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Dossier : La division internationale du travail scientifique

From Academic Dependency to Self-ostracism of Intellectual Labor

The Case of Sociology in Pakistan
De la dépendance académique à l’auto-ostracisme de travail intellectuel : le cas de la sociologie au Pakistan
Imran Sabir
p. 73-88


Le rôle et la nature du travail intellectuel dans le processus de production de savoirs dans le monde globalisé d’aujourd’hui sont souvent étudiés et discutés en référence aux divisions nationales du travail scientifique. Toutefois, les tendances inégales des divisions du travail intellectuel entre les pays du Nord et du Sud nous conduisent à jeter un regard critique sur ce processus. Dans cet article, nous allons explorer le cas de la sociologie au Pakistan, qui peut être caractérisé comme quasi-isolé, comme un savoir “désuet”, et comme une discipline statique d’un point de vue cognitif et institutionnel. Les données tirées du Science Citation Index (ICS) suggèrent que la sociologie au Pakistan par rapport aux autres pays développés n’a nourri en aucune manière le processus de la division internationale du travail dans la recherche scientifique ; excepté pour une brève période –la naissance de la discipline– la division internationale du travail scientifique n’a pas concerné le Pakistan, en raison du peu d’intérêt des sociologues pakistanais ou de leur expérience sociale et historique. Les facteurs à l’origine du faible développement de la sociologie au Pakistan remontent à son histoire coloniale et post-coloniale.

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  • 1 I wish to express my gratitude to Anne Marcovich for her valuable comments on an earlier version of (...)

1The organization and future development of national and regional systems of research among countries of the South and north are today frequently discussed and studied with reference to globalization among national divisions of scientific labor (see the introduction of this special issue)1. This combination of elements is itself often considered in terms of several permutations. Globalization is frequently coupled to forms of cooperation, which when taken together comprise a worldwide learning network. Alternatively, multi-national research synergies are suggested on the basis of the coordination of nation-ground divisions of national cognitive and technical labor again through communication and cooperation.

2The international division of scientific labor is determined by the cosmopolitan mode of knowledge production. However, this cosmopolitism does not necessarily exist as a transcendent expression of all forms of learning. According to Johnston (1998): some « sociologists of scientific knowledge have challenged the privileged status of abstract scientific knowledge, therewith demonstrating the social and cultural situatedness of knowledge, and the social negotiation processes which are used to test and refine what is accepted as knowledge ». In short, cosmopolitan form of knowledge is not inevitably universal, and is indeed perhaps far from such. In this article we will explore the case of sociology in Pakistan from its inception in 1954 to today which may be characterized by quasi-isolation, outdated knowledge, and as cognitively and institutionally static. Although, it’s more than sixty years that sociology as a discipline prevails in Pakistan, it is yet to attain the status as something more than an inconsequential, beleaguered and belittled scorned and unproductive academic discipline. In the passage of over half a century, how is it possible that Pakistani sociologists have published a mere 20 articles in Science Citation Index (SCI) journals, and that, there has never existed an indigenous research journal where Pakistani sociologists could publish their research outcomes? How is it possible that predominantly practiced research activity in the form of research dissertations written by students revolved mainly around almost ossified, unchanging issues and using long outdated research methods that elsewhere have been powerfully supplemented and re-enforced by new techniques and concepts in recent decades? What does this activity in the name of learning and knowledge production reveal about subtle, often ignored issues of globalization, cooperation and the international division of labor, especially in the third world? Finally what does it tell us about How relationships between the first world and the third world should be viewed and assessed when the former is perceived as the knowledge producer when taking scientific standards into account and the later as the dependent player in the age of the so called “knowledge economy”? Our thesis is twofold first, that Pakistani sociology has nourished in no significant manner the concert of international division of labor in scientific research, and second, except for a brief period at the discipline’s birth, that the international division of scientific labor has failed to interact with Pakistan either through extracting little of interest from Pakistani sociologists or from Pakistani social experience. Pakistan thus stands outside the dynamics of cognitive labor differentiation, and this may indeed prove the case for many more nations than one might initially think.

3In the following study, the explanation for this situation will be explored in the light of: 1) Pakistan’s political and colonial and post-colonial history; 2) the complex socio-linguistic norms extant in the introduction of sociology as a discipline by the USA and associated international bodies and with a very particular perspective and their sudden and total withdrawal; 3) the structures of the educational system; 4) the institutionally narrow and cognitively blinkered origins of sociology departments in Pakistani universities; 5) the discipline’s intellectual and professional introversion and inertia; and, 6) lastly the institutional and structural constraints of academic teachers and their professional habitus.

