Bridging Models of Inquiry
Asked to speak about my ‘work’, I have often ventured to submit that it concerns a subject area intermediate between ‘philosophy’, social and political theory and culture critique: the question, specifically, of the enabling histories with which one works. This may be construed as a vague and inconclusive admission, although if one were to get its measure through my specific contributions – whether it be the logic of disciplines and the limits of a sociology of knowledge or the interpretation of modernity or even the appraisal of normative languages like multiculturalism, secularism, human rights, constitutionalism, justice and affirmative action – then perhaps the picture may not seem so indeterminate.
Be that as it may, I must submit that my disciplinary affiliation has been – and remains – sociology, albeit rendered along the terms identified by the historian and philosopher of science Ian Hacking as that of ‘the complacent disciplinarian’. Insistently, in recent times, I have found myself returning to the question of ‘inquiry’, indeed of the place of theory and method in the design of inquiries (humanistic or otherwise). I am particularly concerned to explore two dispositions internal to disciplines – what I term, broadly, the ‘scholastic’ and the ‘reflexive’ – even as one strives to get a measure of their intertwining across spaces of inquiry. In a recent recounting of the spaces of disciplinarity and post-disciplinarity (Recontextualizing Disciplines: Three Lectures on Method, 2014), I have ventured among other things to formulate the point whether a purely disciplinary capacity (that is to say, a grounding in one’s own discipline) could envisage alternative perspectives which by definition a disciplinary capacity cannot occupy. We must confront the inner coherence (or otherwise) of this possibility; examine more intently what this would yield about both the genealogy of disciplines and their epistemology, and, not the least, the question of the contextualization that could be productive of inquiry.
Secondly: the philosopher Wittgenstein has shrewdly remarked, somewhere in his notebooks, the following: not empiricism, and yet realism in reflection, that is the hardest thing. We must ask what this could yield to the design of inquiries, especially those conceived in cross-disciplinary terms and which anticipate the problematic status of their ‘objects’ (I am here thinking particularly of the opening up of the world of the life sciences and the challenges that this poses for renewed social science reflection). Must this not entail a disruption of the consensus that social scientific work (or even work across disciplines) should limit itself to the specification of the ‘conditions of existence’ of objects? And yet, once this consensus is fragmented, the consequences could be startling for all inquiries (humanistic or otherwise), which provokes a further thought about the status of the ‘objects’ of one’s research and about theoretical postulation more generally.
Hopefully our blog will unravel, and come to inhabit more intensely the space of these (and such other) questions. I see myself as a participant in this exploration.
– Sasheej Hegde