*This interview was conducted via an emailed questionnaire and the responses are solely of the author.
Dr Annavajhula J.C. Bose has been with the Department of Economics at the Shri Ram College of Commerce (SRCC) for the last three decades. Earlier he was with the Sardar Patel Vidyalaya for about a year. Author of innumerable research and review articles, book reviews and blog pieces, he is currently the Faculty Advisor for the Economics Society, SRCC.
What are your research interests and what prompted you to pursue those specific areas?
I have since long been drawn to the meta-story of sustainable living. Sustainability is about social well-being (social sustainability) as much as environmental care (environmental sustainability). Every person on Earth needs to grapple with its dilemmas. I have been reading a lot over the last few decades about environmental, social and personal perspectives of this broad-ranging and complex and contested topic.
I have personally done some research in the area of social sustainability. My M.Phil and PhD work documented degraded and dehumanized work and working conditions in the factories of national and global value chains with subcontracting relations between firms. My preference for justice as more valuable than efficiency in order to overcome ‘life is unfair’, drew me to this research.
What piece of advice you would like to give a student who is interested in delving into your areas of interest?
It is important now to be a good storyteller of people’s experiences by combining facts and feelings. Do not be bogged down by elegant model building. Endeavor to do popular writing like that of Palagummi Sainath or Aparna Karthikeyan. Or, emulate the action oriented research of Jean Dreze. Read his Sense and Solidarity: Jholawala Economics for Everyone.
What are your observations about the undergraduate economics students?
Most of them are academically adrift and perpetually entertainment-seeking. It is a challenge to make them focus on their studies, draw them to social concerns, wider reading for understanding and enable them to express themselves well in this regard.
What are your likes and dislikes in the field of Economics?
Zvi Griliches, a former President of the Econometric Society and the American Economic Association had said thus: “The first 2 years of economics graduate school any student will tell you, consists of largely copying down endless equations from the blackboard and learning differential and integral calculus, linear algebra, and virtually every letter of the Greek alphabet. Economic history is not taught at most schools and thus is learned incidentally, if at all. Reading assignments often reflect the professor’s narrow research interests…Students often are not taught how, let alone encouraged to do empirical research. Consequently, it is possible to obtain a master’s degree and even a doctorate in economics without having any serious understanding of U.S. economic history, the ‘real’ economy, or the data used to describe it.” This, he said in 1994 while writing about economics as a useless science. It holds good even now, even in undergrad economic education, almost everywhere. I do not like this. Econ undergrads need to be exposed to multiple perspectives in the spirit of a liberal arts education. Technical rigour can be taken care at the masters level. I also do not like the way economists have replaced the negative history of capitalism and the dirty role of corporate therein with the benign and munificently beneficent “market system”. Read John Kenneth Galbraith, The Economics of Innocent Fraud.
On the contrary, I like very much the recent developments in changing economics teaching from the initiatives of the International Economic Association, and more so from the World Economics Association.
“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” Theodore Roosevelt. Can you share a life experience or anecdote where your academic journey changed unpredictably? How would you encourage your students to take failures in the right stride?
Unpredictable changes that delighted me were: getting admission and going to do the PhD program in Development Studies at the Institute of Social Studies, The Hague; and getting media coverage of my M.Phil and PhD work, just in time when I badly needed. As for failures, I could not complete my PhD abroad due to visa problem. And in doing fieldwork for my research, I had literally gone through a very difficult time. But somehow I did not abandon them. I worked hard and got rid of them, with some help from friends as well as strangers. We can beat failure through positive psychology, and reading the positive stories, for example, from betterindia.com.
What do you think of the idea that the concept of education should be expanded from classroom teaching to digital modules/online lectures?
There is no substitute for the wonderful classroom lecture of an Amit Bhadhuri on economics or a T. N. Madan on anthropology/sociology or a Vandana Shiva on environmentalism. Such inspiring lectures can be supplemented by innovative online materials which are now aplenty. Coordinating the online stuff with the structured classroom stuff requires not only guidance from proactive teachers but also the readiness, curiosity and commitment of students.
How do you handle suspected plagiarism?
I will make the student concerned to read and absorb the responsible culture of writing from Howard S. Becker, Tricks of the Trade: How to Think about Your Research While You are Doing It. The habit of quoting and acknowledging can be cultivated. If a student writes essays by reviewing some literature on a theme, I can edit them and make the student work on two or three drafts and in the process address the issue of plagiarism, if any.
How would you advise school students who are passionate about economics?
After completing the XII Board exams, relax for a while and thoroughly study at least Amal Sanyal, Economics and Its Stories; and Ha-Joon Chang, Economics: The User’s Guide. This will give a broader vision of pluralist thinking in economics. Also check out Economics at the Azim Premji University, and the projects that the Hons. students take up there. It is the best place in India to meaningfully study economics and apply it to the Indian context. Students are guided and trained to write papers and present them in national and international conferences. Choose from the two paths with which one can rise in Economics– the math path, and the history road less travelled by. Write and rewrite and write again a statement of purpose. This will bring clarity about true calling and prospective social role.
How would you describe your teaching style in one word/sentence?
“Manovikas with Manoranjan”
What additional resources would you recommend to someone who wishes to delve into Economics as a social science?
Essentials of Economics in Context by Neva Goodwin et al. 2020. Also explore and enjoy the website of the World Economics Association. Subscribe for free to the Real World Economics Review. Read student-run journals and blogs in economics in India as also abroad. Look at the digital platforms of the economics societies at SRCC and Miranda House.
If you had to choose an alternative career, what would it be?
Care work or Red Cross work.
What do you like to do for fun?‘
Watching movies. Travelling. Cooking. Listening to ennobling music.
What other academic or non-academic subjects interest you?
Anthropology, Sociology, Psychology, History and Literature. Also, courses on self-development, healing and ancient wisdom that enable ecological living.
What is your success mantra?
Deep honesty to find and uphold the truth without being tempted by pecuniary and political pressures to debauch it. And smile and celebrate being in existential love without the sectarian and identity politics of domination and subordination.