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Sociology | Class 11 | Indian Sociologists


Because Indian society and social structure were so dissimilar from those of western European societies, Indian sociology developed as a distinct field of study.

The University of Bombay was the first to publicly offer Indian sociology as a discipline at the collegiate level in 1919.

Two additional universities, those in Lucknow and Calcutta, started teaching and doing anthropology and sociology research in the 1920s.

Nowadays, every large institution has a department of anthropology, social anthropology, or both, and frequently more than one of these fields is represented.

What should be the subject matter of Indian sociology wasn't quite evident at first.

In the Indian context, the necessity for the discipline posed a number of issues:

  • Western sociology originated as an effort to make sense of modernity, while Indian culture was experiencing waves of modernity that were fundamentally different since they were tightly tied to colonial subjugation. As a result, Indian communities had a completely different understanding of modernity than did western societies.

  • The study of social anthropology began in the west as a result of a desire to learn more about primitive tribes, yet India already had an advanced and old civilization that coexisted with primitive societies. Therefore, it was believed that many theoretical vantage points were required to comprehend how the Indian social system operated.

The specificity of the discipline of sociology in indain context raised many questions

  • First off, what function would western sociology serve in a nation like India if it originated as an effort to make sense of modernity? Of course, India was also undergoing the changes brought on by modernity, but there was a crucial distinction to be made: India was a colony. The initial encounter with modernity in India was intimately entwined with the first encounter with colonial oppression.

  • Second, if social anthropology in the west developed as a result of European society's interest in primitive civilizations, what place could it play in India, which had both "primitive" and ancient and sophisticated societies? In a sovereign, independent India that is ready to embark on its journey toward planned development and democracy, what practical role may sociology play?

The founders of Indian sociology had to ask new questions of themselves as well as come up with their own answers to issues like these. The questions didn't come ready-made; they gained shape only via the practise of "doing" sociology in an Indian environment.

Pioneers of Indian sociology

In the sense that they started practising a field of study that didn't yet exist in India, L.K. Ananthakrishna Iyer and Sarat Chandra Roy were actual pioneers of Indian sociology (in early 1900s).

Additionally, there were no organisations to support the discipline, despite the fact that their contributions were acknowledged and valued by eminent anthropologists worldwide.

L.K. Ananthkrishna Iyer

L.K. Ananthakrishna Iyer (1861–1937), one of India's early social anthropology pioneers, started his career as a clerk before going on to work as a schoolteacher and then a college professor in Cochin state, today's Kerala.

Ananthakrishna Iyer was likely the first self-taught anthropologist to win scholarly and academic honours on a national and worldwide scale.

During his speaking tour of European universities, he received an honorary doctorate from a German university.

Mr. Sarat Chandra Roy

He was a founder of the field and an accidental anthropologist.

Roy's professional necessity to explain tribal customs and regulations to the court resulted in him developing a profound interest in tribal civilization. He visited many indigenous tribes and engaged in substantial fieldwork there.

He spent 35 years leading Bombay University's first post-graduate sociology teaching department in India.

He gained notoriety among anthropologists in India and Britain for his monographs and fieldwork-based research pieces.

When Roy quit working for the school and started practising law in the Ranchi courts, he developed an interest in anthropology. Eventually, he was chosen to serve as the court's official translator.

G. S. Ghurye

Caste, race, tribes, kinship, families, and marriage were among the topics Ghurye wrote about. He also wrote about culture, civilization, the historical significance of cities, religion, and the sociology of conflict and integration.

Diffusionism, Orientalist study on Hinduism, nationalism, and the cultural facets of Hindu identity all had an impact on Ghurye.

The most well-known advocate of the nationalist viewpoint, Ghurye insisted on referring to the Indian tribes as "backward Hindus" rather than as distinct cultural groupings.

G. S. Ghurye on caste system

Ghurye emphasised six key characteristics to help understand how caste systems function:

  • Caste is a system of segmental distinction.

