Concept Note

Research Scholars Workshop
Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics
University of Delhi

9th - 10th February 2012

Transformations: Object, Field, Method


“Transformations: Object, Field, Method”  is a way of understanding what may be at stake in the question of selection of objects and problems, the methods by which we study them and the ways in which we validate those methods. In this spirit, we invite papers on the topic of objects of research and their transformations – the appearance, the creation, the suppression, the cultivation, the annihilation of objects, queries and problems. We invite explorations on the theme of the workshop outlined below through elaborations, refinements, disagreements, critiques, alternate formulations and refusals of this theme in presentations of planned, ongoing or completed research. The aim of the workshop will be an engagement with the general question of the object of research, the exploration of specific projects, and the cultivation of a spirit of experimentation with these questions.

 How do we identify a problem, query or object in research and how do we sustain and follow it?    How do we recognize the ways in which research queries and objects find articulation - as discovery, constitution, emergence, variation, differentiation, translation, dispersion or disappearance?  How do we bring them into relation with other problems and objects as well as with other researchers? How do we negotiate and engage polemics, provocations and antagonisms of and around objects and queries? Where do we begin and end research?

One way to approach these questions is to frame them together under the rubric of ‘transformation’. This framing has been present since the very beginning of the social sciences, and still finds place in much contemporary work. In fact transformation of the social is a central thematic across diverse theoretical explorations. How is Malinowski able to identify characteristics of human nature if not by working backwards through transformations in magic, religion and science? What is at stake for Marx in envisaging the communist future, Durkheim in the distinction between mechanical and organic solidarity, Weber in rationalization, Harvey and Castells in the urban and information age, Levi-Strauss in system and model; or Dirks in the invention of caste if not in vectors of transformation of the social? In other instances, what changes have the veil controversy in France brought about in the symbolic economy not only of cultural markers but also of secular commitments?  What notions of the political appear or disappear in the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street movement or the Anna Hazare episode? What unprecedented notions of life emerge in the entanglement of the bio-technical and the social? 

This limited listing is intended to bring into relief the challenge of transformation - of the object or problem as well as the total transformation of its field of meaningfulness – that is the transformation of the social itself. Rather than treat transformation as the general signature of social science research, we aim to understand its importance in the constitution of research objects. We are left with questions about how problems and objects appear social.  Thus, in what does the consistency and persistence of the social lie? 

The question, then, is not only one of the selection and framing, but also what the problem or object calls forth, and may be made to call forth – including the field in which it is identifiable as social.  The aim, then, is about understanding what kind of challenge transformation poses to method itself. What would be an adequate relation of method to object, and how does transformation relate them? Can we argue that these three terms are necessary for the making of the social – this workshop intends this exploration.
Abstracts are invited from all research scholars, and should be not more than 500 words. With the abstract, please include your name, institutional affiliation and contact information. 

Abstracts are due by 15 December. They should be sent to: Selected participants will be notified by 24 December. 

Please note that we cannot support travel and accommodation for the Conference