The Oxford in India Readings in Sociology and Social Anthropology comprises a set of volumes, each on an important theme or sub-area within these disciplines. Along with authoritative introductions and sectional prefaces, each book brings together key essays that apprise readers of the current debates and developments within the area concerned, with specific reference to India. The volumes act both as introductions to sociology and social anthropology and as essential reference works for students, teachers, and researchers.
Politics in India is a collection of papers analysing the sociological bases of Indian politics. It is divided into seven sections- Politics and Social Structure, Historical Refigurations of Power, Caste and Class, Sociology of Identities, Sociology of Political Parties, Sociology of Religion, and Sociology of State Crisis. The volume includes contributions by leading scholars from several disciplines-politics, sociology, anthropology, and political economy, and thus presents a variety of analytical and theoretical perspectives.
Sudipta Kaviraj is Professor of Indian Politics and Intellectual History, Columbia University, New York. He is author of The Unhappy Consciousness: Bankimchandra Chattopadhyay and the Formation of Nationalist Discourse in India (OUP. 1995)
The study of political fact can have two initial forms: its purpose can be either to describe or to explain. It can either simply content itself by asking what happened, or go on to enquire about why what happened did actually happen in that manner. But there can be various different styles of going down the explanatory path. It is well known that a discipline like politics uses both types of clarifications known to science: explanation by making a reference to causality, adapting that of course to the special complexities of the historical world, and understanding social actions by seeking their intentional horizons or reasons. Political explanations are normally mixed, in the sense that they must try to combine the logic of both types of puzzle solving procedures. To identify a political act, to understand correctly exactly what kind of action it was, it is essential to refer to the world of intentions. First, it is necessary to understand what the actor intended his act to be. To use a well known example, it is an elementary but entirely unavoidable part of political analysis to determine whether the raising of a hand by an individual is a matter of simply involuntary physical action or an act of voting. Or when we try to disentangle the possibility that someone simply has nervous tic which closes his eye, or he deliberately winked to convey a certain meaning. Now, in both these simple cases, of winking and voting, the actor must refer to some generally accepted and implicitly shared ideas and social practices. The identification of intention is thus not merely a matter of understanding individual psychological facts, but grasping conceptual structures which are public, socially created and given.
When we seek to understand the causes behind a political fact, or event, or ask why did it happen, we can both take a simple chronological line, and refer one state of affairs to a previous one. For example, if we wish to understand why the Nehru government decided to follow a particular policy, we can refer to the state of things existing in the previous regime. There is however another, equally common way of finding out why something happened: that is to refer political events to non-political phenomena of different, kinds-like the state of the economy, or the structure of the caste system or the cultural preferences of a particular group. Political sociology seeks to understand systematically the underlying social forces that determine the shape and lines of movement of political life.
Political sociology represents the discipline which seeks an understanding of the political world through the sociological bases of political action. Politics of all societies need to be looked at that way, if we have to make any 'explanatory sense at all; if we are not merely content with asking what happened in politics, but why it happened that way, or why what happened did instead of something else which was also possible. But, precisely because it assumes an explanatory dimension some forms of political sociology can also easily fall into insupportably large claims. It can, for instance, contend that large and deterministic explanatory claims of Marxian political economy are false, only to place its own equally general substitutes on the ground from which Marxists have been freshly evicted. Unfortunately, much of the debate about caste and class in Indian politics has sometimes been conducted in that spirit of unyielding dogmatism.
The Relation Between Politics And Sociology
Puzzlements about the relation between politics and other types of practices which together constitute a society must be the starting point of a political sociology. There are various ways of seeing society. One popular picture presents it as a complex whole-which is designed in layers. This picture which conceives of society like a layered cake, or an architectural structure, is often accompanied by a sense that there is some kind of a causal hierarchy among these levels or layers. Marxist scholarship has particularly accustomed us to thinking in terms of a dichotomy between surface and deep structures. The lower and more underlying the level the more causally effective it is. The metaphor of underlyingness has an additional connotation. Since what lies under also often escapes notice, it can be implied that the most fundamental processes are not only causally most efficient but also unamenable to immediate knowledge of individuals living in society. This seems to create the picture of social 'nature' processes which affect and determine people's lives fundamentally, but which they do not understand and therefore cannot control. The most common form of this kind of thinking is again the Marxist idea that, of these various levels, the productive enjoys a kind of .causal supremacy, the substance of the tangled debate about primacy of the economic or productive practices in a society's arrangement.
