about the depth of Ambedkar's engagement with John Dewey and his pragmatism. This talk builds on the archival and conceptual work in my forthcoming book, The Evolution of Pragmatism in India (Chicago, 2023), to argue that Ambedkar extended various parts of Dewey's pragmatism and used them to help construct a novel vision of meliorist philosophy. Ambedkar's new form of pragmatism--what I call Navayana Pragmatism--changes the parameters of pragmatist psychology and sociology to align them with the anti-caste struggle. Undergirding Ambedkar's critique of caste is his pragmatism's vision of social democracy as a way of life for individuals and groups in a community. Thus, Ambedkar's roles as an anti-caste thinker, a pragmatist philosopher, and a theorist of democracy all converge when we think of him as part of the evolution of pragmatism in India and the world.

 

 

Locating Castes in India: Their Mechanism, Genesis and Development

Speaker: Vivek Kumar, Professor of Sociology, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Chair: Dr Filipe Carreira Da Silva, Department of Sociology, University of Cambridge.

Abstract: Even after centuries of its existence and engagement by social scientists, caste has remained an enigma to be deciphered. Mainstream social scientists have given various theories and characteristics of caste. However, there remain lots of gaps in understanding the caste system even today. In such an academic void one is reminded of a number of texts by Dr. B.R. Ambedkar that have been erased in Indian academia. For instance, in his paper exactly 117 years back, Ambedkar highlighted a number of shortcomings of authorities of that time on caste. He argued, that their mistake is that they did not define caste as a group within and with definite relations to the system as a whole. Hence, reading Ambedkar will help us to answer a number of questions like - Caste as a system, the nature of the Hindu Social structure, the place of the Individual, the origin of Patriarchy, the origin of the Shudra as a Varna; the origin of caste system, and untouchability. Using an interdisciplinary approach mixing Sociology, Anthropology, Linguistics, Indology, etc., theories and applying historical, evolutionary, and comparative approaches Ambedkar successfully provides us total repertoire of ‘Caste System’ and opens new vistas for research when we are witnessing that caste is becoming a global phenomenon.

 

 

Ambedkar in London

Speakers:

William Gould, Professor of Indian History, University of Leeds

Santosh Dass, Chair of the Anti Caste Discrimination Alliance, and President of the Federation of Ambedkarite and Buddhist Organisations UK.

Christophe Jaffrelot, Avantha Chair and Professor of Indian Politics and Sociology, King College London’s India Institute, Research Lead, Global Institutes, King’s College London. CERI-CNRS Senior Research Fellow, Sciences Po.

ChairHazem Kandil, Professor of Historical and Political Sociology, University of Cambridge.

A discussion with the editors of: Ambedkar in London (Hurst Publishers, 2022) an exploration of the international context for Ambedkar’s ideas around caste, law, religion, democracy and race, as developed while studying in the imperial capital.

Dr Bhimrao R. Ambedkar (1891–1956) was one of India’s greatest intellectuals and social reformers; his political ideas continue to inspire and mobilise some of the world’s poorest and most socially disadvantaged, in India and the global Indian diaspora. Ambedkar’s thought on labour, legal rights, women’s rights, education, caste, political representation and the economy are international in importance.

This book explores his lesser-known period of London-based study and publication during the early 1920s, presenting that experience as a lens for thinking about Ambedkar’s global intellectual significance. Some of his later canon on caste, and Dalit rights and representation, was rooted in and shaped by his earlier work around the economy, governance, labour and representation during his time as a law student and as a doctoral candidate at the London School of Economics. The Indian diaspora in the UK is the country’s single largest national minority. This volume connects Ambedkar’s influence during his lifetime, and his legacy today, to this early phase of his career and intellectual life in London, and its immediate aftermath. It contains new material on the establishment of the city’s Ambedkar Museum, explores Britain’s Ambedkarite movement, and charts the campaign to outlaw caste discrimination in the UK.

 

 

Collective consciousness versus caste: Ambedkar's Dalit sociology

Speaker: Dr J. Daniel Elam, Assistant Professor, University of Hongkong 

Chair:  Patrick Baert, Professor of Social Theory, University of Cambridge.

About the Speaker:

Daniel Elam specialises in transnational Asian and African literatures in the twentieth century, modernism, postcolonial theory, and global intellectual history. He works on literature from the ‘global south’, with a focus on anticolonial movements in British Empire. He also works Black American anti-racist thought in the 1920s and 1930s, Third World solidarity movements during the Cold War, and anti-Apartheid activism in South Africa in the 1960s-1980s. He has written on Bhagat Singh, M.K. Gandhi, B.R. Ambedkar, W.E.B. Du Bois, Emma Goldman, and other figures. He has published essays in many journals, including Postcolonial Studies, Interventions, and PMLA. He is the author of World Literature for the Wretched of the Earth (Fordham University Press, 2020) / Impossible and Necessary (Orient BlackSwan, 2020)

 

 

Thinking beyond the Class-caste hyphen: how Dr Ambedkar Wrestled with Socialism
Thursday 21 March

Speaker: V Geetha, feminist activist, writer and historian
Chair: Professor John Holmwood, Emeritus Professor of Sociology, University of Nottingham

Abstract:
In this presentation, V. Geetha discussed the method that she adopted in her book to think through what Babasaheb Dr Ambedkar did with the idea as well as the politics of socialism. As she notes in the introduction, socialism haunted his thought world and she wanted to account for this haunting. She has attempted to do this in several ways: from placing his views in conversation with those held by ideologues of the Indian left in any given instance; by reading his texts to indicate how he was as concerned with a philosophy of praxis, as socialists were; and by examining the conundrum posed by caste for a socialist politics, and which more than anyone else, Ambedkar sought to address from myriad angles.