Readings in Indian Sociology: Volume V: Contributions to Sociological Theory [1 ed.] 9788132113867

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Readings in Indian Sociology: Volume V: Contributions to Sociological Theory [1 ed.]

Table of contents :
Series Note
PART I - On Concepts and Methods
1 - Newness in Sociological Enquiry
2 - Paradigms and Discourses: New Frontiers in the Sociology of Knowledge
3 - Relevance of the Marxist Approach to the Study of Indian Society
4 - Altruistic Suicide: A Subjective Approach
5 - Rational Social Action as a Basis for Creative Comparisons
6 - Feminist Social Theories: Theme and Variations
7 - Social Structure
PART II - On Sociological Thinkers
8 - Vidyas: A Homage to Auguste Comte
9 - Max Weber’s Theory of Social Stratification: Controversies, Contexts and Correctives
10 - Malinowski on Freedom and Civilization
11 - Some Reflections on Karl Popper’s Theory of Social Explanation
12 - Outsider Bias and Ethnocentricity: The Case of Gunnar Myrdal
13 - Robert Merton’s Formulations in Sociology of Science
14 - Bourdieu’s Theory ofthe Symbolic and theShah Bano Case
About the Editor and Contributors
Appendix of Sources

Citation preview

Contributions to Sociological Theory

Readings in Indian Sociology Series Editor: Ishwar Modi Titles and Editors of the Volumes Volume 1 Towards Sociology of Dalits Editor: Paramjit S. Judge Volume 2 Sociological Probings in Rural Society Editor: K.L. Sharma Volume 3 Sociology of Childhood and Youth Editor: Bula Bhadra Volume 4 Sociology of Health Editor: Madhu Nagla Volume 5 Contributions to Sociological Theory Editor: Vinay Kumar Srivastava Volume 6 Sociology of Science and Technology in India Editor: Binay Kumar Pattnaik Volume 7 Sociology of Environment Editor: Sukant K. Chaudhury Volume 8 Political Sociology of India Editor: Anand Kumar Volume 9 Culture and Society Editor: Susan Visvanathan Volume 10 Pioneers of Sociology in India Editor: Ishwar Modi


Contributions to Sociological Theory

EDITED BY Vinay Kumar Srivastava

Copyright © Indian Sociological Society, 2013 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilised in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage or retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. First published in 2013 by SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd B1/I-1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area Mathura Road, New Delhi 110 044, India SAGE Publications Inc 2455 Teller Road Thousand Oaks, California 91320, USA

Indian Sociological Society Institute of Social Sciences 8 Nelson Mandela Road Vasant Kunj New Delhi 110 070

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List of Tables Series Note Preface Introduction by Vinay Kumar Srivastava

ix xi xv xvii

Part I: On Concepts and Methods 1. Newness in Sociological Enquiry André Béteille 2. Paradigms and Discourses: New Frontiers in the Sociology of Knowledge Dipankar Gupta 3. Relevance of the Marxist Approach to the Study of Indian Society A.R. Desai 4. Altruistic Suicide: A Subjective Approach Lung-Chang Young 5. Rational Social Action as a Basis for Creative Comparisons Prakash N. Pimpley 6. Feminist Social Theories: Theme and Variations Beatrice Kachuck 7. Social Structure M.N. Srinivas



37 55 73 83 113

Part II: On Sociological Thinkers 8. Vidyas: A Homage to Auguste Comte G.S. Ghurye



Contributions to Sociological Theory

9. Max Weber’s Theory of Social Stratification: Controversies, Contexts and Correctives Rajendra Pandey 10. Malinowski on Freedom and Civilization Vinay Kumar Srivastava 11. Some Reflections on Karl Popper’s Theory of Social Explanation Goutam Biswas 12. Outsider Bias and Ethnocentricity: The Case of Gunnar Myrdal Susantha Goonatillake 13. Robert Merton’s Formulations in Sociology of Science Pravin J. Patel 14. Bourdieu’s Theory of the Symbolic and the Shah Bano Case Sheena Jain Index About the Editor and Contributors Appendix of Sources

141 169


209 229 249

271 282 284

List of Tables

Chapter 4 Table 1 Subjective Types of Altruistic and Fatalistic Suicidal Behaviour Table 2 Percentage Distribution of Suicide Cases by Subjective Types Table 3 Choice of Method by Type of Suicide

62 68 69

Series Note

The Indian Sociological Society (ISS), established in December 1951, under the leadership of Professor G. S. Ghurye at the University of Bombay celebrated its Diamond Jubilee in 2011. Soon after its foundation, the ISS launched its bi-annual journal Sociological Bulletin in March 1952. It has been published regularly since then. Taking cognizance of the growing aspirations of the community of sociologists both in India and abroad to publish their contributions in Sociological Bulletin, its frequency was raised to three issues a year in 2004. Its print order now exceeds 3,000 copies. It speaks volumes about the popularity both of the ISS and the Sociological Bulletin. The various issues of Sociological Bulletin are a treasure trove of the most profound and authentic sociological writings and research in India and elsewhere. As such, it is no surprise that it has acquired the status of an internationally acclaimed reputed journal of sociology. The very fact that several of its previous issues are no more available, being out of print, is indicative not only of its popularity both among sociologists and other social scientists but also of its high scholarly reputation, acceptance and relevance. Although two series of volumes have already been published by the ISS during 2001–05 and in 2011 having seven volumes each on a large number of themes and yet a very large number of themes remain untouched. Such a situation necessitated that a new series of thematic volumes be brought out. Realising this necessity and in order to continue to celebrate the Diamond Decade of the ISS, the Managing Committee of the ISS and a sub-committee constituted for this purpose decided to bring out a series of 10 more thematic volumes in such areas of importance and relevance both for the sociological and the academic community at large as sociological theory, untouchability and Dalits, rural society, science & technology, childhood and youth,


Contributions to Sociological Theory

health, environment, culture, politics, and the pioneers of sociology in India. Well-known scholars and experts in the areas of chosen themes were identified and requested to edit these thematic volumes under the series title Readings in Indian Sociology. Each one of them has put in a lot of effort in the shortest possible time not only in selecting and identifying the papers to be included in their respective volumes but also in arranging these in a relevant and meaningful manner. More than this, it was no easy task for them to write comprehensive Introductions of the respective volumes in the face of time constraints so that the volumes could be brought out in time on the occasion of the 39th All India Sociological Conference scheduled to take place in Mysore under the auspices of the Karnataka State Open University during 27–29 December 2013. The editors enjoyed freedom not only to choose the papers of their choice from Sociological Bulletin published during 1952 to 2012 but were also free to request scholars of their choice to write Forewords for their particular volumes. The volumes covered under this series include: Towards Sociology of Dalits (Editor: Paramjit S. Judge); Sociological Probings in Rural Society (Editor: K. L. Sharma); Sociology of Childhood and Youth (Editor: Bula Bhadra); Sociology of Health (Editor: Madhu Nagla); Contributions to Sociological Theory (Editor: Vinay Kumar Srivastava); Sociology of Science & Technology in India (Editor: Binay Kumar Pattnaik); Sociology of Environment in India (Editor: Sukant K. Chaudhury); Culture and Society in India (Editor: Susan Visvanathan); Political Sociology of India (Editor: Anand Kumar); and Pioneers of Sociology in India (Editor: Ishwar Modi). Contributions to Sociological Theory (edited by Vinay Kumar Srivastava) is the fifth volume of the series titled Readings in Indian Sociology. This volume rests on the premise that theoretical traditions constitute the kernel of the discipline of sociology, guiding the empirical enquiry, the collection and analysis of narratives and numbers and the interpretation of findings. This volume consists of essays on theoretical issues and concerns that have appeared in the Sociological Bulletin in the last 60 years. The volume also aims to quell the popular belief that sociologists and their journals are shy of making a contribution to theory—they are mere empiricists (data-reporters). The volume introduces the dimensions and trajectories of the multiplicity of theory in its sumptuous Introduction. The volume has two sections—the first deals



with the contribution of the Sociological Bulletin to the conceptual framework of sociology and the second is the contribution made to the writings of the Western thinkers who have considerably influenced Indian sociology. It can hardly be overemphasised and can be said for sure that this volume as well as all the other volumes of the series Readings in Indian Sociology, as they pertain to the most important aspects of society and sociology in India, will be of immense importance and relevance to students, teachers and researchers of both sociology and other social sciences. It is also hoped that these volumes will be received well by the overseas scholars interested in the study of Indian society. Besides this, policy-makers, administrators, activists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and so on may also find these volumes of immense value. Having gone through these volumes, the students and researchers of sociology would probably be able to feel and say that now “[w]e will be able to look much farther away as we are standing on the shoulders of the giants” (in the spirit of paraphrasing the famous quote of Isaac Newton). I would like to place on record my thanks to Shambhu Sahu, Sutapa Ghosh and R. Chandra Sekhar of SAGE Publications for all their efforts, support and patience to complete this huge project well in time against all the time constraints. I also express my gratefulness to the Managing Committee Members of the ISS and also the members of the sub-committee constituted for this purpose. I am also thankful to all the editors and all the scholars who have written the Forewords. I would also like to thank Uday Singh, my assistant at the India International Institute of Social Sciences, Jaipur, for all his secretarial assistance and hard work put in by him towards the completion of these volumes. Ishwar Modi Series Editor Readings in Indian Sociology



repared under the auspices of the Indian Sociological Society’s series known as Readings in Indian Sociology, this volume is a collection of fourteen articles, besides an Introduction, which have appeared in the Sociological Bulletin right from its inception and have been chosen to render a picture of the work on sociological theory that found its way in this journal. Surely, Indian sociologists and anthropologists have also published articles on social theory in other journals, and, if tomorrow, we plan a book on their contribution to the issues of theory and methodology, we shall, needless to say, consult all the material that has been published on these topics. A survey of articles published in the Sociological Bulletin (and also in other journals) reveals that by comparison to the other areas and interests in sociology, sociological theory has not received much attention, notwithstanding the fact that sociology and anthropology students are expected to be familiar with classical and modern theories, and are also expected to apply theoretical models, perspectives and strategies in explaining and interpreting the empirical data they collect. One of the submissions of this volume is to urge upon the fellow sociologists and anthropologists to make sociological theory an arena of research. I am extremely grateful to Professor Ishwar Modi, President, Indian Sociological Society, for giving me the opportunity to edit this volume, and to Dr Sukant K. Chaudhury, Department of Sociology, University of Lucknow, for several acts of kindness. Vinay Kumar Srivastava

Introduction Vinay Kumar Srivastava



remember in June 1991, a distinguished social scientist, of Indian origin, with specialisation in political science, from one of the English universities, in the course of his lecture on the intellectual scene in India, at the South Asian Centre, University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, said that whilst Indian sociologists and social anthropologists have made substantial, impressive and oft-quoted contribution to an empirical and critical understanding of their society, they have considerably lagged behind in making an equally impressive contribution to social theory. This, however, did not include the textbooks on theory that some of them have written principally for the consumption of students, serving the need that the examination system creates, and of the young teachers who on being entrusted to teach a course on social theory prefer to begin with an easy-to-grasp reading, which presents the abstract ideas in simple language with lots of indigenous examples. Perhaps, when it comes to writing originally on theory (or theoretical issues), he said, Indian scholars suffer from ‘nervous inferiority’, notwithstanding the fact that some of them might have taught papers on social theory for their entire academic career and are well versed with the original writings of both classical and contemporary thinkers. In their class lectures and tutorial instructions, they often make incisive, intelligent and insightful comments, novel and thought-provoking, but when the challenge to write these up, expanding these thoughts in articles and books, comes, it is politely declined; either they do not take up the challenge, or provide textbooks (or ‘help books’) under the pretense of an


Vinay Kumar Srivastava

assumption that since Indian students are less capable of grasping the ‘heavy’ and ‘abstract’ theoretical concepts, so the ‘easy-to-learn’ type of materials is the suitable answer. Furthermore, he said, some Indian anthropologists and sociologists are committed passionately to the process of ‘indigenisation’, a term defined as delineating a battery of concepts to understand the Indian social reality from ‘within’ rather than just imposing on it the concepts and theories that evolved in the Western (or any other) social and political context (see Atal 2003: Chapter 6). One of the primary lessons we have learned in social sciences is about the plurality of cultures (and sub-cultures), with the implication that irrespective of the commonalities between different varieties of societies inhabiting different ecological zones, each one differs from the other in terms of its ways of living, its cultural patterns. This further reinforces the case in favour of indigenous concepts and theories; but even here, the contribution of Indian anthropologists and sociologists is meagre. An indigenous theory, worth its name, is hard to find. In a nutshell, the pith of this part of his lecture was that Indian anthropologists and sociologists, in addition to the empirical studies of their society, need to concertedly devote themselves to the theoretical debates in their disciplines and emerge out of their ‘cocoons’ to make a worth-noting contribution to social theory. Although some members of the audience, particularly of Indian origin, were unhappy with what they thought was the ‘short-sightedness’ and ‘value-judgements’ of the speaker, and in their respective rejoinders, they referred to the works of the certain Indian anthropologists and sociologists (such as André Béteille, J. P. S. Uberoi, Gopala Sarana, Yogesh Atal, Veena Das, among many others) who have made their distinctive marks in the disciplines of social theory and research methodology, in pub-conversations that followed the lecture, many of them seemed to agree with the speaker about his observations on Indian anthropologists and sociologists. Whilst Indian anthropology and sociology were not theoretically vacuous, it was no exaggeration to say that in terms of their research agendas, their disciplinarians did not pay as much attention to social theory as they did to empirical studies. A doctoral thesis purely devoted to a theoretical problem, without an iota of empirical research, was (and is) unthinkable in an Indian university department of anthropology and sociology, as is the case with, for instance, theoretical physics;



incidentally, we do not have ‘theoretical sociology’ or ‘theoretical social anthropology’ as provinces of research, maybe for a doctorate or otherwise; its implication is that theory per se is not seen as an area of research, while its testing against empirical facts is. After more than two decades, I was nostalgically reminded of this animated discussion, with streaks of nationalism clearly evincive inside the seminar hall and a more balanced and critical appraisal of the speaker’s presentation outside, both stances justified in their respective contexts. Reflecting upon this, two observations may be made about Indian sociology and anthropology. First, Indian scholars usually conduct researches on their own society, increasingly now on their own communities, the ones to which they belong by birth and upbringing; in other words, auto-ethnographic studies are rising and are far more acceptable in the disciplines than what they were earlier. Because of the study of one’s own society, in India, the distinction between anthropology and sociology is not of the same kind as it was (and is, in many places) in the West, where those who studied their own society were sociologists and those who traveled to far-off places to be in the company of preliterate communities (that were pejoratively called ‘primitive’) for a lengthy period were anthropologists. Well-known is the epithet that anthropology famously earned as the study of the ‘other cultures’. The concept of ‘otherness’ was not only a frame of mind, to study a phenomenon without preconceptions, to begin the study as a tabula rasa, but also referred to a community different—often diametrically—from the one in which the researcher (or the ethnographer) was raised and is currently a member. Literature abounds with the stories of enterprising anthropologists painstakingly, sometimes frenetically, ‘searching’ for the hitherto unstudied ‘exotic’ people and then choosing to live with them for years, albeit the uninhabitable conditions that may be prevailing locally. On the other hand, being a study of one’s own society, sociology did not have a string of such exciting stories of fieldwork. Sociologists worked with familiar people and surroundings; anthropologists were in the company of ‘unfamiliar’ (often called ‘bizarre’ and ‘strange’) people. In India, however, the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’ was not so striking as was the case in North America, Australia, or New Zealand, where American Indians, Australian Aborigines or Maori were ethnically and culturally different from the white people. Furthermore in India, continuities between different


Vinay Kumar Srivastava

communities, classified as Caste Hindus and Scheduled Tribes, created overlapping of societies that anthropologists and sociologists studied, with the result that these two disciplines became siblings rather than distant cousins. At the same time, diversity in India was so much that one’s neighbourhood differed in many social and cultural terms; hence, the study of one’s neighbourhood amounted to the study of the ‘other culture’. Indian scholars did not only focus upon their own society, they were also less comparative in their studies, for their objective was to grasp a particular situation rather than the Indian society as a whole. In essence, what they churned out and still do are case studies. Second, since both anthropology and sociology are regarded as ‘observational sciences’, the researchers are trained from the beginning in fieldwork and survey methods; the same kind of rigorous training and learning does not take place in social theory. When starting with their doctoral studies, the prospective researchers choose their field sites and the social problems on which they would collect their data. Less attention is given to the theoretical perspective(s) through which the data would be analysed and interpreted. The outcome of this is that the ‘case studies’ that culminate as doctoral dissertations and project reports are not more than morasses of empirical facts (presented through running descriptions, tables, charts and graphs, flow diagrams), thinly informed by theories, in fact for which sociology and anthropology have an enviable place among the other social sciences. It is indeed surprising that the rich tradition of social theory is hardly reflected in Indian anthropology and sociology, and it seems as if social theory and empirical researches exist and develop as parallel species, and social theory is not, as said previously, a realm of research, but an area on which textbooks in simple language may be written. In both ways—whether we study our own society or we regard our subject (anthropology or sociology) principally an empirical study, rather than contemplative, philosophical and theoretical—what has really suffered is the contribution of Indian scholars to social theory, the contribution that we could have amply made to it. Of course, some of us did write on the aspects of social theory, and some of the papers (which are not many) published in the Sociological Bulletin are being included here in this volume, the truth is that the discipline of social theory has received nothing more than a feeble-spirited attention. Philosophical questions in research have been dubbed as ‘nagging and



cumbersome’. Against this backdrop, a major plea of this volume is ‘to centre social theory’, to bring it animatedly in the intellectual consciousness of the researchers so that anthropology and sociology are saved from sinking into the marshy lands of commonsense and general knowledge. What makes a work anthropological and sociological is the oftasked question, and its answer unequivocally lies in the domain of social theory.

2. One of the questions usually asked is about the meaning of the term ‘social theory’, and its relationship with the oft-used terms like hypothesis and paradigm. While the difference and relationship between theory and hypothesis is easy to understand, and is well known and well written about, the one between theory and paradigm is not paid much attention, for it is believed that these concepts are relevant in different contexts and we may speak of one independently of the other. Our submission here is that it is the theory that generates the paradigm, and with its lenses we look at the reality, in and around us. The paradigm makes certain facts, the relationship(s) between them, and their collection for analysis and interpretation, relevant; in fact, the paradigm makes us see and feel the things that are beyond the vision and comprehension of the others, the lay and those who adhere to different paradigms. Although the theory and its ensuing paradigm constrain our intellect, thus making us see a certain number and range of things and not the others, we must consciously tell and remind ourselves that the facts we are not seeing presently are the ones that may pose well meaning challenges before the theory. To attempt to see what we are not seeing because of the limits of our theory, which does not show us any other thing except what its kaleidoscope permits, is one of the lessons that the discipline of social theory teaches us: ‘Let theory not enslave you. If it enslaves you, then it is not theory, it is dogma.’ Human beings act; and they think about their acts, representing them symbolically, and thinking in terms of improving them in future. Human beings think; and they think about their thoughts, in turn representing their imaginings in words, images, pictures, in other words, in a body of symbols. In social sciences and cultural studies, perhaps the first lesson concerns the distinction between human beings and their


Vinay Kumar Srivastava

non-human relatives, and their respective ‘aggregates’ (or ‘social organisations’), if they have, and this distinction has implication for the concept of theory. One is reminded here of the analogy that Karl Marx (1967: 178, in Adams and Sydie 2001: 30) offered to distinguish the products of human activity from that of the non-human. The bees produce hives; the birds make nests; the termites build colonies and the human architect erects a building. The distinction between the ‘best bees (or birds, termites)’ and the ‘poorest architect’ is that the latter ‘imagines’ the building in advance. He conceives the idea of what the building would look like; he then draws its diagram on paper (or the computer screen), and also those of its different parts. All this is done before he actually goes ahead with its construction. On the other hand, the animal’s design, if there is any, is in its genetic structure; this would explain why the hives that different bees of the same species and across different generations create look identical. The architect’s mental picture, contemplated many times, discussed with other specialists and drawn on paper, is implemented into practice; it is also possible that it may not be implemented and may remain just as a construct. Moreover, the design that one architect prepares differs from the others in his profession. And, when the building is under construction, the pre-conceived design may undergo change; in other words, the mental design and the empirical product are in a ceaseless interaction, one benefiting the other. Against this backdrop, the mental activity in which the architect indulges may be termed ‘theorising’—it is an outcome of his specialised training and his experience of having closely observed several other buildings; in other words, the ‘architect builds the building theoretically before constructing it empirically’. Human beings, thus, ‘theorise’ their actions. By ‘theorisation’, we understand the process of creating abstract images of our activities and thoughts, which are eminently communicable to others and, to a great extent, can be put into practice by both the protagonist of the theory and those who want to test it to check on its veracity. From this process results a body of interconnected statements, supposed to be valid for a certain range of phenomena, for it has been empirically tested and variously tried, and logically argued, which purports to convey what is generally considered as the ‘truth’, believed to be cutting across the dimensions of time and space, and the objective of all disciplines, whether classified as science or humanities, is to search for such knowledge, generalizable and law-like.



For this body of propositions, the term generally employed is ‘theory’. The state of knowledge is that theory is neither an assumption, nor a figment of imagination, nor a hypothetical statement. It has the firm support of the ‘fact’, a term defined as the ‘empirically verifiable observation’ (Goode and Hatt, 1981: 8). What exists as a tentative relationship between two or more concepts (viewed as ‘variables’) is a hypothesis, a conditional statement, which posits the possibility of a variable (‘independent variable’) affecting the other (‘dependent variable’), but this possibility, notwithstanding strong logical arguments in its favour, needs to be tested empirically before it could be stated with an element of certainty. Empirical substantiation is different from logical justification. A hypothesis may be logically justified, but lacks empirical support. In that case, the hypothesis is disconfirmed, as what is important for the confirmation of a hypothesis is factual support. If facts lend credence to the hypothesis, then we have to look for a logical explanation of why certain variables tend to be connected. When the fact confirms the relationship, it acquires the honour of a theoretical proposition. Researchers tend to subscribe to Karl Popper’s principle of falsification while testing a hypothesis—they try their level best to disconfirm the hypothesis and when they are unable to do so, their conclusion is that against the backdrop of the empirical facts at their disposal, there seems to be a relationship between the variables, and when some more studies following the principle of falsification arrive at the same conclusion, they shall inch towards theoretical statements. An important debate in social sciences has been about its utility. Those arguing in favour of the practical and instrumental aspects of social sciences, in the sense that these should help build up a better society and provide solutions to human social and economic problems, have usually played down the role of theory, considering it an enterprise that takes our focus away from attending to the actual human concerns. Here, theory-building is seen as supercilious, eventually responsible for the marginal status of social sciences—‘What is its use except for its overindulgence in abstract thinking?’ With the mushrooming of the non-governmental organisations, international bodies for development, and voluntary agencies committed to providing answers to human problems (of poverty, inequality, resource generation, terrorism and vandalism, etc.) and attempting to solve these, research on theoretical issues has been pushed to the backseat; and also research has become a


Vinay Kumar Srivastava

‘quickie business’, quite different from the long, gestation period it has in the portals of the university. That this view is myopic and erroneous has been stated time and again. That theory is basic to practical research has been unequivocally stated by people who wholeheartedly devoted them to solving urgent problems. For instance, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown (1881–1955) refers to the work of a 17th-century chemist Robert Boyle, who recognised this fact: the transition from alchemy to chemistry engaged the emergence of theory; a theory lies behind every chemical reaction. Radcliffe-Brown, who was fond of espousing heuristic dichotomies, distinguished the practical concerns (calling them ‘frugiferous’) from those that concerned the theoretical issues (the ‘enlightening’ one, the ‘luminiferous’) (1957: 147–8). Both the theory and the practice are interconnected, for there cannot be practical research and action without the theoretical basis, and, at the same time, the practice challenges, modifies, alters or rejects the theory. This relationship between theory and practice also holds for theory and fact. However, we should not assume that this forms a closed system. Facts can be collected outside the scope of the theory: Talcott Parsons (1902–79) writes: ‘...the process of discovery of facts is held to be essentially independent of the existing body of “theory”, to be the result of some such impulse as “idle curiosity”’ (1974: 6). The role of chance finding in research, what is technically called ‘serendipity’, is well acknowledged, but this does not automatically imply that this fact or any other facts, ‘discovered independently of theory, will determine what the theory is to be’ (Parsons 1974: 6), for not only the significance of the facts is to be understood before we carve out a theory, but also that the theory has a determinate logical structure, meaning that its different propositions are connected, one explaining or being understood in relation with the other. Fact is one aspect of theory-building; logical connection of the propositions is the other. The implication of the latter part is that the theoretical propositions can always be conceptualised independently of facts. Theory is thus an independent as well as a dependent variable in the development of science (Parsons 1974: 7–8). The concept of theory engages its testing against facts and also, ‘thinking aloud’, being creative and unconventional. That is why we say that a good theory yields hypotheses that may be tested in course of time.



Previously it was said that each theory generates a perspective, a vantage point of observation, from which we look at and make sense of reality. The technical term used for this after the work of Thomas Kuhn (1962) is paradigm. Generally referred to as the ‘foundational belief ’, it is the intellectual vision of the researcher, shaped by the categories of thought prevalent at that point of time. Even when newer perspectives start blossoming, the researcher may continue to repose faith in the earlier perspective, for it lends him intellectual security and the predictability of results, but then comes a moment when a new perspective replaces the old ones and what at one time was faithfully adhered to is now dismissed with no compunctions. In social sciences, by contrast to the natural, several paradigms may co-exist, with the usefulness of one emphasised over the other for understanding a particular phenomenon or its part. Thus, we have several shades of scholars; the multi-paradigmatic reality, forming a mosaic, allows the researchers to choose the one that convinces them. Social sciences give exemplary freedom to its researchers, which may not be the case with natural and biological sciences, since for us, the paradigms are neither right nor wrong, truthful or false, but are judged in terms of their utility and explanatory power.

