I would like to revisit Ram Guha’s article that Arun posted on the 28th of September. I decided that I would make an independent posting and not simply comment on Arun’s post since in my mind it brought up a couple of issues that merit further attention.
Arun sets up Guha writing as scholarship that legal academics would do well to learn from. However having followed Guha’s biographical essays over the last couple of years I couldnt disagree more with Arun about their usefulness for academic and scholarly reflection. The piece that we have been directed to is I think a case in point.
While I am not for a moment quarelling with the literary significance of biographical writing I am not sure that it necessarily provides us with a model for academic reflection and scholarship. This I think is amply reflected in this particular essay, which says nothing whatsoever on the significance of Amartya Sen or Andre Beteille to their respective fields of scholarship. While Guha is skillful writer who evokes the biographic richness of Indian public life, I think that we must be extremely cautious in offering him as a model for academic scholarship. As Arun himself has pointed out and as this essay demonstrates Guha can often be given to hagiographic interpretations of important intellectual and political figures while glossing over the intellectual and political problems that concern them. For example in this case it is not at all clear why Sen and Beteille are the ‘finest and most honorable intellectuals of our land and our time’. Im sure that many would agree with Guha but without justification it becomes nothing more than an empty assertion.
What then is the task of Academic writing and reflection (in law as well as other social sciences)? In my mind I have little doubt that academic writing involves identifying and solving intellectual problems. While I can fully understand Arun’s concern that academic writing strive for clarity I think it also has to bite the bullet and deal with difficult questions problems and questions (For instance like the question ‘what is law?’ that Hart takes up in his book ‘the concept of law’) . In doing so its immediate relevance, interest and significance to the so called broader public might be limited. Arun seems to worry about this excluding possibility lurking in academic activity however Im not sure if there is any other way in being an academic? Wonder if others have thoughts on the matter?