Another fairly common and influential image is that of a floral model of social organization in which each petal stands for one type of substructure,' forming by their interaction the global structure of society. The difference from the earlier picture is that it sees all petals as being necessary for the flower as a whole. It resists, intrinsically, a reductionist view of society, though it still can accommodate a sense of centrality if not determination. Different observers can choose to put one or the other practice at the centre of this arrangement. Putting a practice at the centre of this picture: may have two different implications. It might suggest an epistemic strategy: since we study politics, it is at the centre of our cognitive field (like a visual field); for others, other things or processes may be similarly put at the centre of vision. A stronger view would claim an ontological priority for some practices, like the economic or the political. They would claim, in that case, not just that politics is at the centre of our attention, because of our contingent cognitive interest about this matter, but it is, in the nature of things, at the centre of the historical process. In this case, it is not very different from the deterministic thesis discussed earlier.
Whatever form and methodology it may take; political sociology must seek to elucidate the relation between politics and society, and must use tools from both these disciplines.
Political Sociology in India
The discipline of political sociology in India is a relatively recent
development. As academic disciplines, both politics and sociology existed in relative indifference towards each other till the sixties, although much that was excellent in social and political analysis was of course spontaneously interdisciplinary. Sociological interest in politics and political scientists' seeking help from sociological theories began through an appreciation of inadequacy in conventional studies of political facts. Political science emerged as a discipline in Indian universities in the late thirties. Initially, however, its methodological procedures were practically indistinguishable from constitutional law. The emphasis on constitutionalism is of course easily understandable in a new nation, quite apart from the influence of conventional study of political institutions in the West. New states which got independence from colonial rule generally imitated constitutional forms of metropolitan states; and it was generally assumed that the constitutional form itself would provide the consequences in the shape of political stability, democratic rule, accountability of government, 'the features remarkable in the politics of western states. Political analysis in India in the early years after independence demonstrated an understandable naivete: a vaulting legal optimism that a wholly new and altogether better society would be constructed by the careful fashioning of clauses and subclauses by lawyers completely devoted to national unity and ideals of moderate social reform. Questions that were accorded great significance in political debates as well as academic discussions tended to be constitutional questions: to take two most important issues, the limits to the enjoyment of the right to property, which was involved in the abolition of zamindari; and the relations between centre and state governments, and the related issue of the discretionary powers of governors. It was only afterwards, as it appeared that actual politics diverged often quite significantly from constitutional legal rules, and understanding this required a different mode of analysis, that political scientists moved towards more sociologically orientated questioning of their field: not only asking how many voted for a particular party, but why.
With the greater explanatory ambitions of political scientists, encouraged partly by the vogue for similar studies in the US at the time, a movement in sociology coincided. Social anthropologists, given conventionally to a blithe pretence of immutability of the structures they studied, confessed that these structures showed a perplexing capacity of altering themselves, although these had reportedly stayed unchanged for centuries. Although such changes in structures of traditional social practice could be rather unhelpfully attributed to a vague and abstract logic of modernization, it called for more specific attribution of causality.It was felt that although economic reorganization of society through capitalist industrialization surely altered social structures, customary practices and identities changed with remarkable rapidity in response to direct inducements from parliamentary politics. Structures like caste, which showed a remarkable ability. To withstand impact of economic reorganization tended to respond with paradoxical flexibility to the invitations and opportunities of democratic electoral procedures. Not surprisingly, this kind of reflection went with a questioning of the conventional concept of tradition. Sociological theory had earlier defined tradition as a set of relatively static, unchanging practices, resistant to proposals for historical change. It seemed preferable to define tradition as a set of rules of social practice which adapted to historically altered conditions through a surreptitious adaptability, so that although they changed, they also typically tried to conceal the evidence, by an ideological rhetoric of immutability. If this latter conception of tradition was valid, then traditional structures of Indian society like caste or religious self-identifications would not be expected to melt away with the advent of modernity, but to adapt to the demands of new institutions.
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