3. In his first classroom lecture on the discipline of sociology, a student learns that Auguste Comte (1798–1857), a French scholar, was the ‘father of sociology’, for he, following the scientific method, most properly developed in physics, delineated the approach which he called positivism or positive philosophy, to be employed in the study of social phenomena, in the six volumes of The Course of Positive Philosophy (1830–42). He also coined the term ‘social physics’ to be used for this subject of study, which he thought was most appropriate since it succinctly summed up the spirit and the aim of the discipline, but when he came to know that a Belgian scholar had used this term to mean something else, he, in 1822, reluctantly replaced it by the term ‘sociology’, a discipline that was to pursue a scientific study of society with the objective of ameliorating its condition—social reconstruction was sociology’s primal aim. Believing that the Enlightenment was the main cause of the French Revolution (1830–42/1855), which left the society disrupted, Comte thought that it was an opportune moment to combat the


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negative and destructive philosophy that the French thinkers had spawned, with a discipline that was unswervingly committed to improving upon the condition of society, making it a better place to live (Zeitlin 1969: 76–9). Comte repeatedly argued that his approach to social phenomena was ‘positive’ (that is why the term ‘positivism’) and ‘realistic’— it proceeded scientifically, endeavouring to understand the laws of social evolution as well as its functioning; once these were known, the sociologist would be able to spell out the kind of meliorative changes that were required. To take up an analogy: Who can repair the watch? One who knows about its functioning. In the same vein, one who knows about the functioning of society will be able to scientifically identify the changes that are required. Sociology began as a theoretical and applied science of social phenomena. The issue of the parentage of a discipline is invariably disputed. Some writers avoid using a male-centric term, like the ‘father’, preferring instead the ‘founder’. Some consciously bypass the matter of fixing the foundership of a discipline since they think that it is established over time from the accretion of the works of many people, from different traditions and nationalities. For instance, Eriksson (1993) thinks that the contribution of Adam Smith (1723–90) and the Scottish Moralists was central to the emergence of sociology. Adam Ferguson (1724–1816), some think, has a better claim to the progenitorship of sociology for his view that human nature is inescapably social and, also, for his work on division of labour that later influenced both Karl Marx (1818–83) and Émile Durkheim (1858–1917) (Lovejoy, 1948). Some may go back in time and regard Aristotle’s famous statement, ‘man is a political [i.e., social] animal [zoön politikon]’, as a sociological statement of great import. And, the idea of ‘social science’, a term that Marquis de Condorcet (1743–94) coined in the initial stages of the French Revolution, which replaced the older idea of ‘moral science’, was a precursor to the discipline of ‘sociology’ (Heilbron 1995). Whilst these debates are of great interest to the historians of a discipline, for others they may be dispensed with in favour of a critical appraisal of the approaches that are in currency. My submission on this point is that the matter of the originator of a discipline may not be of more than an academic-cum-historic value for other disciplines, but for sociology its importance lies in the fact of  the divergent approaches that have evolved historically and are of



significance even today. Here, I tend to subscribe to Anthony Giddens’s (1977: 23) view that the true founder of sociology was not Comte, but his senior collaborator, with whom he had an eventual split on the issue of authorship, Claude Henri de Saint-Simon (1760–1825). Comte is ‘generally considered to be more important to the founding of sociology’ (Ritzer 1996: 13) because his line of thought was carried forward by later scholars, all inclined to make sociology a science of society, quite like the natural and biological sciences. All this led to the ultimate eclipsing of Saint-Simon’s significance to the development of sociology. In Saint-Simon’s writings, one comes across a dual line of thinking: the conservative and the socialist-revolutionary. The first line tried to preserve the society as it was; however, it did not mean a return to the ways of living of the Middle Ages. What Saint-Simon meant was that social stability was a much sought-after virtue. It did not, however, mean a state of inertia. Society should undergo change but the entire process should be carefully directed, after obtaining a scientific (objective and mathematical) understanding of the working of society. Here, he was laying the foundation of what later came to be known as positivism in Comte’s works. The other line of thought based itself on a realistic view of society, which Saint-Simon found to be divided into two classes: industriel and proletaire. The former comprised the owners of factories and industries, the affluent people, while the second category was of workers. Each stage of society, believed Saint-Simon, carried the ‘germs of its own destruction’, and thus was destined to change; so capitalism was superseding the feudal system. Many of the ideas he nursed—like socialist reforms, improvement in the condition of workers, centralised economic planning—were developed later by Marx. Saint-Simon sensed the presence of conflict between these two classes, but was pessimistic about any possibility of the working class throwing the capitalists out of economic and political power. He also had charitable words to say about the idea and change-promoting nature of revolution. As stated previously, it was the first line of Saint-Simon’s thoughts that received undivided attention from his secretary and disciple, Comte. Whilst Comte believed in the efficacy and unity of scientific methods, he was skeptical of the application of experimental method to social research and suggested that we look for its alternative in controlled comparison. With regard to the second line in Saint-Simon’s


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thinking, Comte thought that the time after the French Revolution was one of social construction, improving upon the condition of people, rather than one of deepening the crises and escalating its instability by adopting the ideas of conflict and revolution. Thus, Saint-Simon’s second stream of thinking was summarily rejected and professional sociology developed in the line of positivism, to be later classed as a ‘natural science of society’. Surely, society must change—as a matter of fact, Comte attributed more importance to ‘social dynamism’, concerned with the issues of change, rather than ‘social statics’, concerned with continuity, stability and coherence—but it should not be disruptive, lethal and pernicious, which was expected to follow from revolution; so any school of thought or ideology that highlighted the role of revolution was alien to the new science of sociology, which was ‘positive’, not ‘negative’. By the 1850s, some part of Comte’s work had been translated into English, although it did not evince much interest in the beginning, with time, the ideas of evolution, scientific methods, comparative orientation, and an overall concern for the study of the whole society, started attracting scholars (see G. S. Ghurye’s paper in this volume). An English scholar of great reputation, whose work influenced the later thinkers, was Herbert Spencer (1820–1903), usually acclaimed as the ‘philosopher of universal evolution’. Important differences exist between Spencer and Comte; for instance, by contrast to Comte, Spencer followed the laissez-faire doctrine, meaning that the state ‘should not intervene in individual affairs, except in the rather passive function of protecting people’ (Ritzer 1996: 33). Believing that social life should evolve independently of extraneous controls, Spencer did not favour the implementation of any social reforms. Society changed in accordance with its own laws of evolution. Spencer was the first scholar to offer a comprehensive definition of evolution in terms of the processes that accompany it: in other words, the question he took up was what happens when evolution occurs? Being a process of gradual and incremental change from a simple state to the complex, or from a state of relative homogeneity to relative heterogeneity, evolution involves differentiation, that is the parts of the system become specialised and dissimilar over time; but for making these parts work together as a system and also for saving these parts from, so to say, ‘falling apart’, they should be properly integrated. The



process going on concomitantly with differentiation is integration: parts get differentiated as well as integrated. In this context, Spencer’s oft-remembered statement is: ‘Integration compensates for differentiation of parts.’ The process of evolution is ceaseless, having ubiquitous applicability; everything in the world evolves, although the rate of evolution varies from one to the other. As evolution proceeds, the weak elements are left behind, and are eliminated over time. Only the strong are able to survive; thus, evolution is a process aiming towards progress. The ideal of evolution is to make the system perfect, adapting it better to its habitat. Incidentally, Spencer was the first scholar to use the phrase ‘survival of the fittest’, one that acquired phenomenal popularity with the work of the biologist and natural historian, Charles Darwin (1809–82). For Spencer, each step of evolution heads towards progress; that was the reason why Spencer termed evolution ‘progressive change’, and he tried to illustrate it in his analysis of the evolution of societies, from the stage marked by military conquest to the one in which industrial production was central. Each stage that follows is far more stable than the one that precedes it. Spencer said that less differentiated systems are unstable and as they evolve, they become more stable. Thus, evolution marks the ‘dissipation of motion and a more integration of matter’. One of the greatest intellectual accomplishments of mid-19th century was the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859). Based on the natural history expedition in search of paleontological remains, famously known as the ‘Voyage of the Beagle’, Darwin rendered an empirical justification to evolution, one that hitherto was being supported in metaphysical and philosophical terms. Emerging as a sound alternative to the Biblical theory of creation, the evolutionary theory as Darwin developed, taking into consideration the researches of his predecessors, impressed the scientists and intellectuals of the later 19th century. Evolutionary theory, which principally spoke of changes in floral and faunal worlds, was applied to understand the progressive changes of social forms. This application of the evolutionary ideas earned the title of ‘Social Darwinism’ (Harris 1968). Sociology and anthropology of the second half of the 19th century were principally concerned with evolutionism, often known as the ‘19th-century, classical or Victorian evolutionism’. Notwithstanding the people’s faith in the theory of creationism, Darwin was read with infectious enthusiasm.


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Although the general public, especially the elite classes, found it difficult to come to terms with the fact that they had simian ancestry, the idea that things were perpetually changing, moving from a state of relatively speaking less differentiation to the one of more differentiation, was gradually gaining acceptance; the notion that change was (is and will be) ubiquitously occurring, though imperceptible, had negligible dissenters. Darwin was a popular figure, but the other evolutionists, particularly Spencer, were read avidly by intellectual classes. In fact, J. D. Y. Peel (1971), in his scholarly work on Spencer, says that the school of Social Darwinism borrowed a lot from Spencer than from Darwin. The two accomplishments of the 19th century were positivism and evolutionism. Both these paradigms of looking at and analysing social reality exercised tremendous influence on sociology and social anthropology, for they later grew into new approaches or gave rise to new interests. Although periodically rebutted, they have always staged a comeback.

4. Positivism, developing during the Enlightenment (post–Middle Ages) period of Western thinking, referred to the approach of the natural and biological sciences, which was later applied to the study of social forms. In social research, it advised researchers to conduct precise empirical observations of individual behaviour, then attempting to discover, confirm and verify causal laws (the ‘universal generalisations’), and on the basis of this knowledge, make predictions about social life; the process, however, did not stop here, since it was not just academic. Against the backdrop of this knowledge, the sociologist was expected to suggest the changes that should be introduced and the way in which this process of improving upon the state of society should be carried out. For positivists, thus, the objective was not only to know the phenomena scientifically but also to initiate the desirable changes. Science first understands, then builds. Positivists favoured value-free and value-neutral understanding, which meant that the investigators ‘observed’ each and every aspect (or facet) of social life, without privileging any particular one over the other; the biases and prejudices, likes and dislikes, predilections and favouritism of the investigators are kept at bay while conducting the study.



Science transcends values and beliefs, personal opinions and attitudes, and has also created a module of checks and balances to protect itself against any kind of stereotypes and preconceptions creeping in the study. Distinguishing it from ‘non-science’ (or ‘commonsense’), positivism claims to replace the ‘non-scientific’ ways (such as occult lore, traditional knowledge, personal experience) of knowing—‘what is not known today will be known tomorrow’ is the motto of science. Indubitably, science borrows from common sense, but the logically inconsistent elements of common sense, or those not amenable to empirical verification or full of biases, are summarily rejected. Positivism argued for the methodological unity of both natural and social sciences and if differences existed between the two, it was because the social sciences were in a stage of ‘immaturity’. It was believed that as social sciences advanced, exploring fully the nuances of the scientific methodology, the difference between them would be confined to their respective subject matters of study, rather than the tools of investigation. The sociological founder of positivism, Comte, was repudiated for adopting a mechanical approach to the study of society and also for paying more attention to the idea of reform than to the issue of refining methods of study by applying these to an actual study and learning from it. His contention was that the final stage in the evolution of human mind was the scientific or positive, which did not envisage the possibility of any introduction of theological concepts, but the critics argued that there could always be a ‘post-positivist’ stage, which might combine the scientific spirit with the other ideas, including theological (Acton 1951). Later, with the work of Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911), the assumption that the explanations derived from science were valid and the rest could safely be declined came to be questioned. That science failed to reach the ‘inner nature’ of human beings, their desires, thoughts, will and feelings emerged as a cardinal critique of positivism. Although the seeds of evolutionism were sown in the writings of Comte, well known for his law of three stages, it was in the second half of the 19th century that the evolutionary approach truly flourished both in sociology and social anthropology. These evolutionists were interested in offering an evolutionary sequence of social and cultural phenomena. Incidentally, the concept of culture had come into prominence with the work of Edward Tylor (1832–1917), who devoted his book


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Primitive Culture (1861), the first sentence of which was the definition of culture, which continued to be only definition of culture till 1902, to the evolution of religion. The classical evolutionists had two aims: to account for the origin of the social form under consideration and to identify the stages through which it had evolved to reach its contemporary form. In these endeavours, the evolutionists considered the ‘contemporary primitive societies’, inhabiting the forests and mountains of South America, Africa, Asia, and Australia, as the ‘remnants’ of the prehistoric times, a study of whom would illumine our understanding of the past societies; it may surprise us now but Tylor unhesitatingly called these people ‘social fossils’, and their study would serve the same purpose that paleontological records have for evolutionary biologists. Those times were different. Anyone could say anything—derogatorily or admiringly—and get away. Notwithstanding the fact that many of these evolutionists pursued sociology or anthropology after having studied science and were acquainted with positivism, they allowed their values to run free. The words they used to describe the so-called ‘primitive societies’ were value-laden and dyslogistic, for they (the simple and preliterate) were thought to be at the ‘lowest level of the evolutionary ladder’, the summit of which comprised the Victorian societies. The evolutionists applied their ideas to the entire human society and different institutions and cultural traits. Lewis H. Morgan (1818– 81), following Montesquieu, spoke of the stages of savagery, barbarism and civilisation through which society has passed; he also wrote on the evolution of marriage. Tylor, like Morgan, followed the theory of the  three stages; he also worked on the evolution of plough from digging-stick. In addition to the work of these celebrated authors, the latter half of the 19th century saw a large number of other scholars, bearing allegiance to different social science disciplines, adhering fervently to the evolutionary theory, applying it to different facets of society. Even those scholars who were not indulging in speculations about the origin and the early stages of society were deeply concerned about the breakdown of the existing system and the emergence of a new one; evolution inspired the study of change. The first three decades after the publication of Darwin’s work of 1859 were vainglorious for evolutionism, but soon it came under vitriolic attack. Those who called them ‘diffusionists’ lashed evolutionism



for ignoring the role of contact between different cultures, because of the migration of people from one part of the landscape to the other, in the studies of change. If evolutionists seemed to follow Adolf Bastian’s notion of the ‘psychic unity of mankind’, the diffusionists derived inspiration from the idea of the ‘uninventiveness of mankind’. If evolutionists thought that cultures evolve in the same manner and pass through the same stages because all human beings think alike, the diffusionists believed that men imitate and learn from the others, and change according to their needs what they have borrowed and learned from the others (Lowie 1937). The other major criticism of the school of evolutionism—and not of the process of evolution—was that it extravagantly indulged in guesswork, imagining the past and assuming the stages through which societies were believed to have passed, in the absence of any authentic evidence; in the words of Radcliffe-Brown (1952), classical evolutionism was based on ‘conjectural history’ and not ‘authentic history’. By the turn of the 20th century, a major paradigmatic change occurred: ‘to study the society as it is and not how it has evolved’. Known as the functional approach, it was based on the following interrelated ideas: 1. Study society as a holistic system rather than pick up any of its parts because of its bizarreness or oddity. 2. Carry out an intensive first-hand study, observing the behaviour of people in their natural context, rather than relying on the reports that were prepared by the itinerants, missionaries, army personnel and the others. 3. Show how society survives as a ‘working’ and an ‘ongoing’ system, rather than how it has evolved; the question of evolution is not unimportant, but, because of the acute paucity of information, the questions of origin and evolutionary stages may not be answered authentically, thus increasing one’s proclivity to conjectures. 4. The knowledge thus gathered should be put to use; it should help in social improvement.

Functional approach marked the revival of the ‘scientific sociology’, which had been pushed to the backseat because of the conjectural reconstructions of classical evolutionists, although by then the term ‘positivism’ had almost been eclipsed. Comte suggested that the first aim of sociology is to discover the laws of evolution and the laws of the functioning of society, for this knowledge is imperative for commencing a  programme of social amelioration, and these ideas received


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sophisticated treatment at the hands of Durkheim, one who has been acclaimed as the ‘founder of modern sociology’. Alvin Gouldner (in Zeitlin, 1969: 235), the American sociologist, called Durkheim ‘uneasy Comtean’, for Durkheim had an ambivalent relationship with Comte; if, on one hand, he demonstrated that the ideas of Comte had their genesis in the work of Saint-Simon, on the other, he was profoundly influenced by Comte’s positivist-constructivist philosophy. Earlier it was said that Comte unflinchingly thought that the need of his time was social construction and not the further accentuation of malaise. Any support to the philosophy of socialism, Comte believed, was destined to aggravate the current state of social disorganisation. Durkheim, who also began with a study of socialism, moving later to sociology, held similar views and devoted him to a professional (i.e. scientific) development of the science of sociology, applying the scientific method to the study of conscience collective; because of this, Durkheim’s approach is often called ‘sociologistic positivism’. Sociologists, Durkheim said, were expected to offer what he called a ‘sociological explanation’, which comprised two parts: the causal–historical explanation and the functional explanation. The first should not indulge in any pseudo-historical explanations (as did the classical evolutionists) but look for authentic evidence, and if the latter is in paucity, then the enquiry should be suspended till the time proper historical facts come to light. Regarding the second, Durkheim was the first to offer a definition of the term ‘function’, which is the contribution a part (of a larger whole) makes to the whole, thus fulfilling the need (besoin) and this contribution is for the maintenance and well-being of the whole. In other words, function is positive; different parts of the whole make their respective positive contributions, eventually leading to the perpetuation of the whole; the interest of the whole is in its ‘ongoing continuity’. For Durkheim, a concept of great theoretical importance is solidarity. Durkheim was a true comparativist: like his predecessors in the French tradition, he subjected to comparison societies of different scale and magnitude. Sociology for him was not confined to the study of ‘one’s own society’ or the urban–industrial world; it was a comparative study of all types of societies, simple and complex. In fact, Durkheim called sociology ‘comparative sociology’. His Primitive Classification (1903), a book he did jointly with his nephew, Marcel Mauss (1872– 1950), is a good example of this endeavour, for here he compared the



totemistic societies with the highly complex societies of China and the Christian world. His work on religion, The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life (1912), was a case study—he called it ‘experimental’—of totemism among the Arunta, one of the Australian aboriginal community, based on the data that the two travellers, Baldwin Spencer and Frank Gillen, had meticulously collected. If there is anyone who truly deserves the title of the founder of both sociology and social anthropology, and who gave a common approach to these disciplines, he was Durkheim.

5. Durkheim gave autonomy to ‘social’ as worthy of study. The subject matter of sociology comprises the scientific study of ‘social facts’, which are the ‘ways of acting, feeling, and thinking’, shared collectively, having the ‘noteworthy property of existing outside individual consciousness’. Social facts are ‘things’ (comme des choses), and can be observed, studied, classified and compared in a manner similar to the one adopted for the study of natural and biological facts. The procedure Durkheim prescribed for the study of social facts was as follows (see Aron, 1965): • Define the phenomenon under study in precise terms so that the definition could be operationalised. • Systematically examine and rebut the non-sociological explanations. • Espouse sociological explanation(s) of the phenomenon. • On the basis of the knowledge thus gained, devise a programme of change.

Durkheim elaborated the last part of this method in his study of suicide. Durkheim’s work greatly influenced the later sociologists and social anthropologists, particularly the English anthropologist, A. R. Brown (who later became A. R. Radcliffe-Brown), who started as a diffusionist, being a student of W. H. R. Rivers (1864–1922), but later converted to what he called the structural–functional approach. For anthropology particularly, the issue of knowing the simple societies—in the round—in the sense ‘how they work here-and-now’ was of utmost importance. The method the anthropologists devised for the study of simple and preliterate societies was fieldwork, which meant ‘studying a society in situ’, by


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living with a community of people in their natural habitat for a lengthy period, generally not less than one year, so that the fieldworker (or the ethnographer) had an opportunity to observe first-hand how the native social life was annually conducted. The fieldworker was also expected to acquire proficiency in the local dialect so that the information was collected without the intervention of a translator or interpreter. Although the tradition of fieldwork goes back to the collectors who traversed to far-flung territories for museum exhibits, its true founder was Bronislaw Malinowski (1884–1942), who spent close to three years with Trobriand Islanders, a community of people famed for a system of ceremonial exchange known as Kula, and wrote extensively on them, with the consequence that many surmised that if there was any place where ‘primitive men and women’ lived, it was the Trobriand Island. Radcliffe-Brown reworked his master’s thesis on Andaman Islanders, based on a personal contact with these people from 1906–8, according to Durkheim’s method, and both his work and that of Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific were published in 1922. Both these monographs meticulously described the societies as they were when studied by their respective ethnographers; each of these monographs showed how different components of the respective societies were interconnected. Because of the significance of these monographs for the functional approach, Adam Kuper (1973: 9) regards 1922 as annus mirabilis (the ‘year of wonder’) of functionalism, the approach which studied society as an integrated system, how it functioned as a whole. Durkheim’s definition of function was accepted by his predecessors, but by no stretch of imagination he can be labelled a ‘functionalist’, because in his sociology, one finds besides functional explanations, evolutionary ideas and causal analyses, and in an embryonic form, symbolic anthropology, especially in his study of religion. The British social anthropologists, particularly Radcliffe-Brown, carried forward from Durkheim his stream of the positivist–functional thoughts. In Britain, this became ‘functionalism’, a term that acquired currency because of its use by Malinowski. Radcliffe-Brown said that ‘social structure’ (Durkheim’s ‘social morphology’) can only be studied when it functions (‘social physiology’): because of the interconnection of these two concepts, RadcliffeBrown preferred to call his approach ‘structural–functional’. For him, it is a method of study rather than an ideology or a school of thought. That was the reason why he disapproved the term ‘functionalism’, which gives



the impression of being an ideology. Social anthropology, which for Radcliffe-Brown is a branch of ‘comparative sociology’, is a ‘natural science of society’, the subject matter of which is ‘social structure’, and ‘social structure’ is empirical and observable (see M. N. Srinivas’s paper in this volume on this point). For it to claim a scientific status, a discipline’s subject matter should be amenable to observation. That was the reason why Radcliffe-Brown in the study of religion said that rituals rather than beliefs constitute the proper subject matter of study; it is because they are observable and as they are collectively performed, there is no individual variation as is the case with beliefs. One of the ways to conceptualise human society, made popular with Spencer’s work, was the use of organic analogy. Durkheim further pursued it, which led Radcliffe-Brown to say that the concept of function is based on an analogy between biological organism and human society. However, Radcliffe-Brown tried to ‘de-biologise’ and ‘sociologise’, so to say, the functional terminology, clearly enunciating the differences between society and organism. The ‘necessary conditions of existence’ (instead of ‘needs’) of society are met by its parts, and the parts work in a relationship of togetherness to create ‘functional unity’, and society endures as an ‘ongoing system’. Radcliffe-Brown’s functional approach was ‘sociological’, in which the welfare of the individual was incumbent upon the functional continuity of his or her society. The individual—not an explanatory category in the ‘sociological functionalism’ of Durkheim and of his ardent follower, RadcliffeBrown—was extremely important to Malinowski, who after having finished a great deal of writing on the various institutions of the Trobrianders devoted himself to the theoretical issues, which were published posthumously. Malinowski built up a theoretical model, the base of which comprised the biological system, followed by the social and the symbolic systems, respectively. Central to his theory (which he called ‘scientific’) is the idea of the ‘survival of the individual’, dependent upon the fulfilment of his ‘basic (i.e. biological) needs’. Social system includes the groups that are built up for the satisfaction of these needs and the others that are created once the biological needs are satiated. The symbolic system includes the beliefs, values and the world views the people hold and cultivate. Culture is a need-serving system—it consists of institutions that act towards meeting the biological needs, to begin with, and then the others that are subsequently created. Because of the role


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assigned to culture, Malinowski’s functional approach is known as ‘bio-cultural functionalism’. The other term that Malinowski’s approach has earned is ‘psychological functionalism’. It is not only because of the centrality of the individual in his thought, but also because he often refers to the mental states that are produced as a consequence of certain institutionalised actions. For instance, in an attempt to answer why the Trobrinder fishermen perform magic (recite spells) when they go to the deep seas for catching fish, Malinowski’s answer was that the situations fraught with risk, where human actions are incapable of bringing the situation under control, are often coupled with magical performances, since magic provides psychic energy to combat anxiety-driven situations. ‘Magic is summoned where mechanical technology ends’, was one of Malinowski’s (1922) famous conclusions. From the 1920s, British social anthropology devoted itself to theoretical concerns, applying them for understanding local communities and situations. It wholly enriched our knowledge of small, bounded, communities; and at the same time, it tried to arrive at a set of generalisations (for some, they were law-like propositions). By comparison, the American sociology was unswervingly compiling data about communities, neighbourhoods, towns and cities. In anthropology also, after Franz Boas (1858–1942), it was thought that attempts towards generalisation should better be postponed, since data at the command of the researchers were scanty (Harris, 1968). Emphasis was laid on data-collection. When Parsons started working on social theory, he found the American sociology of his time as nothing more than a ‘quagmire of empiricism’, and the sole way to make sociology relevant was to strengthen its theoretical base. The first major work Parsons undertook was a critical study of the writings of the classical thinkers. To his credit was the fact that he introduced the English-speaking world of the social scientists to the writings of the German and Italian thinkers. Considering this work, The Structure of Social Action, originally published in 1937, an ‘empirical’ study, Parsons tried to build up a theory of social action, bringing in and synthesising the writings of the German and French thinkers (see Rocher 1975). Because of his training under psychologists and anthropologists (such as Malinowski), in his analysis of society, Parsons spoke of the four systems (viz., biological system, personality system, social system and cultural system) that carried out their respective duties in a system of



interconnectedness. Each of these systems corresponded with the activities—such as adaptation with the external world, identification of goals, integration between different parts of the society, and creation of knowledge—that were considered indispensable, in the sense that the continuity of society could only be predicted when these had been carried out. The individuals performed the unit acts as directed by the respective systems. The cultural system—the source of all information and knowledge—did not act on its own; that is why Parsons called it ‘latency’. So there were systems high in energy and those high in information. The working of the society showed a ceaseless link between energy and information, which Parsons called the ‘cybernetic hierarchy’. It is not easy to place Parsons in any straightjacket category of social theories, for he worked on a variety of subjects and institutions, from a variety of perspectives. If he was hailed as a pursuer of ‘structuralfunctionalism’, a term he used for his brand of functional approach, he also wrote on the evolution of societies. If on one hand, he described him as an ‘incorrigible theorist’, on the other, he carried out empirical studies on hospitals, professions, schools, students and families, writing incisively about each one of them. However, close to his heart was the question ‘Why and how does order come in society?’—which he also called the ‘Hobbesian problem of order’ and tried to take it up in his work. Parsons’s sociology, thus, tilted to the functional approach (Ritzer 2000). He was regarded as a status-quoist and conservative thinker, one who created a utopian world. This was the blistering critique that Ralf Dahrendorf (1929–2009, 1958, 1968) offered to Parsons’s book titled The Social System (1951), which he found to be a figment of imagination rather than the description of an actual society. Although Parsons’s ‘grand theory’ might have served the purpose of raising the image of sociology as a ‘positive science’ in the eyes of the scholars from the other disciplines, it was far removed from the real society, where the states of equilibrium and disorganisation (or what Radcliffe-Brown called ‘eunomia’ and ‘dysnomia’) were polar categories, and the real society combined at every point in time various shades of consensus and conflict, unity and oppositions, cohesiveness and cleavages. Functional approach was criticised on many counts: first, the assumption that whatever exists is ‘functional’ (contributing to the maintenance of society), otherwise it would cease to exist, and then, each time looking for the function of a part or action when in fact there


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may not be, and on not being able to find one, there will be a likelihood on the part of the researcher to impute one to it, like the popular example: Why is the nose placed above the mouth? So that you may smell the food before you eat! Besides being teleological and tautological, functionalism was not able to account for change; it could explain how order came in society but not how it would change over time. Conflict was also treated as a kind of ‘social sickness’ (a ‘state of anomie’). The ahistorical nature of functionalism perhaps could not envisage that conflict could be change-generating and change-promoting. One of the principal reasons why functionalism could neither take into consideration the processes of conflict nor include change in its body of analysis was that its empirical substantiation came in the context of simple, tradition-bound, societies, which were, relatively speaking, slow changing and rule abiding. Normative order in these societies was strong, thus, the episodes of manifest conflict were rather infrequent. The weaknesses of functionalism were wide open when it was applied to complex, heterogeneous societies. Many functionalists have tried to reprieve the situation. One of the earliest attempts was Robert Merton’s (1910–2003) who introduced the concept of ‘dysfunction’ to refer to all those unit-acts which do not work towards integration—‘maintenance and well-being of the whole’—but try to create disharmony and fissiparousness (Merton 1968). That dysfunctions are a harbinger of change amounts to saying that conflict is not ‘evil’. Neo-functionalism has also tried to struggle with the issues of conflict and change, thinking in terms of a ‘theoretical tendency or orientation’ that can conveniently explain the aspects of dynamism and continuity of society (Alexander 1998).