4Such an initially structurally imposed academic dependency on the North by the Pakistani sociologists and subsequent quasi-isolation from its scientifically valid knowledge production process may help us understand the nature of the division of scientific labor in other Third world countries. In fact if the same pattern is predominantly adopted by other Third world countries in a national science system, it may well prove fatal to their integration on a global level.

Failure of sociology in Pakistan evidence from the data

5Sociology as a discipline has traditionally proclaimed itself to be a universally valid form of scientific knowledge that until World War II was located primarily in very few countries like, France, Germany, the United States, and the UK. After World War II, this “cosmopolitan” discipline began to appear to differing degrees in the universities of the entire world through the process of diffusion. However, like all cosmopolitan disciplines, the process of its establishment in the first world and the third world was entirely different. The roots of the discipline were embedded indigenously in the first world countries as its birth and growth was socially rooted, institutionalized and organic in nature; thus it was not considered something alien and received a relatively ready welcome. In the third world, however, sociology, like other social sciences, being an imported discipline failed to institutionalize epistemic standards developed by the first world for the production of knowledge. Sociology is present today in more countries around the world than ever before, yet the vast majority of sociologists are located in North America and Western Europe (Burawoy, 2005). Indeed, in most countries sociologists are few and their work conditions remain deplorable (Wallerstein, 2006), and Pakistan is no exception.

  • 2 The author collected the data of student dissertations during the fieldwork required for his PhD di (...)
  • 3 It should be noted that SCI has inherent linguistic bias towards the non-Anglophone publications. N (...)

6To sketch the amount and range of research work, we turned to the data from two sources: the Science Citation Index and dissertations produced by the students of MA Sociology2 in two major (and the oldest) institutes of sociology in Pakistan: The University of the Punjab, Lahore; and, The University of Karachi. Data from SCI3 for Pakistan does not show any substantial thematic or methodological variation of sociologically significant knowledge, reflecting that the field is almost stagnant even after a half century. Data evinces a miserable situation in the social sciences in general and sociology in particular. As stated above, only 20 articles have been published between 1967 and 2008 in the field of sociology. Similar situations can be found in other social sciences, like demography (46) articles, political science (23), anthropology (14), and economics (109). Other less-developed countries, like Sri Lanka have published but (9) articles; Indonesia (34), Nepal (12), Malaysia (45), and, Thailand (45) also hold disappointing figures in the production of internationally recognized research articles in the field of sociology.

7We can better judge the depth of the situation if we compare these figures with other countries, like India, France, Germany and the UK. For the same period (1967-2008), India published 433 articles in sociology, 500 in demography, 412 in political science, 1744 in anthropology, and 1514 in economics. France, Germany and UK published 3318, 2189, and 7560 articles in sociology, respectively.

8What do these figures regarding the production of scientifically valid knowledge suggest? Less developed countries, when viewed in comparison to developed nations, would always appear to be untying the Gordian knot. If it is true, then why has India successfully established a better system of scientifically valid and cosmopolitanized knowledge while Pakistan could not? It is reasonable to ask with reference to rejection and poor performance if the social sciences in general and sociology in particular failed to play any significant part in the production of knowledge in certain nations because they are perceived in their indigenous context in which they originated and not judged normatively from the cosmopolitan perspective.

9To investigate this, we have to look for the sources other than the SCI that reveals what is produced locally.

10The only source of locally produced sociological writings is research dissertations written by the students in partial fulfillment of the requirement of Master degree in sociology. In the data from these dissertations, it is necessary to look for the trends in social research, and to control for possible thematic variations in different historical periods.

  • 4 A methodology invented by Paul F. Lazarsfeld (1901–1976) and predominantly used by Pakistani sociol (...)
  • 5 The analytical schema and thematic classification of the dissertations’ data is extracted from the (...)

