Academic reflections on Social Sciences

2014-04-05

Himalayan News Service

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For a country in which many social science disciplines have been taught for less than 50 years, we have managed to accumulate a moderate number of writings that reflect upon the status and orientations of various disciplines as well as their institutional infrastructure in the country. I have found many of these writings to be informative for the purpose of enhancing my own knowledge about the history of various social science disciplines in Nepal.

I would assume that they would be equally useful to others who are trying to understand the history and contemporary forms of specific disciplines, or want to reflect more broadly on the state of social sciences in the country. This note is a general guide to the corpus of such writings and reflections.


Academic reflections on social science research in Nepal began for real in the early 1970s. The first major seminar on this topic was organized by the Institute of Nepal and Asian Studies (INAS) of Tribhuvan University (TU) in Kathmandu in October 1973. Full-length articles examining the status of geography, sociology, anthropology, history, political science, economics, and public administration were presented by various scholars on that occasion. Several individuals commented on each of those papers, and the entire proceedings of the seminar were edited by Prayag Raj Sharma and published the following year as Social Science in Nepal. This major event was followed by a seminar on linguistics organized by INAS in November 1974, and its proceedings were published in 1976 as Seminar Papers in Linguistics: Problems and Perspectives in Linguistic Studies.

During the second half of the 1970s, TU constituted 25 working groups of experts on different subjects/disciplines, and 23 of the reports prepared by them were published in a special issue of the Tribhuvan University Journal (Vol. 10, No 1, July 1978) under the theme “Research in Tribhuvan University: Problems and Prospects.” For our present purposes, it must be noted that expert group reports were published for several social science disciplines, including economics, political science, history, sociology/anthropology, and geography.

During the 1980s and the 1990s, both large events focused on the social sciences in general and smaller ones focused on specific disciplines were held. An example of the former is the National Seminar/Workshop on the Development of Infrastructure and Programmes in Humanities and Social Sciences organized by TU’s Institute of Humanities and Social Sciences in Kathmandu in December 1983. Papers on history, Nepali history, culture and archaeology, anthropology, political science, geography, linguistics, economics, psychology, home science, and statistics were presented and commented upon on that occasion. Recommendations were also made, and the entire proceedings were edited by Mohan P. Lohani and published in 1984 as Social Sciences in Nepal: Infrastructure and Programme Development.

A second example of a relatively large event was the Preparatory Workshop on Himalayan Studies organized by TU’s Centre for Nepal and Asian Studies (CNAS, successor to INAS) in September 1984. Several papers were presented on various aspects of Himalayan Studies (some focused on the Himalayan regions outside of the political territory of Nepal). Its proceedings were edited by Ananda Shrestha. A third example of the same kind was the national conference on Social Sciences in Nepal: Some Thoughts and Search for Direction, also organized by CNAS in Kathmandu in September 1995. Papers on sociology/anthropology, history, political science, economics, geography, psychology, linguistics, and demography were presented in the conference. Its proceedings, edited by Prem K. Khatry, were published in 1997 as Social Sciences in Nepal: Some Thoughts and Search for  Direction.

An example of a specific discipline-focused seminar held during the 1990s is the International Seminar on the State of Nepali Historiography: Problems and Prospects, organized by TU’s Central Department of History in October 1993 in Kathmandu. Papers were presented on the historiography of ancient and medieval Nepal, on modern Nepal up to 1950, and on selected trends and problems in the post-1950 Nepali historiography. These papers were later published in 1995 as part of the seminar proceedings entitled State of Nepali Historiography edited by Tri Ratna Manandhar and others. I reported this seminar in an article entitled “History: A bold beginning?” published in the now-defunct weekly newspaper The Independent.

In September 1992, two major back-to-back conferences were held in Kathmandu where anthropological and sociological research papers were presented. The first was organized by the Sociological and Anthropological Society of Nepal (SASON, established 1985) under the title “Structure and Transition: Society, Poverty and Politics in Nepal.” The second conference was held under the title “The Anthropology of Nepal: Peoples, Problems and Processes” and was organized jointly by CNAS and the Department of Anthropology of the University of Sydney. In some of the presentations made in these two conferences and on their sidelines, reflections on the state of these disciplines, their thematic orientations, and tensions inherent in them were discussed and reported (for instance by this writer in the article “Anthropology still finding its feet” published in Himal). As far as I know, no proceedings of the first conference were published. Thirty-four of the more than 50 papers presented during the second conference were published in 1994 as Anthropology of Nepal: Peoples, Problems and Processes edited by Michael Allen.  

