Skip to main content

Book review: Sociology of witnessing backlash from the so-called ordinary

By Simi Mehta*
A book discussion on “In Defense of the Ordinary” by Dr. Dev Nath Pathak was organised on the 16th of August by Center of Human Dignity and Development (CHDD) at the Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi.
The distinguished panelist included the Author and Speaker – Dr. Dev Nath Pathak, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, South Asian University, New Delhi. The discussants were Prof Nivedita Menon, Professor at Centre for Comparative Politics and Political Theory, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi, Prof Ashok Acharya, Professor in the Department of Political Science, University of Delhi and Prof Santosh K Singh, Chandigarh-based Academic and Commentator; Formerly Founder Faculty with the Ambedkar University.

Building a case for the defence of the ordinary

Dr. Dev Nath Pathak in his opening remarks stated the book is a result of the personal challenges that he experienced in the last 10 years of his academic practices – in resonance with public issues. It insinuates clues on what defines the word “ordinary”.
“There is no body if there is no spine. There is no book if the central hinge which binds the book together is absent, ignored, dormant and hidden (some common words characterizing the ordinary). The ordinary is the hinge on which everything else depends on from banality to mundanity, from mundanity to excellence, from success to triumph. It all means nothing without the hinge called the ordinary”, said Dr. Dev Nath Pathak.
The extraordinary breath of a yogi is nothing without the manifold ordinary breaths flowing day-in and day-out. Every yogi seems to know the three-fold passage of breaths, imagining these passages to be like veins, they were named Ida, Pingala, Sushumna by the ancient yoga teachers. However, what remains central in this whole game is that breathing is the ordinary breathing that we execute every day on a day-to-day basis.
It also looks very likely that one orbit of experience may clash with the other, and yet another one. One level of ordinariness may collide with another. More importantly the orbits of ordinariness may be at the mercy of the machinery that is working day and night to make everything glamorous, memorable, countable, and little more than merely ordinary. Yet the ordinariness remains intact for a return retrospection and revaluation.
To understand this, one need not spend long hours in libraries, or start pouring in the tombs of philosophy of phenomenology, or the philosophy of very ordinary everyday life. Phenomenologists help us to understand the details of ordinary everyday life. Hermeneutic philosophers, while dealing with the complexity of meanings and existential philosophers, showed us not only absurdity and banality, but also a possibility of humanism embedded in the details of everyday life. They do it obviously in the language of philosophy. There are limits and possibilities in the philosophical language.
It is not so easy as everyone says to follow the linguistic modes, styles, and articulation in these philosophical works. Hence, one seems to turn to ted talkers, gurus of all ranks and leaders of various orders. From the spiritual gurus to the management and love gurus, there are so many stakeholders. At times some of the teachers in universities also pose as secular gurus, some Marxists and some others with the level of liberals. Now there is a variety of rabid nationalist gurus. There is truly a demand for gurus who can tell things confidently and clearly. There is no ambiguity, all clear answers and hence, they are gurus. All such prescriptive answers with prophetic clarity are in demand. Seldom do such prescriptions leave adequate space for free will. Each of them will say I will show you the path and the followers of each seem to have started to walk on the shown path. With this is an extraordinary act of faith, of actions, of consequent reactions, of purchasing power and of expenditure and consumption. In this spectacular event in the biographies of ordinary people, there is a causality. The worst hit victim of this spectacle is the ordinary core of every human being.

