Social Sciences under Methodological Seize


            Social Science discourse as distinguished from that of literary and philosophical studies has gained prominence after the Second World War. Though the origin of the emergence of social sciences including Political Economy is linked to Renaissance, it entered the Indian soil through colonial masters. In fact in several universities the Departments of History, Economics and Political Science and Public Administration, HEPA were pieced together for a long time. The hegemony of English scholarship slowly started dwindling after the American love for village Studies in India and the Ford Foundation, Fulbright scholarship etc. that enabled exchange of scholars between the countries. The government of India has also introduced academic exchange programmes with other non-English speaking countries that helped our social scientists to have flavor from French, German, Russian, Polish etc speaking countries that made our social sciences teaching and research much wider and comprehensive. The subjects that were offered as courses in Social Studies including humanities have slowly diversified and the title science is added to the disciplines of Economics, Political Science, Sociology, History, while Humanities including Language and Cultural Studies have been further diversified in the West. They have their ramifications in India through our exchange and other kinds of academic reciprocal programmes and schemes. It has a different trajectory of development in India vis a vis others. But, the kind of response and reaction from social sciences as expected was much faster than physical and natural sciences. In fact, the expansion of humanities in diversified fields was found to be incredible in the sense of academic and non academic outreach along with the process of globalization. The western capitalist countries have struggled to resist all kinds of fascination for the socialist block till Vietnam War, 1969. In a way that period has created several social and cultural upheavals that have their echo in the academic world. In fact, it was started in the 1930s when a group of scholars relying on dialectical method disagreed with Stalinist overindulgence in socialist theory and practice that led to many distinctive ways of reaction to the situation in Germany, France, Italy, USA and other countries with their critical writings. This has in a way created huge market for the publications that overshadowed other serious research and creative publications. Naturally scholars in academic departments started working on the different trends and developed new vocabulary and in the process of academic elucidations warped hitherto non existing schools and trends as a part of research publications with innovative ideas like the scientist developing patented inventions in the laboratories. In order to comprehend the burgeoning of publications, scholars started looking for methodologies to put them together for analyses.  The augmentation of publications in humanities subjects made scholars to rediscover the age old interpretation as a method of understanding and scrutiny. They rediscovered the age old Hermeneutics with new dimensions and flavors as an academic tool. India is one of the oldest countries that had a tradition of Vedic bhashya or Buddhist tika to interpret intricate and unintelligible phrases and words to be made intelligible to gullible commoners. In fact the volume of publications of this kind is several times larger than the original corpus, of course not with better enlightenment. We could see stagnation in our knowledge and culture while publications of that kind have grown much faster. The so called Stalinist era seems to have reappeared in India. Social Sciences started experiencing the pinch both in terms of dwindling enrolments and marginalization of research and publications in reputed journals and publishing companies. It seems some of the reputed social science publishing companies are closing down their business in India. The 2010 World Social Science Report noted that barring some centres of excellence in India, social sciences as a whole are accorded low priority in South Asia. The Western dominance in social sciences remains an obstacle for universal viewpoint and value-neutral objectivity of science and has been questioned to initiate a notion of”standpoint research”. It is in this background we may reflect here some recent trends in research methodologies and their implications for social science research particularly to India.