11Up to 1960, ninety research dissertations were produced by MA students in which education (24,4%), village studies (23,3%), opinion surveys4 (21,1%), and family and marriage (13,3%) were the main themes. This thematic continuity of research can be observed throughout the history of sociology in Pakistan. Nonetheless, issues like unemployment (0,3%), beggary and poverty (0,9%), agriculture (1%), and, religion (2,1%) were almost neglected5. This does not mean that the education, marriage & family and opinion studies are not important issues to be studied. Nor do we suggest what ought to be sociologically significant or historically and culturally relevant for a particular society. However, what we observed from the data is the prevalence of certain issues and the relative absence of other socially and culturally significant domains throughout the history of academic sociology in Pakistan.

12Early conceptualization of sociology has allowed a very narrow (possibly nonexistent) space to approach the discipline from a Third World perspective given its exclusive focus on Western world (Vaughan, Sjoberg, & Reynolds, 1993). The subsequent inequalities, produced by today’s global division of labor in sociology, in relations between the knowledge producing countries and the recipient countries are maintained and even exacerbated by specific features of the current division of labor in global knowledge. Why has sociology not grown in Pakistan, instead remained isolated from the knowledge production process, except for an early brief period when its pioneers and tutors seemed motivated and connected to sociology currents in the west? We must look for both historical factors (in the sense that these were rooted in the pre-colonial or colonial period) and structural factors (configuration of a social system based on inequality, state policy, scarcity of resources and infrastructure in society) to answer those questions posed above. We also have to take into account the role of United States in the introduction of sociology in Pakistan. We may consider the role of Pakistan-US academic relationship as one of the dependent which put Pakistani sociology into a vicious circle of dependency (as claimed by the proponents of the theory of academic dependency and academic neo-colonialism, as indicated by Hussein Alatas). Sociology in Pakistan consequently evolved toward quasi-isolation, perhaps worse than the former dependency system.

Historical/cultural-linguistic factors

13To understand the intellectual and social characteristics of Pakistani sociology and its position with reference to cosmopolitan science and the international division of labor, one must reach back to the colonial and even pre-colonial features of the sub-continent’s culture, history and linguistic crisis. We must fully grasp the clear difference between the way knowledge was produced and used in the traditional world (for convenience we can take “pre-colonial” as the synonym for “traditional world”) versus the way it is being produced in the modern world.

14The modern world exhibits the complex social systems and disciplinary divisions with the specialized and centralized institutional setups in which science and scientific methods enjoy legitimacy as the main mode of knowledge production. By contrast, traditional societies were structurally simple and based characteristically on religion and religious beliefs. The production of knowledge predominantly revolved around religious texts, and occupational skills with decentralized educational systems. The sub-continent remained under similar religiously dominated education systems before British invasion. Hindus, Buddhists and Muslims, all developed their educational systems to produce religiously valid and occupationally utile knowledge. But a common character of all educational frameworks was their indigenous routes. For example, they used the mass language as the medium of instruction, which was not the case for the modern education systems for most of the colonized nations.

15The advent of the centralized imperial education system during the British Raj that replaced the traditional community based education system of pre- colonial era was a major shift in the educational and intellectual history of the sub-continent. The new education policy completely disregarded the age-old system and introduced a new one based on new language, new disciplines, and new techniques of knowledge transformation. Roots of many problems regarding the medium of instruction, dual education systems (different for the poor and the rich), public image of the modern disciplines and cultural/cognitive anchoring can be traced back to the colonial era. Such problems have hindered the emergence of genuine intellect in all the social sciences in present day Pakistan, and sociology is no exception.

16The British began to take control of the sub-continent under the banner of the East India Company at the beginning of the eighteenth century after defeating the Mughals and stayed as merchants until 1857, after which, the British government took the direct control of the sub-continent. The colonial period first under the East India Company and then through the direct British government rule had distinct educational features.

17Under the East India Company, two major issues attracted the attention of British policy makers: what education system should be developed; and, in what language. William Adam, a former Baptist missionary turned journalist, submitted a report to the British government in 1835 on vernacular education in Bengal and Bihar (two of the states in what is now eastern India). He urged the development of an educational system based upon the already established local system of education of patshalas (Hindu schools) and Madrassas (Muslim schools) in almost every village. This suggestion was vehemently opposed by Lord T. B. Macaulay, member of the Supreme Council of India, who insisted upon establishing a fresh system of education offered in the English language and demanded abandoning official support for the local academic languages like Persian, Arabic, and Sanskrit. In addition, he emphasized the introduction of a western form of education; accessible exclusively through mastery of the English language (Ali & Iffat, 2007: 153). Through such reforms he wanted to create a class of local Englishmen. In his own words:

“We must at present do our best to form a class who may be interpreters between us and the millions whom we govern; a class of person, Indian in blood and color, but English in taste, in opinions, in morals, and in intellect” (Macaulay’s minutes on Education, 2nd February, 1835).