Importance of reasoning including critical, philosophical, and pragmatic approaches

Prof. Ashok Acharya remarked that the book in defense of the ordinary is an extraordinary book in many ways. It was an extremely riveting read that captivates the reader from start to finish. Prof. Acharya was enchanted by one of the claims made by Dr. Pathak, where he mentions at the beginning of the book that the pronouns ‘I, You, We, They’ are interchangeable. One can sense a certain kind of an autobiographical connect that delved into some of the author’s past. In a way it brought back a sense of nostalgia for those who grew up in the 1970’s and 80’s. The book delves into many facets of life and in many cases underlines the distinction of the ordinary from the extra-ordinary. It also delves into various forms of social theories that illuminates the ordinary in many ways.
But in large parts the book invoked a feeling of nostalgia, as it took Prof. Acharya back into his adolescence and his early youth. It was an era where the society would have chastised anything that was not considered ‘normal’ in that sense. The best part of the book opens-up about the promise and the prospect of emotional reasoning that Dr. Pathak brings up. The work in this book opens our imagination in different ways, as it has a deep connection with normative political theory. The book does not claim to have a simple understanding of the word ordinary. In other words, ordinariness is a complex structure, an experience, and an idea. Prof. Acharya clearly distinguished between branches of critical, philosophical, and pragmatic reasoning in a relational context.

Alternate title and the building a case in favor of the professionalization of childcare for single

Prof. Menon finds the read as a book of philosophy. Every one of the fascinating instances Dr. Pathak unfolded seemed to run a counter to the idea of a pure ordinariness, which he appears to be celebrating a pure notion of ordinariness. But every instance that he discusses seems to run counter to this idea. It seemed that while reading the book she thought that it was being read in an alternative title. Through various examples from the book, she discussed the importance of extraordinary in order to realize the ordinary and become illuminated. Prof. Menon also raised an important point in favor of the professionalization of child-care, making a case for the working women to continue with their work in an ordinary way.

Anthropological and Sociological take on the ordinary

Prof. Santosh Singh upon reading the book reflected on the idea of “What we have done to the ordinary in our practices of social sciences?” The reflections and the questions raised by Dr. Pathak seems to be close to many of us. The book also highlights some of the silent confessions on what we do wrong in our journey so far. The remarks shared by Prof. Singh is oriented from a sociological and an anthropological point of view, where it discussed how we neglected the ordinary and were more obsessed with the spectacular than the ordinary. This seems like a challenge to the field of sociology where we are captive to the idea of spectacular and extraordinary. It was emphasized on how the act of ordinary was disregarded and delinked from common sense in the field of sociology. Hence, we are now witnessing a backlash from the so-called ordinary. Over the years, there has been a lot of research focused on the topics of globalization and climate change. And on the contrary, there is a sense of ordinariness that is attached to the concept of rural. Therefore, it accrues less interest in the domain of sociological research and finds itself neglected. Prof. Singh also poses the argument that if we don’t nurture and connect with the ordinary in everyday life, we will not find the extraordinary moments.

Questions and answers and closing remarks

In this segment Dr. Pathak answered the questions and points raised by the panelists and the audience. The range of questions addressed includes topics such as professionalization of the child-care enabling the working class women to better raise their children; the ordinary being harmonized with the discourses surrounding mental health; considering treating the ordinary as a methodological category and if or not it can be kept in the larger dichotomy of methodological holism or methodological individualism, and whether it requires an extraordinary plane to comprehend the ordinary phenomenon. After answering these questions, the author and all the other panelists put forth their closing remarks, upon which the webinar was concluded.

*CEO, Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi

Comments

TRENDING

CAG’s audit report creates a case for dismantling of UIDAI, scrapping Aadhaar

By Gopal Krishna  The total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project and its cost: benefit analysis has not been disclosed till date. Unless the total estimated budget of the project is revealed, all claims of benefits are suspect and untrustworthy. How can one know about total savings unless the total cost is disclosed? Can limited audit of continuing expenditure of Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), an instrumentality of Union of India be deemed a substitute for total estimated budget of the biometric UID/Aadhaar number project of UIDAI? It has been admitted by CAG that the audit of functioning of the UIDAI is partial because of non-transparency. The report of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India arising from performance audit of functioning of the UIDAI for the period from 2014-15 to 2018-19 is incomplete because it is based on statistical information “to the extent as furnished by UIDAI” upto March 2021. There is also a need to compa

Women for Water: WICCI resource council for empowering women entrepreneurs, leaders