Hermeneutics and Post- modernism developments

            The two important streams of knowledge systems in philosophy that are broadly classified as Idealism and Materialism became popular after Marx entered academic discourses. Social science approaches to study and analyze social and economic phenomena have been developing over a period of time to achieve the status of science through methods of predictability, falsefiability and other such parameters. Perhaps this may be one of the reasons why humanities that rely on creative and linguistic competences parted ways with social sciences. Therefore, it has to depend upon a narrative of; nothing is objectively true and therefore that all views and propositions are subjective, relative to the whims and feelings of each individual. This is close to the idealistic narratives of interpretations of religious texts such as Bible, Veda etc. In the meanwhile, scholars and philosophers started questioning the failure of existing systems of knowledge in comprehending the explosion in science and technology and the resultant outcome of information, communication and knowledge products and their use in classrooms. We may appreciate the crack in the intellectual traditions of philosophy dealing with moribund social, political, economic and other institutions that became prejudiced. They were either comfortable with the existing theories of materialist interpretation of social institutions and their irrelevance or seem to have revolted. Some of the scholars/writers have found the abhorrent methods of enquiry and started adaptation of old ideas to resurrect and rekindle the needs of the present. Neo-liberalism and its impact on teaching, learning and research have severely affected the purpose of knowledge being limited to market place with sponsored research under the paid intellectual culture .This has happened both in social sciences and in humanities . This led to several trends in interpretation, criticism, enquiry and enunciation of the irrelevance of past knowledge, literary works, historical writings and even creative and aesthetic interpretations. These developments in humanities have created methods of critical analysis of not only literary works, philosophical interpretations and history of colonial empires. This appears to be the background under which Hermeneutics as a method of enquiry and Deconstruction, post colonial revolt, critical theory etc have emerged. They were not uncritically welcomed. The Austrian School of Economics was very vehement in their criticism for these trends. It is said that, “the essential message of deconstructionism and hermeneutics can be variously summed up as nihilism, relativism, and solipsism. That is, either there is no objective truth or, if there is, we can never discover it. With each person being bound to his own subjective views, feelings, history, and so on, there is no method of discovering objective truth. In literature, the most elemental procedure of literary criticism (that is, trying to figure out what a given author meant to say) becomes impossible. Communication between writer and reader similarly becomes hopeless; furthermore, not only can no reader ever figure out what an author meant to say, but even the author does not know or understand what he himself meant to say, so fragmented, confused, and driven is each particular individual. So, since it is impossible to figure out what Shakespeare, Conrad, Plato, Aristotle, or Machiavelli meant, what becomes the point of either reading or writing literary or philosophical criticism?” In fact, the post war conditions in Europe and the presence of USSR, China and the newly independent nations created a milieu for the emergence of such trends in intellectual endeavors. This may seem to be a short term upsurge that is linked to political and economic developments.

            This revolt or revision seems to have been sustained by the libertarian pretensions of the USA and the West with promises of liberty, freedom, human rights and equality of opportunity. The critical evaluation of the victories of the Working classes and the post-independent people’s experiments in development foreshadowed the break with history. A section of Intellectual class have disjointed the little progress that mankind has achieved as part of mainstream progress and built walls between the struggles of the oppressed and the oppressing libertarians in their march to capture the world in the name of globalization. This ultimately led to the collapse of Berlin Wall in 1989. In a way the critical evaluations of scholars against the limitations of the socialist system symbolically pointed at the Berlin wall intently succeeded in achieving the goal that was never perhaps anticipated.  In other words, the critics have lost the plot and the irrelevance of their methods and maneuvers after the fall of Berlin wall.

            India as a Snail: Post modernism asa critical academic pursuit without ideological substance to protest against colonialism and modern forms of art, culture, literature, philosophical speculations came to India rather very late though some painters, architects and artists might claim a little prior date. The trend itself is ambiguous as noted by analysts that it has around 16 items of post -post categories seem to have lost the steam today with economic globalization under American and Western mindset became all pervasive. Yet, it has its impact on India through the post colonial writings as a former colony. Professor Edward Said publication on ‘Orientalism’ was the beginning of its brunt felt in English Language and Cultural studies and slowly entering in to other related fields after 1980. It was found attractive for several scholars and writers as the nation was in the grip of radical movements in some parts of the country. Though Professor Said study was related to Palestine and Middle East, it had its echo in India as the colonialists were the same.  India being a multi ethnic plural society with a long historical past of persecution of native communities, it has really provided a lease of life to those who suffered without a voice. The dominance of upper caste and upper class intellectual traditions in the academia and in public life marginalized the dissent voices of dalits, women, service castes and lower caste minorities. Therefore by the time it reached its clientele the timeout for post modernism and post colonialism and the methodology of hermeneutics. Yet, it is necessary to listen to the dissent voices and record the validity of the episteme created by some scholars in humanities. There isn’t much influence of the same on Economics, Political Economy the core of social sciences. 