  • Caste civilization is built on a system of hierarchy.

  • Social connection is inevitably limited by the institution of caste.

  • Additionally, caste implies differing rights and obligations for certain castes.

  • Caste limits one's ability to choose a career

  • Caste places severe limitations in getting married.

The principal advocate of the dominant viewpoint was Herbert Risley, a British colonial officer who had a keen interest in anthropological issues.

According to this theory, human beings can be classified as belonging to different races based on physical traits like the size of the cranium, the length of the nose, or the volume of the portion of the skull where the brain is located.

A unique "laboratory" for studying the evolution of racial types, according to Risley and others, is India since caste rigidly forbids intermarrying between various tribes and has done so for generations.

The lower castes generally appeared to be a part of non-Aryan aboriginal, Mongoloid, or other racial groups, whilst the higher castes generally approached Indo-Aryan racial features.

The lowest castes, according to Risley and others, were India's initial occupants. They had been ruled by an Aryan race that had immigrated to India and resided there.

Risley's fundamental point was accepted by Ghurye, but he thought it was only partially true. He drew attention to the drawback of relying solely on averages and failing to account for variation in a given measurement's distribution within a community.

Ghurye thought that northern India was the only region where Risley's thesis—that the upper castes are Aryan and the lower castes are non-Aryan—was largely accurate. The inter-group variations in the anthropometric measurements were not very significant or organised in other regions of India.

D. P. Mukherjee

In D.P.'s work, the importance of a social system for society was primarily emphasised.

He claims that in order to analyse Indian society, one must first become familiar with its social customs.

To comprehend a society's social structure, one must first grasp its traditions. The study of traditions is a living tradition since it takes into account both the past and the sensitivity to change.

According to D.P., Indian culture and society are distinct from those of Western societies.

Since an individual's behaviour is strictly set by his socio-cultural group pattern in Indian society, it cannot be said that Indian culture is individualistic in the way that it is understood in the West. The social structure of India is based on group, sect, caste, etc.

Traditions are passed down to the following generation from the same ancestral sources. Traditions have a deep historical foundation and are preserved through recollections and tales that are recounted again and over. Tradition does not preclude change just because it is rooted in the past. It simply shows that every community goes through a process of adjusting to change brought on by both internal and external factors.

A transformation in the economy will be the internal source of change in western civilizations. The majority of India's sources of change, however, come from non-economic sources like values and practises.

A.R. Desai

Desai offers a thorough analysis of this idea in an essay titled "The Myth of the Welfare State" and highlights its many flaws.

One of the few Indian sociologists who actively participated in politics by holding official party memberships is A R Desai.

He has been a lifelong adherent of Marxism and a member of numerous off-center Marxist political organisations.

The social context of Indian nationalism was his best achievement. Peasant movements, rural sociology, modernization and urban challenges, political sociology, forms of the state and human rights, etc. are some of the other topics that Desai researched on.

Desai provided a Marxist interpretation of Indian nationalism in which he highlighted the economic divisions and processes of the particular circumstances of British colonialism.

Desai contends that the material circumstances engendered by British colonialism led to India's nationalism.

The British introduced industrialization and modernization, which led to the development of new economic relationships.

According to Desai, when customs and economic relationships are intertwined, the latter will inevitably shift as a result of the former.

He believes that caste would disappear as new social and material circumstances, such as industries, economic expansion, education, etc., are created.

Desai on welfare state

One of A R Desai's main areas of interest was the contemporary capitalist state.

He offered a thorough criticism of the idea of the welfare state and highlighted many of its flaws using a Marxist perspective.

Characteristics of a welfare state:

  • Positive states include welfare states. This indicates that the welfare state does not aim to do merely the bare minimum to maintain peace and order, in contrast to the "laissez faire" of traditional liberal political theory.