18These minutes, approved by Governor General William Bentinck in the same year, introduced a new paradigm of education in the sub-continent, marked by a continuous struggle over language issues which continue even in today’s Pakistan. In 1854, following Macaulay’s footsteps, Sir Charles Wood drafted the future design of spreading the western education system with English as the medium of instruction throughout British India which is commonly known as Wood’s Dispatch. A major aim of this education was to prepare a class of professionals mainly for government services.

19This new system of British education created and reinforced a class division based on educational achievements. Proficiency in the legitimate English language rather than knowledge content became the determining factor for success in professional life. Those who could speak the English language could join the elite club and those who could not remained at clerical levels. This division based on language proficiency still exists in present day Pakistan. The British policies also proved detrimental to the role and status of teachers, particularly those in the general public schools, as compared to their role and status in the older systems of Madrassas and patshalas. In the earlier indigenous educational systems, the teacher had the responsibility of setting the curriculum that he/she deemed harmonious with the students’ cultural lives. In contrast, the new system emphasized the role of standardized textbooks, hence limiting the role of the teacher in curriculum development. In addition, unlike the teachers of elite schools, the vernacular school teachers were paid lower salaries and slotted near the bottom of the hierarchy of government bureaucracy. Pakistan still has the same bifurcated private/public educational system division.

20Before the British occupation, Muslims had an independent education system considered to be closely associated with forming the Muslim identity and meeting the community’s spiritual and material needs. The British Policy of education in India spawned two extreme reactions among the Muslim community. The first reaction came from conservatives who preferred to retain the structure of Madrassas and spurned contact with the English system of education which they considered a threat to their religion and culture. The proponents of this view founded a Madrassa in Deoband (in present day India) in 1866. The second response came from those Muslims who looked favorably on the English system of education but believed that since Muslims had lagged behind other Indians in modern education, they needed an apparatus of affirmative action and special institutions to be educated in worldly and modern knowledge. Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898) led this movement called the Aligarh (presently in India) in 1875. This college later became a university where Muslims of India acquired an English education. Indeed, Aligarh became the center for Muslim separatist politics, which eventually led, through the philosophical influence of Iqbal (national poet and thinker) and the political leadership of Mohammed Ali Jinnah (founder of Pakistan), to the creation of Pakistan as a sovereign state. Interestingly, it was largely through the medium of English that the case for Pakistan was fought on the national and international scene (Kamran, 2001).

21One of the distinct causes of disciplinary and cognitive failure of the social sciences in Pakistan today is directly attributable to the gate-keeping function of the English language which has always been a foreign body in and an obstacle to grass-roots intellectual assimilation into Pakistani culture. Indeed, historically the very late arrival of the British Raj into the geographic areas comprising today’s Pakistan further sharpened this problem. Although, British occupation in South Asia lasted for more than two hundred years, many areas of Pakistan were among the last to be occupied. Some outlying areas remained little occupied for about one hundred years, and particularly here no serious efforts were made to reform the educational, social or cultural infrastructure. Consequently, English as a language and importantly as a cultural package could not find enough room to become part of local culture. It always remained a language of the power elite and only in that guise did English become the de facto official language of Pakistan since its creation in 1947, an elitist selection mechanism which was formalized in the constitution of 1973.

22The problem of using English as the medium of instruction has been a permanent feature of Education policy in Pakistan and many other British ex-colonies (see, for example: Hettige, 2009; Khan, 2008; Crothers, 1998; Mishra, 2007). The translation of knowledge from English to local languages could not be materialized as was promised in early education policies. Thus teachers and local textbook producers of sociology continued to obtain sociology materials from English texts where a majority of students not well equipped with the English language skills became less and less capable of reading, understanding and conceptualizing such material. Consequently, a majority of research dissertations produced by Master students is either forged with plagiarized material or with the mere description of data.

  • 6 Here it would be interesting to note that many colonial and post-colonial factors, including the ac (...)