            Studies on Post colonialism and post modernism helped some scholars to grip the trend to project the forgotten issues in academic writing including literary studies. It has helped to get some anthologies, publications and a host of research dissertations by young scholars who are by and large drawn from the socially marginalized groups. However, the space has already been occupied by parachuters and the efforts to generate a niche for them seem to be fast depleting. Further, the metaphysical abstractions of some scholars appear to deflect the onslaught of social science methodology to assault the real culprit today. In the grip of serious and harsh realities of economic deprivation, discrimination, primitive accumulation and global bonhomie of fundamentalisms, the attempts to create innovative methodology might go waste though wily academics give dubious credits to weaken the dispute. No doubt the volumes produced by scholars have added credibility as supporting evidence to show the other side of the academic dispute. There were few attempts by scholars to bring the subjective experiences of suffering of the marginalized communities particularly the dalits in to mainstream debate without perhaps assessing the social science tools that might be more productive and predictive. I have noted in my book ‘Economic Reforms and Social Exclusion’ (Sage, 2011) Chapter -2 Social Exclusion and Methodological Dichotomies’ some of these disputes and indicated possible resolution through the establishment of social institutions as suggested by Amartya Sen and others. For instance, it is noted in recent discourses that dalit experience is considered as a tentative formulation and not a lasting approach to create knowledge since it is always a social phenomenon. It is an obvious reality that an experience like discrimination or untouchability never takes place if there is only one individual.  In fact the term dalit is a Sanskrit derivative signifying several things as a jargon and may not carry the diversified categorizers of scheduled castes who are by and large spread in to 14 occupations in the country with varied experiences. Further, there is no category called ‘individual person’ in Indian social intercourse. It is always experienced in a social setting irrespective of the faith. As everyone knows that individual experience is personal occurrence like the anubhav or experiential observation of any other intuitive thinker, devotee or even fakir in a group is always elusive for a concrete elucidation. Albeit, the experiences of the group assessed and brought in to the domain of epistemology, we are afraid; it may not provide the much needed steam of praxis to counter attack the mighty antagonist with state support. It would definitely provide enough narrative for creative work to be packaged and used for tangible returns. But, if we need a social way out to the problem, it needs to be sought in Social Science methods and analytics.

            The application of Hermeneutics as a methodology to study the cognitive process of experience and emotion might land us in the idealistic realm of philosophy as enunciated by Shankara and modern philosopher like Radhakrishnan who wanted intuitive apprehension along with sense experience as sources of valid knowledge. In other words before we embark upon a narrative to bring home the dalit or victim’s suffering to the public domain, already metaphysical elucidations are in place to swallow the efforts and land it in idealism. Gandhi had already a dispute with Babasaheb Ambedkar with his non-cognitive concepts of achar, anubhav, seva, dharma, ahimsa etc. The category of experience to signify suffering appears to be knave or inadequate approach to sideline the historical, social and economic background behind the suffering. In fact, the greatest damage was done to the mainstream philosophical traditions of India by ignoring the Buddhist epistemology and logic. It is poverty of philosophy to talk about suffering/dukha without referring to the long traditions of Buddhist Philosophy that has narrated the reasons behind suffering/dukha and the solutions to overcome the ordeal through compassion and seeking refuse in dharma and sangha. Buddhist philosophy seem to have influenced the development of concepts like Human development, Gross National Happiness Etc. Schumacher and several humanist and social economists (based on Buddhist principles) have drawn very different conclusions like small means leading to extraordinary results. If experience is considered as a methodological approach for its legitimate ownership, we must get prepared for the myriad idealistic engagements that the poor dalit or some victim is subjected to and not capable of encounter it in a Court of Law. Knowing pretty well about these tentacles, the PoA Act 1989 was drafted with 15 concrete items that stand for scrutiny before the Evidence Act. Yes, as an exercise in pedantic subjective debate, of course everyone is free to experiment with ideas including the possible outcome of analysis of power relations in the dispute. Social Sciences, of course has its own methods and techniques to really call its course as scientific.

