You are currently viewing Sociology Under Attack: What Happened in the University of Delhi is a Disciplinary Issue

Sociology Under Attack: What Happened in the University of Delhi is a Disciplinary Issue

Anyone can teach or study Sociology.

That is a claim that every sociologist in India and beyond has heard numerous times. We spend a significant amount of our time explaining to colleagues from other disciplines—and, indeed, to our own foundation-year students—how Sociology differs from common sense or general knowledge and requires just as much disciplinary training as any other subject. But we can’t convince everyone, and I believe that the recent displacement of all five serving ad-hocs from the Sociology department at the University of Delhi’s Indraprastha College for Women (IPCW) last September is a case in point. 

The Case of IPCW’s Sociology Department

Since it was founded in 2017, the department ran on the labour of ad-hoc faculty such as myself, who were appointed semester-by-semester. In addition to having no job security, most ad-hocs had heavier teaching and administrative loads than the permanent faculty but got less leave and a lower salary—very often paid late. Hence, when the university announced an end to its hiring freeze for permanent faculty, we saw a ray of hope. 

But soon this hope was extinguished as reports began coming in from several Delhi-affiliated colleges that instead of transferring onto permanent contracts, many ad-hocs were being dismissed. It has been argued that some of those who replaced them were selected based on their political and social connections with the ruling party. Either way, what is striking is that even in IPCW – which has seen massive displacements of ad-hocs across departments – Sociology was the only department that had 100 per cent displacement, despite producing university rank holders (students with the highest grades in the university) since its inception. 

Moreover, out of the eight permanent appointees, four do not have PhDs. Four have an MA in Sociology, but not a BA or a PhD. And five have no teaching experience at all. To top it all, one has no degree or National Eligibility Test (NET) in Sociology or any discipline—and that person is the head of the department! By contrast, four of the five displaced ad-hocs have PhDs from reputed universities, and the other is pursuing one. 

Part of a Larger Pattern

At a time when the job market is so competitive, with even PhD holders not getting shortlisted for teaching positions elsewhere, what explains the recruitment process in IPCW? I argue that it is the misconception that one needs only rudimentary knowledge of the discipline, or none at all, to teach Sociology. 

I say this partly based on a staff council meeting last May, at which the new principal removed Sociology from the college’s science society—in which Sociology students had previously been very active. The head of the Sociology department raised a query, but the principal responded by dismissing the idea that Sociology was a science at all. In many meetings at the college level, the Sociology department representative is regarded as the person who should perform social duties since—as an ex-colleague was told—“sociologists must possess good social skills since they work on society.” 

Read: We Stand with the Displaced Sociology Faculty of Indraprastha College for Women, University of Delhi

That lack of understanding of and respect for Sociology is also reflected in the fact that in the interview process at IPCW and many other colleges in the university, there was no representative from the university’s main Sociology department—the Delhi School of Economics. Another example: when asked about my contribution to the department by the selection committee, I spoke about how I had represented the department and college in national and international sociological activities. But the principal dismissed this as my “personal achievements” and questioned their “measurable impacts.” She suggested that the kind of work that sociologists do is not “good enough.” 

After the displacement, students protested and demanded answers from the college administration. In response, several senior teachers from other departments told them that the “new teachers will be able to teach Sociology. They can learn it easily as it is not very difficult.” And that sentiment is borne out by the fact that the new appointee with no degree in Sociology is slated to teach an introduction to Sociology and sociological research methods. 

Who gets to teach Sociology and how is central to how disciplinary knowledge is transmitted to coming generations

Rituparna Patgiri, PhD

The Future of Sociology

Sociology’s struggles in Delhi are just one tiny illustration of the attacks that the discipline—in common with other social sciences—is facing across the world, from both educational institutions and states. Sociology is seen as critical and “woke” but non-scientific. 

Professional bodies of sociologists, such as the International Sociological Association (ISA) and the British Sociological Association (BSA) have taken cognizance of such occurrences and released statements from time to time. But in India, this has not been the case, and this is why I feel that what happened in IPCW needs to be brought to light. 

Who gets to teach Sociology and how is central to how disciplinary knowledge is transmitted to coming generations. Recruiting non-sociologists to Sociology departments will only hinder that transition—and deepen the damaging falsehood that Sociology is a discipline without disciplinary expertise.

Rituparna Patgiri

Rituparna Patgiri has a PhD in Sociology and is one of the co-founders of Doing Sociology – a digital resource dedicated to promoting sociological consciousness among young people. She taught in the Department of Sociology, Indraprastha College for Women (IPCW), University of Delhi for three years before losing her job in September 2023.