Bhaskar Parichha

One of the big predicaments of Indian sociology in the past hundred years is that it has greatly been influenced by and patterned on western theories. As an emergent discipline during colonial and post-colonial era, almost all sociologists in India took up studies on the theoretical models of internationally famous sociologists like Durkheim, Weber, Marx and Engels, Maine and Parsons. Contextualizing Sociology has, therefore, been a big challenge for sociologists before and after independence.

Origins of Indian sociology are traced to the works of British civil servants, missionaries, and Western scholars. British administrators wanted to understand the customs, manners and institutions of the Indian people to ensure the smooth running of their administration. Christian missionaries were interested in learning local languages, folklore, and culture to carry out their activities.

The origin, development, and functioning of the various customs and traditions, the Hindu systems of caste and joint family, and the economy and polity of the village/tribal community were some of the prominent themes of study by the British administrators and Indian intellectuals.

Formal teaching of sociology in India began only in 1914 at the University of Bombay followed by Calcutta University (1917) and Lucknow University (1921). While Patrick Geddes and G. S. Ghurye are considered the pioneers, several others i.e. M. N. Srinivas, K. M. Kapadia, I. P. Desai, Y. B. Damle, A. R. Desai, and M. S. A. Rao, DP Mukherjee, RK Mukherjee, BN Seal, BN Sarkar and a few others have had a great impact on the development of sociology in India at various points of time.

That said, unrequited questions on Indian sociology since independence have been, precisely, a lack of rigid distinction between sociology and social anthropology, indigenization of sociology, its diversification and specialization et cetera.

Nonetheless, Indian sociological research in the last fifty years has shown    both continuity and change. While caste- stratification, village community, and social change have continued to be the themes, yet the approach has considerably shifted from the functional to the conflict. Descriptive studies of single village communities have been replaced by macro studies of social structure. Even though interest in the traditional areas of marriage, family, and kinship have declined, women’s studies in various themes and sub-themes have been greater than before.

Equally, out-migration of entrepreneurial and educated Indians to Western countries has led to a modest beginning of sociological studies of the Indian Diaspora .Interest in the study of changing patterns of marriage and family relations too is slowly growing. In a sense, Indian sociology has freed itself from colonial years and there has been a deconstruction of western approaches.

It is in this context that the present book ‘Critical Themes in Indian Sociology’ comes handy. Edited by Sanjay Srivastava(Institute of Economic Growth,Delhi),Yasmeen Arif(Delhi University) and Janaki Abraham(Delhi School of Economics), this volumes brings together  the writings of numerous scholars – young and old; Indian and foreign – on various sociological aspects.

The volume is essentially a tribute to Contributions to Indian sociology – a journal which is now fifty years old and is globally acclaimed for its scrupulous social engagement in India. What is interesting about this book is that a wide range of fashionable themes have been dwelt upon in the hardback running into some 470 pages: from food to education; village to city; class to caste; gender to sexuality and, of course, media to politics. It also ‘reflects the change in scholarship and charts out new subjects and methods of social life in India.’

Dedicated to well-known sociologists TN Madan and Patricia Uberoi, it has in all thirty chapters with a brilliant introduction by the authors trio: ‘these essays, we hope, will be accessible to a readership beyond academic circles as we believe in the fundamental significance of the social sciences in understanding the past and the present of Indian society in particular and human life in general.’

Roma Chatterrjee’s piece on folk culture’,Ronie Parciack’s article on religious violence,Tulasi Srinivas’s  piece on new religious movements in  and of South Asia,Surinder S Jodhka’s piece on villages and villagers in contemporary India,Mekhla Krishnamurthy on fields ,markets and agricultural commodities, Lawrence Cohen on the Aadhaar  conundrum, Nicholas Nisbett and Aditi Bhonagiri on internet cultures,Meenakshi Thapan’s schooling and culture,Carol  Upadhya on the work culture in India’s new economy,Geert De Neve’s article on the sociology of labour in India,Suryakant Waghmore on civility and caste,Raka Ray on the middle class,Rajni Palriwala on sociology of gender,Perveez Mody on contemporary intimacies,Shalini Grover’s marital discord in India in a historical perspective, Joseph S alter on  masculinity and culture, Paul Boyce and Rohit K Dasgupta on alternating sexualities and queer critiques in India,Sarah Lamb on ageing and ambivalent Indian modernities,Amita Baviskar on new food cultures, Sara Dickey on Indian cinema culture, Margit van Wessel on the sociology of consumption in India,Smriti Srinivas on urban space Sujatha on medicine ,power and social legitimacy – all these timely   writings go to  make this volume stupendous and awe-inspiring.

‘Critical themes in Indian Sociology’ is not only an amazing book; it is inventive, up to date and chock-full with statistics. A meticulous academic exercise by any standard, the book is resourceful because the subjects are across the board and offer a wholesome picture of Indian society. Besides students and scholars of sociology, this is also a collectible book for anyone who wants to keep a tab on all that is happening around in India’s fast-changing social milieu.

Critical Themes in Indian Sociology

Edited by: Sanjay Srivastava,Yasmeen Arif & Janaki Abraham

SAGE Publications

B1/I-1, Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area

Mathura Road

New Delhi 110044

Rs 1595

ISBN 978-93-528-0795-6

(The reviewer is a senior journalist and Consulting Editor,OdishaLIVE)