  • A democratic state is the welfare state. The development of the welfare state was thought to be dependent on democracy.

  • A "mixed economy" is one in which state- or publicly-owned firms coexist with private capitalist ones, and is followed by a welfare state. A welfare state does not attempt to abolish the free market or forbid public investment in business or other sectors.

Desai's suggested test metrics for evaluating the effectiveness of the welfare state:

  • Does the welfare state guarantee everyone's freedom from poverty and social discrimination, as well as their security?

  • Does the welfare state eliminate income disparities?

  • Does the welfare state alter the economy to use the capitalist profit to the benefits ofmeeting the real needs of the community?

  • Does the welfare state promote stable development free from economic booms and depressions?

  • Does it offer jobs to everyone?

The welfare state idea is a myth:

  • Desai analyses the performance of the states that are most frequently labelled as welfare states, including Britain, the USA, and much of Europe, using the test criteria established for welfare states and discovers that these assertions are considerably inflated.

  • Thus, most modern capitalist regimes, even in the most developed countries, fail to offer minimum levels of economic and social security to all their residents.

  • They are unable to lessen economic disparity and often seem to increase it.

  • Additionally, the so-called welfare governments have failed to promote stable growth free from market swings.

  • Another failing is the existence of excess economic capacity and excessive unemployment rates.

  • Desai comes to the conclusion that the welfare state concept is somewhat of a fantasy based on these grounds.

M N Srinivas

The post-independence era's most well-known sociologist is M N Srinivas. The result of his affiliation with the British social anthropology field had a significant impact on his work.

He played a key role in establishing village studies the preeminent area of study in Indian sociology and in effectively putting Indian sociology on the map of the globe.

He also focused on caste, modernization, and the social transition process.

Two main categories of publications served as the foundation for Srinivas' village studies:

  • ethnographic narratives of fieldwork conducted in villages

  • Historical and conceptual discussions about Indian villages as a unit of social analysis

The village, in Srinivas' opinion, was an important social unit.

Additionally, Srinivas criticised the British anthropologists who had promoted the idea that Indian villages were unchanging, independent, and akin to "small republics."

Srinivas demonstrated that there has been significant change in the village using historical and social facts.

He emphasised the concept of the village's utility. However, some sociologists, including Louis Dumont, opposed village studies because they believed that social institutions like castes were more significant than something like a village because while people may move from one village to another and that villages may live or die, their social institutions, like caste or religion, follow them and go with them wherever they go.

Advantages of village studies as a site of research

  • It gives the chance to emphasise the value of ethnographic research techniques.

  • It provides firsthand reports of the quick social change that was occurring in the Indian countryside as the newly independent country started a planned development programme.

  • These detailed accounts of rural India were immensely valued at the time because they allowed urban Indians and policymakers to have a sense of what was happening there.

  • Thus, in the setting of an independent nation, village studies offered sociology a new application.

Important terms

  • Assimilation: The gradual assimilation of another culture by a dominant or big society.

  • Anthropometry is the area of anthropology that examines human ethnic types through measurements of the body, particularly the size of the cranium (skull), the circumference of the head, and the length of the nose.

  • Endogamy is a social institution that establishes the limits of a social or kin group within which marital interactions are permitted; marriage is not permitted outside of these boundaries.

  • Exogamy is a social institution that establishes the limits of a social or kin group that forbids marriage between members.

  • Laissez-Faire is a French expression (literally, "let be" or "leave alone") that refers to a political and economic doctrine that favours minimal government involvement in the economy and in economic relations. It is typically associated with the belief in the free market's ability to regulate itself and its efficacy.

  • Traditions: The entirety of a culture's values, beliefs, experience, knowledge, and wisdom that is passed down to future generations.

  • Purusha: Per D.P. Mukerji, Purusha is an active actor who carries out his duties through making connections with other people.

  • Living traditions are those that maintain connections to the past by keeping certain elements from it while also incorporating new elements.


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