6. Attention to the ‘dual line of filiation’ in the work of Saint-Simon was drawn earlier (Giddens 1977: 23). It was pointed out that in addition to laying the foundation of the scientific approach to the study of society, on which Comte built up his edifice of positivism, Saint-Simon also discussed in his writings the change that followed the underlying conflict between classes. Even before Marx’s writings became popular and the role of revolution highlighted, Comte (and later, Durkheim) were suspect of socialism and the exacerbation of conflict in society. The second line in Saint-Simon continued undeveloped for a long time,



since professional sociology progressed as a scientific discipline, quite like the other natural and biological sciences. Against this backdrop, Marx’s writings, which gradually became popular from the mid-19th century, and also of his collaborators and the other exponents of socialism, were dismissed as mere ‘pamphleteering’, aiming to fill certain classes of people with revolutionary fervour, rather than of any scientific value. The other reason why Marx was not taken seriously was that he was not developing a particular ‘university discipline’, as was the case with Durkheim and the German sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920), but was committed to certain political goals and their attainment. At best, Marx could be termed a ‘social thinker’. That his thoughts might not constitute the discipline of ‘sociology’ but were of tremendous sociological relevance, for a critical examination of the existing theory and methods, was not realised at that time, and so Marx was kept alien to the growth of sociological thoughts, with scholars giving a passing reference to his work without closely examining its significance. But Marx was read—often seriously—when sociologists examined the works of Weber and the other German, Italian and French sociologists, in which the starting point of their respective debates began with Marx. With respect to the place of the Marxian thought in sociology, three opinions may be identified in sociological literature (see Béteille 2009). The first is that sociology and Marxism are two divergent bodies of knowledge; whilst sociology is an academic discipline, Marxism is a political ideology devoted to the liberation of workers from the yoke of exploitation. The second opinion, which is its polar opposite, is that Marxism provides the most correct, viable and implementable epistemological perspective on society, and so if sociology is to be relevant, it must wholly subscribe to Marxism. Here, in this view, sociology and Marxism overlap; the other name of sociology is ‘Marxian Sociology’. This was the state of sociology in the so-called socialist and communist countries, where not only sociology (and the other social sciences) but also the natural and biological sciences assiduously followed the paradigm of Marxism in their respective works. The final opinion, followed in contemporary sociology, is that there are multiple perspectives on society, in accordance with which it is analysed, and one such perspective is drawn from Marxism. In no way is Marxism privileged over the other ways of studying society, and it is left to the investigators to decide which of the standpoints on society to follow keeping in mind the reality at hand. Here, Marxian sociology is one of the interests of sociologists,


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as are the other brands of sociology, such as ‘Weberian sociology’ and ‘Durkheimian sociology’. Some authors place Marxism under the rubric of ‘Radical Sociology’. Marx’s method is known as ‘dialectical materialism’, which J. V. I. Stalin (1879–1953) defined as ‘[t]he world outlook of the MarxistLeninist Party’ (Cornforth 1979: 1). A collocation of two terms, it is defined as the application of the principle of ‘dialectics’ to the material world. The statement summing up the spirit of ‘dialectics’ is: ‘Nothing is static in the universe’. Each phenomenon, system, unit or element, right from the moment of its inception, has ‘germs’ that would mature and intensify over time to cause its annihilation, culminating in the emergence of a new state, which like its predecessor would have the same fate. Marx (1967: 20) writes: ...[dialectics] regards every historically developed social form as in fluid movement, and therefore takes into account its transient nature not less than its momentary existence; because it lets nothing impose upon it, and is in its essence critical and revolutionary.

The ideas of dialectics can be traced to certain pre-Socratic scholars and Aristotle; however, the fuller use of this method came in the work of G. W. F. Hegel (1770–1831), whom Marx regarded as a ‘mighty thinker’. Marx not only had a closer look at Hegel’s dialectical method, but also thought that it was the best for providing an explanation of human society as it has developed over time. Marx never lost sight of the fact that society is a historical artefact, a product of the processes and vicissitudes of history, and therefore, unlike the context of natural and biological sciences, in social sciences, the history of societies is itself an explanatory category. Hegel gave primacy to ideas, the products of mental activity. The ‘existing state of things’ was nothing more than an expression of the idea. Marx found this notion and its philosophical justification unacceptable. With this application of dialectics to the world of ideas, Marx thought that it had become ‘mystified’; here, one of the most frequently quoted statements from Marx (1967: 20) is: With him [Hegel] it [dialectics] is standing on its head. It must be turned right side up again, if you would discover the rational kernel within the mystical shell.



The ‘rational kernel’ was the material reality—the actual living conditions in which people find themselves govern their thought. That matter exists independently of consciousness and through consciousness it becomes cognizable was central to Marx’s understanding. In his Preface, which he wrote principally for self-clarification, to A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy (1904: 12), Marx wrote: It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but, on the contrary, their social existence determines their consciousness.

All this shows that Marx begins with ‘real, flesh-and-blood human individuals’ (Zeitlin 1969: 97). If human beings have to live, they have to eat; and they are not parasites on nature, eating away whatever is available, and that too singly. They have to produce their ‘means of subsistence’, for which they enter into relations ‘that are indispensable and independent of their will’ (Marx 1904: 11). The base of human society is therefore the economic system, comprising the means of production as well as the relations of production. On this base stand the social, legal, political and ideological structures—those for which the term ‘superstructure’ is used. The economic structure conditions the other structures of society. How does change occur? Marx was an evolutionist, interested in understanding the history of human society and how it changed from one stage to the other. Change, however, for him was not gradual, slow and adaptive. Each stage of evolution had its own contradictions, which later became the prime-movers of transformation. For instance, in the first stage of human existence, the original classless society, what Marx’s collaborator Friedrich Engels (1820–95) termed ‘Primitive Communism’, the contradiction was between ‘man’ (the ‘producer of the material life’) and nature (the ‘exterior world of habitat providing the resources that become the means of production’), and its resolution led to the state of slavery. In general terms, the material forces and technical aspects of production progress faster, whereas the relations of production tend to lag behind, giving birth to a situation of conflict, and its resolution leads to the new stage. Although Marx tried to deal with the stages of human society beyond the state of primordial classlessness, he was particularly interested in working out the anatomy of capitalism, wherein he saw the occurring of the polarisation of classes and rise of the class consciousness of workers, for because of industrialisation, they had


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all come ‘under the same roof ’, rather than remaining dispersed in different feudal estates, as was the pattern earlier. The stage was set for revolution culminating in the emergence of the dictatorship of proletariat, a transitional situation to the classless society. For Marx, ‘struggle rather than peaceful growth was the engine of progress’ (Coser 2001: 43), which implies that rather than being treated as an instance of ‘social pathology’, disruptive and cataclysmic, as was the firm view of the positivists, and then the functionalists, conflict poses challenges before the communities for its resolution, leading to healthy social transformations. Since it is socially produced, conflict is also social; it may negate a particular system or practice, for which it may be called ‘anti-social’, but its role in building up a new system cannot be ignored. Thus, an attribution of negativity to conflict is partisan and erroneous. Marx’s ‘prophesies’, if they could be called, which followed logically from his analysis, about the emergence of class-free society were falsified, but this did not imply a rejection of his method. The primacy to economy in Marxian thought did not mean a sort of determinism; it meant he was showing how economic factors were connected to non-economic ones, and empirical studies can be undertaken to examine this relationship. As Durkheim assigned autonomy to ‘social’, Marx, in a similar way, before Durkheim, analysed the autonomy of ‘economy’. Marxian method advanced the possibility of offering an economic interpretation of society, the importance of which lay in the fact that if human beings have to be liberated from a system of exploitation and oppression and their perfectibility is to be achieved then classes have to be eliminated once and forever. For this, revolution has to be led by the working class for overthrowing the class-ridden societies. Thus, for Marx, the theory guides action, and the academic-revolutionaries learn from the action, in light of which the theory is modified: in other words, Marx argues for the unity of theory and practice. This idea is well rehearsed in the popular communist literature: there is no ‘abstract Marxism’, Marxism is ‘concrete Marxism’. In the application of Marxism, conflict plays the central role; it is the prime mover of change. One of the greatest contributions of Marxian theory was its contribution to the conflict theory which, of course, also had some nonMarxists making their respective contributions. What Marx brought to it was the idea of dialectics, the non-relaxing, universally valid process;



so when classes have been eliminated, will dialectics come to an end? No, the transcendence of classes means the elimination of ‘man–man contradiction’ but not ‘man–nature contradiction’, and for this, dialectics will continue ceaselessly. Marxism, which did not have many admirers and supporters in academic circles in the first half of the 20th century, found many sympathisers in the second half, and many of these were exploring the methodological implications of Marx, his economic analysis and revolutionary ideology (see A. R. Desai’s paper in this volume). Marx inspired the later studies of capitalism, the changes that had come in it, and why polarisation of classes did not occur. Dahrendorf (1959) was one of those who undertook this task, enumerating the changes that had come in the contemporary industrial society after Marx, some of which Marx had guessed in the last volume of Capital. Dahrendorf (1959) furthered the Marxian idea of conflict, integrating it with its structure in modern organisations, and called this theory ‘conflictcoercion theory’, which he compared and contrasted with the ‘consensus theory’ of the functionalists (see Zeitlin 1973).

7. Marx may have been condemned in academic institutions as a pamphleteer, activist and political ideologue, of less or negligible academic worth, or may be a scholar worth a footnote, the later sociology—of the late 19th and early 20th century—however, was profoundly indebted to him, for it grew in a long and sustained ‘debate with his ghost’, to borrow words from Zeitlin (1969). The following scholars—Weber, Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923), Gaetano Mosca (1858–1941), Robert Michels (1876–1936), Durkheim and Karl Mannheim (1893–1947)— whose works shaped the contours of sociology were not only well aware of Marx’s writings but carved out their sociological niches commencing with a critical appraisal of Marx. As a consequence, some of them also earned the not-so-respectable title of ‘bourgeois Marx’; but the fact of the matter is that they were all responding to the changes that had come (and were coming) in the capitalist society which, of course, was transforming, but was far from being withered away, replaced by socialism. The term ‘post-capitalism’ came to be used for the shape capitalism was taking. It will not be an exaggeration to say that had Marx been alive to witness these changes, he might have critically looked at the future


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course of society he had charted out in his theory and might have thoroughly revised it. After all, Marx always paid attention to the empirical reality, conducted observational studies and surveys to arrive at certain conclusions; and so did the later Marxists (Lane 1981). Besides this, these scholars were also thinking in terms of what should be the subject matter of sociology and how this should be methodologically approached, which certainly was not Marx’s concern, for he did not want to limit his work to the field of sociology. A prominent figure among them was Weber, an advocate of the explanatory understanding in sociology, which surfaced as a reaction to positivism, and was regarded as the ‘founder’ of German sociology. The place that Durkheim received in French sociology was similar to what Weber got in the German tradition of sociology. It may be recalled that positivism, though conceding that the subject matter of social sciences is different from natural and biological sciences, accepted the unity of the scientific method, and favoured the attempts to arrive at laws of the functioning of human society. Like natural and biological systems, society, it believed, could be studied objectively. However, it was strenuously opposed by the hermeneutic tradition, predominantly associated with the German thoughts of the 19th century. Incidentally, hermeneutics—meaning ‘making the obscure plain’ (Blaikie 1993: 28)— is named after the Greek deity Hermes, who is supposed to interpret the message and the desires of gods for the benefit of man. Emerging around the 17th century, hermeneutics in the beginning was largely confined to the interpretation of the sacred scriptures, particularly the Bible. Later, in the 19th century, with the work of Friedrich Schleiermacher, hermeneutics became the science of meaning, applicable to all forms of human communication. In social research, its transition was from the study of the text to the study of society and culture, but an important point to be kept in mind was that it treated society and culture as ‘texts’, which are to be ‘read’ and ‘interpreted’ in the same way as ‘texts’, in the conventional term, are read and interpreted. The crucial term here is ‘interpretation’, by which is meant ‘grasping/understanding the meaning of the phenomenon/subject under study’—what it actually tries to convey lies deep and requires reaching beyond what is visible. It may not be amenable to observation to which is largely restricted the positive enquiry. The processes of



explanation and description, which are central to positivism, are secondary to an interpretive study. The advocates of the interpretive approach say that social and human sciences should be separated from natural and biological sciences in terms of their subject matter, their respective methods of study, and the objectives. In his book Introduction to the Human Sciences (1883), Wilhelm Dilthey speaks of two fundamentally different sciences: the first based on abstract explanations (Erklärung) is known as Naturwissenschaft, and the second rooted in an empathetic understanding of the day-to-day lived experiences of people in different historical contexts is Geisteswissenschaft; the first is the ‘natural science’, the second, ‘social and human science’. The aim of a positive study is to discover ‘social laws’, like the ‘natural laws’, so that human behaviour can be both graspable, predictable and controllable; by comparison, the aim of social and human sciences is to understand the meaning of behaviour from the perspective of people. An example that Neuman (2000: 75; adopted from Brown 1989: 34) has used to illustrate this is: ...I see a woman holding her hand out, palm forward. Even this simple act carries multiple potential meanings; I do not know its meaning without knowing the social situation. It could mean that she is warding off a potential mugger, drying her nail polish, hailing a taxi, admiring a new ring, telling oncoming traffic to stop for her, or requesting five bagels at a deli counter.

The point is that I shall come to know the meaning of her action when I ask her and examine the social context in which the action occurs. Further, in hermeneutics, values should be separated from facts. Weber said that the confusion between the statements of values and those of facts is ‘impermissible’. In comparison, for the positivists, there is no place of values in research, except in the choice of the topic that the researcher takes up for investigation where subjective factors override the others. By comparison to this, the interpretive thinkers believe that values are an integral part of social life. Adopting a cultural relativist view, they say that values are neither right nor wrong; they are different and contextual. Thus, they follow a value-integrated approach, which is different from the opinion that the followers of the critical approach (Marxism included) adopt, according to which no science is free from values. Some values are right, some are wrong, and the duty of the


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researcher is to further the right values and fight for them. This is the value-committed approach. The proponents of hermeneutics and interpretive approach presume the unity of human nature, notwithstanding the fact that different cultures have different values and moral standards, in the sense that what may be ‘good’ to one culture may not be ‘good’ to the other. Cultural relativism accompanies the idea of an underlying human nature. Human beings are creators of meaning; the world is not meaningless. Through these meanings, human beings make sense of the world around them. These meanings are conveyed linguistically. Language provides the basic structure of society; therefore, it must be seriously analysed. For Weber (1968), sociology is a ‘highly ambiguous word’, for it does not tell us what it would deal and how. To say that it is a study of ‘society’ is to add to the existing confusion, since one does not know what is society and how to go about studying it. Therefore, it is important that its subject matter in clear terms is explicated, stating precisely the procedures that are to be adopted for its study. As we saw previously, Durkheim also proceeded in the same way; for him, sociology studied ‘social facts’ objectively. In a nutshell, Weber’s sociology may be said to be a ‘subjective study of social action’. In Weber’s writing occurred a transition from the humanistic hermeneutical tradition of philosophy to understanding and interpreting the actions of people, conveyed by the term verstehen. Further, Weber was not concerned with the interpretation of ‘texts’, as was the case with philosophical hermeneutics, but of ‘action’, an activity which is performed by the ‘actor’ (a ‘being-in-a-situation’ in Parsons’s words) to which he attaches meaning. Thus, actions (historical or the ones that the fieldworker observes) are to be understood (and not causally explained) in relation to the intentions and beliefs of the agents. Historical epochs and cultures (and also texts) are assemblages of interrelated meanings, which are to be clarified ‘in their own terms’, the meanings the agents allocate to their actions, like the example from Neuman’s book given above. But, Weber does not confine him to interpretive understanding only, although undoubtedly this approach is dominant in his work. He combines this with an explanatory line of analysis; Delanty (2002: 49) says that Weber ‘radicalised’ hermeneutics by combining it with the



explanatory line of analysis. Problems with respect to a reconciliation of the interpretive and explanatory approaches have been central in social science and Weber tried to tackle these. Offering a theory of causal pluralism, multiplicity of causes behind a phenomenon, Weber looked at the role of motivations leading to action. His celebrated work on the spirit of capitalism as being an unanticipated consequence of the observance of their ethical standards and beliefs by the Protestants is a fine example of an explanatory understanding, where first the actions of people are understood and then an explanation is provided which is one of the several explanations of the emergence of capitalism. Weber was cautious not to suggest a universal explanation about religion causing economic development. It was a particular historical moment that he was trying to explain to show that in addition to economic factors, the non-economic factors (the ideas the people hold) were equally important. Some authors speak of what they call an ‘ideational theory’ of change, to which Weber is regarded as an important contributor. Weber did not stop after rehabilitating the role of ideas in his study of capitalism in Europe, but undertook an exemplary study of the world religions and their social structures to throw light on the question of why the spirit of capitalism could not surface in other parts of the world. Through his work, Weber restored the respect of religion as a domain of study. Weber’s impact on the later writers was tremendous. His work on rationalisation as taking place in all institutions and activities (including music) has greatly informed the contemporary studies of globalisation. In the writings of post-structuralist thinkers, one may discern Weber’s impact, whether it is Jacques Derrida’s view that society and culture can be read like ‘texts’ or Michel Foucault’s conception of modern society as ‘carceral society’, which is built on insights from Weber’s ‘administered society’, the society in which the state, through its laws and sophisticated technology, exercises control over the individual, with the consequence that gradually the individual’s privacy is stripped off in the name of public interest and welfare of all (see Payne 1993; also see Dipankar Gupta’s article in this volume). The method of explanatory understanding had its great impact on ethnographic research. People’s customs and practices, which appeared bizarre to outsiders, including the fieldworkers, could be understood from the perspective of their creators, bearers and transmitters.


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Understanding reality from the ‘actor’s perspective’, and distinguishing it clearly from that of the ‘observer’, became central to ethnographic research. Technically known as the ‘emic approach’ (by comparison to the ‘etic’ approach), it is followed today in ethnographic and micro-level studies of communities. One of the finest developments of the interpretive approach came in the work of Clifford Geertz (1926–2006), who following Weber, defined culture as a symbolic system, a system of meanings. For him, human beings ‘spin the webs of significance’ and remain suspended in them (1973: 5). These webs constitute the culture of people. The ‘science of culture’ is not experimental, in search of laws, notwithstanding the use of the word ‘science’ here, but it is an interpretive exercise, which searches the meanings the acts have for people. One of the favourite topics in an introductory course in sociology is about its status—whether it is a science of society. Counter-arguments are given which favour its classification along with the discipline of history. The interpretive approach, however, brings it closer to a literary enterprise—ethnographic works read like ‘fictions’, except for the fact that their data do not result from imagination but are collected in a lengthy and close fieldwork with people. Our first job is to understand the lives of people, their nuances and symbolic patterns, in their cultural contexts, and then render it as, what Geertz calls, a ‘thick description’, a detailed description that richly explains the meaning of the world of symbols that people create and periodically renew.

8. Positivism was discredited, with some of its best points absorbed in later approaches, however, the methods it proposed for the study of society— which included precise measurements, value-neutrality, quantification, maximisation of objectivity and minimisation of subjectivity—have largely continued, along with other methods, even when the researchers followed the other approaches, such as the interpretive or critical. The concern for general propositions (the ‘law-like propositions’) in positivism was criticised; it was said that because of the complexity of human behaviour and its amorphous nature, it is difficult to arrive at the laws of human behaviour quite like the laws that the natural and biological scientists build up. Each culture has its own characteristics, its own crises and the predicaments of its existence, hence our approach should



be to understand each culture as a ‘unique’ system, the idea that has come to be placed under the rubric of ‘cultural particularism’. The implication of all this was that sociology and social anthropology, which started as ‘sciences qua sciences’, courtesy the writings of Comte, Durkheim, Radcliffe-Brown and their respective disciples and pupils, were pushed to the camp of humanities, and at best, ‘social sciences’, which, albeit the use of the word science in its appellation, are not sciences the way the natural and biological sciences are. Although agreeing to the fact that sociology and social anthropology have much in common with history and the other social science subjects, some scholars continued to argue in favour of the unity of human nature, and because of this, it would not be a formidable task to reach some levels of general understanding about human beings. One such effort was of the French social anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–2009, 1967), well known as the founder of structuralism, whose impact was clearly seen in other social sciences, humanities and literature. What Weber is to sociology, Lévi-Strauss is to anthropology. Both gave new directions to their respective disciplines. Believing in the existence of ‘universal human mind’, Lévi-Strauss was principally committed to an analysis of the products of mind, which show some kind of commonality across cultures, to reach the underlying structure of human society. Mind cannot be studied ‘directly’, a brain can, and therefore, it has to be studied ‘indirectly’, by closely examining all the information it produces; a commonality of the mental products across cultures is an indication of what may be termed the ‘psychological (i.e. mental) unity of mankind’. Lévi-Strauss was committed to understanding the ‘Universal Man’, rather than a ‘community of men’. Although his fieldwork in South America was not of the same quality, and perhaps depth, as was Malinowski’s among the Trobrianders, he referred to vast ethnographic literature that was available on the societies of the world, most of which painstakingly collected by Boas and his students on American Indians, and subjected all this to a comparative study, before arriving at the binary opposites that constituted the system. As is popularly known, Lévi-Strauss had ‘cosmic ambitions’, meaning thereby that he worked towards discerning ‘structures underlying the entire human society’—his aim was to arrive at, in other words, the ‘global structures’. And in his studies of kinship systems, totemism and myths, he showed, firstly, that society can be analysed as a system of


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communication, on the model of language, and secondly, he tried to discover the underlying structure of each one of them. Lévi-Strauss was greatly admired for his analysis, especially of myths and for founding the field of mythology. His structuralism evinced a lot of interest, with scholars all over the world trying to apply this methodology in their respective studies. However, they all experienced, including those who were Lévi-Strauss’s fervent supporters, like Edmund Leach (1910–89), discomfort with the idea of arriving at the structure of the entire human society, which would yield ahistorical conceptions of society and this knowledge may be of less utility. Against this backdrop, they preferred to apply structuralism on a rather more confined area—may be region, an institution—like Louis Dumont’s (1980) understanding of caste, and this application of structuralism has come to be known as ‘neo-structuralism’. One of the major critical approaches of the second half of the 20th century is feminism. Two meanings of this term stand out: the first refers to ‘political activism by women on behalf of women’ (McCann and Kim 2012: 1), where it is seen as a forum to demand and fight for rights, equality, justice and change in social consciousness and cultural artefacts about the gender. The second meaning is more in theoretical and methodological terms, where it implies a set of intellectual tools by which the position of women in societies is analysed with respect to their rights and the denial of these rights and the injustices they have been confronted with, and this academic exercise, like Marxism, has the objective of bringing about changes in society, so that women, like men, can live with dignity, resisting subordination and oppression. The underlying common argument is that much of social science was, and in some cases is even today, ‘androcentric’: take the case of sociology and social anthropology—the fieldworkers are men, the communities they generally study are sexually segregated, wherein it is not feasible for them to speak to women, or observe their activities without arousing suspicion, and so they gather their information about women from men, assuming that what they generally learn from men is the ‘point of view of the entire society’. All through these researches, the ‘mutedness of women’, which is culturally constructed, is taken for granted and the assumption is that ‘women are ill-informed about the institutional practices at large’. The cultural presumptions based on patriarchal principles find their place in social sciences, receiving academic legitimacy.



This research, appropriately termed ‘malestream’, is the focus of rejection. Researchers—particularly Ann Oakley (1982, 1985)—have also been critical of positivism and the methodology it popularised, where the concepts of objectivity, dispassion, and distance are keenly followed. Calling it the ‘masculine’ approach to research, Oakley has explored the possibility of a ‘feminist’ alternative, in which a ‘personal relationship’ with the respondent is the key to have a more proximate understanding of the experiences of the other; and she substantiated this in her study of 178 interviews she conducted with women about becoming mothers. Such studies have laid down the possibility of thinking in terms of a separate feminist epistemology, superior in many respects to the others that are in vogue. Contemporary studies deal with a close study of the products women have created—for instance, an analysis of women’s writings where female experience is central to writing and experience, an interest termed ‘gynocriticism’. Another area demanding our close attention is the feminist analysis of science and technology, particularly the information and communication technology. The second half of the 20th century saw the rise of protests against the way sociological and anthropological studies were being conducted. First, as we noted in the beginning, diatribes against theory became conspicuous, triggered by the argument that theoretical polemics, which were thought to be obsessively breeding over time, took one’s mind away from action research, which was regarded as the need of the time. For initiating action research, familiarity with the local situation is urgently and instantly needed, before development plans and instruments of change could be introduced. For gaining this, the baggage of theories is not needed; what is required are the right tools to know the local situation well. Participatory research—where those who are called ‘subjects’ in academic research became ‘partners’ in research—was seen as the panacea, one in which people themselves were ‘researching’ into their lives, with a few hours of training that their ‘facilitators’ rendered in the use of the tools of research. For the success of these endeavours, theoretical research or understanding was (and is) nothing but perfunctory. I have come across several postgraduates of anthropology and sociology, who after joining non-governmental organisations or ‘development consultancies’ have many uncharitable things to say about their training in the universities where the emphasis on theory and abstract


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learning does not prepare them for jobs in the world of development, planning and action. And, then, we have to reiterate the significance of theory and the role of universities as places of learning, searching for the truth, rather than ‘employment exchanges’. Second, the conventional theories, popular and sought-after, received a jolt from those who received their guidance from literary criticism and research in the history of ideas. Structuralism was criticised for seeking order—in terms of the underlying structure, grids and patterns, binary opposition arrived at through flow charts. Perhaps, it was thought that the order that was imposed on the study of cultural products (say, myths) or texts was in the mind of the investigator, and was imposed quite unconsciously, rather than being a characteristic of the object of study and analysis. Finding it restrictive, limited, an ‘iron-clad practice’, some authors moved on to a more what they called ‘free’ and ‘creative’ practice, labelled ‘post-structuralism’. In the thoughts of some scholars—Foucault, for instance—one discerns first the phase of structuralism, followed by post-structuralism. Closely related to post-structuralism is post-modernism, sometimes written with a hyphen in between ‘post’ and ‘modernism’, and sometimes without it. The other related terms used here are ‘post-modernity’ and ‘post-modern society’, with or without the use of the hyphen. Postmodernism is used in several senses: a ‘frame of mind’, an ‘explanatory construct’, the ‘state of the contemporary society’, a ‘method of analysis’, a ‘theoretical standpoint to attack the existing knowledge’. Some writers make a distinction between ‘modern’ and ‘post-modern’ ways of knowing. The former epistemology submits that truth can be known (and also distinguished from falsity) by following the correct procedures. By comparison, post-modern form of knowledge says that there is no way of ruling out some ‘knowledge as false’. Each form of knowledge is a type of ‘story-telling’, equally valid, true and relevant. Post-modern approach expects to allow each community to tell its story, which is as persuasive as the story of any other people. No story is better than the other—thus a post-modern ethnography will be a collage of voices of different people, one juxtaposed to the other. In other words, post-modernism rejects the intellectual hegemony of any thought—the ‘totalising’ (or ‘grand’) narratives (such as Hegel’s view of history, Marxism, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis) that try to eliminate the possibility of alternative perspectives are dismissed here.



Post-modernism looks for the local narratives, sometimes fragmented, of the marginalised as well as of the elite, thus attempting to collapsing the distinction between the high and the low, between the little and great traditions. Some see post-modernism as a ‘great leveller’. Whilst some have gleefully embraced post-modernism, others have been skeptical of its onslaught. Eriksen (2006: 25) thinks that its influx in anthropology amounted to getting an ‘extra dose of foul-tasting medicine’; it should be accepted only if one has solid, persuasive reasons. It seems that the social science disciplines (for example, political science) that did not touch it have progressed well and are comfortable in comparison to those which succumbed to it. Delanty (2002: 108–9) has raised many objections to post-modernism; an important one pertains to the relationship between agency, culture and structure. Since post-modernism had its genesis in cultural studies, it has reduced ‘agency’ to a situation of insignificance. And ‘agency’ is not ‘culture’— we may remember here Parsons who said culture does not act on its own, it is ‘latency’. Thus, it cannot explain how society works and changes. Furthermore, how far are we justified in treating the ‘understanding of society and culture’ as the ‘reading of a text’? How far is the model of a text useful in the study of social and cultural phenomena? A serious consideration of these questions takes us away from treating sociology and social anthropology as ‘literary enterprises’ to pursuing them as a type of social sciences, concerned with explaining and understanding social forms and cultural beliefs and practices.