Social Sciences in the Era of Globalization

            The contemporary social sciences as taught practiced and transacted both in the academia and in public life have undergone several endurance tests. Philosophy as mother of all sciences has developed certain cognitive measures to critically evaluate ideas as truth. Since scientific activity is concerned about the process of seeking truth, social sciences are expected to satisfy those tests to call it science. Truth itself as a category is problematic as it is concerned with fact. It can be relative as science develops, it can be changed or remain absolute in terms of using already established scientific measures. Truth perceived as a metaphysical subjective experience of the incumbent such as belief in god, hallucinations etc or objective truth with the content that doesn’t depend upon will, desire or subject. In other words scientific truth is always objective in nature subjected to the tests of measurability, verifiability and falsefiability through test experiment. India had a long tradition of shramana or ajeevaka materialist interpretations of truth. In the western world, the scientific enquiry started with Copernicus declaring that the centre of universe is not earth. The present scientific knowledge as a ‘body of systematic knowledge concerning the physical world’ was developed only during the last two hundred years starting with Vienna circle school of philosophy of science. It is noted that certain observational statements or protocol sentences form the basis of a scientific first step to logically explain or disprove or to arrive at a conclusion. As in Buddhism, knowledge is to be sought through sense experience of touch sound, smell, sight, the taste, body and mind as sources of knowledge (dhatus). Buddhism had accepted only direct ( pratyksha) and inference (anumana)are the only tests to verify truth and denied revealed truth ( aptavakyam) as truth. Of course it has a long tradition of Abhidhamma and Buddhist Logic to establish their own tests and sources of knowledge.  Sankhya school of philosophy that was close to Buddhism and part of shatdarsanas (six schools of thought) has dabbled mostly in idealistic speculations to establish paramarth satya (ultimate truth). Though Buddhist Logic seems to have helped to create the ground for scientific and technological developments in China, Japan and other countries they were not taken on board in scientific discourses. Later, it was noted by philosophers that the sense experience may not result in true knowledge as in the case of mirage that cannot be verified to justify concrete knowledge.

  In the West, Karl Popper in his ‘Logic of Scientific Discovery’ noted that a scientific theory must always provide an ideal test condition to be validated or falsified. A hypothesis is proved whenever it is corroborated with test implications or need to falsify a null hypothesis. It has created problems like one and the same empirical finding may be interpreted and explained on the basis of very different hypotheses. The question of are there any rules to make a reasonable choice among different hypotheses seems to have failed to provide answers in physical and social sciences. It is at this juncture, T.H Kuhn in his “the Structure of Scientific Revolutions” noted that so far no hypothesis is proved false as anticipated by Popper. Citing case studies from Natural and physical sciences, Kuhn has mentioned that when there is collision between theory and experience, theory prevails and experience is reinterpreted to fit in to the theory. If observation and measurement deviates, the researcher thinks that it is a measurement problem and so on that accumulates huge theoretical output that sometimes contradict one another. They are called as paradigms and the emergence of schools of thought that ultimately brings a paradigm shift. In other words scientific knowledge that emanated from Bacon’s concepts of reason, sense experience and mind body dualism to Descartes’ space conforms to that of geometry and objects in nature have properties that are amenable to mathematics, physics etc. Marx and Marxists have developed dialectics and theory of relations of production within mode of production or social formation model. This has helped social sciences to arrive at comprehensive approach to identify different antagonistic social classes in historical outline.

The philosophy of social science as enunciated by Hobbes has no conflict between freedom and determinism as, ‘water hath both the liberty and the necessity of descending the channel’. Freedom is at the bottom, consciousness of necessity. J.S Mill has explained that if we know the person and his mind thoroughly and the inducements that work on him, we could foretell his conduct. Marx wanted scientific knowledge about society to draw universal laws of productive forces and their use in relations of production to identify the oppressor and the oppressed. This according to philosopher of science, Professor Martin Hollis brought three disputes in social sciences to be resolved. 1. The ontological dispute of structure and action with Marx contending that action is determined by structure and Mill insisting that all phenomena of society arise from the actions and passions of human beings. 2. The methodological dispute of causal explanation of how is it is geared to the general, for instance to specific mechanisms? 3. The epistemological questions of Mill holding empiricist view that knowledge is a matter of experience and Marx needing a theory that allows knowledge of an underlying reality. Martin Hollis has elaborated the three disputes in his book’ The Philosophy of Social Science” by bringing theoretical and observational material from Economics, Game Theory, Political science, Sociology and other disciplines from the West. This approach is however seem to be limited in its scope as we have few examples from the third World particularly a unique country, India.

