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Indian Thinkers

Indian Thinkers

What would Siociology be without its great sociological thinkers who have contributed so much to this mother of social sciences? A study of some of the major thinkers of sociology and their important theories and viewpoints.
  • M. N. Srinivas
  • Gail Omvedt
  • Andre Béteille
  • G.S Ghurye
  • Yogendra Singh
  • Louis Dumont
  • A.R Desai

Andre Béteille

Andre Béteille is one of India's leading sociologists and writers. He is particularly well known for his studies of the caste system in South India. He was a Professor of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics at the University of Delhi where he is Professor Emeritus of Sociology since 2003.Béteille has written insightfully about all the major questions of the day: India's encounters with the West, the contest between religion and secularism, the relationship between caste and class, the links between poverty and inequality, the nurturing of public institutions, the role and responsibilities of the intellectual.

In 2005, Professor Béteille received the Padma Bhushan as a mark of recognition for his work in the field of Sociology. The same year he was appointed a member of the Prime Minister's National Knowledge Commission. In 2006, following a proposal for increasing caste-based reservations, Andre Beteille quit the Commission in protest. In 2006, he was made National Professor.His famous books are :
  • Sociology: Essays on Approach and Method, 2002.
  • Antinomies of Society: Essays on Ideologies and Institutions, 2000.
  • Chronicles of Our Time, Penguin Books, 2000.
  • The Backward Classes in Contemporary India, 1992.
  • Society and Politics in India: Essays in a Comparative Perspective 1991 .
  • The Idea of Natural Inequality and Other Essays, 1983 .
  • Inequality Among Men, Basil Blackwell, 1977 .
  • Studies in Agrarian Social Structure, 1974.
  • Six Essays in Comparative Sociology, 1974.
  • Inequality and Social Change, 1972.
  • Castes: Old and New, Essays in Social Structure and Social Stratification, 1969.
  • Caste, Class and Power: Changing Patterns of Stratification in a Tanjore Village, 1965.
  • Secularism Re-examined
  • Race & Caste
  • Teaching & Research
  • Government & NGOs
  • The Indian Middle Class

Gail Omvedt

Dr. Gail Omvedt is an American born Indian scholar, sociologist and human rights activist. Omvedt has been involved in Dalit and anti-caste movements, environmental, farmers' and women's movements.
Omvedt posits that Hindutva groups foster an ethnic definition of Hinduism based on geography, ancestry and heritage in order to create a solidarity amongst various castes, despite the prevalence of caste-based discrimination. Omvedt endorsed the stand taken by Dalit activists at the 2001 World Conference Against Racism that caste discrimination is similar to racism in regarding discriminated groups as "biologically inferior and socially dangerous."Omvedt's dissertation was on Cultural Revolt in a Colonial Society: The NonBrahman Movement in Western India, 1873-1930.

Omvedt's academic writing includes numerous books and articles on class, caste and gender issues, most notably:
  • We Shall Smash This Prison: Indian Women in Struggle (1979),
  • Reinventing Revolution: New Social Movements in India (1993),
  • Gender and Technology: Emerging Asian Visions (1994), Dalits and the Democratic Revolution (1994),
  • Dalit Visions: the Anticaste movement and Indian Cultural Identity (1994)
    Her more recent works are:
  • Buddhism in India : Challenging Brahmanism and Caste,
  • Growing Up Untouchable: A Dalit Autobiography Among Others.

G.S Ghurye

Professor G. S. Ghurye (1893-1983) is justifiably considered the doyen of Indian Sociology. On his return from Cambridge, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation under W.H.R. Rivers and later A.C. Haddon, Ghurye succeeded Sir Patric Geddes as Head of Department of Sociology in the University of Bombay in 1924. He continued to head the Department until his retirement in 1959. After retirement, he was designated the first Emeritus Professor in the University of Bombay. Ghurye's contribution to the development of sociology and anthropology in India is enormous and multi-faceted. A prolific writer, Ghurye wrote 32 books and scores of papers, which cover such wide-ranging themes as kinship and marriage, urbanization, ascetic traditions, tribal life, demography, architecture and literature.

Ghurye played a key role in the professionalisation of sociology by founding the Indian Sociological Society and its journal Sociological Bulletin. In addition, he encouraged and trained a large number of talented students who, in turn, advanced the frontiers of sociological and anthropological research in the country. With his own voluminous output and through the researches of his able students Ghurye embarked on an ambitious project of mapping out the ethnographic landscape of India.