9. In my survey of articles on sociological theory in Sociological Bulletin, I could devise three categories for their classification: first, the articles where the authors make a contribution to the understanding of a concept or method; second, those articles where the work (or its part) of a Western social thinker is examined; and third, those articles where the work (or its part) of an Indian social thinker is examined. In this volume, I have included the first two—respectively titled ‘On Concepts and Methods’ and ‘On Sociological Thinkers’. I have not considered the last category here, as a separate volume on Indian sociologists is expected in this series. As you may have noticed, I have referred to some of the articles included here in the sections above.


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The first section, consisting of seven articles, begins with André Béteille’s paper on how newness begins in sociology and gets integrated with the existing practices in the discipline. In the next article, Dipankar Gupta defends Foucault’s contribution to the ‘archeology of knowledge’, but suggests that it should be seen in relation to the work of Kuhn. In the next one, A. R. Desai argues in favour of adopting the Marxist approach, even if as a heuristic device. Lung-Chang Young’s paper is on examining altruistic suicide as an index of social-cultural rigidity. In his contribution, Prakash N. Pimpley thinks that Habermas’s rational social action is a distinct improvement upon Parsons’s ideas, which were largely confined to the stance of American society. Beatrice Kachuck provides a comprehensive review of feminist social theories, providing succinct accounts of each one of these. The concept of social structure has been examined by M. N. Srinivas in his article. The second part, comprising seven articles, commences with G. S. Ghurye’s paper on Comte’s evolutionism and philosophy. In the next article, Rajendra Pandey shows the inalienable link that exists between Weber’s metatheoretical arguments and his stratification theory. Malinowski is known for his functional approach, but here, in his paper, Vinay Kumar Srivastava examines the importance of Malinowski’s posthumously published work on freedom, wherein he brings his scientific functionalism in line with his humanistic approach. In his contribution, Goutam Biswas has a critical look at Karl Popper’s hypothetico-deductive model of scientific explanation. The next paper by Susantha Goonatilake is concerned with detecting biases in Gunnar Myrdal’s work. Pravin J. Patel, in his article, critically looks at Merton’s contribution to science and its relation with his functional method. The last article, by Sheena Jain, looks at the Shah Bano case through the conceptual lens of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the symbolic.

References Acton, H. B. 1951. ‘Comte’s positivism and the science of society’, Philosophy, XXVI (99): 291–310. Adams, Bert N. and R. A. Sydie. 2001. Sociological theory. New Delhi: Vistaar Publications. Alexander, Jeffrey C. 1998. Neofunctionalism and after. London: Blackwell. Aron, Raymond. 1965. Main currents in sociological thought (Vol. 1). New York: Basic Books. Atal, Yogesh. 2003. Indian sociology from where to where, footnotes to the history of the discipline. Jaipur: Rawat Publications. Béteille, André. 2007/2009. Marxism and class analysis. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.



Blaikie, Norman. 1993. Approaches to social enquiry. Cambridge, MA: Polity. Brown, Richard Harvey. 1989. Social science as civic discourse: Essays on the invention, legitimation and uses of social theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Cornforth, Maurice. 1954/1979. Dialectical materialism: An introductory course. Calcutta: National Book Agency. Coser, Lewis A. 2001. Masters of sociological thought. Jaipur: Rawat Publications. Dahrendorf, Ralf. 1958. ‘Out of utopia: Toward a reorientation of sociological analysis’, American journal of sociology, 64: 115–27. ———. 1959. Class and class conflict in industrial society. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. ———. 1968. Essays in the theory of society. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press. Delanty, Gerard. 1997/2002. Social science, beyond constructivism and realism. Buckingham: Open University Press. Dumont, Louis. 1980. Homo hierarchicus: The caste system and its implications. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press. Eriksen, Thomas Hylland. 2006. Engaging anthropology: The case for a public discourse. Oxford: Berg. Eriksson, Bjorn. 1993. ‘The first formulation of sociology: A discursive innovation of the eighteenth century’, Archives of European sociology, 34: 251–76. Geertz, Clifford. 1973/1975. The interpretation of cultures. London: Hutchinson & Co. Giddens, Anthony. 1973/1977. The class structure of the advanced societies. London: Hutchinson & Co. Goode, William J. and Paul K. Hatt. 1952/1981. Methods in social research. Auckland: McGraw-Hill Book Company. Harris, Marvin. 1968. The rise of anthropological theory. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. Heilbron, J. 1995. The rise of social theory. Cambridge: Polity Press. Kuhn, Thomas. 1962. The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Kuper, Adam. 1973. Anthropologists and anthropology: The British school 1922–1972. Penguin Books. Lane, David. 1981. Leninism: A sociological interpretation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lévi-Strauss, Claude. 1967. Structural anthropology. Garden City, NY: Anchor. Lovejoy, Arthur. 1948. Essays in the history of ideas. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. Lowie, Robert. 1937. History of ethnological theory. New York: Farrar and Rinehart. Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific: An account of native enterprise and adventure in the archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Marx, Karl. 1904. Contribution to the critique of political economy. Chicago: Charles H. Kerr Company. ———. 1887/1967. Capital (Vol. 1). New York: International Publishers. Merton, Robert K. 1949/1968. Social theory and social structure. New Delhi: Amerind Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd. McCann, Carol R. and Seung-Kyung Kim (ed.). 2010/2012. Feminist theory reader, local and global perspectives. New York: Routledge. Neuman, W. Lawrence. 1991/2000. Social research methods, qualitative and quantitative approaches. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.


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Oakley, Ann. 1982. Subject women. London: Fontana. ———. 1972/1985. Sex, gender, and society. New York: Harper & Row. Parsons, Talcott. 1949/1974. The structure of social action: A study in social theory with special reference to a group of recent European thinkers. New Delhi: Amerind Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd. Payne, Michael. 1993. Reading theory: An introduction to Lacan, Derrida, and Kristeva. Oxford: Blackwell. Peel, J. D. Y. 1971. Herbert Spencer: The evolution of a sociologist. New York: Basic Books. Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. 1952. Structure and function in primitive society. London: Oxford University Press. ———. 1948/1957. A natural science of society. New York: Free Press. Ritzer, George. 1992/1996. Classical sociological theory. New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. ———. 1983/2000. Modern sociological theory. Boston: McGraw Hill. Rocher, Guy. 1975. Talcott Parsons and American sociology. London: Barnes and Noble. Weber, Max. 1921/1968. Economy and society (Three Volumes). Totowa, NJ: Bedminster Press. Zeitlin, Irving M. 1969. Ideology and the development of sociological theory. New Delhi: Prentice-Hall of India Private Limited. ———. 1973. Rethinking sociology: A critique of contemporary theory. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.


1 Newness in Sociological Enquiry André Béteille


any of those who entered the profession of sociology in the last decade, as also those who are entering it today are dissatisfied with the existing state of the subject. They are eager to explore new ways of undertaking their work. The search for newness is of course central to science and scholarship, and an essential condition of their progress and even their continuing vitality. At the same time, nothing new emerges in the world of ideas out of a sheer desire for novelty: newness would amount to little if it did not arise from a careful, detailed and methodical scrutiny of existing knowledge—its concepts, methods and theories. It speaks well of a profession when its new entrants are out of sympathy with the mere mechanical reproduction of existing and available knowledge in their field. But that cannot justify the frantic search for novelty for its own sake. And if it be said that those who hunger for newness do not do so aimlessly, it can also be said that those who transmit accepted knowledge need not do so mechanically. On an occasion like this, it is not enough to ask: how does newness begin? One must also ask how it becomes integrated into the practice of a discipline. This, I should stress, is a difficult issue, particularly in the early phase of a discipline’s career when it may not at all be clear that what seems to have become established is going to last and must therefore provide a yardstick for the inclusion or exclusion of new components. At the same time, it will be unrealistic to expect that everything that is new, even if it appears sound, will be automatically accepted and


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accommodated. The established practice of a discipline is itself a social fact, and I hardly need to remind this audience that social facts exercise their own constraints. It is well to remember that practices that are taken for granted in the discipline today did not get automatically incorporated into it without facing any resistance, I could give many examples from the work of sociologists of my generation and of the preceding one. My main interest today is not in individual sociologists and their personal achievements, but in sociology as a discipline and a profession. Individual virtuosity has, and in my view ought to have, a smaller place in scholarship than, let us say, in jazz music. Most sociologists realize this, particularly as they advance in years, but young scholars find it hard to accept it, especially when they are highly talented. I do not wish to devalue the latter but only to point to the need for a proper appreciation of the relation between tradition and individual talent in sociology as in other branches of scholarship. Sociology in India, as in many parts of the world, is in need of renewal. This much we can all agree upon without having to make dire predictions about the crises that are impending. Much of the work produced in the last two or three decades is of very poor quality. A great many things get published that do not deserve to be published, largely because we have failed to establish an honest, reliable and discriminating system of refereeing. In many colleges and universities, teaching at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels is often perfunctory and sometimes dispensed with altogether. At the same time, some work of quality has been produced continuously in the last 50 years. The problem with us is not that the small amount of good work done by preceding generations is unjustly criticized by succeeding ones, but that it is ignored and then quickly forgotten. In India, each generation of sociologists seems eager to start its work on a clean slate with little or no attention to the work done before. This amnesia about the work of their predecessors is no less distinctive of Indian sociologists than their failure to innovate. My main argument today is that the amnesia and the failure to innovate are two sides of the same coin, we will not be able to understand the one unless we understand the other. It would be rash for me to point my finger at anyone, for I know very well that someone else can point his finger at me. I simply draw attention to this as an obdurate condition of our discipline and our profession with no intention of singling out any individual sociologist or group of sociologists for blame.



II I will now run quickly through some of the work produced by sociologists and social anthropologists in the recent past in India. My broad objective will be to see if any newness was introduced by this work and to ask, incidentally, how this newness came into being. Naturally, my treatment will be selective and illustrative, for it will be impossible—and also inappropriate—to attempt an exhaustive survey of research in the subject in India. Further, I will confine myself to the work done in the last 50 years, that is, since independence, without any judgement on the quality and significance of the work of earlier scholars. The first thing to note is that there was a tremendous burst of work in the years immediately after independence, associated to some extent with the expansion of institutions of advanced study and research, namely, the universities and the newly-created institutes of research. The sheer volume of work in the first two or three decades after independence far exceeded what had been produced in the entire period before independence. Fifty years ago, sociology was still a young subject, and in retrospect, the scope for innovation appears to have been large. But of course, much of the work produced even then was stereotyped and trivial, and only a small part of it was of lasting value. In research, whether at the level of the individual scholar or the profession as a whole, most of what is done falls by the wayside and only a little endures; it is well to remember that research is in this sense a costly undertaking. The first two decades after independence may be described as the great age of village studies. I am sure that the work of this period appears dull and uninspiring to those who are entering the profession today, but this is because the very success of that work led to its routinization in the 70s and eighties. That is not at all how it appeared to those of us who were entering the profession in the 50s and 60s before the work became a part of established sociological practice. The first full-length monograph on an Indian village was published in 1955 by S. C. Dube (1955). I was still a student in the Department of Anthropology in Calcutta where everybody or almost everybody studied tribes. The new book, along with the two collections edited by Srinivas (1955) and by Marriott (1955), opened up new possibilities of research, and within a matter of years young social anthropologists, myself included, took up detailed and intensive studies of the Indian village which was at that time a whole new field of enquiry and investigation.


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Village studies established not only a new domain of research, but also a new way of looking at Indian society and culture as a whole. Through a series of writings in the 50s and 60s, Srinivas (1962) established the distinction between the ‘book-view’ and the ‘field-view’ of Indian society, advocating the primacy of the latter over the former in sociological enquiry. The thrust in these studies was on life in the village as it was actually lived, and not on that life as it had been ideally conceived to be. The concept of the village as a harmonious and integrated unity was found grossly inadequate in the light of careful ethnographic studies. It gave way before accounts of the divisions visible everywhere and the conflicts of interest associated with them. Moreover, the idea of the village as a self-sufficient unit was replaced by one in which the many links of the village with the outside world were carefully examined and recorded. Village studies were important in another way. They became for many sociologists and social anthropologists the basis for training in the craft of their discipline (Beteille and Madan 1975; Srinivas et al. 1979). Sociology is an empirical discipline in which the observation, description, interpretation and analysis of facts is of central importance. In earlier accounts of Indian society and its institutions, facts were used for apt illustration rather than detailed and methodical enquiry. Village studies established high standards of enquiry through participant-observation. Unfortunately, similar standards were not established as extensively in survey research, the other principal mode of empirical investigation. It may even be argued that the standards of empirical investigation through participant-observation established in the 50s and 60s have tended to become somewhat relaxed over the years. In my own very limited personal experience, the few students from overseas whose research I have supervised have produced better empirical work than the majority of their Indian counterparts. The field-view of society transformed the study of caste. This had implications for the understanding of caste not only in the present but also in the past. Here, a landmark was the paper published by Srinivas in 1956 on ‘Varna and Caste’ (reprinted in Srinivas 1962: 63–69). Srinivas argued that the operative units of the system were not the four categories of the idealized scheme of varnas, but the innumerable jatis which provided the real basis of social identity on the ground. Whereas the varnas were the same four throughout the country and throughout its history, the jatis varied from one region to another, and split, amalgamated, emerged anew or even disappeared over time. By closely examining the dynamics of caste, sociologists in the 50s and 60s were



drawing attention to the declining role of caste in religion and ritual and its increasing role in politics. Here I ought to point out that sociologists were in advance of journalists who began to appreciate the great significance of caste in democratic politics only in the 80s and nineties. One particular aspect of the dynamics of caste drew considerable attention among sociologists at first and then among students of Indian society and culture as a whole. This is the process whereby individual castes change their social rank after a change in their economic and political conditions. If one takes the book-view and sees castes as varnas, one gets a picture of a hierarchy that is completely frozen and static. If one takes the field-view and sees castes as jatis, one gets a picture of castes continually changing positions, although this is almost always a change in slow motion, not easy to detect in the particular case while it is taking place. This new representation of caste, with its own patterns of mobility, has encouraged historians and indologists to take a fresh look at their data relating to the past. I have described two major shifts of perception brought about by sociological studies in the 50s and sixties. But there were also many minor shifts, too inconspicuous for attention in each individual case, whose cumulative effect has been considerable. As a result, our present understanding of family, kinship and marriage, of religious belief and practice, of local-level politics, and of economic arrangements and transactions is both richer and deeper than it was 50 years ago. Thus, newness in our discipline does not come about solely or even generally through a sudden and dramatic breakthrough; more often it is the unforeseen consequence, over a long stretch of time, of collective effort that is at best loosely organized. What I wish to stress here is that someone may in fact contribute to newness in his discipline without himself being aware of it while making his contribution. The work to which I briefly referred above, and particularly the enthusiasm for village studies and the field-view of society, created something like a community of scholars who actively influenced if not interacted with each other. Disciplinary boundaries became porous, and although sociologists and social anthropologists took the lead in village studies, they were joined by political scientists, historians, geographers, economists and others. It is also important to note that the community included Western as well as Indian scholars, and it will be false to say that the flow of ideas was only in one direction. Looking back on that experience, it can be said that indigenous and foreign scholars worked in


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more active and fruitful collaboration, and on more nearly equal terms, in the study of society and culture in India than perhaps in any other country in the world. What I would like to stress is that this collaboration, with all its strains and stresses, had become an established fact before the theorists of hegemony had had time to agonize over its moral and political implications.

Ill Thus, it is quite clear that some new ideas, new concepts and new approaches did emerge in the study of Indian society and culture in the last 50 years. But of course all of this was embedded in routines of study and research that were for the most part dull, monotonous and repetitive. Would it not be marvellous if we could henceforward dispense with the dull routine and simply get on with the pursuit of innovation? To someone who has chosen the vocation of scholarship, such a desire must appear both shallow and frivolous. In sociology, whether in India or in the West, we cannot achieve significant innovation if we disregard the routine of scholarship. If we acknowledge that sociological knowledge is cumulative, it will be clear that the growth of that knowledge cannot be left solely to individual creativity. Every intellectual discipline is at the same time a craft, with its own requirements of training and apprenticeship. The outgoing generation cannot teach the incoming one to be original, and it should not even try; but it does have the responsibility of handing down to it the traditions of its craft. By the traditions of a craft I mean something more than a set of technical procedures, important though they are, that can be acquired directly from the kind of manual that comes with the personal computer. These traditions are assimilated in and through the institutions, such as universities and centres of research, where the vocation of sociology is collectively practised. It may be useful to pursue the metaphor of the craft a little further. Here I would like to refer very briefly to the work of Meyer Fortes who was an acknowledged authority in the field of kinship studies and whom I had the good fortune to know personally. Towards the end of his life, he wrote an account of his career which he called ‘An Anthropologist’s Apprenticeship’. Following the philosopher A. J. Ayer, he divided anthropologists into two types, the ‘pontiffs’ and the ‘journeymen’, saying that he himself was of the second and not the first type. The



journeyman is devoted to his craft rather than to some grand creative project. Fortes (1978: 1–2) saw his own intellectual career thus: A journeyman’s eyes are on his material, not on higher things. His aim is to turn out a particular product at a time using the best tools at his disposal. What he has by way of skill and technique are directed strictly to the job in hand, to making the most of the material he has to work with in the light of whatever good ideas happen to be appropriate to his task.

It was through work done in this spirit that he made his most significant contribution to his discipline; and he did in fact bring much newness into the study of kinship. I had of course read some of Fortes’s writings as a student in Calcutta in the 50s for he was then already an established scholar. When I came to know him many years later, I naturally tried to find out from him what he considered his most significant contribution to social anthropology. But I never got very far. He somehow managed to turn the discussion around to Malinowski and Radcliffe-Brown who had been his teachers or to younger persons who had been his pupils. He was by no means approving of all the work they had done, for as a man and a scholar, he was of a critical, not to say a carping, disposition, but till the end he kept himself informed about the work being done in his field. He read everything, took out whatever little he found to be of value, and attacked the rest relentlessly; in this attack, he spared neither his teachers nor his pupils. He always spoke respectfully of his seniors, even those who had entered the field only a few years ahead of him, but he had an unforgiving hostility towards those who sought to project themselves as pontiffs, mahants or creative geniuses. Like N. K. Bose, my teacher in Calcutta, Meyer Fortes believed that anthropology was a science. What place can tradition have in the work of the scientist? It is easy to be misled by the antithesis between tradition and modernity into the belief that the progress of science must take place wholely outside of tradition. The falsity of this belief becomes immediately apparent if we look at the experimental sciences where no one can hope to achieve significant results without first acquiring the culture or the tradition of the laboratory in which he is initiated into his craft. It is true that this tradition can become a constraint and an obstacle to further progress; it is also true that individuals emerge from time to time who reconstitute the tradition of their science; but today no individual genius can begin to do this without first mastering the existing tradition of his craft.


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While no intellectual discipline can dispense with apprenticeship in its craft, the form and duration of this apprenticeship varies from one discipline to another. I am told that in the experimental sciences, a Ph. D degree is no longer enough, a young scientist has now to do an additional spell as a ‘post-doc’ in the laboratory of a mature scientist before he can strike out on his own. In our discipline, the conditions of apprenticeship are somewhat different, and sometimes they appear excessively lax and permissive. The requirements of Ph. D work as a form of apprenticeship are not always taken seriously by either the student or his supervisor. It is natural that a fresh entrant into the Ph. D programme should be eager to make a breakthrough in his discipline, and so he tends to choose somewhat grandiose topics for his dissertation. It is then his supervisor’s responsibility to bring him down to earth, to explain to him that the ground must first be prepared before any significant contribution can be made, and that this preparation is a slow and laborious process. In our universities today, this responsibility is seen more often in its breach than in its observance. In India, the apprenticeship that is indispensable to the formation of the sociologist is subverted by a variety of factors. Professional standards are not sufficiently well established to discourage work of poor or even very poor quality. There is inadequate attention to detail in the collection and arrangement of empirical material, and the data collected through both participant-observation and survey research are often insubstantial and unreliable. Concepts are not always clearly defined or rigorously applied, and frequently what is presented as a new concept is only a new term. Arguments of the most sweeping kind are dressed up as new arguments, without any firm support of either data or reasoning. If the craft of sociology had been well developed, there would be some check against this. In its absence, technical requirements are easily set aside in the interest of social relevance. Many sociologists, both young and old, feel that the real problem is not to interpret the world, but to change it. Changing the world is indeed a noble objective, but it is doubtful how many of us have the intellectual tools for making that change. In the first two decades of independence, many sociologists and social anthropologists expected to contribute to social transformation by working through the government in such fields as rural reconstruction, community development, Panchayati Raj, and so on. The Planning Commission was then the mecca for social scientists working for the transformation of society. Then a disenchantment with what could be done through the government set in, and in the 80s and 90s, many found a new appeal in programmes



of active intervention through voluntary or non-governmental organizations. There is of course no reason why sociologists should not work with either the government or non-governmental organizations if they are convinced that their work will be made more socially relevant in that way. But they must first ensure that they have, as sociologists, the technical equipment required for attending effectively to the problems set before them by the agencies with which they work. Some of this equipment can be improvised on the job, but not all of it. Someone who values autonomy in intellectual pursuit must be mindful not only of his own individual autonomy but also of the autonomy of his profession. Professor P. C. Mahalanobis, one of the most influential intellectuals of independent India, is reported to have said, on being provoked by Nehru, that ‘scientists should be on top, not on tap’. Today most young sociologists will perhaps agree that they should not be on tap for ready use by agencies of the government. But many of the same persons seem to believe that their profession has a tacit obligation to meet the demands of Leninists, feminists, environmentalists, eco-feminists and other promoters of radical social change. Professional integrity requires some measure of autonomy from both government and opposition.

IV Of those who say that it is desirable, at least initially, to work within a tradition of scholarship, one might well ask whether there is indeed an established tradition of sociological enquiry in India. One might point to certain distinctive features of the tradition in France, in Germany, or in the United States. But if such a tradition exists in India, its essential ingredients are by no means clear to everyone. One might say at best that there are several and diverse traditions, with little or no agreement on their relative merits, so that one has to pick one’s way through a thicket of terms, concepts, techniques and procedures, and in the end rely mainly on improvization. This is by no means a happy state of affairs, but such, according to many, is indeed the current state of sociology in India. Why have Indian sociologists, despite continuous effort for three quarters of a century, failed to develop firm traditions for the systematic study of society and its institutions? Many would say that this is because they have depended too heavily on borrowed theories, borrowed concepts and borrowed methods of enquiry. This is true to a greater or lesser extent of all branches of modern science and scholarship in India, but it manifests


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itself in a particularly acute form in the discipline of sociology. For several generations, Indian sociologists have agonized over the mismatch between the concepts and methods on which they draw from the common pool of their discipline and the data to which they seek to apply them. That this mismatch is widespread and pervasive can hardly be denied. Moreover, it is a good thing that we should be troubled and concerned about it, provided that our worry does not lead to paralysis in the practice of our craft. The fact that most of the basic tools of sociological enquiry and analysis used in the study of Indian society and culture were devised outside India does not disturb all Indian sociologists equally. Some would say that one should use such tools as are available, adapt them to one’s use as well as one can, and improvise to the extent possible. Whether we engage in participant-observation or in survey research, the basic procedures have to be broadly the same everywhere, so why worry about where or by whom they were first devised? Again, there are broadly similar concepts and methods for interpreting and analysing social stratification and mobility, family, kinship and marriage, religious belief and practice, political processes, and economic transactions wherever they exist and operate, and we would be foolish to turn our backs on the available concepts and methods in the hope of devising new ones by our own unaided effort. Why, they would ask, try to reinvent the bicycle? But perhaps the majority continue to be disturbed by the mismatch between the tools available to them and the material on which they have to work, and they seem to oscillate between two alternative courses. The first course is to work within the system, keeping the mind open to the possibility of small, incremental changes in the hope that the cumulative effect of such work by many scholars over several generations will lift the subject to a higher plane theoretically and methodologically. This probably is how most of us work, in the spirit of the journeyman, although few of us can reasonably hope to achieve the success of Meyer Fortes to whose work I earlier referred. The second response is articulated by a smaller number of persons, but they are more radical and more assertive. Their views raise echoes in the minds of many scholars, particularly in the younger generation, and therefore deserve attention. They assert that the poverty of our social theory follows inevitably from our unreflective adherence to a framework of enquiry and analysis that is altogether inappropriate. Working within the framework leads to its further entrenchment and to a continuing dissipation of intellectual energy. They call for a replacement of



the established framework with its entire baggage of concepts, methods and procedures by an alternative sociology or, even, an alternative to sociology. In this view, if I were to put it starkly, newness does not emerge bit by bit, it has to be created all at once. What is to be the shape of this new, alternative sociology? Naturally, there are different voices that seek to express different views and impulses. These voices are more agreed about what is to be set aside than about what is to be put in its place. One source of this call for the rejection of the existing framework is radical Marxism which has trained its guns on ‘bourgeois sociology’ for nearly a century. Another source of it, more specific to our intellectual climate, is radical nationalism whose target is Western, rather than bourgeois, sociology. In our contemporary context, the second source is more potent than the first one, although of course the two may be combined, either consciously or unconsciously. The search for alternatives to existing theories, concepts, methods, procedures and techniques will no doubt continue, for that search is a part of intellectual life everywhere. It will lead to the opening up of new areas of substantive enquiry, as it has already done in the last couple of decades in gender studies, in environmental sociology and in the sociology of science. The real question is how this search will connect itself with the existing body of knowledge that has already accumulated. I am not convinced that a radical disconnection between what has been done in the past and what is to be done in the future is either feasible or desirable. Those who wish to create a whole new alternative sociology will no doubt go their way, at least for some time, but my instincts tell me that their work too will in due course of time either fall by the wayside or fall in line. Experience shows that the idea of paradigm shift is operationally less useful in the social than in the natural sciences. The discontent with existing approaches and the search for radically new alternatives has had paradoxical consequences. It has led able scholars into extreme forms of the very weaknesses they attack most mercilessly in others. It is doubtful that we will ever be able to lay to rest the ghosts of ‘bourgeois sociology’ and ‘Western sociology’, and the attacks against them are often misdirected, and they backfire with unfailing regularity. Twenty-five years ago, Seminar magazine devoted one of its issues to the discussion of the social sciences, and in particular to the demands of quality and of relevance within them. In a forceful article on ‘The Question of Relevance’, P. C. Joshi pointed out that ‘the lack of relevance of social


André Béteille

sciences constitutes one of the key problems in many underdeveloped countries including India’ (1972: 24). He questioned ‘the relevance of the entire Western intellectual heritage to the underdeveloped countries’, and attacked the ‘mere borrowing and transfer of knowledge from the Western to the non-Western world’ (Ibid.). However, he then proceeded in the main part of his article to give a vivid exposition of the views of four major thinkers, Gunnar Myrdal, Wassily Leontief, J. K. Galbraith and Simon Kuznets, all acknowledged Western authorities. Apart from a brief and passing show of deference to Gandhi and Mao, there was no discussion of any Indian or other Asian social scientist. These contradictions reveal themselves in discussions not only of research but also of teaching. In a paper on the teaching of economics in India published some ten years ago, Sukhamoy Chakravarty drew attention to the many shortcomings in the existing practice (1986: 1165–68). These he attributed to three main factors: the extensive use of texts written outside India, the pervasive desire among Indian economists to catch up with the West, and the generally lackluster quality of Indian teachers of the subject. The essay provides a very scholarly exposition of the ideas of the world’s leading authorities on the subject, but there is no discussion of the work of any Indian economist. Reading the paper one might justly wonder what there is to teach to students of economics in India other than the works of those European and American authors to whom Chakravarty gives his exclusive attention. He does mention that there are some important exceptions to the generally poor quality of Indian economists, but he does not tell us who they are, or, more importantly, what makes them exceptional. How can we begin to raise the level of the subject in India if we pay such scant regard to even the important exceptions among the four or five generations of economists who have taught and written about the subject in India? It is evident that the ablest among our social scientists are unable to discuss the works of Western authorities without a sense of guilt. That is understandable and not necessarily undesirable, but unfortunately the sense of guilt is almost always overlaid by a thick coat of self-righteousness. We are too quick to throw stones all around without paying any heed to the glass houses we erect for our own habitation. We have all encountered some advocates of autonomy and selfreliance who quote extensively from the works of Western scholars promoters of new alternatives who are never too shy with their references to



Foucault and Derrida. If there is nothing wrong in borrowing from Malinowski and Parsons, there should be nothing wrong in borrowing from Foucault and Derrida, but this must be understood on both sides. The adoption of new ideas can be healthy and fruitful only if it does not lead to a complete disregard of what was going on before. It is here that we find the weakest link in the chain. Every new generation of Indian sociologists acts as if nothing had gone on before, it does not ask what its own fate will be when another new generation takes its place. Being attentive to what has been done before does not require one to close one’s mind to new ideas. One should pursue the search for ideas according to one’s interest and inclination, and not be unduly concerned over the intrinsic worth of the places in which others are pursuing their search. One should be prepared to look for new ideas wherever they may be found, and some of the best scholars. I have known have been diligent scavengers, retrieving very good ideas from other people’s dustbins. But it is not enough to find new material, we must then undertake the slow and laborious effort of finding a place for it in the existing practice of the discipline. Only then will that practice change in a significant way.

