Monday, January 30, 2012

Studying Modernization in India- Some theoretical perspectives-I


Social Anthropological Perspectives
Modernization as a theme has helped shape the horizons of Indian sociology and social anthropology.The production of systematic knowledge on Indian society based on the pioneering work of orientalist Indologists,colonial administrators  and missionaries developed rapidly from 1760 onward.By the early decades  of the 20th century these varied traditions had already produced a considerable body of works on arts,sciences and cultural-religious practices of classical Hinduism,the cultural coherence of Indian communities and the regional inventories of caste and tribes detailing their customs and manners. To this were added the later work of  western and Indian scholars trained mainly in the British tradition of a social anthropology as well as American anthropologists.This work consisted of ethnographic monographs on village,caste or tribal communities.

However this diverse body of anthropological work on India did not show deep or sustained interest in social change except in inquiries into the decay or degeneration of traditional practices,institutions and communities.With Independence the search for social change became an important item on the agenda of social anthropology in India.In the aftermath of Indian independence  the idea of modernization took on the dimensions of a national mission ;it became an integral part of Nehruvian idea of socialism. India's inheritance of western style academic institutions and their eagerness to participate in the agendas of the nationalist state provided site for the emergence of modernization studies in India one marked by an ambivalent attitude towards western scholars and institutions and by the bias against basic research and policy oriented studies.


T.N Madan has suggested that in Indian sociology and social anthropology the question of modernity is posed  in three major forms.It first appeared in 1930s in opposition to the Weberian thesis of the other worldly orientation of Hinduism and its consequent lack of affinity with modern materialist modes of thought.It was than the scholars like B.N Sarkar and Seal attempted to foreground the positivistic tendencies in Hindu thought by proposing a Hindu sociology.The second occasion was the public controversy over the policy to be adopted towards tribal communities whether they ought to be modernized and mainstreamed or protected and preserved.This involved debates between Elwin and Ghurye but also engagements with contemporary notions of progress by scholars like DP Mukerji and DN Majumdar.The third recurrence of this question in the post Independence context of development.

M.N Srinivas is among the first and easily the most influential scholar to have written extensively on modernization in Social Change in Modern India published in 1966.He deliberately takes an all-India view of social change though he relies heavily on the insights gathered during his fieldwork in Coorg and Mysore.For him the social change assumes two major forms- first the various forms of mobility within the caste system and second the wide-ranging process of westernization.Sanskritization refers to the process the seems to have occurred throughout Indian history and still continues to occur by which a low Hindu caste or tribal or other group changes its customs,ritual,ideology and way of life in the direction of a high and frequently twice-born caste with a view of claiming a higher position in the caste hierarchy.Such claims may over a generation or two result in some upward mobility.

The concept of dominant caste is an attempt to capture the change in the status of some relatively high touchable castes as a result of their numerical strength predominant position in the agricultural economy and over time accumulation of western criteria such as education and government jobs.This concept points to the rise in the secular status,political power and economic power of some caste groups which have benefited from the social changes introduced since independence.

Westernization refers to the changes introduced in Indian society during British rule and which continue in independent India.It is recognized as an inclusive complex and many layered concept ranging from western technology at one end to the experimental method of modern science and modern historiography at the other and its different aspects sometimes combine to strengthen a particular process sometimes work at cross-purposes and are occasionally mutually discrete.Though the upper castes have been particularly active in mediating it all castes are affected by westernization which brings about radical and lasting changes in Indian society and culture based on a very wide range of causal factors including new technology,institutions,knowledge,beliefs and values.

Milton Singer's main work on modernization in 1972 is based on fieldwork done in middle and upper class urban settings in south India mainly in Madras ( Chennai) and helps complement rural based perceptions on social change.He focuses on the specific strategies used by urban Indians to manage the simultaneous presence of tradition and modernity in their everyday lives.Thus compartmentalization refers to the strict spatial and temporal segregation of traditional and modern contexts/institutions;ritual neutralization is gesture to contain the threat of pollution or other forms of transgression of traditional values in modern contexts such as workplace and vicarious ritualization refers to division of labor in which  householders unable to perform religious rituals get their wives or professional priests to perform them on their behalf.The main contribution of Marriott are two concepts of parochialization and universalization developed from their fieldwork in a north Indian village.The latter is a process whereby elements of the little tradition (customs,deities and rites) circulate upward to enter the great tradition and thus acquire a more universal status while the former refers to the opposite process of elements from the great tradition becoming confined to particular local little traditions.

The core of social anthropological work on the theme of modernization consists of the Srinivas and Chicago School.Sanskritization in particular have generated a large literature and is the most prominent concept from the Indian literature to have made an impact on the discipline.

'Modernization'- Satish Deshpande 

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