One of the earliest scholars who was trained under Prof Sorokin of Harvard University in the 1930, Dr. K.B.Krishna citing many doctoral dissertations in European universities noted there were three romances in social science research. 1 The early sanskritists showed an enthusiasm for philological research, as the Factory Inspectors showed for the working class in the nineteenth century England. The need was felt by one class, but their demands were voiced by another class. That was the historic mission of the early Sanskritists. The latter Sanskritists were aided by a few Indian scholars and together inaugurated a new era in historical research. This was a stage collaboration.2. In the second stage the leadership was still kept with the Europeans. 3 The third stage is marked by Indian Studies suited to the angel of Political Science. Krishna, a Marxist scholar wrote on one of the first studies on Hindu Materialism and Dravidian roots of materialism found that, ‘social research scholars wore Whig pants on Indian shirts.’ Research in India has not reflected the needs of the proletariat and the peasantry. Knowledge of social sciences was weak and therefore most of them had recourse to mysticism and useless dialectics. This shows the foundation on which social science research in India developed and the limitations that are still haunting. There were few indigenous attempts to bring forth the nuances of economic and social realities of more than one third of the population consisting of dalits and adivasis only with the entry of first generation learners in the university system that started challenging not only the paradigm built by Western and their followers in India but also the methodology that failed to capture the suffering. However, this is an unexplored area and any with meager inputs and discouraged scholarship from the victims or subjectsis notprudent at this stage. As noted by Mill that if regulations in human behavior to their source remains the same, the laws of nature of individual man is possible and can be universal. If all the human characters like hunger, love, hatred, sympathy remains the same and someone is not empathetic to some specific violations will they be considered different or deviant?  Are there not time tested methods to enquire in to the deviant behaviors of some in social sciences and possible solutions within the paradigm? Is it not characteristic of getting the social phenomena set in measurable units for policy prescriptions and the corresponding disputes? 

Neo-Liberal Assault on Social Science

            The onslaught of neo liberalism and economic globalization that used false propaganda about freedom, human rights, identity discourse etc through market has totally failed. The kind of studies published after 2008 crisis and the apologetic churning of social science literature with freedom as the core of the argument is deceptive and unscrupulous. Some social philosophers argue that given that the labourer owns his labour power and invariably expects a return for its use as wage, so also the owners of property are entitled to a return, profit and accumulation of capital and it is just. It is further extended that the state as an agency to protect the rights of its citizens should be limited to few social functions as a minimalist state. This has facilitated the governments like the present union government of India to reduce state burden by withdrawing distributive and social functions and transferring public assets to those who are perceived to be meritorious and market efficient. These arguments are shallow and the decadence of the intellectual churning pushed them to be part of those who are turned out to be exploiters, market manipulators and scamsters. It is seen in the recent Oxform Report on Inequality, the widening divide between the few trillionaires and the billions of ordinary people. Interestingly, many of the super rich do not produce nor engage in productive work but collaborate with the state power to amass wealth as crony capitalists. This is being supported by a section of the academia and the World Bank experts as genuine and efficient disguising the real illicit under dealings.  Economists know how  Friedman for three decades,  had smug insistence on the vital importance of empirical testing of deductions from hypotheses as a justification for the prevalence of econometric models and forecasting, as well as a universal excuse for theory being grounded on admittedly false and wildly unrealistic hypotheses. For neoclassical economic theory clearly rests on absurdly unrealistic assumptions, such as perfect knowledge, the continuing existence of a general equilibrium with no profits, no losses, and no uncertainty, and human action being encompassed by the use of calculus that assumes infinitesimally tiny changes in our perceptions and choices. Friedmanite monetarism came to the fore, but monetarism has now come a cropper after making a rapid series of disastrously wrong predictions from the beginning of the Reagan era until the present. But he who lives by prediction is destined to die by prediction. It is significant to note that the World Social Science Report 2016 has remarked that, “the 2008 economic crisis and its long-lasting effects, the popular uprisings of the so-called ‘Arab spring’, food riots in Mexico, and the Occupy movement are among many developments that have put inequality back on the global political agenda in the second decade of the twenty-first century. Various evaluations have concluded that in 2015, almost half of all the world’s household wealth was owned by 1 per cent of the global population,1 and that the sixty-two richest individuals owned as much as the bottom half of humanity.  The Report recognizes that the issues of poverty, inequality and social justice are very much related. Although inequality is the main entry point to its analysis, issues related to poverty, inequity and injustice are also considered, as are responses to those issues.”