Note This is a revised version of the inaugural lecture given at the seminar on ‘Recasting Sociology’ at the Jawaharlal Nehru University on 20 March 1997.

References Beteille, Andre, and T. N. Madan. (eds.) 1975. Encounter and Experience. New Delhi, Vikas. Chakravarty, Sukhamoy. 1986. ‘The Teaching of Economics in India’, Economic and Political Weekly 21 (27) 1165–68. Dube, S. C. 1955. Indian Village. London, Routledge & Kegan Paul. Fortes, Meyer. 1978. ‘An Anthropologist’s Apprenticeship’, Annual Review of Anthropology. Joshi, P. C. 1972. ‘The Question of Relevance’, Seminar, 157 (September). Marriott, McKim (ed.) 1955. Village India. Chicago, University of Chicago Press. Srinivas, M. N. (ed.) 1955. India’s Villages. Bombay, Asia Publishing House. ———. 1962. Caste in Modern India and Other Essays. Bombay, Asia. Srinivas, M. N., A. M. Shah and E. A. Ramaswamy (eds.) 1979. The Fieldworker and the Field. Delhi, Oxford University Press.

2 Paradigms and Discourses: New Frontiers in the Sociology of Knowledge Dipankar Gupta


nowledges, and the modalities of their generation are the primary concerns of the sociology of knowledge. Karl Mannheim has for several decades and rightly so, strongly influenced the understanding of the sociology of knowledge in sociology and anthropology. His claim that he was responsible for transcending the somewhat prescientific understanding of epistemology and production of knowledge, is not an empty boast. After all, given the period in which he made his contributions, and given the fact that he was working within academic sociology, his claim that knowledge was socio-culturally and existentially bound, flew in the face of a rather universal, though largely tacit, acceptance that knowledge was simply a product of the mind. Naturally, Mannheim was not to have it very easy. The groundswell of opposition against him came from diverse quarters peopled always by irate intellectuals, who, felt, perhaps that he was undermining their genius or, worse still, the genius of their intellectual heritage. The resistance to Mannheim was to a great extent fuelled by Mannheim’s prevarications on several issues and the looseness with which he employed some of his terms. At one extreme he seemed to believe in the ultimate system, or even the system of systems which may exist “independent of our



contributions”. Mannheim 1953: 22–26), while at the other end asserted the absolute truth of his contention that knowledge is existentially determined and validated (Ibid: 39, 74; Mannheim 1952: 36). Similarly, while on the one hand, truth, for Mannheim was relative and bound to existentist reality, on the other hand, he argued that truth should be understood “relationally”, in the sense that multiple perspectives and viewpoints should be used complementarily to afford “the best chance for reaching an optimum of truth” (Mannheim 1960: 71, 243–4). Ambiguities such as these probably exist because, Mannheim true to his own criterion of “relational” thinking, was influenced by the contrary traditions of Hegalianism and sociologism. To escape from the former he came to embrace the latter, and to free himself from the narrow perspectives of the latter he, almost carelessly, slipped into the former. This ambivalence made him susceptible to criticism from both the traditions. The fiercest attacks probably came from his one time associates in the Frankfurt school whose calumination was particularly damaging. Horkheimer pointed out quite lucidly the Hegelian and ‘Gestalist’ connotations of Mannheim’s apparent sociologism, especially with regard to the use Mannheim makes of concepts like relationism, and free floating intellectuals—the “intelligentsia” (See Jay 1976: 64; See also Mannheim, 1952: 104; Mannheim, 1956: 157). Marcuse criticised him for not being enough of a Marxist (Jay 1976: 63–65) and the positivists belaboured him for depriving sociological truths, that they had so painstakingly gathered, of any general validity. The sociology of knowledge stood in this uncomfortable position for a very long time. Even now, as it lacks, a resolution on the problems of generation and validation of knowledge, it periodically resurrects all of Mannheim, or partially resorts to his notion of relationism, before quietly moving on to a safer subject. But the sociology of knowledge has received a boost over the last two decades, not directly from sociologists as much as from the historians of science, from the structuralists and from students of the philosophy of science. The problem of the sociology of knowledge is also now more focussed and the endless debate on relativism vs. absolutism, has by and large been jettisoned. The jettisoning of this nettlesome issue has, however, not occurred simply because scholars felt that the least said about it the better, but mainly because of the fall out of researches, primarily in the field of the history of science.


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This happy denouncement has therefore taken place somewhat as a byproduct. When Mannheim used the term “relativism’’ his audience was by and large unprepared to accept it. Though Newtonian views of absolute time and space and Linneus’s fixism had been severely mauled in physics and natural history respectively, the waves of this destabilization had not quite reached the shores of the social sciences, especially those of sociology. The theory of relativity and quantum theory in physics gave “relativism” an entirely different connotation (as it gave “probability”) and also spurred a fresh approach to the history of sciences. Here I would take a position with T. S. Kuhn (1970a) and not so much with Karl Popper (1976). A body of knowledge, if I were to reformulate Kuhn, is never considered to be false because of the development and modification of theories. Knowledge is viewed in terms of its location in a paradigm as well as in terms of its degree of applicability. That is, different bodies of knowledge grant different positions to certain constituents, and any logical postulation becomes valid (and not just tenable) only in the specific locus that it finds itself in the theoretical structure in use. Further, every scientific achievement is goaded by, what Kosambi once called, the cognition of necessities. And as science is under constant use and repair (Bernal 1948–49), no knowledge is considered false, or limited, simply because a current body of knowledge enjoys greater applicability over a wider area or enjoys greater efficiency over a limited sphere, unless it can protect or consolidate the earlier developments as well. Kuhn, for instance, reminds us that a new paradigm is accepted only after it has logically accommodated all the accomplishments of the earlier paradigms, and solved most of the anomalies which the earlier paradigms unearthed but failed to resolve. If the new paradigm fails to do this it is forced into a situation of protracted combat with the earlier paradigm(s) and cannot expect universal obeisance to its decritals, no matter how pompously they may be proclaimed or how many class interests it may subserve. Relativism becomes a non-issue in this case as new paradigms must build on the old and hence accomplishments of an earlier period are not all considered fake (a la relativism) but are absorbed and recast in a new mould. Very often the notion of a “paradigmatic break” has been interpreted to mean that with every new paradigm, science starts anew. This is not only untrue but also impossible. But it is probably those who interpret it such that call Kuhn a radical relativist (See Phillips 1974: 65). I must confess here that such a thought never



entered my head when I read Kuhn several times over. This can perhaps be explained by the fact that many scholars like Phillips understand relativism only in a radical sense. Whenever there exist certain frameworks for analysing and positing a problem, Phillips detects relativism at work. In that case not only would Kuhn be a relativist but so would Kant and Levi-Strauss, and as I suspect, so would Phillips himself. This however, makes the term relativism banal, or if you like, radical, but all the same quite embarrassing. And in any case if one were to study the development of the earth sciences, the biological sciences or the hermeneutic disciplines, where one operates with multiple hypotheses from multiple paradigms (breaks and all), the question of relativism, as understood in its “radical” sense, becomes entirely redundant (See Rosen 1958: 85). Relativism in sociology has a more specific content and Mannheim is primarily responsible for this. It argues first of all that social (or existential) conditions determine knowledge. It then postulates that the concept of truth has no other referrent but the already existing type of knowledge (Mannheim 1960: 262). On both these counts, I believe, Kuhn is not only far from being a relativist, but has actually, perhaps unconsciously, shown us a way out of the relativist trap. In a later section I propose to return briefly to the question of relativism again, and I hope the resolution will seem much more convincing then. To continue with our discussion on the impact of the history of sciences on the sociology of knowledge, it appears now that the sociology of knowledge has also limited its focus. It is now rarely called upon to examine the existential roots of ideologies and beliefs, i.e., of those cognitive systems outside the portals of “science”. It is now more concerned with the generation of scientific knowledge, or the generation of knowledge in those unities or disciplines that claim to be scientific. Whether we study Bernal or Needham, or Debiprasad Chattopadhyay or Althusser, it is “science” and its progress, its systems of validation and internal tension, that constitute the primary focus. Only at a certain remove are social factors outside of science, or knowledges not specific to science proper, entertained. There is however little reason to lament this as the study of culture and beliefs, and their connections with social reality has since Marx degenerated to very blase’ formulations. Some interesting work is still being done in these areas, but such works are stimulated by rises that arise within the society at certain flash points of the political process.


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This does not necessarily mean that the sociology of knowledge as a discipline allows the term “sociology” to enter its domains only as an after thought or as a retrospective gesture. What it simply means is that one would be hard put to view the multiple groupings of knowledge, their co-existence, autonomy, and tension, as products of society, per se. One has to now accept that though certain bodies of scientific knowledge have been made possible by social factors, once brought into motion, science does not follow the trajectory of ideologies. It has its own criteria of validation and its own temporal rhythm. Nor do the different sciences, which between themselves group the multiple and yet finite modes of knowledge, surface together or disappear together. Nor, even when their moments of parturition are simultaneous, do the different sciences speak of the same message with different tonalities, nor are they the product of identical stimulations. And yet there is a sociology behind all this. It is worthwhile to recall Bernal at this stage lest we succumb to a technicist solution which even Mannheim fell victim to. “It is a mistake”, Bernal said, “to imagine that this inner nature of science is an autonomous system completely isolated from the social world; that it is intrinsic, and pure knowledge—a unique approximation to a absolute truth (recall Mannheim’s “relativism”— D. G.), to be achieved by a sure method and guarded by a passionate rejection of alternative ways of looking at things” (Bernal 1948–49: 193). He went on to argue in a near Kuhnian style (a minor irony!) that the Aristotelian-Thomist synthesis of the Middle Ages or the Newtonian synthesis of the 17th century though undoubtedly “triumphs of human industry”, were criticized and abandoned because they were blocking further advance in thought and action, in the sense that anomalies could no longer be resolved within their confines (ibid). But a note of caution should also be inserted here. It is not always the interests of a new society, say the industrial society, that anthropomorphically ‘assumes a voice, or by an unseen hand, dictates terms. Instead, the new society creates new sets of conditions which create new urgencies, facilities, as well as novelties in the perceptual field, all of which influence science by altering its setting. Some of the products of science are quickly appreciated and disseminated in the non scientific field, some are used as legitimizers and standards of rationality or of culture, while others find only technical manifestations while their philosophical ethos is quickly and quietly snubbed. As an example of the former we might cite Bernal’s example of how Newton’s absolutism ballasted the British constitution



(Ibid: 195). Other examples could be how Darwinism (though soon after its formulation in 1869, it was stifled by Mendel’s theory of genetic mutations) was appropriated by T. H. Huxley for his Bishop baiting, or even how it served to legitimize the theory of free competition under capitalism. And yet neither the philosophical tenets of relativism, nor the ideological persuasions of its founder, has found direct expression, let alone acceptance in non scientific domains. Therefore, if one is to apply sociology to knowledges and to the modalities of their generation, it has to be done cautiously. Care must be taken to weed from within its elements of positivism, traces of intrigue and conspiracy, and postulations of the hidden hand. Science, like ideology, must breathe in society. But science, unlike ideology, is characterised by rarity and careful exclusions as well as by conscious and controlled practice. It would be of little use to slur over this important distinction. I find it difficult for this reason to accept the point of view Capra puts forward in his book The Tao of Physics (1976), where he tries to equate eastern mysticism with the theory of relativity and quantum theory. Capra unfortunately does not realise the specificity of science, where, to fall back on Kuhn again, knowledge develops in the course of normal science by the solution of puzzles denoted by the paradigmatic grid (Kuhn 1970(b): 9). Neither Taoism, nor the Gita is ever cornered by this compulsion. Besides, as Debiprasad Chattopadhyay (1977) has shown, eastern mysticism was clearly aimed against science in ancient India making any comparisons of identity between theoretical physics and Taoism implausible.

II In what follows in this paper I will consider how the works of T. S. Kuhn and Michel Foucault (1974) have changed the contours of, and indeed opened up, new frontiers in the sociology of knowledge. I shall not dwell on Kuhn for long as there have been enough critical scholarship on Kuhn’s contributions. I shall, on the other hand proceed from Kuhn to the infinitely more difficult work of Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge (1974), to show how one and then the other contributed to the posting of new frontiers in the sociology of knowledge. As Foucault’s work has had very few book length adaptations (perhaps Edward Said’s Orientalism (1979) is one of the very few examples) and as his work has occasioned only a small number of reviews and critiques in English language journals, I will take this opportunity to simply elucidate Foucault’s


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Archaeology and present him as sympathetically as possible to an audience sensitized to the issues in the sociology of knowledge. First, and very briefly, Kuhn. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions helped the sociology of knowledge to overcome in a clean, dignified and systematic way, the contretemps of the Mannheimian sociology of knowledge. The question of truth or validity of knowledge, which seemed unsolvable earlier, was recast by Kuhn in a different analytical structure making it possible to arrive at a solution. Kuhn. I think, tells us, that the constituents of knowledge become active only within a paradigm. A scientific paradigm may change through a process of intense and extra-ordinary theoretical (philosophical) activity, without rendering all the achievements of the earlier paradigm false. A new paradigm can be accepted by the scientific community when it can adequately include all the achievements of the older paradigm and more. When it includes the achievements of the past, it rearticulates them with more current formulations, at a different theoretical level, achieving thereby a paradigmatic break. So knowledges produced earlier are not all discarded as a matter of course with the birth of a new paradigm. Only some are, but many more are accepted under a different theoretical structure. “Relativity”, then, as it was understood by Mannheim, is rendered non problematic by Kuhn. Nor does Mannheim’s “relationism” get a better deal. It is possible, even in Kuhn, for different paradigms, articulating different world views, and subsequently entirely different traditions of normal science, to co-exist. But this co-existence is purely temporal and does not entail any question of complementarity. Different paradigms not only prescribe radically different ways of understanding and explaining reality, but also render the digits of observation dissimilar. Newtonian mechanics can hardly be used complementarily with quantum theory, nor can Marxism and organic functionalism be seen “relationally” as complementary ways of grasping the ultimate system. It is in this way that the history of science contributes towards resolving some of the issues raised by the earlier sociology of knowledge. But as many critics of Kuhn have pointed out, there is very little sociology in Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions (See for instance, Cohen 1973: 331–336). Though Kuhn acknowledges that science does not proceed in a vacuum, and that the result of scientific work have to be communicated to a scientific community in order to be realized, and also that there are certain social imperatives at times which tilt the scientific



community towards one or the other paradigm, the dynamism of the structure of scientific revolutions is by and large located within scientific activity alone. Sociology and philosophy enter, the former somewhat surreptitiously, during the phase of extra ordinary scientific activity, but disappear without leaving any trace in the period of normal science. With regard to this I should like to raise two issues which will be elaborated further when we take up Foucault’s contribution. The first, and most obvious, objection is that a scientific paradigm is often influenced by an ideological or aesthetic temper which does not find adequate realization within the unities of a scientific discipline. One more example, again borrowing from Bernel (1948–49) is the artistic movement of the Renaissance which broke up the Aristotelian world picture, or the influence of the romantic period on earth science (Huxley and Huxley 1947: 6–7). Such impulses are sometimes quite important, and Kuhn’s analytical framework cannot adequately account for them. The second objection is that the period of normal science need not always be philosophically neutral as Kuhn alleges (Kuhn 1970b). In contemporary history normal science has undergone several shifts primarily because of philosophical problems which have bombarded it from outside. These philosophical issues need not necessarily bring about an alternative paradigm but may bring about philosophically induced researches within the ambit of normal science. This has been best exemplified in the development of a new discipline, that of social medicine and community health. The development of this discipline did not entail a paradigmatic shift. It primarily questioned the complete reliance of medicine on clinical factors for the assessment and cure of morbidity. What philosophical activity did was to open up a new perceptual field to those who had undergone normal scientific training in tissular lesions, morbid anatomy, anatomo physiological correlations and so forth. This resulted in the shifting of research priorities within some sub-units of the larger discipline. Epidemiology moved from a secondary position and came to be adopted as a major analytical tool for the prescription of alternative curative packages. But these prescriptions still had to depend for their scientific validity on the traditions of normal science. Other examples are to be found in the field of nuclear technology and information systems. If normal science is considered as a period of lull for philosophical speculations and impulses, then the pathway of normal science can only be purely technicist in character. This is probably a conclusion that Kuhn himself would find distasteful.


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III It is at this point that we are forced to make a serious assessment of Foucault’s Archaeology of knowledge. The reasons for this will be clear as we proceed with our review of Foucault. But the most fundamental reason is that Foucault attempts to tell us how it is possible for us to make the scientific statements that we make. And to tell us this he steers clear off the simple rule of thumb sociologism of traditional sociology of knowledge, while at the same time avoids purely technicist solutions typical of an internalist discourse. Foucault’s book is a difficult one, embarrassing in its frequent reiterations, careless in its many definitions, and is unnecessarily lapidary in its style. It is a book which would instinctively offend the sensibilities of an English language audience. His labyrinthine passages, do nevertheless create the false excitement of being told something fresh and new. And as Foucault tells us later in his work, it is not easy to say something new in a discursive formation. Because of the complexity of Foucault’s Archaeology. . . . he has generally not been understood fully, nor when appreciated, applied carefully. The mistake that is made is to draw a uniform set of inspirations from all of Foucault’s major works. The Archaeology . . . , which is by far his most important work, is also directed against his structuralist past when he wrote The Order of Things (1970). Therefore, it would not be in the fitness of things to flit from his Archaeology . . . to his other works, as Edward Said does (1979: 22), without raising methodological problems’. The Archaeology . . . I would submit should be seen as a distinct contribution marking a break in Foucault’s intellectual development. Foucault’s primary concern in Archaeology . . . is the generation of knowledge. Though the primary target of his attack is the structuralist school (especially of the Althusserian variety), he also takes up cudgels against the internalist historiography of science, against anthropologism (where knowledge is traced to its founders), against attempts to group sciences and knowledge thematically, as well as against those who simply seek social factors (like industrialization, or class interests) to understand the generation of knowledge. With this brief introduction I will now try to summarize Foucault as simply as possible, and to the degree it is possible at all to render his Archaeology . . . somewhat lucid. Early in his book, Foucault tells us that traditional questions in historical analysis which seek to connect causally disparate events in the search for totalities are now being given up. The constant endeavour to



somehow paper over discontinuities and to search for systems that generate a unified set of outcomes is now being forsaken. The search in history now is geared towards accepting discontinuities, maintaining the distance between events, isolating one strata of events from another, establishing chronological tables relevant for each series of events. Only then are attempts made to construct a large scale chronological table, where these events can find their place, but not by attenuating the distances and discontinuities that separate them (Foucault 1974: 4). History has thus turned its attention “away from the vast unities like ‘periods’ or ‘centuries’ to this phenomena of rupture of discontinuity” (Ibid). History concurrently refuses to participate in recalling the founder, or the “single mind”, nor does it accept the validity of the collective mentality. Nor is it willing to consider a hidden teleology of a science whose potentialities are known at the outset (Ibid-A, 21–23). History, whether of ideas, of science, of literature or of philosophy, now looks for breaks and thresholds. These discontinuities halt the slow development and accumulation of knowledge. They “cut it off from its empirical origins and its original motivations” (Ibid), and redirect it thus bringing about a “displacement and transformation of concepts . . .” (Ibid). The problem, as Foucault sees it, is that once we recognise these ruptures or breaks, how are we to talk of unities like disciplines, or science, or even a book or an oeuvre (Ibid: 5)? For, all the traditional unities, like periods, disciplines, and even books, crumble under Foucault’s scrutiny, and reveal breaks, ruptures and epistemological thresholds. This, Foucault believes, is the result of a new history which transforms the document into a monument. By this Foucault means, that the analysis of documents as documents, and the use of documents as a historical tool, belong to the project of “total history” where the document is to reveal, under questioning, a memory that has been long overlaid by time and its minions. Foucault’s history, on the other hand, strives to convert documents into monuments and thus “aspires to the condition of archaeology” (Ibid: 7–8). This conversion, effected by new history of a document into a monument allows the historian to study the document itself, arrange it at various levels, divide it, discover relations between elements, and try to “define, within the documentary material itself, unities, totalities, series, relations” (Ibid: 7). This transformation also removes the stigma attached to discontinuities by traditional history, and the project of “total history” disappears (Ibid: 10). This transformation also solves the errors of anthropologism where the subject is


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guaranteed that whatever is lost will be restored to it when unity is eventually reconstituted (Ibid: 12).1 On what basis can we say that literature, philosophy, science, religion, etc., are unities? Literature and politics are, for instance, recent groupings; further, the fields of discourse that literature, politics, science or philosophy, articulated in the seventeenth century are vastly different from their fields of discourse in the nineteenth century. These groupings, Foucault suggests, are clearly retrospective in character. They were made possible by surface resemblances between concepts and by an extended application of analogies. But the unities that must first be eschewed are those of the book and the ceuvre. The book is after all “a node within a network” (Ibid: 23), and the space between the first line and the last full stop is not characterized by a unity. How is one then to read a book, and how is one then to understand the various levels within a book? In attempting to answer these questions. Foucault comes out with a clear indictment of structural reading or ‘Lecture Symptomale’. Althuser’s symptomatic reading recommends that a book should be read conjointly with its “problematic”, i.e, by keeping in mind the theoretical means of production responsible for the statements made in the text. By this method Althusser contends we can understand the ‘lapses’, ‘silences’ and ‘semi-silences’ of the text and also unearth the secret discourse from the manifest discourse, to draw from the depths that which is buried, yet active (See Althusser 1977: 32, 66, 69; Althusser and Balibar 1970: 15, 17, 18–30). Foucault, on the other hand, feels that to seek unities between statements by a search for the “already said” which is never actually written, i.e., a ‘never said’ a presence which is absent, to construct an “incorporal discourse” (Ibid: 25), is against the method of archaeology and anathemic to the understanding of discourse. According to Foucault: “Discourse must not be referred to the distant presence of the origin, but treated as and when it occurs” (Ibid: 25). Once we suspend the unities of a book a vast field is set free. This field “is made up of the totality of effective statements whether spoken or written in their  dispersion as events and in the occurrence that is proper to them” (Ibid: 27). The raw material of a discourse is made up of these effective statements. One is immediately reminded of Wittgenstein who said in the last aphorism of Tractatus . . . “What we cannot speak of we must be silent about”. But again, to be fair to Foucault, this is only a surface resemblance. A statement for Foucault is not merely a sentence. Foucault’s raw material is made up of statements that relate to one



another, bring into focus an adjoining field populated by other statements, and so on. But these statements may not always refer to the same thing. They are not multiple ways of expressing an identical sign, nor are they the many signifiers of a single signified. These statements are finite and can be grouped in a discursive formation as they all submit to, and are indeed made possible by, a certain set of rules. These rules, which may be called the rules of formation, constitute the conditions to which the elements of a statement (its concepts and its objects), the mode of a statement and the thematic choices of a statement are all subjected (Ibid: 38). A discursive formation can be individualised on the basis of its system of formation, that is, by means of a “complex group of relations that function as a rule” (Ibid: 74). A “rule lays down what must be related in a particular discursive practice, for such and such an enunciation to be made, for such and such a concept to be used, for such and such a strategy to be organized” (Ibid). A discursive formation can be understood then as “a limited number of statements for which the group of conditions of existence can be defined” (Ibid: 117). A rule, therefore, only refers to the conditions which make it possible to articulate a specific statement, not just to an isolated sentence as in language analysis. But a discursive formation does not neutralize the specificities of a statement. It preserves the “specific existence that emerges from what is said and nowhere else” (Ibid: 28). A statement is thus more than a language, or a sentence. It is related to a field of memory, to records, to books and to the situations that provoked it and to the consequences that follow (Ibid ). This is all very well. But how are we to demarcate a discourse? We have already dispensed with traditional unities. How then should we proceed? As an answer to this Foucault says that we should provide de facto privilege to the existing unities as starting points, but only provisionally, for they are to be “subsequently demolished” (Ibid: 29, 30). There are four obvious ways in which one can be tempted to group a discursive formation. The first method is to group all statements which refer to the same object, say “madness”. But as Foucault points cut, such a group of statements do not open up the same correlative field, and do not, therefore, refer to the same object. From Pinel to Esquirol to Bleuler the objects of psycho-pathological discourse have been modified. “We are not dealing with the same madmen” (Ibid: 32). The second probable method of grouping could be based on a certain style of making statements which presupposes the same way of looking at things. But this method is also unsuitable for Foucault. In the