23This language barrier vehicles a deep and conspicuous epistemological issue. The question must be raised under what conditions and to what extent is it efficient for students to read, grasp, assimilate, and to manipulate productive information, and in particular complex concept, expressed in a language which is not native, may be learned at a late stage in their development, may be poorly taught, and may well be alien to their local practices6. Although some attempts were made by sociologists to write textbooks in Urdu (the mass language) but they resulted in mere translation of English material with ambiguous conversion of terminology from English to the native language, resulting in even more confusion for the students. Many of the dissertations too were allowed to be written in Urdu, especially in Karachi University, but in the absence of viable and sustainable initiatives to publish books in Urdu and the local research journals, and dependence on the western sociological literature, they too became the victim of English orthodoxy and cognitive lethargy. Language controversy led a vast majority of sociology students to many imbroglios. They often misinterpreted the sociological theory, misunderstood the basic concepts, and were unable to figure out what is sociologically significant. They consequently frequently turned to the collection of mere data and introducing it into frequency tables as an end in itself being sociological research. There are hundreds of examples of inability of students to produce a quality research due to the lack of language skills.

24Narration of Pakistan’s colonial history and culture marks the contours in which we will try to trace and understand the origins and impedient growth of sociology as a discipline that initially started with the academic dependency on and ultimately led to quasi-isolation from the international scientific labor.

The Birth of Sociology in Pakistan and Western Dependency

  • 7 Washington State University’s Pakistan Project was one of over seventy similar projects which were (...)
  • 8 John B. Edlefsen completed his PhD in 1948 from University of Wisconsin and wrote a dissertation on (...)
  • 9 A prominent figure of early sociology in Pakistan, currently living in Canada; first Pakistani to c (...)

25In a peripheral country like Pakistan, sociology was imported from the USA like many other academic disciplines, but its subsequent evolution was much different from the one that took place in the USA. Sociology has been offered as an optional subject for the M.A. in Political Science at Punjab University for several years. An independent department of sociology appeared in 1955 in Punjab University. The first to be established in Pakistan, it was initiated with the help of an Inter-College Ex-change Contract Program between Punjab Uni-versity and Washington State University7. John B. Edlefsen8 played a key role during 1954-57 in organizing the new department, which initially had a teaching staff of five; three of whom were Pakistanis, with approximately seventy students engaged in a two-year M.A. course. The Department was then headed by J. J. Mangalam, a Cornell Ph.D., assisted by the Agency for International Development (AID), Fulbright and Washington State University appointees. During this period, two Pakistani students, H. N. Gardezi9 and Khalida Shah, were sent to Wash-ington State University to get their PhDs.

26Early Pakistani sociologists and their American mentors failed to provide a platform for coming generations that could be used to peer-review, criticize and publish locally produced sociological knowledge. Thus, they never managed to produce a professional research journal even after a half century struggle. By contrast, they laid the foundation for the Pakistan sociological Association (PSA) in 1963 which initially remained very active to gather Pakistani sociologists annually who offered very encouraging ideas and profound plans about what ought to be the shape of sociology in Pakistan. Nevertheless, these suggestions were never materialized because of the virtual death of the PSA after the brain drain of its pioneers in the late 1960s, when the US largely abandoned Pakistan educationally.

27Early debates of local and contextual sociology reflect the concerns and motivation of Pakistani sociologists to get out of Western dependency (at least, intellectually). They became caught up into the imbroglios of indigenization and westernization of sociology. They were divided on their opinions about indigenization of sociology. Nonetheless, as noted by Gardezi, many of these sociologists were of the view that the unique elements of the culture and social organization of Pakistani society called for the development of concepts and theoretical models bearing greater relevance to indigenous social experience. One of the sociologists in the first meeting of the PSA presented the idea of indigenization in these words:

“There is the impossible alternative of inventing an ad hoc sociology, custom tailored to local conditions, from a nationalistic point of view, an attractive prospect. While this will lead to as many so-called sociologies as there are cultures and subcultures in the world but this would be the death of sociology in any objective scientific, universalistic sense of the word and sociology will become vulnerable to increasing diversion for political ends. The other alternative is to continue the application of concepts and techniques rooted in a western industrial society to the rural social system of the East. In this direction lies barren scholasticism, where our students continue to memorize definitions that baffle understanding in any empirical context known to them” (Barash, 1965: 8-9).

28Similarly in 1966, the president of the PSA in his presidential address warned about the absence of relevant sociology:

“We will be closing our eyes to reality if we deny that in a hurry to establish separate departments of sociology in various Pakistani universities, we have almost blindly depended on such a type of textbooks which have little or no relevance to our society... It is time that we take the warning against the pitfalls that lie hidden in the unexamined application of theory and methodology of certain Western writers for the study of our society” (Karim, 1968: 78).

