Modernisation and its discontents: Lessons from a laboratory called India

Are elections enough for democracy? Understand social relations in terms of citizenship in this lecture.

Public Lecture Series 11 Feb 2023

Modernisation suffers from two conceptual complications which create empirical dissonances. We are fortunate that India is a perfect laboratory where this concept can be distilled and refined. 

First, unlike other thoroughbred sociological concepts, modernisation, unfortunately, is primarily associated with things such as technology, slums, smoking chimneys, and now ecological desecration too, but rarely with social relations. 

Consequently, we need to ask what makes for modern social relations and not what things are modern. This shift in analytical weight opens up an entirely different perspective. 

Second, as modernisation is also confused with contemporaneity, we tend to cast all that we see around us today as modern. This further accentuates the tendency to treat modernity in terms of things. Once we appreciate the importance of social relations when studying modernisation, we find that terms like multiple modernity” create more problems than they solve. 

We also realise that a person can be quite unmodern in spite of possessing great technological prowess. Equally, once modernisation is about social relations, we notice that it is not antagonistic to religion as it is to sectarian bias. If it is relations between people that matter, then democracy can only be modern when it actively frames social relations in terms of citizenship and not just with a thing called elections.

About the Speaker 

Dipankar Gupta is a sociologist. He was formerly a Professor at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems, Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi. For a brief period, he was also associated with the Delhi School of Economics (DSE) as a Professor in the Department of Sociology. 

He served on several university committees and editorial boards of academic journals and is currently a Trustee of Economic and Political Weekly (EPW). He writes frequently for The Times of India, and occasionally for The Hindu, The Indian Express, and Anandabazar Patrika. 

He served on the board of institutions like Reserve Bank of India, National Bank for Agricultural and Rural Development (NABARD), and Max India and Doon School. As an academic, Gupta has authored 22 books such as Checkpoint Sociology: A Cultural Reading of Policies and Politics, Talking Sociology (Dipankar Gupta in Conversation with Ramin Jahanbegloo), From People’ to Citizen’: Democracy’s Must Take Road.

Gupta has been the recipient of many awards such as the title of Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters (Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres), an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Burdwan, and the Malcolm Adiseshiah Award.