Academic journal article Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences

Science and the State: 'Dryland' in Postcolonial Development Discourse

Academic journal article Madhya Pradesh Journal of Social Sciences

Science and the State: 'Dryland' in Postcolonial Development Discourse

Article excerpt


In recent years sociologists have played a crucial role in the development of a new field of study, namely environmental sociology and in the revitalization of another, the sociology of agriculture. For this reason, and more importantly because agriculture is a major example of the relationship between human and the physical environment and the social construction of agricultural landscape, that contribute to the subject matter of environment sociology (Carlson et al., 1981), one might expect to find a good deal of cross-fertilization between the two fields. In particular, it might seem that the sociology of agriculture would find environmental sociologists' emphasis upon taking the physical environment into account while examining social and cultural phenomena to be an important and useful suggestion. Another important issue in the field of sociology of environment in general and sociology of agriculture in particular is the modern state intervention to reorder both nature and society relationship through various development policies and programmes (Vasavi 1999, Appadurai 1990, Gupta 1998).

Through the lens of the post World War II discourse of development, India is perceived primarily in terms of what is not, and in turn, requires interventions designed to transform into what it should be. Among the most prominent of India's development efforts have been schemes to transform its agrarian environments, both the natural world of land, trees and water and the complex of rural social relations that physically and culturally shape it (Springer 1991, Vasavi 1999).

In recent years, intellectuals from different disciplines have begun to explore the power of development discourse to provide authoritarian truth about the so-called Third World (Escober 1992 and 1995, Ferguson 1994). Drawing on the work of Foucault on knowledge and power, their analysis interrogates a regime of representation in which certain ways of being and thinking are developed as "underdeveloped" while others are privileged as progressive. In doing so, they help to reveal how dominant agricultural development programmes rest on particular construction of what it means of natural landscapes and their human habitants to provide, and coverage with persistent popular view of these paradigms as environmentally unsustainable and culturally homogenizing. In India, critiques have argued that state-sponsored development programmes serve to limit diversity and concentrate power in a centralized state apparatus and that the instrumental ideology of modem science adopted by the state leads to ecological destruction and human oppression (Springer 1991). Some critics also highlighted the orthodox nature of agricultural development policy in general and rural development in particular, which usually involves the dangerous and false belief that all cultivators in any particular community of India are apt to have similar response (Hill 1982).


Culture of Dryland Agriculture

Literally, from sociology of knowledge (1) perspective, the agricultural landscape can be conceptualized as the creation of agrarian structure by giving certain meaning and symbols to the nature (land, water, rain and seeds), which provides certain rules and resources for the everyday agriculture practices. Thus, it produces certain forms of knowledge, practice and institution which have been recognized by the scholars as "local culture of agriculture" (Gurumurthy 1982, Chakrabarti 1986 and Vasavi 1999).

Some scholars (Vasavi 1999, Jorgensen 1984) have emphasized the socio-cultural meanings and significance of the soil, water and seeds. According to them, understanding of these physical phenomena requires an understanding of cultural organization, not soil or water. Soil and water are elements of natural environment that have been transformed into symbols that represent the essence of water; it means to be a human in a particular socio-cultural group. …

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