By Mansee Bal Bhargava*  The Water Resources Council of the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry is formed for 2022-24. A National Business Chamber for Women, the Women’s Indian Chamber of Commerce & Industry ( WICCI ) is a premier association empowering women entrepreneurs and leaders in all walks of life through advocacy, pro-active representations to government, implementing projects for women via funds allocated by various government agencies and corporates, plus bringing awareness on all issues that concern women. WICCI boosts and builds women’s entrepreneurship and businesses through greater engagement with government, institutions, global trade and networks. WICCI enables fundamental changes in governmental policies, laws, incentives and sanctions through proper channel, with a view to robustly encourage and empower women in business, industry and commerce across all sectors. WICCI is supported by the massive global networks of ALL Ladies League (ALL), Women Eco

75 yrs of water in India: whither decentralised governance to sustain the precious resource?

By Shubhangi Rai, Megha Gupta, Fawzia Tarannum, Mansee Bal Bhargava Looking into the last century, water resources management have come a long way from the living with water in the villages to the nimbyism and capitalism in the cities to coming full cycle with room for water in the villages. With the climate change induced water crisis, the focus on conservation and management of water resources if furthered in both national and local agenda. The Water management 2021 report by NITI Aayog acknowledges that water and sustainability are of immense importance for the sustenance of life on earth. Water is intricately linked to the health, food security and livelihood. With business as usual, India’s water availability will only be enough to meet 50% of its total demand and 40% of the population in India will have no access to drinking water and sanitation by 2030 . Its Composite Water Management Index 2021 states that ‘India is suffering from the worst water crisis in its history and mil

Grassroot innovations in water management: Policy challenges amidst climate change

By Shubhangi Rai[1], Megha Gupta[2], Mansee Bal Bhargava[3] India despite of having a vast traditional water management history continue to struggle with water crisis from disasters like floods and droughts but more with social distress leading to asymmetric access to water goods and services. The rising water crisis in a country that is abundant in water resources and wisdom is worth questioning and resolving. The knowledge that was passed on by our ancestors who used a diverse range of structures that helped harvest rainwater locally besides replenish and recharge the groundwater along the way. Formal and informal rules were locally crafted by the community on who to use the water, how much to use, when to use, how to penalise for misuse, how to resolve conflicts and many more. As a nation, we need to revive our dying wisdom of the traditional water management systems and as water commons, enable the governing mechanisms towards sustainability. In the session on ‘ Grassroot Innovatio

Need to destroy dowry, annihilate greed and toxic patriarchy in India

By IMPRI Team Talking about an evil ever-persistent in our society and highlighting the presence of toxic patriarchy, #IMPRI Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi organized a panel discussion on Destroy Dowry: Annihilation of Greed and Toxic Patriarchy in India under the series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps on May 4, 2022. The chair for the event was Prof Vibhuti Patel, Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai and a Visiting Professor, IMPRI. The distinguished panel included – Asha Kulkarni, General Secretary at Anti Dowry Movement, Mumbai ; Kamal Thakar, Sahiyar Stree Sangathan ; Adv Celin Thomas, Advocate at Celin Thomas and Associates, Bengaluru; Shalini Mathur, Honorary Secretary, Suraksha Dahej Maang Virodhi Sanstha Tatha Parivar Paraamarsh Kendra, Lucknow and Secretary, Nav Kalyani Foundation, Gender Resource and Training Centre; and Dr Bharti Sharma, Honorary Secretary, Shakti Shalini

Impact of climate change on Gujarat pastoralists' traditional livelihood

By Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, Karen Pinerio* We are sharing a study[1] based learning on climate resilience and adaptation strategies of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat. There are two objectives of the study: (i) to examine the impact of climate on traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Gujarat state; and (ii) to explore and document the adaptation strategies of pastoralists in mitigating climate adversities, with a focus on the role of women in it. In order to meet these objectives, the research inquiries focused on how pastoralists perceive climate change, how climate change has impacted their traditional livelihood, i.e., pastoralism in drylands (Krätli 2015), and how these pastoral families have evolved adaptation strategies that address climate change (CC)/ variabilities, i.e., traditional livelihood of pastoralists of Kachchh district, Gujarat state. Pastoralism is more than 5,000 years old land-use strategy in India; it is practised by nomadic (their entire livelihood r