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medical discourse, for instance, the scales and guidelines have been displaced. The information system, the mass of documentation, the instruments of correlation have all modified the position of the doctor as an observing subject in relation to the patient (Ibid: 34). All this naturally brings about an entirely new discursive field. The third method of grouping is the architectonic method where a unity is established among a group of statements by “determining the system of permanent and coherent concepts involved” (Ibid ). But this is unacceptable for this does not account for all the concepts in all the statements of a discursive field, nor does it account for the appearance of new concepts. The fourth hypothetical method of grouping statements is on the basis of themes, such as the evolutionary theme or the physiocratic theme. But, we soon realize, that the evolutionary theme of Benoit de Maillet, Borden, or Diderot and the evolutionary theme of Darwin, are not the same (Ibid: 35). All the four hypothetical attempts at grouping a discourse are thus unacceptable to archaeology. Archaeology does not “reconstitute chains of inference (. . . as in the history of sciences or of philosophy)” (37), nor does it proceed, as linguists do, by drawing up tables of difference, instead it proceeds by describing the specificities of statements in their dispersed form and then plots this system of dispersion (Ibid ). Therefore, “whenever, one can define between objects, types of statements, concepts, or thematic choices, a regularity (an order, correlations, positions, and functioning, transformations) we will say, for the sake of convenience, that we are dealing with a discursive formation” (Ibid: 38). In the discourse of psychopathology, for example, new objects emerged in the nineteenth century such as sexual aberrations, behavioral disorders, and the phenomena of suggestion and hypnosis. They did not, however, emerge from the same source. Some emerged from the family, others from religion, others from the work place. In addition, new surfaces of emergence also characterised the objects of nineteenth century psychopathology, like sexuality, panelity and even art. These so called surfaces of emergence of objects have first of all to be mapped out. Secondly, a discourse is also delimited by certain authorities. In the case of madness besides the doctor, the penal law and religious authorities are also involved in designating and delimiting madness as an object. Lastly, we must also study the system by which different kinds of “madness” are divided, related, regrouped and reclassified and derived from one another. What are, in other words, the “grids of specification” (Ibid: 42)? As these objects do remain constant, once they are formed, they are



amenable to transformations because of the existence of a complex group of relations between the various “surfaces on which they appear, on which they can be delimited, and on which they can be analysed and specified” (Ibid: 47). These complex group of relations are called discursive relations (or rules). They do not connect objects deductively, nor do they serve as conduits for economic or institutional interests and structures. These relations “are, in a sense, at the limit of discourse” (Ibid: 46). The mark the outer reaches of a discursive formation, and that is why it is not easy to say something new within a discourse (Ibid: 44). It is in this very complicated manner that Foucault distances himself from the earlier traditions of epistemology and of the history and sociology of knowledge. He refuses to look for an interiority of intention of a thought or a subject. Neither does he seek to trace every statement to the moment of its birth, nor discover a foundation which provides a rationale and gives meaning to a statement. Likewise, he argues that the subject of a statement is not the author of the statement, or the first mind that thought of it. The subject of a statement is a position from which those authorized to speak can speak. This position depends on the sites from which they can make their discourse. For the doctor, in the twentieth century, the primary site is not the bed side, but a hospital or a laboratory. The position of the subject also depends, in addition to the institutional sites of discourses, on the situation he occupied in relation to the group of objects of the discourse and the domains they occupy. This is a question of the perceptual field, where the subject occupies different positions. Thus with the change of the perceptual field in medical discourse in the nineteenth century, the positions a subject could occupy in this discourse also changed. He could now be a listening subject, or a seeing subject, or an observing subject. But these positions are not “subjective” positions, but can be likened to incumbencies2, that the discursive formation allows and affords. The situations that were possible for a subject to occupy in medical discourse after the nineteenth century were modified and altered among other things, by medical statistics, organizations of data banks, the integration of the laboratory with the hospitals, and by the philosophical concerns arising out of the necessity to provide health care to congregated masses at industrial work-places (Ibid: 51–53). Foucault is at pains to point out repeatedly that a discursive formation is not a unity. There are points of “diffraction”, or incompatibility, in this formation. This is not a defect of coherence in a discourse but


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indicates instead the existence of “discursive sub-groups” (Ibid: 66). At this point, it seems, Foucault is turning pointedly against Kuhn and his understanding of paradigms as world views constituting breaks in science. According to Foucault, different theories, strategies, choices, world views can be drawn from a discursive formation. What theoretical choice is to be adopted depends on non discursive practices such as in the domain of politics and state governance. But the openings for different theoretical choices, of different philosophical options, are interior to the discourse. They arise out of the systematically different ways of treating objects of discourse, choosing them, constituting series, arranging them and manipulating them. A discourse allows diverse conceptual architectures and multiple levels of coherence (Ibid: 70). But these choices are possible, not because of the dominance of the writing or speaking subject, but because of the points of divergence between concepts. And these concepts, Foucault reminds us, were formed and made possible by the co-existence between statements (Ibid: 72), and not by the original founder of a world-view. This point is important for it can account for the philosophical and enunciative shifts that occur within a discourse, which as we noted earlier, Kuhn’s paradigm fails to do. As an example of this Foucault elucidates: “It is not that the physiocratic option can modify the group of rules that govern the formation of economic concepts in the eighteenth century; but it can implement some of the rules (or relations between the different planes of emergence, authorization and specification—D. G) and exclude others and consequently reveal certain concepts (like that, for example, of the net products) that appear nowhere else” (Ibid: 73). This brings us back to Foucault’s original formulation regarding a discursive formation. As this formation is made up of statements, and as each statement is linked to a referential (Ibid: 91), grouping of statements cannot be done solely on the basis of a logical structure. It is for this reason that Foucault says: “For a statement to exist: it must be related to a whole adjacent field . . . (O)ne cannot say a sentence, one cannot transform it into a statement, unless a collateral space is brought into operation” (Ibid: 97). This collateral space is obviously not the same as the logical interaction of statements, nor does it refer merely to the context (Ibid ). This collateral space is the enunciative field (Ibid ). As an example, Foucault hastens back to Gresham’s Lockes and the Marginalists understanding of the quantitative relation between prices and monetary mass in circulation, to tell us that these understandings are obviously



not “enunciatively identical” (Ibid: 145). Moreover, this enunciative field never sleeps but is always alert, without discriminating; against different structurations of a statement of a discursive formation. It is this regularity and alertness of the enunciative field (Ibid: 146) that makes a statement different from a sentence. Instead of a paradigmatic break, Foucault offers us a enunciative or “archaeological break”. This break occurs differently for different discourses. It does not, however, begin with either undemonstrable axioms, or fundamental themes (Ibid: 147–148), but may, like Natural History, begin with certain governing statement that only prescribe forms of description and perceptual codes which consequently open up a whole domain of concepts, strategic choices, etc. (147–148). At the same time, however, it needs to be asserted, that paradigmatic breaks often do coincide with archaeological breaks, though the processes are entirely different. A paradigmatic break is a break from one controlled derivative structure to another. But an archaeological break occurs when a different enunciative field is alerted. This does not automatically entail that the erstwhile theoretical (or strategic) choices become defunct (Ibid: 173). This new enunciative field brings about new concepts, enabling the existence of newer theoretical options. In this new condition the elements (and not the logic) of earlier choices have to undergo transformations failing which they receive their final placements in the earlier archaelogical Period. The tendency, however, is that with an architectural breakthrough new theoretical choices, which may be incompatible with one another emerge, they are related by statements which limit them to an enunciative field. Therefore, unlike Kuhn’s paradigmatic break, the archaeological break of medical discourse from 1790–1815, for instance, occurred because new objects like organic lesions, deep sites, tissular alternations, were revealed, new techniques of observation and methods of detecting pathological sites were made possible, and a new set of descriptive vocabulary came to dominate. The theories and strategic choices developed later, and what is more, developed in relation to an identical enunciative field, and not the other way around (Ibid: 170). Nor is it simply a matter of societal, or political and class interests dictating the division and delimitation of the medical object. Political practice did not impose on medicine anatomo physiological correlations, or the examination of tissular lesions. It merely opened up a new field for the mapping of medical objects (Ibid: 163). It was because a new domain of objects emerged, from the exigencies of compartmentalizing and


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administering large population settlements, by the use of statistics, and new methods of recording and notation, that old theories such as those of inflammation and fever could be finally abandoned (Ibid: 168). So unlike Kuhn, it is not the existence of anomalies within paradigms whose successful resolutions effect a paradigmatic and theoretical break and thus facilitates the adoption of new theories and world views, but the opening of a new perceptual field, which inaugurates an entirely new discursive formation that facilitates this adoption through the process of “normal” discursive practice.

IV In the penultimate chapter of the book Foucault gathers together his rather cumbersome archaeological apparatuses and declares war against the Althusserian understanding of knowledge. Althusser (1970, 1977) has clearly distinguished science from ideology, and is of the view that an epistemological break occurs when by theoretical transformation science detaches itself from its ideological past and reveals this past as ideological (See Foucault 1974: 5). It is only science that, Althusser believes, deserves to be called knowledge. Against this Foucault contends that knowledge is not only found in scientific demonstrations, and in propositions that obey certain laws of construction, but can also be found “in fiction, reflexion, narrative accounts, institutional regulations and political decisions” (Ibid: 183–184). In other words the entire discursive formation reveals knowledge, and “science” proper, is just one mode of articulation. Further, Foucault argues, as no science exists outside a discursive formation, epistemological breaks of the Althusserian variety are quite fantastic. It is also wrong to say that as science increases, ideology decreases (Ibid: 186). “Knowledge not an epistemological site that disappears in the science that precedes it. Science (or what is offered as such) is localized in a field of knowledge and plays a role in it” (Ibid: 184). The implications of this attack on the structuralists is far reaching and will not be gone into here (See for instance Williams 1974: 41–68). Foucault’s penultimate chapter also reverses quite unambiguously Kuhn’s fundamental arguments, even though Kuhn is not mentioned by name even once by the author in the entire book. Foucault posits four different thresholds for the emergence of a discursive formation. The first is the “threshold of positivity”. This is the moment when a new



perceptual field is demarcated and characterized by a certain enunciative regularity (Ibid: 186). The second is the “threshold of epistemologization”. This is when a group of statements exercises a dominant function over knowledge, as models, critiques, etc. (Ibid: 186–187). The third is the threshold scientificity, “when the epistemological figure . . . obeys a number of formal criteria, when its statements comply not only with archaeological rules of formation, but also with certain laws for the construction of propositions” (Ibid: 187). The fourth and final threshold, is the “threshold of formalisation”. This is the moment when the scientific discourse is able “to define the axioms necessary to it, the elements that it uses, the proposition structures that are legitimate to it” and constitutes a “formal edifice by taking itself as a starting point” (Ibid ). Having said all this Foucault postulates, in stark opposition to Kuhn, that every discursive practice need not go through these different thresholds, and further that the succession of various thresholds is neither regular nor homogeneous. In this process, the priority that Kuhn gives to paradigms over rules (Kuhn 1970a: 43–51) is brought seriously into question. A final word on relativism, this time with reference to Foucault. If Kuhn has suggested ways of wriggling out of the relativist trap, Foucault’s solution is far more forthright and leaves nothing to a false slip or a chance misinterpretation. A discursive formation, Foucault writes, is made up of objects which do not logically or temporally hang together. Moreover they have different sites of emergence, and these sites cannot be compressed within any one socio-historical period. Foucault after all wishes to construct a “table of tables”. But this does not mean that social epochs do not leave their traces on a discursive formation. They do and sometimes on some discursive formations (e.g. the medical discourses) Foucault feels they may even exercise a primary influence. This however, does not mean that the discursive formation is fully known, or that all its objects have been mapped out. A discursive formation is characterised by gaps and discontinuities and these distances have to be recorded as such, along with their planes of emergence, their enunciative field, and so on. Further, a discursive formation allows not only distances, but differactions, as well, which accounts for the existence of two or mare world views emanating from the same discourse. Finally, as a coup de grace to the relativists, Foucault discloses the four major thresholds of a discursive formation, and that not all discursive formations reach the final threshold of formalizations, where they are able to formulate their


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axioms and demonstrate their “positivity” as a truth. Surely these are shuddering blows, and the crunch of disintegrating word-work concealing the relativist trap carries to the entire enunciative field. The principal aims of this paper were to denote (i) where sociology of knowledge stood before Kuhn; (ii) how Kuhn succeeded in cleansing the sociology of knowledge of its many ambiguities and also brought about a refocussing on certain critical issues; and (iii) to place before the reader the hidden debate between Foucault and Kuhn and what implications it has for the sociology of knowledge. The major portion of this paper was devoted to placing before the readers as simply as possible Foucault’s contribution in the Archaeology of Knowledge. I have, therefore, desisted from the temptation of quoting at length from Foucault, as this would defeat, I believe, my express purpose. And even when I have quoted from Foucault, I have taken care to quote his simpler passages. In this process I may have misinterpreted Foucault at many vital points, but I think I have succeeded in making the contribution contained in this important and difficult book a little more accessible to a wider audience. I would agree with Karel Williams, that there are some complete mysteries in Foucault’s Archaeology . . . (Williams 1974: 62). One lasting mystery for me is how Foucault understands “rules of formation”. Sometimes these rules are used synonymously with “complex group of relations”, which are in turn conditions for the existence of a discursive formation. Sometimes I feel this is a prime example of circular or tautological reasoning, while at other times I get the eerie feeling that the “rules of formation” will forever remain a mystery to me. However, if Foucault has been intentionally tautological then that is another matter. In which case perhaps Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason can help us in furthering our understanding of Foucault’s rules of formation, without necessarily explaining it fully. Kant had deliberately constructed his table of Categories so that the “conditions of the possibility of objective experience (were) at the same time conditions of the possibility of the objects of experience . . .” (Korner 1955: 76; emphasis given). Further, according to Kant, “The table of Categories quite naturally gives us a lead in constructing the table of principles for the latter are nothing but rules for the objective use of the former” (Ibid: 76). If for Kant “every object must be a sub stratum of the Category” (Ibid), then by analogy we may say, that for Foucault every object of a discourse must be within the limits of a discursive formation. Or in other words, the rules of formation of objects guarantee these objects their status as objects of



knowledge within a discursive formation. The advantages of this tautology is that it does away with the “thinking subject”, which after all has all along been Foucault’s intention. Like Kant’s consideration of a priori concepts the rules of formation, in this case, only elucidate the discursive formation, without saying anything new. I am not very confident of this philosophical dodge, because Foucault does not acknowledge Kant anywhere, nor does he seem to be aware of his tautological formulations. But in spite of these misgivings and mysteries I do not think Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge is “extravagantly unsuccessful” (Williams 1974: 64). Foucault’s contribution sensitises us for the first time to a new direction in the understanding of the generation of knowledge. This is evident even from the little I have been able to understand of Foucault and was able to present in this paper. Eventually, if Foucault has to be clarified and is to enter the discourse of the sociology of knowledge, he should be seen in relation to T. S. Kuhn. This, I consider a more fruitful and better option, if one is to build on Foucault rather than to centre on the arguments that Foucault raises against his more obvious opponents—the structuralists Between Foucault and Kuhn there is an “intrinsic contradiction”, a contradiction that belongs to the same discursive formation. It is not an “extrinsic one”, such as the one that characterised the opposition between Linnaeus and Darwin (Foucault 1974: 153). Admittedly, there are times when Foucault and Kuhn seem to be talking past each other. But this is more a function of their diverse backgrounds. Kuhn shies clear of mentioning Darwin, and Foucault can’t help but recall him every now and then. Kuhn draws largely from examples in physics, whereas Foucault draws from natural history, psychopathology, grammar and clinical medicine. But the points at which these two scholars face each other with alternative choices are much more important and almost “electric”. The contradictions between the two are, however, not terminal. If our paper has any validity, it is to show how the contribution of one can be utilized to understand and resolve the problems of the other. It is, therefore, in this face-off between Kuhn and Foucault, between paradigms and discourses, that new frontiers can be opened up in the sociology of knowledge.

Acknowledgements I am grateful to Sanjay Chandra and Rajiv Bhargava for discussions and comments.


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Notes 1. This barb is clearly against Lukacs postulation on the eventual unity between subject and object once the existing and unjust social order is rid of its contradictions. 2. The subject of a statement “is a particular vacant place that may in fact be filled by different individuals, but, instead of being defined once and for all . . . this place varies” (Foucault 1974: 95).

References Althusser, Lousis 1977. For Marx. London: New Left Books. Althusser, Lousis and E. Balibar 1970. Reading Capital. London: New Left Books. Bernal, J. D. 1948–49. “The Place and Task of Science”. Science and Society, vol. 13, pp. 193–228. Capra, Fritjof. 1976. The Tao of Physics. Suffolk: Fontana. Chattopadhyay Debiprasad. 1977. Science and Society in Ancient India. Calcutta: Research India Publications. Cohen, Hyman R. 1973. ‘‘Dialectics and Scientific Revolution”. Science and Society, vol. 37, pp. 326–336. Foucault, Michel. 1970. The Order of Things. London: Tavistock. ———. 1974. The Archaeology of Knowledge. London: Tavistock. Huxley T. H. and Julian Huxley. 1947. Evolution and Ethics. 1893–1943. London: Pilot Press. Jay, Martin. 1976. The Dialectical Imagination. London: Heinneman. Korner, S. 1955. Kant. Harmondsworth: Pentuin Books. Kuhn, T. S. 1970a. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ———. 1970b. ‘‘Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research”, in I. Lacatos and A. Musgrave (Eds.) Criticisms and Production of Knowledge. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mannheim, Karl. 1952. Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ———. 1953. Essays on Sociology and Social Psychology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ———. 1956. Essays on the Sociology of Culture. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ———. 1960. Ideology and Utopia. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Phillips, Derek L. 1974. ‘‘Epistemology and the Sociology of Knowledge: The Contributions of Mannheim, Mills and Merton”. Theory and Society vol. 2, pp. 59–88. Pooper, Karl. 1976. Poverty of Historicism. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Rosen, George. 1958. A History of Public Health. New York: M D Publications. Said, Edward. 1979. Orientalism. New York: Vintage. Williams, Karel. 1974. “Unproblematic Archaeology”, Economy and Society, vol. 3, pp. 41–68.

3 Relevance of the Marxist Approach to the Study of Indian Society* A.R. Desai

1 The Fifteenth All India Sociological Conference is being held at a very crucial period in the history of independent India. It is being held on the threshold of a new decade, the eighties of this remarkable century, a decade which is likely to be crucial not merely for the Indian society, and the third world countries, but also for the entire humanity, a decade which is likely to be a period of gigantic disillusionments, titanic turmoils, stormy struggles, and according to some, a decade of cyclonic social explosions. During the last three decades, the Indian society has experienced a crucial transformation in its various domains of social existence. The post-war partition, the communal holocaust, the unparalleled migrations of Hindus and Muslims, the elimination of Princely States, the formation of the Indian Union, the framing of the Constitution of India, and the active participation of the State in undertaking the task of overcoming backwardness, through Industrial Policy Resolutions and a series of Five-Year Plans based on the postulates of mixed-economy indicative of capitalist planning, have brought out significant changes in the Indian society, its economy, polity, education, class and caste


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configuration as well as its social and cultural spheres. The broad contours of these change are becoming clear exhibiting alarming trends with the passage of decades, causing grave concern about the nature of this transformation. Sensitive minds have started categorising the three decades of planning successively as “Decade of Hope”, “Decade of Despair” and “Dacade of Discontent”. Some of the scholars wedded to modernizing theories as formulated by ideologues of advanced capitalist countries of the West, have started prognosticating “Breakdown of Modernization” in the Third World countries including India. In fact, futurologists, who sometime back were working out ‘detailed forecasts’ about the configuration of various aspects of human society and their national sections, have started becoming concerned about the possibility of social explosions during the coming decade, which may upset all their calculations about the profile they have worked out about a.d. 2000 and onwards. One of the major events, relevant to our profession, that took place during the last thirty years is a relatively massive growth of higher education in the form of large-scale expansion of university and other specialised institutional complexes. More than hundred universities, with a few thousand colleges attached to them, dozens of specialised research and other institutions, have emerged with social sciences gaining considerable respectability. Trained human power in social sciences, in the form of sizable body of teachers, researchers and students has emerged. It can be counted in terms of a few lakhs. Knowledge generators and knowledge transmitters are operating on a big scale on the national scene. Even in sociology and social anthropology there is a sizable growth of this trained human power, whose number will run into thousands. Funds for research have also been made available on a fairly big scale compared to that during the British period. The publications such as Survey Reports of Indian Council of Social Science Research, other institutions and individuals recording and reviewing the researches done in sociology, social anthropology, social demography, social work and other related fields reveal massive output of researches, carried out during the last thirty years. Researches cover numerous fields and diverse themes. Caste, family, scheduled tribes, scheduled castes, election, education, village communities, land reforms, urbanisation, industrial relations, demography, health, family-planning, position of women, and a host of other themes have been covered as listed and analysed in great



detail in some of the reports and survey documents. The list of micro-studies, either of specific survey type or involving intense field work, adopting sophisticated tools of data collection and involving complex statistical techniques of correlations would run into thousands, revealing vast proliferation of such studies in different domains of Indian social reality. During the last thirty years, as stressed by a number of eminent scholars, the pursuers of the discipline, have acquired greater technical skills in data generation, fair amount of sophistication and precision in observing and recording the data, and skills in processing and analysis of data generated, Recent publications such as the “Experiences and Encounters” or “Field Workers and the Field” reveal the anguishing experiences of the researchers conducting micro-studies in terms of field work difficulties, and value conflicts involved in field and other researches. They also reveal poignantly the technical, financial, and organisational hurdles and pressures involved in conducting these micro-studies by individual or team of researchers. They thus indicate the growing awareness about methodological issues involved in collecting data in such micro-surveys and field studies. It can be said with a sense of assurance that the institutional framework, in the form of universities and other research centres which has emerged after Independence, has acquired the shape of gigantic knowledge factory, engaged in large-scale manufacture of knowledge products comprised of micro-surveys and micro-field reports. Of late, it is increasingly being realized that there is something basically disturbing about the entire enterprise of knowledge production and dissemination in social sciences. The quality of, the objective behind, the function performed and interests served by the massive products churned out by social science knowledge industry, exhibit very undesirable features. It is also being felt that a proper appraisal of the social function of this emerging knowledge has become urgent. Some of the practitioners of this discipline have realized the need to examine at a deeper level, whether the knowledge generated by them through researches and transmitted through teaching and publications, helps to grasp the real nature of the transformation that is being brought about in the Indian society and to locate the central tendencies of transformation that is taking place in it. It is also felt necessary to examine whether the knowledge generated helps to unravel objectively and precisely the impact of this transformation on various classes and sections


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of population. Some concerned social scientists have developed genuine anxiety about the efficacy of the knowledge generated by sociologists and other scientists. Does this knowledge help one to clearly discern the essential pattern of configuration of the society which is being created by the rulers of India, through the basic normative postulates codified in the Constitution and the property premises accepted in the strategy of development embodied in the Policy Resolutions for different fields and in the Plans? Some of the sensitive scholars have even started questioning the basic objective of the entire educational system, which generates certain type of knowledge-products in India. Is the educational system, the main industry involved in knowledge generation and knowledge transmission, not a device of pedagogy of the oppressor, instead of consciousness raiding pedagogy of the oppressed? We will summarize the assessment made by sociologists and social anthropologists about the quality, direction, relevance, and significance of the knowledge generated upto now. The chief ingredients of the feeling of unease expressed about the state of our discipline are culled from the writings of various scholars, the presidential addresses during the last two All India Sociological Conferences, and from the special numbers of certain journals including the October issue of Seminar entitled “Studying Our Society”. We will enumerate the major limitations pointed out in these writings, in phrases almost taken bodily from the writings of the scholars. 1. Growing feeling of unease about the very direction and purpose of this pursuit. 2. “Many of the cherished assumptions that informed and inspired the discipline, now leave the practitioners cold and unconvinced.” 3. Theoretical models and conceptual frames of reference coveted upto now appear of doubtful validity. 4. Several methods of research to comprehend social reality of India found inappropriate and of doubtful value to unravel the true trend of transformation. 5. Sociological teaching and research cast in colonial mould even after three decades of Independence. This sets limits to its range, constricts its vision, blunts its purpose and saps its creativity. The discipline finds itself in the tragic situation because it has opted to function within a framework of dependency, as a satellite system rather than autonomous. 6. Lack of awareness of Indian sociological tradition. 7. Sociology torn from Indology and history.



8. Over-scientific and consequently dehumanized tone of much of contemporary sociology. 9. Sociology upto now has been a science not imbued with social concern “a discipline without human meaning and purpose”. 10. Sociologists “unresponsive to the advent of freedom in significant manner— showing unmistakable symptoms of captive mind, imitating Western pattern under the guise of cultivating “international science” without any sense of guilt or even qualms of conscience. 11. Sociology in India, largely a discipline of borrowed concepts and methods derived from high prestige centres of learning in the affluent West, especially in the U.S.A. and U.K. resulting into chasing the high prestige models and plunged into quick sands of pseudo-intellection. 12. Uncritical acceptance of foreign models and techniques without assessing their relevance for or suitability to Indian conditions leading to distortion of perspective and stunted growth of Indian sociology. 13. Imitating the Western models and keeping in view the type of work that enjoys popularity and prestige elsewhere rather than what country needs. (1) This determined the priorities of research. (2) Significant part of the work is addressed not to the people, or even professional colleagues in India, but to peers and mentors abroad. 14. Involved in hardening the boundaries of discipline, carving out its own empire, developing restrictive segmental perspective, and developing an allergy towards insights and postulates of other disciplines. Similarly involved in fruitless debates over artificial distinction between pure and applied research. 15. Engaged through a series of logical acrobatics, tortuous statistical procedures, and mystifying model building, and arriving at convoluted generalizations that often turn out to be statements of obvious, their pseudo-profound terminology notwithstanding. 16. Consciously cultivating only a few styles of sociology, and investing far too much effort in the pursuit of the trite and the trivial. 17. The mask of profound scholarship often hiding puerile and vacuous ideas, only offering terminological satisfaction with no operational guidelines. 18. Sociologists have to shed their Narcissism and misdirected quest. 19. Sociologists have not still related themselves to the people and their problems and are still reveling in counter-productive intellectualism. 20. Our sociology does not address itself to the living concerns of today and tomorrow. It is not identifying critical problems, pose right questions and device appropriate procedures of investigation. As a result they are not able to contribute meaningfully towards resolving many dilemmas of development. 21. Indian sociology has yet to establish its credibility with people and policy makers.


A.R. Desai 22. Adoption of value-free stance and posture of neutrality, but still consciously or unconsciously accepting uncritically the values adopted by policy makers about the “desired type of society”. 23. Indian society is subjected to a conscious transformation and change in a specific direction by policy makers. The social scientists pursue their researches of this changing social reality on the basis of accepting a historic, static, synchronic, structural-functional model based on an equilibrium assumption. Sociology has been more at home in the equilibrium system and stability models. 24. The discipline as it is practised is ill-prepared for meaningful handling of  the ferment within the Third World and convulsion that it is experiencing. 25. The discipline generally confines its concerns to small-scale units and segments as autonomous systems, torn of its context of the larger society. 26. Adopting a value free posture, it is shaky in determining the criteria of relevance of research, avoiding undertaking of analytical handling of gut issues, developing a tendency to skirt around them and get distracted towards activities that have limited scientific value and of peripheral interest. 27. In action strategies, the discipline supports the tendency which is more towards the maintenance of status quo through minor adjustments and modifications here and there.

4 The list though not exhaustive is formidable enough to cause grave anxiety about the state of discipline, at least among those who are practitioners of this discipline. It demands a thorough examination of the causes which have led to such a state of affairs in the profession that has proliferated so extensively during the last thirty years. It should also be noted that unease about sociological research and teaching indicated above is voiced ironically by the very sociologists and social anthropologists who have played crucial role in shaping the very approaches for teaching and research in sociology, and have been largely responsible in expounding the paradigms that have shaped sociological studies, which have resulted in the production of knowledge products described earlier. The unease is basically voiced by the very scholars who have acted as influential entrepreneurs, who have played important role in establishing the institutional enterprises called sociology departments, research centres, and institutions, which were infused with the



very paradigms that resulted in the present type of studies. Further, the discontent is voiced against only some elements of the accepted paradigms. The scholars do not break away from the major assumptions underlying the paradigms which dominate sociology after the second World War. The conservative and liberal paradigms systematized by Talcott Parsons and Robert Merton in the U.S.A. and parallely crystalized by Radcliffe-Brown and others in anthropology in U.K. still underlie the practice of sociological discipline refined further by Dahrendorf, Rex and some other scholars. The critics themselves, by and large, still operate on the basis of the same framework of approach against which they voice discontent. They do not go deeper and examine the real reasons as to why the paradigms which they pursued have resulted either in the debacle that has taken place in sociological enterprise or has been playing a supportive function for the rulers of this country. I would also like to draw attention to some features of the description of limitations as formulated by these scholars. The limitations are presented in phraseology which takes a very nebulous form such as “colonial framework”, “western models”, “lacking Indianness”, “lack of social concern”, “super-scienticism”, ‘“sterile intellection”, “not establishing credibility with people and policy makers”, “generally confining its concern to small-scale units and segments as autonomous system torn of its context of larger society”, “not addressing itself to living concerns of today and tomorrow”, “not identifying critical problems”, “pose light questions”, “value-free posture”, “in action strategies”, “the discipline supports tendency which maintain status quo through minor adjustments and modifications here and there”, etc. There is no clear spelling out of what all these mean. Further, there is no deeper discussion of whether the maladies described here are rooted in the dominant “style of sociology” which is being overwhelmingly pursued in the country and based on specific paradigms mentioned earlier. I have drawn attention to these aspects of the problems for two reasons: (1) The dominant approaches which shaped sociological studies have been basically non-Marxist. The practitioners and advocates of dominant approaches have always adopted an attitude wherein the potential of Marxist approach to understand the Indian reality has been bypassed,


A.R. Desai underrated or summarily dismissed prima facie by castigating it as dogmatic, value biased and, therefore, lacking objectivity and value neutrality. (2) In spite of recognizing the sorry state of affairs to which sociology has been reduced, there is a furious endeavour, excepting by a few scholars, to seek other sociological approaches which would somehow or other bypass the Marxist approach, such as phenomenological, ethno-methodological or other subjectivist, idealist, culturo-logical approaches, which are taking these scholars farther from the relevant sociological inquiries on crucial issues which the Indian society is experiencing, namely its immense poverty, growing inequality and other aspects of its backwardness.