  • 10 See the contributions by Wolfram Eberhard, John J. Honigmann, John B. Edlefsen, Johannes Humlum, an (...)

29These concerns coupled with the initiatives taken by early Pakistani sociologists to publish their conference proceedings reflected a promising future for the discipline. Some Western sociologists, while reviewing the early achievements of Pakistani disciplinary sociology, admitted this progress as the development of creative sociology in Pakistan (Ries, 1970: 181). In fact, the US departure from Pakistan in the late 1960s and early 1970s marked a dividing line between the era of the dependent, but progressing, sociology and the era of an isolated and stagnated sociology. It is essential to emphasize that with the departure of the US from Pakistan, the country became totally removed epistemologically, conceptually and cognitively from the evolution of sociology in the rest of the world, yet it carried on in the spirit of inertia. Thus, in the pre-1970s during the era of dependent sociology, Pakistani sociologists did contribute to the international division of scientific labor as the producers of data. This fact factory, nevertheless played a role in the production of knowledge, as it occupied a specific position in the international division of research labor. This offered an opportunity to foreign sociologists to conduct research in Pakistan or use already collected data for theoretical interpretations. Although more sociological studies on Pakistan have been conducted by European and American scholars than by Pakistanis themselves10, there exist a number of exemplary efforts by Pakistani sociologists. Sociology of Pakistan (Khan, 1966) was the first published sociological study of society by any Pakistani which called for the use of non-western historical and empirical sources and methods to study Pakistani society; yet the work itself proved to be a mere presentation of social facts. As noted by Nandy:

“Though the author earlier advocated the need for a Pakistani sociology and ‘a social theory of Muslim society’, the work on the whole remains primarily a descriptive account of society and culture in Pakistan. …Inasmuch as much of these data have been expressed and explained in terms of basic concepts and propositions developed in European and American sociology in the last hundred years or so” (Nandy, 1967: 288).

30Pakistani sociology faced many problems. One such problem is an almost complete lack of texts and other literature oriented specifically to the study of Pakis-tani culture. University students of sociology are compelled to use American and British texts, and most of them are outdated and belong to early developments in this discipline. Before 1970, research dissertations written by MA students cited abundantly to sociology’s principal theoreticians, such as Robert K. Merton, Talcott Parsons, Karl Marx, C. H. Cooley, and G. C. Homans etc. By contrast, after 1970 virtually no new theoreticians and new concepts have been introduced until recently. A close examination of references in the bibliographies of dissertations reflects that they rarely cite the central contributions of such key contemporary sociologists as Pierre Bourdieu, Raymond Boudon, Michel Foucault, Bruno Latour, Anthony Giddens, Jerald Hage, Andrew Abbott, Jürgen Habermas, Niklas Luhmann giants of world social study and theorizing. In short, the evolution of epistemology and sociological concepts in Pakistan virtually cease in the early 1970s. On a different register and as indicated above, undergraduates tend to discuss topics such as industrialization, stratification, family and marriage patterns, and social change in terms of the American context, overlooking the fact that the generalizations drawn from data are not applicable to their own society. The technical style is often difficult for Pakistani students to comprehend, while certain themes (e.g., class structure and the impact of Islam) could only be adequately analyzed by a study of the society itself.

31Another problem is the serious shortage of trained Pakistani sociology teachers. According to Gardezi, almost all the teaching and research staff during the period 1955-70 was trained in American universities. The three universities offering sociology in early 60s (University of the Punjab, Dacca University and Karachi University) had had to rely mainly upon Fulbright and UNESCO appointees from abroad. Very few Pakistani social scientists had studied in North America, and they found little scope for their train-ing on their return to their homeland and thus upon their ultimate disappointment returned back to the countries where they were trained. After the departure of UNESCO and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in the late 60s, Pakistani sociologists who did not leave their homeland soon became alienated by structural constraints, overburdened by heavy workloads, an unfavorable research environment, and more importantly from political upheavals.