M. N. Srinivas

Mysore Narasimhachar Srinivas (1916-1999) was a world-renowned Indian sociologist. He is mostly known for his work on caste and caste systems, social stratification and Sanskritisation in southern India. Srinivas' contribution to the disciplines of sociology and social anthropology and to public life in India was unique. It was his capacity to break out of the strong mould in which (the mostly North American university oriented) area studies had been shaped after the end of the Second World War on the one hand, and to experiment with the disciplinary grounding of social anthropology and sociology on the other, which marked his originality as a social scientist.
It may be important to point out that it was the conjuncture between Sanskritic scholarship and the strategic concerns of the Western bloc in the aftermath of the Second World War which had largely shaped South Asian area studies in the United States. During the colonial era, the Brahmins or Pandits were acknowledged as important interlocutors of Hindu laws and customs to the British colonial administration. The colonial assumptions about an unchanging Indian society led to the curious assemblage of Sanskrit studies with contemporary issues in most South Asian departments in the U.S. and elsewhere. It was strongly believed that an Indian sociology must lie at the conjunction of Indology and sociology.

Srinivas' scholarship was to challenge that dominant paradigm for understanding Indian society and would in the process, usher newer intellectual frameworks for understanding Hindu society. His views on the importance of caste in the electoral processes in India are well known. While some have interpreted this to attest to the enduring structural principles of social stratification of Indian society, for Srinivas these symbolized the dynamic changes that were taking place as democracy spread and electoral politics became a resource in the local world of village society.
By inclination he was not given to utopian constructions - his ideas about justice, equality and eradication of poverty were rooted in his experiences on the ground. His integrity in the face of demands that his sociology should take into account the new and radical aspirations was one of the most moving aspects of his writing. Through use of terms such as "sanskritisation", "dominant caste", "vertical (inter-caste) and horizontal (intra-caste) solidarities", Srinivas sought to capture the fluid and dynamic essence of caste as a social institution.
As part of his methodological practice, Srinivas strongly advocated ethnographic research based on fieldwork, but his concept of fieldwork was tied to the notion of locally bounded sites. Thus some of his best papers, such as the paper on dominant caste and one on a joint family dispute, were largely inspired from his direct participation (and as a participant observer) in rural life in south India. He wrote several papers on the themes of national integration, issues of gender, new technologies, etc. It is really surprising as to why he did not theorize on the methodological implications of writing on these issues which go beyond the village and its institutions. His methodology and findings have been used and emulated by successive researchers who have studied caste in India.
Important Books by M.N Srinivas

  • Marriage and Family in Mysore (1942)
  • Religion and Society Among the Coorgs of South India (1952)
  • Caste in Modern India (1962), Asia Publishing House
  • The Remembered Village (1976)
  • Indian Society through Personal Writings (1998)
  • Village, Caste, Gender and Method (1998)
  • Social Change in Modern India
  • The Dominant Caste and Other Essays (ed.)
  • Dimensions of Social Change in India

Yogendra Singh

German -American cultural anthropologist Franz's theoretical position is often characterized as historical particularism.He claimed that unilinear evolution was an inadequate model for the known diversity of human cultures. Progress he said does not follow a particular sequence nor is it necessarily unidirectional from simple to complex. Differing with evolutionary theorists like E.B Taylor he contended that cultural learning is unconscious rather rational. Laws comparable to natural sciences were possible in principle though usually premature in practice. He argued in favor of meticulous collection of ethnographic data before attempting generalization.

The Boasian school established culture as the key concept in US anthropology and has been criticized for its cultural determinism and relativism. However Boas was influential in the development of disciplines of folklore, linguistics and anthropology. He was mostly concerned with recording the symbolic culture of Kwakiuti and other north-west coast tribes and deriving general themes of cultural comparison.

Louis Dumont

Louis Dumont (1911-1998) an eminent sociologist and Indologist was a towering figure in the fields of sociology and anthropology in the world. His focus of debate has been India and the West. As a study of the caste system in India, Dumont's Homo Hierarchicus offers several new perspectives of social structure. The notions of ideology and tradition are intrinsic parts of his paradigm. He has brought the method of structuralism to bear upon his study of the caste system. The chief elements of his methodology are:
Ideology and structure
Dialectic transformational relationship and comparison
Indological and structuralist approach
Cognitive historical approach

Dumont seeks the ideology of caste in Indology and in the assumption of the unity of Indian civilization. Defining ideology according to him it designates a more or less unified set of ideas and values. Indian civilization is a specific ideology whose components are in a binary opposition to that of the West - Modern against traditional, holism against individualism, hierarchy against equality, purity against pollution, status against power etc. This opposition is basis for comparison at the level of global ideology within the specific ideology of the caste system. The opposite is between the principles of purity and pollution. The notion of hierarchy has a pivotal place in Dumont's study of caste system. Hierarchy implies opposition between pure and impure which also determines its dialectics. It also suggests the relationship of encompassing and being encompassed. In the caste system the principle of purity encompasses the impure.
  • Main writings of Dumont
  • Dumont's perspective on caste system