 There are (the so called) analytical studies and narratives justifying the concentration of wealth.  But, an understanding of how social science research can contribute to challenging inequalities requires us to acknowledge inequalities in the construction of knowledge itself. These inequalities affect which kinds of knowledge are produced, by whom and where, and whose knowledge counts. They also include inequalities of access to knowledge, and the tendency for certain disciplines and methods to be prioritized. It is in this background the Victims of the World who have common characters as indigenous people of Africa, Brazil, untouchables of Nepal, Bangladesh, India, Japan and several other countries need to be focused as a universal problem and not specific to the subjective experiences of some victims. However, the methodological unity among social sciences and their scientific approach to be universal and predictable need to be strengthened. It is here that social sciences are considered as a stumbling block for the international capitalist class and their crony intellectuals. In fact, scholars like Bowels, Gintis , Amartya Sen, Stiglitz, Prabhat Patnaik and several others in the discipline of Economics and Political Economy and in Political science, Sociology and other related disciplines are striving to preserve the autonomy and people oriented warmth in their approaches and techniques in their studies to counter the self-seeking and opportunistic scholarship.

The Methodological Invasion

            As noted above the Social Sciences are now under a grip of capture in terms of methodological seizure. It is not only in the quantification of social phenomena but also in the process of analytical data like use of mathematics and computer programming is introduced even without exigency. It is pointed by several scholars that the conclusions drawn by using such methods have not enhanced our understanding as it is noted with awe that similar conclusions are drawn with human touch elucidations without using mathematics. It is also noted that some theoretical constructs based on individual micro level experiences and not necessarily emic, etic methodologies are being used to explain certain delicate issues without first exhausting the available social science approaches. The lived experience as a method seem to be encountering problems with the use of meta narratives with the use of ‘metaverse’ an internet based technique where artificial intelligence supersedes human intelligence and will eventually escape our control. Some analysts warn that the consequences will dominate humans in providing virtual reality experience. The metaverse is considered as equivalent of living inside the internet and the creation of a new world. It becomes a challenge to the use of Hermeneutics to study such experiences and bring them in to social categories for real time issues as encounters. We can say that at this moment, as social sciences have not yet developed methodologies to encounter such experiments to make them as inputs in our Meta analysis of macro data, better contemplate alternative sources of knowing the data. Economists have developed some concepts like shadow prices where there is no concrete evidence of cost. It is possible to develop alternative ways of looking at the concept of suffering to compensate the victim with money or other equivalent value rather merely using it as a narrative. The appropriation of traditional skills and occupations by modern commercialization of arts for market can consider compensating the original owners with appropriate reimbursement like carbon tax. Yes, it is possible to use the narratives of poets and writers from the specific castes helpfully as they are more knowledgeable than ordinary people to narrate discrimination and other such ills and arrive at the aggregates to be used by social scientist to analyze the data. Paul Samuelson has noted that deriving principles from facts is economic theory and it applies to other social sciences. It is necessary first to study (in research -review of literature) and find out the regularity of events and facts and construct a theory ie explaining observations collected through scientific method.  Theory is structural ordering of the available knowledge .This is different from law where rules are framed to notice the regularity of events like law of supply and demand or rules to be used to enforce them in courts of justice. The present status of social sciences in the midst of diverse attacks to make it ineffective as a tool to study and provide useful solutions to victims in a globalised capitalist World is really complex to survive. It is in this context, social scientists who are committed for justice, rule of law and constitutional morality should come forward with more innovative studies to keep the disciplines as friends of the marginalized and exploited. Social sciences unlike other academic analytical enquiries are known for its strong commitment to policy prescriptions. This cannot be separated from its theoretical and quantitative prescriptions that make it universal, humane and eternal science.


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