After the year 2000, various efforts have been made to review the state of social sciences in Nepal, or the state of specific disciplines. A major article on the state of social sciences in Nepal, entitled “Social Sciences in Nepal” was published in 2002 by political scientist Krishna Hachhethu in the journal Contributions to Nepalese Studies based on research executed during fall 2001. His research was done as part of a regional level study on Social Science Research Capacity in South Asia sponsored by the New York-based Social Science Research Council (SSRC). Country-specific studies arising from this regional level study were published in the Indian journal Economic and Political Weekly, where a slightly different version of the article by Hachhethu also appeared. A report with the “thematic summary of the main findings and recommendations for all five countries in South Asia” was published by the SSRC in 2002 as Social Science Research Capacity in South Asia: A Report edited by the Indian social scientist Partha Chatterjee and others.

During 2002-2003, several academics looked at the state of specific disciplines under a project executed by the Kathmandu-based Institute for Social and Environmental Transition-Nepal (ISET-Nepal). Articles arising from this project have examined the discipline of history (P. Onta 2003, published in the journal Studies in Nepali History and Society, SINHAS), political science (Hachhethu 2004 published in SINHAS), sociology (Chaitanya Mishra 2005 published in the journal Contributions to Nepalese Studies) and geography (Jagannath Adhikari 2010 as an occasional paper of the Social Science Baha).

Specific discipline-focused meetings have continued to take place. For example, Nepali historians met in Pokhara in April 2003 at a conference organized by the History Association of Nepal (HISAN) in which two of the papers presented examined regional history writing (by Dil B. Kshetry) and the enrolment of students in the discipline of history (by Krishna B. Thapa and Chandra B. Budhathoki). Both papers later appeared in the journal Historia published by the Department of History and Culture of Prithwi Narayan Campus (PNC) in Pokhara. In January 2004, Nepali geographers met in Pokhara under the auspices of the Nepal Geographical Society (NGS, established 1961) to reflect on the state of their discipline and hear research presentations of their colleagues. Two edited volumes emerged out of this meeting, one edited by Bhim P. Subedi and Padma C. Poudel in 2005 and the second edited by them and Krishna P. Poudel in 2006. Nepali sociologists and anthropologists gathered in December 2007 – also in Pokhara – to reflect upon the state of their disciplines in a national workshop organized by the Department of Sociology/Anthropology (DOSA) of PNC. Its proceedings were edited by Biswo Kallyan Parajuli and published in 2008.

As a result of the above mentioned exercises and other initiatives not discussed here, a moderate corpus of academic writings reflecting upon the various state of social sciences in Nepal have appeared since the early 1970s. While some discipline-specific reviews referred to their related predecessors, no comprehensive list of such writings existed until early 2010. Such a compilation was necessary both to have a more general view of the status of reflections on social sciences in Nepal (and specific ones focused on particular disciplines) and to promote new research on the same topic. It was also necessary for journalists and other non-academics who want to periodically assess the work of Nepali academics in the social sciences.

With these points in mind, I prepared a bibliography of such writings in the summer of 2010, published it first in the website of Martin Chautari (www.martinchautari.org.np/bibliographies.html). Its slightly revised version was later published in the journal Himalayan Journal of Sociology and Anthropology, No. 4, published
from PNC.

With respect to social science disciplines, writings on history, political science, geography, sociology, and anthropology have been covered extensively by consulting relevant bibliographies, journals, edited volumes, and other reference sources. A relatively less effort has been made to locate all relevant writings on economics, psychology, demography, linguistics, and a number of other disciplines which also fall within the remit of social sciences in Nepal but fall outside of my core disciplinary interests. In that sense, this bibliography is incomplete, and will have to be augmented by others with different disciplinary foci. Also writings covering French, German, British, Russian, and Japanese research on Nepal – published in Nepali or English – have been included. In terms of publication outlets, items that appeared in newspapers have not been included but those published in magazines, when found, have been included.

This bibliography will be periodically updated, and revised versions will be published in the Martin Chautari (MC) website. Copies of most of the books and journals from which entries have been obtained for this bibliography are available at the MC Library in Thapathali, Kathmandu, which is open to the public, Sunday through Friday. Online copies of articles published in the journals Contributions to Nepalese Studies, European Bulletin of Himalayan Research, Himal, Himal Southasian, Nepalese Linguistics and Occasional Papers in Sociology and Anthropology can be found in the online journal collection of Digital Himalaya (www.digitalhimalaya.com/collections/journals/). Online copies of specific articles published in the journal Studies in Nepali History and Society can be found at the MC website. Available online copies of other items, when found, have also been noted. However, some of them might be accessible only in restricted sites.

Onta is a historian based at Martin Chautari in Kathmandu

(Source: Republica Nepal)