Main writings of Dumont

Dumont's main areas of interest are social anthropology and Indology.He has written on wide range of subjects such as Hinduism, caste, kinship and social and political movements in India. The major works are • La Tarasque 1951 • Hierarchy and marriage alliance in South India • Homo Hierarchicus-The caste system and its implications. • Religion, politics and history in India: collected papers in Indian Sociology • Homo Aequalis

Dumont's perspective on caste system

Louis Dumont was primarily concerned with the ideology of the caste system. His understanding of caste lays emphasis on attributes of caste that is why his approach is called attributional approach to the caste system. For him caste is set of relationships of economic, political and kinship systems, sustained by certain values which are mostly religious in nature. Dumont says that caste is not a form of stratification but a special form of inequality whose essence has to be deciphered by the sociologists. Here he identifies hierarchy as the essential value underlying the caste system supported by Hinduism. According to Dumont caste divides the whole Indian society into a larger number of hereditary groups distinguished from one another and connected together by three characteristics:
1. Separation on the basis of rules of the caste in matters of marriage and contact whether direct or indirect (food).
2. Interdependent of work or division of labor each group having in theory or by tradition, a profession from which their members can depart only within certain limits
3. Gradation of status or hierarchy which ranks the groups as relatively superior or inferior to one another.

Dumont highlights the state of mind which is expressed by the emergence in various situations of castes. He calls caste system as a system of ideas and values which is a formal comprehensible rational system. His analysis is based on a single principle-the opposition of pure and impure. This opposition underlies hierarchy which means superiority of the pure and inferiority of impure. This principle also underlies separation which means pure and impure must be kept separate. According to Dumont the study of the caste system is useful for the knowledge of India and it is an important task of general sociology. He focused on the need to understand the ideology of caste as reflected in the classical texts, historical examples etc.He advocated the use of an Indological and structuralist approach to the study of caste system and village social structure in India. Dumont in his Homo Hierarchicus has built up a model of Indian civilization based on non-competitive ritual hierarchical system.

A.R Desai

A.R Desai was born on April 16, 1915 at Nadiad in Gujarat and died in 1994 at Baroda. He consistently advocated and applied dialectical-historical model in his sociological studies. He closely studied the works of Marx and Engels and the writings of Trotsky. He may be regarded as one of the pioneers in introducing the modern Marxist approach to empirical investigations involving bibliographical and field research. He rejects any interpretations of tradition with reference to religion, rituals and festivities. It is essentially a secular phenomenon. He finds it in family, village and other social institutions. He also does not find the origin of tradition in western culture. He considers that the emerging contradictions in the Indian process of social transformation arise mainly from the growing nexus among the capitalist bourgeoisie, the rural petty-bourgeoisie and a state apparatus all drawn from similar social roots.

  • Main writings of A.R Desai
  • Marxist approach

Main writings of A.R Desai

A. R Desai has written in Marxist perspective to understand the diverse aspects of Indian social reality. The main works are:
The social background of Indian nationalism Rural sociology in India Slums and urbanization in India State and society in India Peasant struggle in India Rural India in transition India's path of development Desai also developed the field of political sociology in 1960s.He studied Indian society from Marxian perspective and also used history fruitfully.

Marxist Approach

In 50s-60s American structural-functionalism and British functionalism dominated social sciences in general and sociological researches in particular. However Desai continued to write on Indian society and state from the Marxist perspective. He finds that the dominant sociological approaches in India are basically non-Marxist and the Marxist approach has been rejected on the pretext of its being dogmatic, value-loaded and deterministic in nature. The relevant approach according to him is the Marxist approach as it could help to study of govt's policies, the class entrenched into state apparatus and India' s political economy. The Marxist approach helps to understand the social reality through the means of production, the techno-economic division of labour involved in operating the instruments of production and social relations of production or what was more precisely characterized as property relations. Thus the Marxist approach focuses on understanding the type of property relations which existed on the eve of independence in India. The Marxist approach gives central importance to property structure in analyzing any society. It provides historical location or specification of all social phenomena. It recognizes the dialectics of evolutionary as well as revolutionary changes of the breaks in historical continuity in the transition from one socio-economic formation to another. In this context A R Desai tried to understand the Indian society which also reflects in his work.

Attached: Indian Thinkers
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