The basic tasks facing the sociologists in our country are therefore: (1) To search for a relevant approach which will uplift the sociological studies from the morass in which they are bogged down. (ii) To discover or evolve an approach which will pose relevant questions with regard to the Indian society as it is existing and transforming today. (iii) To evolve an approach which can discover the specific structural features of the Indian society, by properly comprehending the nature and type of society which is in the process of being transformed in certain direction, and help us to grasp the central tendency of transformation with its full implications in terms of removing backwardness and eliminating poverty and inequality. (iv) To evolve a relevant approach which will help us to assess the impact of measures adopted, the policies pursued, the classes relied upon by the Indian State, which is the most active agency of transformation of the Indian society by adopting a policy of Indicative Planning based on mixed-economy postulates for development proclaimed to overcome backwardness of the Indian society. (v) To adopt an approach which will examine the transformation within different sub-domains of the Indian society, treating them not as autonomous isolates, unconnected, but as part of totality of Indian social system experiencing changes in the context of the needs of transformation that is being brought about in the society as a whole. It means that social scientists shall have to get out of the clutches of the social science as it is practised today, which is characterized very aptly by C. Wright Mills as a social science of narrow focus, the trivial detail, the abstracted almighty, unimportant fact, a social science having little or no concern with the pivotal events and historic acceleration characteristics of our immediate times . . . the social science which studies ‘‘the details of small-scale milieu” knowing little history and “studying at the most short run trends”.



Is there an approach in social science which can fulfill these functions so essential to understand the social transformation that is taking place in India? Is there an alternative paradigm, model of inquiry, conceptual structure, a framework which would help in understanding the Indian society, b) raising appropriate questions, appropriate evidence to answer the questions, and which would elaborate appropriate methods and use adequate techniques to undertake research to correctly comprehend the transformation of the Indian reality? As practitioners of science all of us are aware that “for a scientific discipline to progress, it is necessary to do a great deal of work on the basis of a specific paradigm. A paradigm specifies many things that are needed to do scientific work. It specifies basic assumptions, about nature of the subject matter to be studied, and the basic concepts to be used in studying it. It specifies the range of phenomena to be considered, the central problem to be studied, and specific theories composed of hypotheses and laws about the phenomena. It also specifies the research methods to be used in providing hypotheses and the basic values that guide inquiry. Of all these things the basic assumptions and concepts are most central since they tend to shape everything else.”

6 It is my submission that the paradigm evolved by Marx, if adopted consciously, even as a heuristic device, would provide this alternative approach for conducting fruitful and relevant researches about the Indian society. On the basis of a few studies adopting this approach, including my own, I can emphasize that the adoption of the Marxist paradigm is the most relevant framework that can help in comprehending properly the transformation that is taking place in the Indian society and its various sub-systems. The Marxist approach helps one to raise relevant questions, to conduct the researches in the right direction, enables one to formulate adequate hypotheses, assists one to evolve proper concepts, adopt and combine appropriate research techniques, and can help one to locate the central tendencies of transformation with its major implications. It can also help to explain the reasons why academic establishments evolved to subserve certain functions in capitalist societies both of the First and the Third World countries adopt an attitude of basic reluctance to accept Marxist paradigms and permit studies


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on that basis as a small struggling current and that too under certain historic conjunctures. It will be appreciated that it is not possible for me to unfold here, the basic ontological, epistemological, and other underlying assumptions, constituting the Marxist paradigm. Nor is it possible to elaborate on categories of concepts, range of phenomena considered significant for studying specific domain, the crucial hypotheses projected in different spheres, propositions about certain specific correlations, the distinction and also connection between essence and appearance, embodied in the Marxist paradigm. Nor is it possible to explain about formulation of certain law-like propositions applicable across ages with regard to the human species as a distinctive entity, which has evolved on the planet earth, retaining some basic essential ingredients, distinguishing it from other species; nor sociological generalizations, applicable to all class societies, and specific laws applicable only to capitalist societies and still more, other law-like statements pertaining to sub-domains belonging to particular socioeconomic formation. It is also not possible to discuss the insights provided for understanding the mechanism of transformation, embodied in the Marxist paradigm. I wish the social science practitioners in India breakthrough the atmosphere of allergy towards this profound and infuential approach and create climate to study the growing body of literature articulating various aspects of Marxist paradigm. This will also be necessary if meaningful and relevant researches are to be carried out in India. I will highlight here certain crucial aspects of the Marxist approach, which will prove relevant for explaining the type of transformation that is taking place in the Indian society. The Marxist approach to understand any society and changes therein, distinguishes itself by emphasizing the need to initiate an investigation of social phenomenon in the context of the basic, and primary, almost life giving, activity carried on by human beings viz. production through instruments of production, to extract, and fabricate products from the nature so essential for the survival and persistence of human species. Marx himself has formulated the basic significance of this activity in the following words: “Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion, or by anything one likes. They themselves begin to distinguish themselves from animals, as soon as they begin to produce their means of subsistence. In producing their means



of subsistence men indirectly produce their actual material life. The way in which men produce their means of subsistence depends in the first place on the nature of the existing means which they have to reproduce. The mode of production should not be regarded simply as the reproduction of physical existence of individuals. It is already a definite form of activity of these individuals, a definite way of expressing their life, a definite mode of life. As individuals express their life, so they are. What they are, therefore, coincides with their production, with what they produce, and with how much they produce it. What individuals are, therefore, depends on the material condition of their production”. Further “This conception of history, therefore, rests on exposition of real processes of production, starting out from the simple material production of life, and on the comprehension of the form of intercourse connected with and created by this mode of production i.e. of Civil Society and its various stages as the basis of all history.” “The whole previous conception of history has either completely neglected this real basis of history or has considered it a secondary matter without any connection with the course of history . . . We must begin by stating the presupposition of all human existence and therefore, of all history, namely, that men must be in a position to live in order to be able to make history. But life involves before everything else, eating and drinking, a habitation, clothing and many other things. The first historical act is, therefore, the production of material life itself. This is indeed a historical act, a fundamental condition of all history, which today as thousands of years ago, must be accomplished every day, and every hour to sustain human life”. And Marx emphasizes: “Therefore, the first requirement is to observe this basic fact in all its significance and all its implications and to give its proper importance.” The Marxist approach demands from every one, endeavouring to understand social reality, to be clear about the nature of means of production, the techno-economic division of labour involved in operating the instruments of production, and social relations of production or what are more precisely characterized as property relations. Marxist approach considers property relations as crucial because they shape the purpose, nature, control, direction, and objectives underlying the production. And further property relations determine the norms about who shall get how much and on what grounds. As rightly pointed out by Robin Blackburn, what defines the specificity of any society is its


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property system. Marxist approach to understand post-independent Indian society will focus on the specific type of property relations which existed on the eve of independence and which are being elaborated, by the State, as the active agent of transformation both in terms of elaborating legal-normative notions as well in terms of working out actual policies pursued for development and transformation of Indian society into a prosperous, developed one. The Marxist approach adopting the criteria of taking property relations to define the nature of society, will help the Indian scholars to designate the type of society, the class character of the State and the specificness of the path of development with all the implications. I would like to draw attention to a deep prejudicial attitude among scholars to the Marxist approach. It is commonly believed that Marxism is a form of naive economic determinism, or that it treats economic factor as the sole factor determining every aspect of human life. Marx, as we have seen even in his preliminary formulation, is not trying to reduce everything in economic terms. In fact, he was engaged in pointing out crucial importance of the basic activity, namely, the activity of producing things, for survival and persistence of mankind. He was rather attempting to uncover the inter-relationship between this basic activity, characterized as “economic” activity, and other activities, and forms of organizations commonly described as ‘“non-economic” in the totality of social existence by pointing out how social relations of production i.e. property relations which shape the vital activity needed for very survival, persistence and development of human species, should be viewed as axial for understanding any society and the changes that take place within it. Marx also pointed out that different subformations within a society would be understood adequately if seen in the context of the historical level of means of production and the nature of property relations which shape and provide the resource availability and resource allocation for different institutions constituting that society. As Paul Sweezy has aptly put “Historical Materialism is above all a method of approaching social questions not as a set of formulas. The kernel of this approach is examination of the contradiction between the forces of production and relations of production”. The Marxist approach has conceived social science in a comprehensive manner, and is not inhibited by the boundary lines of academic disciplines. It also does not study various aspects of specific social



formation, torn of the total context, and autonomously, but examines them in the context and specifically related to and basically shaped by the totality of specific society. In the Marxist approach, history is “the shank” of all well conducted studies of man and society. The Marxist approach also demands that specific society should be studied as a historically changing system, comprised of contradictory forces, some of which sustain and others which change that society. It views specific society as emerging, developing, subsequently declining and ultimately either emerging into a qualitatively new higher type of society or disintegrating. The Marxist approach thus endeavours to locate, within a specific society, the forces which preserve and forces which prompt it to change, i.e., the forces driving it to take a leap into a new or a higher form of social organization, which would unleash the productive power of mankind to a next higher level. In short, the Marxist approach gives central importance to property structure in analysing any society. It provides “historical location or specification of all social phenomenon”. The Marxist approach develops a matrix for concrete studies of a particular phenomenon of a specific type of society in the context of all pervading property relations. The Marxist approach “recognizes the dialectics of evolutionary as well as revolutionary changes, of the occurrence of breaks in historical continuity in the transition from one socioeconomic formation to another”. The Marxist approach, in contrast to other sociological approaches exhibits one distinguishing feature. By and large, modern sociology has ignored property relation or has assigned it a secondary place, in analysing the total social system. In fact sociology almost prides in appearing as a science of non property aspect of social life. All other sociological approaches avoid making “mode of production of material life” as one of the fundamental categories. The Marxist approach adopts “mode of production of material life” as one of the fundamental categories. During the last thirty years, Indian society is actively being reshaped to overcome backwardness, poverty, inequality to be transformed into a “prosperous”, “developed” and “‘culturally” advanced modern society. The Constitution of independent India provides the major outlines of economic, political, social and cultural norms and values which would underline the framework of emerging social order. The State has undertaken the responsibility of initiating various measures—economic, political, administrative, educational, social and cultural—to augment


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resources, to distribute resources, to apportion resources to various classes, groups and organizations and also to elaborate varieties of institutions and create new ones to bring about this transition. It has laid down certain major policy decisions; has declared to rely upon certain classes to be the active agents of augmenting resources, and has provided them all types of incentives, inducements, subsidies, facilities, as well as created a state sector comprised of various elements, which is to function to suit the needs of these classes for augmenting resources. It has unleashed a number of currents, in the course of pursuing this path of development, which have during the last thirty years convulsed the entire social fabric, and have given rise to grave doubts about the capacity of the path pursued, to realize the objective of making India prosperous and developed. The scrutiny of differently oriented massive information about the course of development that has taken place during the last thirty years has revealed certain major trends 1. India has remained one of the poorest countries in the world both in terms of GNP and per capita income, even after thirty years of development. 2. India’s population has remained poor and continues to suffer the most acute inequality. The inequalities of wealth and income distribution are increasing. The same is true of social and educational opportunities. In the context of the caste system inequalities have tended to assume sharper, more weird, and anguishing forms. 3. The rate of economic growth has remained low and has proved in the sixties and seventies that even this rate has experienced jerks and at times even some retrogression. 4. As revealed by several studies, even according to the most conservative estimate, approximately 40 per cent of the population live below poverty line at 1961 price level. These studies also reveal that developmental process, as viewed in the total context, has been aggravating the problem of poverty. 5. Accumulating evidence points to concentration of income in the upper circles. The growth of inequality is reflected also in the trend of asset concentration This seems to be true of ownership of land or other assets in rural India, as well as of capital, income, of ownership of houses and other durable goods. 6. As studies relating to monopolies clearly reveal, concentration of assets, resources and income is growing at a very rapid rate even among the capitalist groups. 7. Small-scale industries with higher capital investment and using power are expanding at the cost of handicraft industries of the rural artisan classes.



8. Concentration of landholding and other assets in the hands of a tiny minority of landlords and rich farmers, corresponded by pauperization and proletarization at the bottom, has emerged as a distinct trend after independence. 9. Unemployment has increased at a very rapid rate. Volume of unemployment can easily be placed in the range of eighteen to twenty million. In the context of market and money economy, such a dimension of unemployment reveals an alarming growth of inequality and misery. 10. Studies assessing the condition of women, the scheduled castes and scheduled tribes reveal further deterioration of economic conditions and growing social oppression of the overwhelming majority of these groups. 11. Educational opportunities are so created as to be accessible to those who have resources to buy them. This tends to accentuate social inequality in the country. 12. Studies on urbanization reveal that the evolving urban socio-cultural pattern enables a small minority of affluent section to claim a lion’s share of urban amenities at the cost of the bulk of the population. 13. Studies reveal that the State, with the growing discontent and assertion of the masses is increasingly retrenching its welfare functions, expanding its repressive functions and is resorting to measures which curb the civil liberties and democratic rights at an accelerating tempo.

These developments clearly reveal that the State has assumed property norms of capitalist society as the axis of developmental strategy. Sociologists wedded to non-Marxist approaches have not explicitly defined the path of development pursued by the State as capitalist path and the State of India as capitalist State. If the scholarly sociological fraternity had adopted the Marxist approach which inaugurates any enquiry about any society by examining the underlying nature of the property relations it could have given them the clue about these central tendencies that have emerged in India during the last thirty years as almost a logical consequence of the capitalist path of development pursued by the State. I pose a question before the social scientists who have assembled here. Can these emerging central tendencies be explained in proper causal form without adopting Marxist approach, which distinguishes itself from others, by posing gut questions, namely the questions about the nature of property and class relations which provide the axis of specific society, and which is accepted as the framework within which India’s development has been undertaken? Can this pattern of development be explained, unless it is grasped that the State has assumed only


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certain classes, as approved and chief ones to operate as main agents for augmentation of wealth and overall development? And can this be explained except by adopting the Marxist approach? Can the central trend of development which hurls vast mass of toiling People in the fathomless abyss of pauperization, proletarianization, unemployment, underemployment and even lumpen existence be understood except by locating this trend as caused by the State pursuing capitalist path of development in poor ex-colonial Indian society? Without recognizing that the path of development is capitalist path of development can one explain non-inclusion of enormous amount of use values produced by women during their domestic work in the national income of the country? Marx has given the explanation of this phenomenon in the opening sentence of the epoch making Das Kapital. “Wealth of societies in which capitalist mode of production prevails appears as an immense collection of commodities”. Is the very fact that use values produced by women in their homes are not included as wealth because they are not commodities, in contemporary India, a positive proof that the path pursued is capitalist path of development and the society which is emerging is a capitalist society? Similarly can the expansion, diversification and even transformation of market into a bizarre, weird octopus-like network comprised of ration, fair, open, black, super black categories during the last thirty years be understood except by acknowledging that the path pursued by the State is capitalist path of development? It is unfortunate that overwhelming sections of the practitioners of our discipline, pursuing non-Marxist approach have never defined clearly the nature of path of development pursued by the State in India. Nor have they undertaken studies attempting to explain this vital phenomena of the Indian society. The Marxist approach considers that focusing on the type of property relations prevailing in the Indian society as crucial-axial element for properly understanding the nature of transformation that has been taking place in the country. This approach does not demand crude reducing of every phenomena to economic factor; it also does not deny the autonomy, or prevalence of distinct institutional and normative features peculiar to a particular society. For instance it does not deny the necessity of understanding the peculiar institution like caste system, religious, linguistic or tribal groups or even specific cultural traditions peculiar to the Indian society. The Marxist approach in fact endeavours



to understand their role and the nature of their transformation in the larger context of the type of society which is being evolved, and understand them in the matrix of underlying over-all property relations and norms implicit therein which pervasively influence the entire social economic formation. It is my submission that adoption of the Marxist approach will also help to study the industrial relations, not merely as management-labour relations, but as capital-labour relations, and also in the context of the State wedded to capitalist path of development, shaping these relations. Similarly the Marxist approach will help to understand the dynamics of rural, urban, educational and other developments, better as it will assist the exploration of these phenomena in the larger context of the social framework which is being created by the State shaping the development on capitalist path of development. The Marxist approach also will help to understand why institutions generating higher knowledge—products, sponsored, financed and basically shaped by the State, pursuing a path of capitalist development will not basically allow the paradigms and approaches to study, which may expose the myth spread about State as welfare neutral State and reveal it as basically a capitalist State.

8 The Conference is being held, as indicated earlier on the threshold of a very explosive decade, wherein the Indian society will unfold gigantic convulsions and titanic struggles, which will affect not merely the discipline of social science, but also the life of practitioners of this discipline, in their role as researchers, teachers, students and citizens. At this juncture I am reminded of a significant observation made by Don Martindale about origin and function of sociology as a discipline. “Sociology was born as a conservative answer to socialism . . . . Only conservative ideology was able to establish the discipline. The linkage between science and reformist social attitudes (e.g. Scientific Socialism) was served. In renouncing political activism, sociology became respectable into the ivy-covered halls of Universities. It was received as a scientific justification of existing Social order . . . as an area of study for stable young men (rather than as a breeding ground for wild-eyed radicals).” Is this observation not equally true for sociology as a discipline in India today? Will the dominant gestalt of the academic establishment


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permit actively the growth and blossoming of an approach, which does not renounce political activism, and which is relevant but critical of existing social order? Even if the academic establishment permits it to a limited extent, will the Stare, which is becoming a hard State towards those who oppose its path of development, tolerate for a long time this critical approach? Practitioners of social science will have to face a serious intellectual and ethical dilemma to seek security and respectability by evolving justification for the path pursued by the rulers in the country, or develop courage, and readiness for consequences involved in adopting an approach, which would generate and disseminate knowledge, relevant to those who suffer and have intensified their struggles against the forces led actively by the State wedded to capitalist path of development, to counteract the consequences of the path, and to create conditions for pursuing an alternate non-capitalist path of development which would unleash the productive potentials of vast working population and ensure equitable distribution.

Note * Presidential Address delivered at the 15th All India Sociological Conference, Meerut (U.P.) Jan. 81.

4 Altruistic Suicide: A Subjective Approach Lung-Chang Young


lthough Durkheim’s general theory of suicide has inspired numerous studies, the particular topic of altruism and altruistic suicide has remained somewhat underdeveloped. This paper, therefore, has a twofold objective: (a) to present a critical review of Durkheim’s analysis of altruism, deriving therefrom some tenets that would contribute to a new framework for analyzing the behaviour of altruistic suicide; and (b) to illustrate the efficacy of the suggested framework with an historical investigation of the suicide of chaste females recorded in the Ch’ing period of China (1644–1912).

A Review of Durkheim’s Altruism Durkheim’s analysis of altruism constitutes an integral part of his typology of suicide, which is too well-known to warrant a summary here. The following review centres around four sets of coordinate concepts that require further clarification: (a) existence and extent of suicidal behaviour; (b) objective types and subjective meanings; (c) altruistic behaviour and fatalistic behaviour; and (d) primitive society and Eastern civilization. Existence and Extent of Suicidal Behaviour. Sociological studies of suicide have been focused upon the problem of variable rates. While a few of


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such studies may be cited to support the thesis of altruism that the suicide rate varies directly with the extent of social integration or the degree to which a society is closely structured (e.g. Strauss and Strauss 1953), the majority tend to adhere to an inverse relationship between the two variables. This relationship is prominent whether the factor of integration is inferred from the strength of interpersonal relation (Henry and Short 1954) or status configuration (Gibbs and Martin 1964). The case of altruism thus posed as a barrier for contemporary sociologists in their quest for a unified theory of suicide. In an attempt to remove this barrier, two views have appeared in the literature. One view accepts the case of altruism as valid and treats it either as a special case of social integration (Gibbs and Martin 1964) or as an inherent part of a U-shaped function of over- and under-involvement in the dominant ideology of the society (Powell 1958). The other view rejects altruism as “proper object of study” (Johnson 1965). The first view assumes a reversal of the general trend of decline in the suicide rate when the pressures of group life and its ideology increase to certain extent. Yet the argument lacks adequate factual support. Basically, the question whether high integration would cause high rate of suicide is not satisfactorily answered in Durkheim’s own work, as Johnson (1965) challenged that “in the absence of statistics an inference of a high rate from norms alone is of dubious validity.” Recent studies have illuminated little the historical past. The “rare” or “common” case of altruistic suicide found in already disintegrated societies is not an adequate basis for the construction of a rate (Labovitz 1968). To be sure, detailed studies of suicide in various highly integrated primitive groups are available, but they show a marked variation in suicide rate, ranging from 0.7 per 100,000 for the New Guinea population (Hosking, et al. 1969) to 53 on Tikopia island (Firth 1961). The second view seems more acceptable if our major concern is suicide rate only. Yet, by questioning the problem of rate, one does not have to deny the validity of Durkheim’s brilliant analysis of the altruistic suicidal behaviour observed in highly integrated societies. This analysis is too significant to be ignored. In Durkheim’s work the problems of suicide rate and suicidal behaviour are often intermingled. But these problems for Durkheim do not necessarily refer to the same dimension of social phenomena, as Firth (1961) has clarified:



The behavior of suicide is an index of social rigidity, but the incidence—that is, rate—of suicide is an index of the degree of deviance in the society. With societies of equivalent rigidity in norms of conduct there may be different degrees of deviance, depending, for example, upon the character of personal goals, variation in the resources available for satisfying them, and so forth.

Thus, the existence and extent of the altruistic suicidal behaviour alone deserve attention because they can be taken as a useful indicator of social rigidity, even if they reveal little about the degree of social deviance. Objective Types and Subjective Meanings. As Parsons (1949: 385–388) noted, in following out the problem of social control Durkheim has progressed through the conception of control as subjection to naturalistic causation and that of avoidance of sanctions, to laying primary emphasis on the subjective sense of moral obligation, and his theory of moral obligation was derived by a process of analysis of the action of the concrete individual from the subjective point of view. Perhaps nowhere is his concern with the meaningful individual act more evident than in his treatment of the altruistic suicide. The typical actor is described as the one who “must consider he has no life of his own;” whose “melancholy springs from hope, for it depends on the belief in a beautiful perspective beyond his life;” who “must possess the serene conviction derived from the feeling of duty accomplished;” and finally, “a burst of faith and enthusiasm carried the man to his death” (Durkheim 1951: 225, 283). Assuming that such a hypothesis was close to the true state of mind of some Christian martyrs, we are still far from being sure that the same kind of serene feeling could be shared by the pale and quivering Brahmin widow walking slowly around her husband’s pyre, or by the publicly denounced young incestuous lover of the Trobriand Island on the verge of jumping to his death from the top of a palm tree (Malinowski 1926). Clearly, individuals performing the ostensibly same act of altruism might differ from one another in the subjective meaning they ascribe to the acts. The meaning assigned by Durkheim is merely a reflection of the collective values cognizant only to the social scientist. It might not correspond to the typified meaning understood by the members of the group. Nor could it be the real meaning emerged from the psychodynamics of the individual at the time he decided to kill himself.


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As Schutz (1962: 48–66) argued, all scientific explanations of the social world can, and for certain purposes must, refer to the subjective meaning of the actions of human beings from which social reality originates. In this regard Durkheim was no exception, especially when he sought to explain suicidal behaviour, which is after all a meaningful act. But Durkheim’s subjective-meaning constructs need to be improved, because they were formed on the basis of his grand theoretical assumptions without taking into account the common-sense experiences of the actor on the social scene. Altruistic Behaviour and Fatalistic Behaviour. Sociologists are aware of Durkheim’s ambiguous use of the term “social”, referring it indiscriminately to what we now call social and cultural spheres. This terminological flaw is minor and it has been rectified in current literature. The major shortcoming, however, stems from his overemphasis on the distinction between the two spheres without working out systematically the logical interrelations between them (Bellah 1959: 460). On the theoretical level it is important for Durkheim to emphasize this distinction in order to construct his typology. However, students preoccupied with empirical problems are often puzzled by the question: how can persons be socially integrated without being culturally regulated or vice versa? (Gibbs 1966). Various writers have pointed out the difficulty in empirically separating anomic from egoistic suicide (Johnson 1965; Gibbs 1966; Bohannan 1960). Johnson (1965) even went further by arguing that there is no conceptual distinction between them. If it is generally true that anomic and egoistic suicide constitute a conjugate pair, we should also expect that altruistic suicide (high social integration) and Durkheim’s briefly mentioned fatalistic suicide (high cultural regulation) may not be easily distinguishable on the empirical level. In our view, these two types should be treated as twin sisters nursed in the same type of socio-cultural system. Their differences can be sought only from the subjective meaning of suicidal action (Dohrenwend 1959). If a person commits suicide to fulfill his duty, his psychological state may either be one of “serene conviction” (altruism), or it may be one of extreme fear or despair (fatalism). The difference, of course, depends on the degree of his internalizing the values of the society that provide meaning for his act. Judging from the fact that moral values (or the collective conscience) are always segmentally internalized and differentially



interpreted by members of a society, we share the criticism that Durkheim has underestimated the frequency of fatalistic suicide (Hendin 1969). Primitive Society and Eastern Civilization. Durkheim has been criticized for his ambiguity about what he called “lower societies” from which examples of altruism were drawn (Johnson 1965). Under this general title were lumped together elementary tribal groups and such major civilizations as India and China. It was assumed that these various societies were similarly characterized by a highly integrated network of human relations and a rigid system of norms. By emphasizing the similarity, Durkheim left little room for discussing the major differences between simple and complex societies relevant to his thesis. Variations in both suicide rate and suicidal behaviour among these societies must be explained in terms of their differences. In the first place, if group size and degree of division of labour have anything to do with the nature of social integration, the complex societies in the East could not have been as highly integrated as the small preliterate tribes. In traditional India, for example, the numerous sub-castes and linguistic groups did not constitute an integrated society. The traditional Chinese society rather resembled “a heap of loose sand,” to use a turn-of-thecentury characterization by Dr. Sun Yat-sen. With regard to the nature of the normative system, the differences between simple and complex societies were even greater. Moral ideals of the Eastern civilizations were usually crystallized through a long process of dynamic synthesis between what Redfield (1960: 42ff ) called the great tradition and the little tradition. In preliterate societies, however, the great tradition was usually nonexistent. As a result of the vertical diffusion of norms in a large society, those idealized normative elements developed directly from the philosophical or religious thought of the great tradition tended to limit their regulative power to a small segment of the population and move further away from the actual rules of conduct observed by the masses. In the process of change there would also appear conflicting norms that could neutralize the effect of the constraint of the collective conscience. With regard to the problem of suicide, the foregoing remarks indicate that in comparison with simple societies the Eastern traditional societies might have had more varied forms of suicidal behaviour. They


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would also indicate that the incidence of the altruistic type of suicide might have dwindled continuously over the centuries in spite of shortterm fluctuations. This view agrees with the psychoanalytical theory of altruistic suicide developed by Zilboorg (1936, 1938). According to this theory, an altruistic suicide impulse is inherent in human nature; it is still the basic self-preservative instinct that drives the human ego to the fantasied ego-preservation through death. The lower the cultural milieu of the race, the more deep-seated the suicidal impulse appears. The primitive ideal of immortality has long been evolved into a sense of immortality that features prominently in the theoretical elaboration of social salvation. The fantasied immortality today can be achieved by means of books, monuments, and works of art rather than through suicide. By taking such an evolutionary perspective, Zilboorg gave insight into the problem of cultural similarities, as well as into the differences in  altruistic behaviour and suicide rate which Durkheim failed to elaborate. We conclude from the foregoing review-critique that (a) altruistic suicidal behaviour as an index of social rigidity deserves further study; (b) the study of behaviour requires an understanding of the subjective meaning of suicidal action; (c) altruistic and fatalistic suicide tend to occur together in a society but they carry different subjective meaning; and (d) primitive tribes and Eastern civilizations do not constitute a single type of altruistic society.

