THE CESP PROJECT
The Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, the youngest Centre in the School of Social Sciences, launched its M.A. programme in 1973 with a meagre faculty strength of six members (Krishna Bharadwaj, Amit Bhaduri, Anjan Mukherji, Utsa Patnaik, Sunanda Sen and Prabhat Patnaik). Within the structure of the Jawaharlal Nehru University, which was established to pioneer innovative post graduate studies, the newly formed Centre had considerable autonomy to devise its academic programme. This task was taken up enthusiastically by the small but highly motivated faculty. Prior to the commencement of the programme, extensive and intensive discussions were held on all dimensions of the programme, in particular, the course structure, the contents of courses and the methods of instruction and evaluation. In this task, the faculty interacted with experts outside the Centre within the University as well as outside the University; special mention may be made, among them, of Professor K. N. Raj, the late-Professor Sukhamoy Chakravarty and the late Professor Ajit Biswas.
In devising the teaching programme and the methods of instruction, the Centre sought consciously to set out in clear terms, the broad objectives and perspectives that the programme should aim at, in view of the prevalent trends in the teaching of economics in India and abroad, keeping in mind the needs of intellectual and social milieu in India. The attempt was not to replicate, even if efficiently, postgraduate teaching elsewhere so as to add to the growing numbers of teaching and research institutions in higher education, particularly in the metropolis. The Centre's attempt was to make an effective and substantive intervention in the teaching of economics and to create certain trends in teaching and research in the discipline which had then been gathering weight in the domain of higher education.
In most Universities where economics is taught, a divide between economic theory and applied or empirical work appears to be growing, with economic theory being associated with formal textbook construction, learnt and reproduced by rote or as purely abstract exercises in logic, and the empirical work, shying away from theoretical rigour, sometimes degenerating into mere facts-mongering. At the same time, some sophisticated econometric work too is often undertaken without adequate understanding of the theoretical premises underlying either the specific hypotheses of economic theory or the particular statistical techniques of analysis employed. Nowhere else is this divide between economic theory and empirical work in the teaching of, and research in, economics more striking than in the case of development problems, where a view appears to have emerged that economic theory has lost relevance for the analysis of Indian economic problems and the best way to proceed in teaching economics is from the observation of facts at the micro-level. Whereas the applied economists in search of concreteness tend to discard theory, the purists among the theorists, particularly in the Western Universities, have erred on the other side : they have tended to disown development as a rigorous field for theorising. However, economic theory has a very live connection with historical experience and empirical observation. When one looks at economic theories, one needs to study carefully their formation in terms of their genesis in special historical conditions, their vision embedded in their conceptualisation of social relations, their logical structure specifying the assumptions and the order of causal relations, their analytical frame of reference which specifies the problematic the theory is designed to tackle. It is only when we study the available theories keeping in view these aspects that we can learn how the renowned theorists constructed their theories on the basis of incisive insights and the power of logic, taming the complexity of concrete reality into analyzable simple logical structures. While it is no doubt true that economic theory, as being taught in our curricula has primarily emanated from and developed in the context of the Western world, it becomes necessary to follow the theoretical developments to grasp certain basic analytical forms and structures of economic reasoning.
When teaching economic theory the view of the Centre was that, rather than teach it as received established truths or as intellectual exercise in the skills of logical deduction and inferences" the attempt of the teacher should be to make the student realise the process of logic and of inference from observations that go into the making of an economic theoretic construction. One of the primary objectives of teaching economic theory was seen, therefore, as not only expounding its logical structure but also emphasizing the social-historical context of its formation. In this, fortunately, we have already a tradition in India: our economists, in the analysis of planned development, have made rich contributions. With the expanding base of observations supplied through official statistical agencies and individual researcher's field survey, it has been possible to generate theoretical hypotheses closer to observed reality. In the Indian situation, therefore, the faculty members of the Centre seem to be ideally located to attempt to blend theory and observations and to blend together teaching and research.
The members of the faculty saw the imminent need not only to acquaint students with the rigorous techniques of analysis but also to train them to look for the relation between theoretical and empirical categories. The basic analytical skill that a good economist needs is the ability to theorise on the basis of observed facts and to translate his or her theoretical hypotheses into observable categories. This 'is particularly so in the task of developing theoretical formulations relevant to a developing country like ours. A constant and active interaction between theoretical constructions and observational bases is imperative. A good empirical analysis has to have always a good theoretical backbone, while a theoretical construction in economics with no inferences, whether immediate or not, towards the concrete is futile. Thus, in devising courses on the Indian economy, attempt has been not to treat them as a chronicle of events or an enumeration of facts but to treat the subject of economic change in analytical terms. These, then, were the objectives of the programmes.
(Taken from A Profile of School of Social Sciences: Silver Jubilee Commemorative Volume, Jawaharlal Nehru University, 1997.)