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and emerging geopolitics

By IMPRI Team In the backdrop of the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine, #IMPRI Center for International Relations and Strategic Studies (CIRSS) , IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi hosted a panel discussion on Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine: Implications for India and Emerging Geopolitics. The event was chaired by Ambassador Anil Trigunayat (IFS Retd.), Former Ambassador to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, Libya, and Malta; Former Deputy Chief of Mission, Embassy of India, Moscow. The panelists of the event were Prof Waheguru Pal Singh Sidhu, Clinical Professor, Center for Global Affairs, New York University; H.E. Freddy Svane, Ambassador, Royal Danish Embassy, New Delhi; Maj. Gen. (Dr) P. K. Chakravorty, Strategic Thinker on Security Issues; and T. K. Arun, Senior Journalist, and Columnist. Ambassador Anil Trigunayat commenced the discussion by stating the fact that wars are evil. He opines that no war has ever brought peace and prosperity to any country and

Making Indian cities disaster, climate resilient: Towards actionable urban planning

By IMPRI Team  Three-Day Online Certificate Training Programme on “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”: Day 1 A three day Online Certificate Training Programme on the theme “Making Indian Cities Disaster and Climate Change Resilient: Towards Responsive and Actionable Urban Planning, Policy and Development”, a joint initiative of the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM) , Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, was held at the Centre for Habitat, Urban and Regional Studies at IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi. Inaugurating the session Ms. Karnika Arun, Researcher at IMPRI, welcomed the speakers and participants to the program with an introduction to the eminent panellists. Day 1 of the program included Prof Anil K Gupta, Head ECDRM, NIDM, New Delhi and Mr Tikender Singh Panwar, Former Deputy Mayor, Shimla; Visiting Senior Fellow, IMPRI as conveners, an

Gender gap: Women face disproportionate barriers in accessing finance

By IMPRI Team Women worldwide disproportionately face barriers to financial access that prevents them from participating in the economy and improving their lives. Providing access to finance for women is crucial for financial inclusion and, consequently, inclusive growth. To deliberate and encourage dialogue and discussion for growth, the Gender Impact Studies Center (GISC) of IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi, organized a web policy talk by Mr S. S. Bhat, Chief Executive Officer Friends of Women’s World Banking India, Ahmedabad on ‘Access to Finance for Women’ as a part of its series The State of Gender Equality – #GenderGaps. The session was started by the moderator, Chavi Jain, by introducing the speaker and the discussants and inviting Prof. Vibhuti Patel to start the deliberation. Importance of access to finance for women Prof. Vibhuti Patel, Visiting Professor, IMPRI, New Delhi; Former Professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai, began by expre

Hindutva patriotism: State-sponsored effort to construct religion-based national identity

By Harasankar Adhikari Rabindranath Tagore (1908) said, "Patriotism can’t be our final spiritual shelter. "I will not buy glass for a diamond, and I will never let patriotism triumph over humanity as long as I live." Tagore’s view stands in sharp contrast to what we are witnessing today, when patriotism means religious differences between the majority (Hindu) and minority (Muslim). Our secular nation is gradually disobeying its secular nature and it is being patronised by political leaders and their narrow politics. India’s unique character of ‘unity in diversity’ is trying to be saffronised. Hindu extremism (Hindutvavadis) generates a culture of religious intolerance. Democratic India is based upon the ideology of equality of all. This nation is based upon different foundations than most of those which went before it. Its legitimacy lies in its being able to satisfy its various component communities that their interests will be safeguarded by the Indian state