The role of social science in the social and economic development of the country is being increasingly recognized in India. Besides the government, public and private organizations are providing impetus to researches in the social sciences.
The notion that social science research can contribute variously to the social, cultural and economic development of the country has been gaining ground ever since the Planning Commission after its creation realized the need for social science research in the relevant spheres of national development.
The universities and other research institutions have been activated to work out and administer various schemes of research into social; economic and administer various schemes of research into social; economic and administrative problem germane to national development. The first five-year plan provided for a sum of rupees fifty lakhs to further these objectives.
Among the activities of the ICSSR, promotion of social science research has a central place. These promotional activities consist in financial support for research to social scientists and institutes award of fellowships.
As many as 708 research projects were sanctioned by the ICSSR during the period commencing from 1969-70 to 1976-77. The development of the institutional base was mainly the responsibility of the university system. But subsequently, the needs for social science research outside university system were also recognized.
The University Grants Commission has stepped in a big way to promote social science research. Since the year 1975-76, the UGC has been implementing the teacher fellowship scheme. The UGC also has a scheme for award of scholarships and fellowships for the development of social science research in universities and colleges.
There are certain foreign agencies like USEFI and Rockefeller Foundation which provide financial support. Big industrial organizations and business families have also provided assistance for social science research. Social science, however, have had a low priority in the matter of research funding. The allocation of funds for research as compared to the natural sciences is meagre.
Social science research says S.C. Dube, “is not a substitute for national development; in many instances it would not even indicate a clear policy line. Social scientists are nowhere close to being social engineers…. The power of social science is exploratory and its practitioners are essentially analysts.”
Admittedly, most of it lacks a national focus and it is not relevant to the major issues of the day, very few right questions are being asked by social researchers and even when asked they are not pursued seriously.
Outworn methodology is being used and there is little evidence of methodological innovation which will prove equal to the unique problems of the Indian context. There is in evidence a heavy reliance on concepts formulated in foreign soils and uncritical use of borrowed methodology.
Dube laments, that “social scientists in India tend to work upon the trivial and count barren theoretical and methodological exercise as triumphs. Alternatively, we refuse to examine empirically the social reality and try to answer the contemporary questions from the ancient texts and traditions.”
There, of course, are a few exceptions of good research work in the realm of social science but these have a narrow focus. The insights emanating from them are hardly subjected to systematic verification and hence the extent of their applicability to wider areas remains unknown. As a result, a macro-national perspective cannot emerge. Hence, while such studies do fill a gap, it is difficult to generalize from them.
During the last few decades, financial assistance is being given on an increasing scale to support social science research. A considerable volume of data has been gathered through such funded projects. But, how far these data were utilized for planning? Knowledgeable persons feel that planning was by and large done in total indifference of these data.
Very few if any, significant conceptual or methodological gains have registered through these projects. “Some of them were poorly organized and indifferently executed ….” The government sponsorship of social science research projects did provide an impetus to it.
But on the negative side, this resulted in a great deal of mechanical and some shoddy work. The research tradition has definitely not been enriched by such studies.
Quite a few government agencies are also involved in social science research, “where one gets picture of a great deal of mechanical work and of a general sterility in respect of significant ideas (perhaps) these organizations have some built in devices to distract them from the path of creativity.”
The record of some government organizations is certainly one of high productivity, but the scale of its operations is such that quite so often, quality has to be sacrificed for quantity. Nevertheless, these organizations are a rich source of social data. A few research organizations outside the university system are also producing insightful studies, especially in regard to the development hazards.
There is a good case for looking into and correcting the organizational incompatibilities and contradictions in the government run research institutions. Bureaucratic strangleholds and the typical frustrations of the social science intellectuals need to be examined and remedied; comparative and long-term research needs to be looked into, management guidance in this sphere can be of great help.
The function of social research may be said to be mainly exploratory. It cannot be expected to project a definite course of social action; it can best offer policy alternatives. That social scientist makes it possible for the policy planner to move from the known towards the desirable but the unknown is a help of major consequence.
Towards this end, he has to sharpen his tools and define his focus. Needless to stress that in the final analysis the social scientists will be judged by the quality of their study-products and by their success in communicating to the community in general and to the policy planning in particular.