Structural factors versus sociology

32Some other factors constituting structural obstacles to the development of sociology in post-colonial Pakistan are also worth mentioning. One of these is a conflict of power in academia and its alienation from academic activities. To understand the conflict of power in academia, one must grasp the mechanism of teacher’s recruitment where corruption, nepotism and politically motivated appointments limit the chances of recruitment of capable academicians. Instead of going through established and proper channels, many of these undeserving professors primarily engage in university politics to win higher ranks and look for opportunities of getting research projects not for the production of knowledge and promoting academic culture but to earn extra money through external consultation contracts offered by many international organizations like World Bank, Asian Development Bank, World Wide Fund for nature, Canadian International Development Agency, Japan International Cooperation Agency, USAID and United Nations etc. Such activities consume their valuable time and university resources that ought to be devoted to the students and original research. A minority of those who wish to promote student-learning and their own academic nourishment encounter few possibilities. Overcrowded sociology departments have an average of one teacher for almost one hundred students. Indeed, teachers, overburdened by preparation of lectures, class assignments, term papers, exams, and supervising the student researches, are left with no time for academic research activities. Thus, being alienated from all this, they endeavor to hunt for any opportunity to get out of Pakistan.

33On another register, a discipline’s status is determined by how useful it is perceived, both at state level and at the societal level. The Pakistani state has almost always neglected the social sciences in general and sociology in particular its due role in social policy. How worthy the contribution of a Pakistani sociologist is, is expressed by one of the University teachers in these words:

“(…) No we have not contributed to knowledge. There is no recognition by powerful people. What a professor socially and intellectually signifies in Pakistan and what a professor socially and intellectually signifies in France, there is a big difference. In France People listen to his knowledge but over here academics are ignored. They are only good for teaching, awarding degrees and are restricted to the (teaching) department. But in France people listen to their analysis; what they say is important for policy formulation”.

34A degree in sociology is very unproductive in terms of occupational potential. Graduates holding a Master degree in sociology cannot obtain a recognized Government position and the respectable status which the natural and biological scientists and bureaucrats enjoy. The majority of Sociology Master Degree holders are employed by NGOs for data collection, the organization of different social activities, seminars and/or for community mobilization, and there they work more as social workers or enumerators than as sociologists. They are permanently threatened by losing their jobs because they are usually offered project based work, conditioned upon the renewal of the project.


35The growth of sociology as a discipline in Pakistan has been related to the historical, cultural and linguistic factors that were rooted in the colonial period and in the socio-structural context that prevailed after independence. In Pakistan, a poor educational infrastructure and inability of scholars to free themselves from the dominant epistemological structures through institutions such as UNESCO and USAID (Washington State University) rendered virtually impossible a sociological approach emanating from within Pakistan. Sociology in Pakistan knew but a brief moment of productivity when it played a marginal role in the international division of labor up to the time of the departure of Western institutions in the 1970s. This initial period was mainly marked by training Pakistani sociologists in the West and by the introduction of Western-modeled institutes in Pakistan with the assumption that sociology is a universal science that can be applied everywhere. But since this universalism is synonymous with Western sociology’s principles, procedures, and techniques of investigation, such training produces a Western intellectual hegemony and dependency in which the Third World scholar is developed in the context of Western intellectual categories and cultural contexts that exhibit socioeconomic and political realities structurally different from the Third World (Vaughan, Sjoberg, & Reynolds, 1993).

36We do not suggest that cooperation in the form of an international division of scientific labor should be terminated in order to give birth to a genuine and culturally imbedded intellect. Doing such would likely push them into quasi-isolation, as is evident from the case of Pakistan. Nor do we advocate covert Western dependency of the Third World on the knowledge production process. Nevertheless, the historical factors that initially imposed academic dependency on the US by Pakistani sociologists and their isolation from its own endogenous scientifically valid knowledge production process raise some serious concerns for the investigators of sociology of sociology and of the sociology of knowledge.

37The critical evaluation of the work of sociologists as social researchers to a larger extent and as teachers to some extent has been taken into account by the formal and explicit sociology of sociology but the champions of the critical view, either deliberately or unwittingly, failed to reflect convincingly upon the global diversity in the organization, distribution and conceptual and methodological practices of disciplinary labor. It is as if the knowledge produced by the academically recognized Western peer review system has been narrowly established and maintained in order to legitimate it among other asymmetrically produced but yet to be validated knowledges, and this is the reason that sociology in Pakistan has always remained at the periphery, silently adopting haphazard strategies for achievement of recognition. Thus in countries like Pakistan, as long as they remain in parasitic relation with the developed world, or isolated (no matter for what reasons) from the international scientific community and its knowledge production process, it would result in the birth of the scientific labor of captive minds in the indigenous context and in its virtual death on a global level.

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1 I wish to express my gratitude to Anne Marcovich for her valuable comments on an earlier version of this paper, and to my friend Kashif Sherwani and my wife Abida for helping me in data processing. I am deeply indebted to Prof. Terry Shinn, whose guidance, stimulating suggestions and encouragement in all the time of writing of this paper enabled me to finalize it.

2 The author collected the data of student dissertations during the fieldwork required for his PhD dissertation.

3 It should be noted that SCI has inherent linguistic bias towards the non-Anglophone publications. Nonetheless, it is widely used in national science and social science publications’ statistics to measure the scientific capacity and linkages to world science, both in developed and developing countries.

4 A methodology invented by Paul F. Lazarsfeld (1901–1976) and predominantly used by Pakistani sociologists right from the birth of social research in Pakistan until today.

5 The analytical schema and thematic classification of the dissertations’ data is extracted from the subcategories often reflected in the mainstream research journals of the discipline.

6 Here it would be interesting to note that many colonial and post-colonial factors, including the acceptance of English as official language, played a significant role in the development of Indian sociology. Early acceptance of English language and English education system by the Hindus during British occupation put them at an advantageous position before the partition of subcontinent. Adaptation of English along with Hindi as an official language and as medium of instruction was the only choice to homogenize the education system of newly emerged multi-lingual nation-state of India. According to Valien (1954), the attempt to establish Hindi as the national language in India since a substantial proportion of the citizens, especially in the South, and many of the university professors did not know Hindi faced a severe reaction by the public right after the partition. Late eighteenth and the nineteenth century heritage of Indological and socio-anthropological studies conducted by The Asiatic society of Calcutta (founded in 1784 by Sir William Jones) and the British administrators like Henry Verelst and Sir Herbert Risley provided a rich and abundant source to the newly born discipline of sociology in 1920s in India as the formal disciplinization of sociology started in the universities of cosmopolitan cities like Bombay, Calcutta and Lucknow, which later became part of India after the partition of sub-continent. Many successful efforts of the early Indian sociologists like Radhkamal Mukherjee, D. P. Mukherji and G. S. Ghurye to Sanskritize the modern discipline too played a crucial role in the indigenization of sociology. Nonetheless, according to Das (1993), only urban centers of India enjoy the progress of disciplinary sociology, whereas the situation is much aggravated at the periphery of India where teaching and research is conducted in regional languages.

7 Washington State University’s Pakistan Project was one of over seventy similar projects which were carried out throughout the world by American land-grant colleges under contract to the United States Agency for International Development. One of the longest running, the WSU project first came under consideration in 1952, was contracted for and implemented in 1954 and continued active under several successive contracts until 1972. Initially the project consisted of a series of broad ranging advisory services to the University of the Punjab at Lahore; after 1961 the emphasis changed to the development of the new West Pakistan Agricultural University at Lyallpur (current Faisalabad). With the completion of the Lyallpur project in 1969, a new contract was negotiated to continue certain technical projects at WPAU until 1971 after which the project was terminated (Source: ).

8 John B. Edlefsen completed his PhD in 1948 from University of Wisconsin and wrote a dissertation on “A sociological Study of the Basques of Southwest Idaho”.

9 A prominent figure of early sociology in Pakistan, currently living in Canada; first Pakistani to chair the Department of sociology, Punjab University. Got his PhD in sociology from Washington State University, and his MA in sociology from University of the Punjab.

10 See the contributions by Wolfram Eberhard, John J. Honigmann, John B. Edlefsen, Johannes Humlum, and A. N. J. den Hollander. See also Maron, Stanley (ed). 1957. Pakistan: Society and Culture. New Haven; and, Braibanti, 1959, “A Note on Recent Social Science Research relating to Pakistan”, Association for Asian Studies.

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Référence papier

Imran Sabir, « From Academic Dependency to Self-ostracism of Intellectual Labor », Cahiers de la recherche sur l’éducation et les savoirs, 9 | 2010, 73-88.

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Imran Sabir, « From Academic Dependency to Self-ostracism of Intellectual Labor », Cahiers de la recherche sur l’éducation et les savoirs [En ligne], 9 | 2010, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2012, consulté le 29 septembre 2020. URL :

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Imran Sabir

Sociologue, Université de Paris IV-Sorbonne,

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