A Conceptual Framework This conclusion calls for a theoretical synthesis of the Durkheimian and Weberian approaches to sociology to provide a new framework for the analysis of suicidal behaviour. Both Firth (1961) and Douglas (1967) have contributed to this synthesis in their respective studies of suicide. Firth attempted to equate the behaviour of self-destruction with ostensible motives. From the large number of suicide cases in Tikopia society he identified four categories of dominant motives: loyalty, shame, anger, and grief. These motives were then fitted into Durkheim’s types of altruism and egotism respectively. Firth (1961: 11) noted that these motives and types were all ideal-type constructs, since “every suicide is in some respect an egoistic act. Yet nearly every suicide displays some regard for the norms of society.” Loyalty and shame revealed stronger elements of



altruism, while the other two motives were more egoistic in nature. Firth did not mention fatalistic suicide, but he did describe many cases of suicide by means of swimming or canoeing out to sea to escape from the isolated small island with no regard to the eventual outcome. These cases were described by the local term forau, which in meaning corresponds roughly to that of fatalism. Douglas, in his recent work, also made an effort to bring Durkheim and Weber together by stressing the “shared meaning”—belief or lack of belief—as the fundamental cause of suicide. Included in his common patterns of meanings (Douglas 1967: 284–319) were suicide action as a means of transforming the substantial self, as a means of achieving fellow-feeling, and as a means of getting revenge. Both Firth’s categories of motives and Douglas’ patterns of meanings were constructed on a relatively lower level of abstraction. They do not cover all possible variations in suicidal behaviour. Limiting the sphere of inquiry to altruistic behaviour alone, this paper suggests a different conceptual scheme consisting of the following elements: (1) We shall follow Durkheim’s basic thesis by stressing the overall sociocultural forces as the cause of suicide and accept his types as highly useful constructs. We hypothesize that a rigid social-cultural system tends to generate suicidal behaviour with strong elements of both altruism and fatalism. (2) We shall differentiate fatalism from altruism by means of socially attributed motives. To conceptualize the variety of human motives, we shall borrow an idea from Schutz (Wagner 1970: 126–129) and classify all motives into two basic kinds: the “in-order-to” motive and the “because” motive. The former kind, from the point of view of the actor, is embodied in fantasied goals or aims of the actor that are yet to be realized. The latter kind, on the other hand, refers to the actor’s life history, his past or immediate experience which induced him to act as he did. (3) Since the “real” motive for the suicide is usually unknown (unless it is revealed by the actor rescued from an unsuccessful attempt), the ostensible motives are merely typified meanings attributed to the actor by members of the social group. These motives or meanings are typified in the sense that they are always limited in scope in a given culture. The group members ascertain the motive on the basis of their knowledge of immediate events leading to the suicidal action. The motive may also be revealed by checking such clues as the life history of the actor, or by determining the method of suicide the actor has employed. From the “common-sense” interpretation of motives the social scientist is able to make a distinction of the


Lung-Chang Young “in-order-to” and the “because” motives and relate them to Durkheim’s objective types of suicide. (4) When the objective types of suicide and motives are cojoined in a propertyspace arrangement, as shown in Table 1, the result is a taxonomy for classifying empirical data of individual suicidal behaviour which can be best expressed in terms of Weber’s famous classification of social action according to its mode of orientation. Now we have four subjective types of suicidal behaviour constructed on a higher level of abstraction: value-rational, purpose-rational, traditional, and affectual.

The value-rational type covers most cases of altruistic behaviour cited in Durkheim’s work. The action of suicide is oriented toward an absolute value, be it loyalty to one’s master, duty to one’s spouse, or a firm belief in the immortality of the soul in the afterlife. The action is rational because it is deliberately chosen as a means to reach the goal. And for the same reason we must classify the actor’s motive under the “in-order-to” type. The traditional type covers those cases of suicide which outwardly resemble the first type but carry different meanings from the actor’s point of view. There is no evidence that the actor has internalized the value that legitimizes his conduct. The actor wants to kill himself for some trifling reason, because, without recourse to other alternatives provided by the culture, he regards suicide as the traditionally sanctioned behaviour under given circumstances. The way in which the individual interprets the tradition is primarily determined by his rigid personality moulded in an authoritarian type of family. For this reason his motive should be classified under the “because” category. The purpose-rational type refers to suicides occurring in a physical or domestic environment intolerable to the individual, according, of course, to what he regards as tolerable. Self-destruction is then a means to escape or a form of protest. This type of suicide is frequently observed Table 1 Subjective Types of Altruistic and Fatalistic Suicidal Behaviour Type of Suicide Type of Motive



“In-order-to” Motive

(1) Value-Rational

(3) Purpose-Rational

“Because” Motive

(2) Traditional

(4) Affectual



in simple societies (Elwin 1943). It may also occur in the army camp, in prison, on a slave ship, or even in the contemporary black ghetto (Hendin 1969). The unbearable situation may also be created by chronic or severe illness, which was listed as the number one cause of suicide in some African societies (Faller 1969) and accounted for more than one-fourth of all suicides each year in modern India (Pandey 1968). Also included in this type are the so-called “samsonic suicides” as an exercise in revenge (Jeffrey 1952) and the “manipulative suicide” as a means of controlling another’s behaviour by inducing guilt (De Vos 1968; Beall 1968). In all these cases the action is undertaken for the attainment of the actor’s own rationally chosen ends unrelated to culturally defined absolute values. The affectual type approximates the behaviour characterized by an overflow of emotions, such as fear or anger, that overshadow other factors as motives of suicide. The behaviour of the individual is determined by his immediate experience; its impulsive and violent form indicates the absence of clearly formulated goals. This type of suicide is often observed in a highly integrated and regulated society, where normative deviations are strongly sanctioned and permissible channels for releasing tension are limited (Strauss and Strauss 1953). As Weber put it, it would be very unusual to find concrete cases which were oriented only in one or another of these ways. These subjective types are ideal-type constructs with which we interpret reality. The term “rational” must not be misunderstood. A subjective rational action may be judged as completely irrational from an objective point of view. This is especially true of suicide cases. The usefulness of this classificatory scheme will be shown in the following analysis of female suicidal behaviour recorded in the Ch’ing period of China.

Female Suicide in Ch’ing China Some writers have inferred from fragmentary data that in traditional China the female suicide rate was higher than the male rate and that the rates for both sexes tended to decline with age (Levy 1949: 117). Although this estimate is subject to question (Goode 1963: 309), one often gets the unmistakable impression that the altruistic type of suicide committed by women of the younger age group represents the most


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frequently mentioned tragic event in such 19th century popular novels as the Dream of the Red Chamber. The real source of this type of behaviour must be traced to the basic features of Chinese society and culture. Very crudely and briefly stated, the social structure of traditional China was featured prominently by familism as contrary to individualism. The subordination of individual interests to family values may be exemplified by the institution of arranged marriage as well as the strongly sanctioned norms against divorce and widow remarriage. As subordinate members of the family, women and juniors were expected to perform their roles according to the popularized Confucian principles such as filial piety and chastity. These are some of the general features applicable to all social classes. In describing other features, we must take into account the class differential in behaviour. Members of the gentry class, for instance, could afford to reach the ideal of the extended family, and establish close ties with the larger kinship group. And in order to maintain their respected style of life they had to pay close attention to the Confucian rules of conduct. The peasant class members, on the other hand, were less integrated with the larger kin group, and for obvious reasons less regulated by the ideal norms than the upper crust of the stratified society. The meanings of the Confucian moral ideals were subject to manipulation by experts in legitimation from the gentry class. These ideals tended to become increasingly rigid in prescription and, therefore, increasingly difficult to attain. Developed to their extreme, these ideals literally demanded that individuals should sacrifice their own lives in order to preserve the Confucian values. Originally, suicide for moral purposes was restricted to certain categories of upper class male members under certain unusual circumstances. A defeated general, for example, would rather kill himself than surrender. A disappointed official would use suicide as a form of censure to awaken an ill-advised emperor. A condemned high-ranking official would accept suicide as a privilege granted to him by the ruler. With the popularization of the Neo-Confucian ideology developed in the 12th century, female suicide in the name of chastity began to share the spotlight (Young 1970). Gradually, the idea was diffused from the ruling class to the common people through the media of oral literature and folk plays. In the process of diffusion, transmitters of folk literature had evidently shifted their interest from stories about suicidal generals and officials to the more



sensational events of chaste-female suicide which could have happened in the neighbourhood of common people. Yet, the idea of suicide as a justifiable form of moral behaviour was by no means in accord with the general spirit of the great tradition. In both Confucianism and Taoism the major instruction was to accept life as it is, and to adapt oneself with the natural and social world. More strongly, the idea was in direct conflict with the practical prescriptions originated in the little tradition. Death, including suicide, was after all a sad thing which should be avoided. In folk superstitions the suicide is symbolized by a fearful-looking ghost wandering about and settling nowhere, neither in heaven nor in hell. The conflict between moral demand and actual practice was truly reflected in the way the society reacted to suicide. Indeed, members of the society were not united in praising or condemning it. Their reactions varied with their social distance from the victim. In traditional China different reactions came from three different levels of social organization: the community, the clan, and the family. At the community level a suicide as an act of chastity inspired admiration. If the victim was a widow or an unmarried young girl, she would be glorified as a model of supreme chastity. In praising the victim the community reaffirmed the group value, and at the same time gave consolation to the victim’s family. The reaction of the clan varied with the attitudes of the leadership. Some clans had made it clear in their rules that suicide for whatever reasons should be prevented by all means. When the tragic event happened, the clan reacted with shock and regret. But there were also some clan leaders who would tacitly encourage suicide committed by a young widow, because the event would qualify the whole clan to receive some formal citations from the imperial government in honour of the virtuous victim (Young 1970). From the viewpoint of the family, however, there was no reason whatsoever to tolerate suicide committed by its own members. According to the social norm observed by all classes, the family head must take pains to watch closely his widowed daughter-in-law lest she make a suicide attempt. If the guard was too negligent to prevent the tragedy, the victim’s own agnates might demand redress for the wrong done them (Freedman 1966: 156.) Having sketched the external conditions under which the type of altruistic suicide would occur, we shall now turn to the problem of estimating the extent to which an external regulative force had been


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translated into a motivational factor by members of the group. The estimation will be made on the basis of female suicide data collected during the Ch’ing period. The period is significant for our purpose because it exemplifies much of what we regard as the orthodox Confucian state and society (Ho 1967). The Manchu rulers of this period had made an effort to popularize the extreme moral ideals by giving honour and rewards to clans and families whose members had personified the ideal of loyalty or chastity by means of suicide (Young 1970). The female suicide cases were listed in a large number of available local gazetteers (fang-chi) from which we selected seven county gazetteers (hsien-chi) and two provincial gazetteers (T’ung-chi) for making detailed documentary observation. The method of selection was that of “expedient choice” (Stephan and McCarthy 1958: 44–45), but the chosen sample did include small and large counties located in different regions of China.1 Value-Rational Type. This type refers to suicides committed by widows and betrothed young girls whose fiancee had died. Widow suicide was well-known in Ch’ing China, but contrary to what Dublin (1963: 94) asserted, it had never become as ritualized as India’s suttee. As numerous descriptions show, the act was always performed several days or even several months after the funeral, at a time when family members had relaxed their guard over the widow, least expecting her to commit the final act. Local recorders took her calmness as an indication of the absence of irrational elements in her behaviour. According to the actual norms of the society, a widow should choose to live and remain unmarried in order to fulfill her other duties for her husband’s family. The widow who committed suicide was usually described as a childless woman who had lost one or both of her parentsin-law. By observing the value of absolute chastity, she had not ignored her familial obligations defined by the society. Yet the situation was also one of physical and emotional isolation. It is interesting to note that the socially interpreted altruistic behaviour might have contained strong elements of egoism in Durkheim’s terms. Traditional Type. As local records revealed, many women killed themselves because they felt their unblemished reputation as chaste women had been damaged. The dominant emotional element in such cases was



shame. The incidents that led to the tragedy varied from a harmless flirt, or an unjustified blame to an attempted rape. The typical victim was a single or widowed young woman from a lower rank gentry family or from the retainer class. She had heard some legendary stories about chaste behaviour without being fully informed of the socially prescribed pragmatic methods for resolving value conflicts. She took a slight molestation from a male as a serious threat to her chaste status and regarded suicide as the only alternative to a life of shame. The community paid tributes to her act as a manifestation of moral conviction, but regretted her obvious foolishness. The impulsive manner of her death suggested the absence of a clearly formulated goal in her behaviour. She merely followed the traditional pattern as she understood it; her personality, formed in a rigid family setting, pushed her to destruction. Purpose-Rational Type. As frequently reported in local gazetteers, a forced remarriage arrangement by the family head could cause a young widow to commit suicide. This type of suicide took place in an economically depressed region where the practice of widow remarriage was widespread among lower class people in spite of the normative restrictions placed on the practice by the gentry class. A poor family might consider a widow in the house a liability, and would not hesitate to sell her to someone who was in need of a wife but could not afford to marry a virgin. From the widow’s viewpoint, the remarriage could mean a further degradation of her life condition, because it was generally the case that a man would not be willing to marry a widow unless her social and economic status was at least a little higher than his. Under such circumstances the majority of the unwilling widows would resign to their fate; a few of them would be driven into desperation that led to suicide. In glorifying the suicide as loyal and chaste behaviour, local historians often added a few lines in their eulogies to indicate the intensive state of family conflict preceding the suicidal event. The blame was always on the heartless mother-in-law who made the remarriage arrangement against the widow’s will. Such descriptions strongly implied that the victim’s action was not really motivated by the internalized value of chastity. Rather, she had a definite purpose. She wanted to protest against the authoritarian parents-in-law as well as to escape from a hopeless situation. The dominant emotional elements in her behaviour were


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anger and despair. Judging from these assumed subjective meanings, we classify this type under the category of fatalism rather than altruism. Clearly, this fatalistic type was not limited to widows. Numerous unrecorded female suicides were perhaps of the same nature of protest against existing conditions (Levy 1949; Goode 1963). Affective Type. As many local gazetteers show, when war or an invasion by armed bandits disrupted a community, there would be a sharp rise in the incidence of female suicide. Some of the war victims killed themselves after they were held as captives by the invading rebels; others committed suicide in anticipation of the approaching terror. These suicides, together with other victims of war, were listed under the same title of “heroic-virtuous women” in the local record. They received the posthumous honour for their determination to preserve chastity through death. Obviously, in this type of suicidal behaviour the dominant emotional element was fear. The so-called chaste woman died in panic. The behaviour of a panic-stricken person was not regulated by norms and values. In a state of extreme fear the individual tended to view the situation as a total chaos and follow the suggested pattern of impulsive action. We call this suicide a typical case of fatalistic behaviour determined by purely affectual factors. The percentage distribution of these four subjective types of suicide in our sample is shown in Table 2. Table 2 Percentage Distribution of Suicide Cases by Subjective Types Objective Type

Subjective Type

Percent (N = 626)









Altruistic— “In-order-to” Altruistic— “Because” Fatalistic— “In-order-to” Fatalistic— “Because”



Table 3 Choice of Method by Type of Suicide1 Type of Suicide Method

Altruistic (percent) (NW/7)










All others







Fatalistic (Percent) (N = 45)

x2 = 19.551 df = 3 p < .001. 1. Includes leaping from a high spot and poison. Lu-an Fu and Feng-chou in Shansi T’ungchi, 181.

In view of the class differential in the internalization of moral ideals, we expect that the upper class would be over-represented in the two categories of altruistic suicide. Unfortunately, we are unable to confirm or reject this hypothesis, because the local records gave little information on the background of individual suicides. In the course of our investigation we found that instruments of death can be taken as a crude indicator of suicide types. As the records of two regions in our sample indicate, over 70 percent of the altruistic suicides chose hanging as the method, while less than 30 percent of the fatalistic suicides used this method. The difference between these two types of suicide was also reflected in the choice of other methods such as starvation, drowning, leaping from a high spot, and poison. Durkheim (1951: 290–294) observed that the choice of instrument of death was primarily determined by the general customs of the group, the particular means lying nearest to the individual and the relative dignity of the method attributed by the culture. But he did not detect the hidden relations between the methods of death and the various types of suicide. Firth (1961) in his study of Tikopia suicide emphasized the importance of social factors in the choice of methods. He came out with the conclusion that different age and sex groups tended to employ different methods and most attempted suicides (the less determined ones) were inclined to use hanging and swimming out to sea. The present study provides some evidence in support of Firth’s conclusion.


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Summary and Conclusion This paper concentrated on altruistic suicidal behaviour as an index of social cultural rigidity. In doing so, we have deliberately ignored the problem of suicide rate with which most sociological studies of suicide are concerned. An inquiry into the typical behaviour led us to take the subjective approach by assuming the individual motives on the basis of common-sense interpretations given by the community members themselves. These patterned motives enabled us to make a distinction between the two ostensibly similar types of suicide, the altruistic and the fatalistic. In each type the motives might be further identified as either “inorder-to” or “because” according to Schutz’s scheme of classification. When related with the two classes of motives, the two objective types of suicide were transformed into four subjective types which could be best expressed in terms of Weber’s ideal types of social action. We have made use of this framework in our analysis of female suicidal behaviour recorded in the Ch’ing period of China. We have argued that altruistic and fatalistic suicides tended to occur together in a highly integrated society. Further studies of suicidal behaviour will show whether the premises in our argument are justified.

Note 1. The selected local gazetteers include Fu-yang Hsien-chie (1918 rev.), P’ing-yang HC (1928 rev.), Chang-li HC (1931 rev.), Chou-t’ung HC (1923 rev.), Huang-kangHC (1882 rev.), Fan-yu HC (1869), Hsang-cheng HC (1911 rev.), Kiangsi, T’ung-chi (1881), and Shansi T’ung-chi (1893). The last two are provincial records from which three regional gazetteers—Nanchang, Lu-an and Feng-chou—were selected. The sample was drawn by skip intervals from the incomplete collection of Chinese gazetteers in the East Asia Library of Columbia University.

References Bellah, Robert N. 1959. “Durkheim and History,” American Sociological Review, 24 (August): 447–461. Bohannan, Paul. 1960. “Theories of Homicide and Suicide,” in Paul Bohannan (ed.), African Homicide and Suicide. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Durkheim, Emile. 1951. Suicide, A Study in Sociology (transl. by John A. Spauding and George Simpson; ed. by George Simpson). Glencoe: The Free Press.



De Vos, George A. 1968. “Suicide in Cross-cultural Perspective,” in H. L. P. Resnik (ed.), Suicidal Behaviours. Boston: Little Brown. Dublin, Louis I. 1963. Suicide: A Sociological and Statistical Study. New York: The Ronald Press. Dohrenwend, Bruce P. 1959. “Egoism, Altruism, Anomie and Fatalism: A Conceptual Analysis of Durkheim’s Types,” American Sociological Review, 24 (August): 466–473. Douglas, Jack D. 1967. The Social Meanings of Suicide. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Elwin, Verrier. 1950. Maria Murder and Suicide. London: Oxford University Press. Fallers, L. A. and M. C. Fallers. 1960. “Homicide and Suicide in Buso Ga,” in Paul Bohannan (ed.), African Homicide and Suicide. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Firth, Raymond. 1961. “Suicide and Risk-taking in Tikopia Society,” Psychiatry, 24 (February): 1–17. Freedman, Maurice. 1966. Chinese Lineage and Society. London: Athlone. Gibbs, Jack P. 1966. “The Sociology of Law and Normative Phenomena,” American Sociological Review, 31 (June): 315–325. Gibbs, Jack P. and Walter T. Martin. 1964. Status Integration and Suicide: A Sociological Study. Eugene: University of Oregon Books. Goode, William J. 1963. World Revolution and Family Patterns. New York: Free Press. Hendin, Herbert. 1964. Suicide and Scandinavia. New York: Grune and Stratton. ______. 1969. Black Suicide. New York: Basic Books. Henry, Andrew F. and James F. Short, Jr. 1954. Suicide and Homicide. Glencoe: The Free Press. Ho, Ping-ti. 1967. “The Significance of the Ch’ing Period in Chinese History,” The Journal of Asian Studies, 26 (February): 191–193. Hoskin, John O., Michael I. Friedman and John E. Cawte. 1969. “A High Incidence of Suicide in a Preliterate Primitive Society,” Psychiatry, 32 (May): 200–210. Jeffrey, M. P. W. 1952. “Samsonic Suicide or Suicide of Revenge Among Africans,” African Studies, 11 (Fall): 118–122. Johnson, Barclay D. 1965. “Durkheim’s One Cause of Suicide,” American Sociological Review, 30 (December): 875–886. Labovitz, Sanford. 1968. “Variation in Suicide Rates,” in Jack P. Gibbs (ed.), Suicide. New York: Harper & Row. Levy, Marion J. 1949. The Family Revolution in Modern China. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1926. Crime and Custom in Savage Society. New York: Harcourt Brace and World. Pandey, R. E. 1968. “The Suicide Problem in India,” International Journal of Social Psychiatry 14 (Summer): 195–199. Parsons, Talcott. 1949. The Structure of Social Action. Glencoe: The Free Press. Powell, Elwin H. 1958. “Occupation, Status and Suicide: Toward a Redefinition of Anomie,” American Sociological Review, 23 (April): 131–139. Redfield, Robert. 1960. The Little Community. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Schutz, Alfred. 1962. Collected Papers 1. (ed. by Maurice Natanson) Hague: Martinus Nihoff. Stephan, Frederick F. and Philip J. McCarthy. 1958. Sampling Opinions: An Analysis of Survey Procedure. New York: Wiley.


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Strauss, Jacqueline H. and Murrey A. Strauss. 1953. “Suicide, Homicide and Social Structure in Ceylon,” American Journal of Sociology, 57 (March): 461–469. Wagner, Helmut R. (ed.) 1970. Alfred Schutz on Phenomenology and Social Relations. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press. Weber, Max. 1947. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (trans. by A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons). Glencoe: The Free Press. Young, Lung-chang. 1970. “Patterns of Chaste Behavior in Pre-modern China,” The Cornell Journal of Social Relations, 5 (Spring): 79–91. Zilboorg, Gregory. 1936. “Suicide among Civilized and Primitive Races,” American Journal of Psychiatry, 92 (May): 1347–1369. ______. 1938. “The Sense of Immortality,” The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 7 (Summer): 171–199.

5 Rational Social Action as a Basis for Creative Comparisons Prakash N. Pimpley

A Brief Review of Rationality in Sociological Theory


ociology, like other sciences of human action before it, has been concerned with developing generalizations, i.e., general, abstract theoretical statements, with a view to staking a claim to the status of a ‘science’. This, at a period when the natural sciences had been established on a firm footing in western societies, is understandable in its historical context. The task of the natural sciences was made easier by (a) historical factors such as the breakdown of feudalism; (b) the philosophical foundations laid down by Descartes, Kant and Bacon; and finally, (c) by the demonstrable validity of their formulations in technology. Paradoxically, the very philosophical foundations (especially in Descartes and Kant) which helped establish the natural sciences, hindered the development of a science of human action. The dualism between subject and object, between noumena and phenomena, demarcated sharply the domains of the world of man and the natural world. The world of man was credited with subjectivity which was deemed, to be idiosyncratic by definition. From this premise it followed that, since


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generalizations are a sine qua non for the sciences and since human actions are subjective and idiosyncratic, generalizations about them are impossible. Hence, a science of human action was also regarded as impossible. In the history of the development of sociological theory, we find three major early efforts to refute the ‘impossibility of social science’ thesis (Giddens, 1977,1978). First, the positivists denied the essentiality of the subjective for the definition of the social, as against the individual, phenomena. They opted for an examination of observable regularities—based on natural reason—of relationships that obtain between social phenomena and for the generation of ‘universal laws’ based on these observations. This was typically the position adopted by Comte and Durkheim. They thus staked a claim for sociology as a science primarily by demonstrating the possibility of generalizations. This possibility arises by driving out the subjective meanings from the realm of the social. It may be added in parenthesis that they did not dispute the contention that it is impossible to generalise about the subjective. The objections to a positivist sociology are too well known to be recounted in detail here (Parsons, 1937). However, the main objection was to the fundamental tenet of positive sociology namely, the irrelevance of the subjective meanings to the study of social phenomena. Social relationships, whether of the dyadic variety or of a highly institutionalized nature, are based upon actions of and interactions between individuals. Take away the subjective meanings from human action and you take away the very constitutive element of it. Human action is then reduced merely to the level of a reflex, an event. The second line of attack on the ‘impossibility of social science’ thesis came from what has now come to be known as interpretive sociology, especially from the work of Max Weber (1949). Weber made the subjective meanings of the actor, the defining attribute of human action. The problem was generalizability. This, Weber solved, by showing that the subjective meanings are not idiosyncratic but are, on the contrary, of only four basic types: the purposive-rational, the value-rational, the traditional and the affectual. It is possible, Weber argued, to rationally comprehend and typify, i.e. generalize the meanings. Since human actions follow from the meanings, it is possible to construct generalizations about them. Hence, the possibility of social science. Contemporary sociological theories tend to combine, bend and oscillate between the positivist and the interpretive positions. There is



now perhaps a greater shift towards the interpretive rather than towards the positivist. According to Gouldner (1971), a third position is also gradually finding its place in academic sociology—namely the Marxist position. There is an increasing realization that the positivist interpretation of Marxism found in the works of Plekhanov, Bernstein and Kautsky and projected as the valid version of Marxism by its western critics, is not borne out by an examination of Marx’s own writings, especially his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts. The availability to the English speaking world of the writings of Gramsci (1971) and Lukacs (1976) and the growing influence of the Critical Theory of the Frankfurt school, especially that of Habermas (1971) have been added factors. Whereas the other theories are based upon the subject-object dualism, the Marxist theory is based upon the unity of subject and object. Human praxis is neither completely constituted by nor is it entirely constitutive of, the material reality; it is both, in a dialectical manner. The foregoing brief overview of the theoretical positions in sociology has been attempted to help place the main problem of this note in its perspective. The objective of this note is to examine the theoretical status of rationality or reason in theories of social action. All of the three aforementioned theoretical perspectives, despite the apparent and real counter-positions, appear to share two assumptions. First, that generalization in social sciences is possible and second, that human beings differ from other forms of life in that they possess reason and are capable of rational action. They differ considerably in the formulation of the relationship between the two, though. What I would like to do is to see if the rationality of social action can be used as an acceptable basis for comparison across cultures. My discussion is based upon two assumptions. First, I am assuming that the rational cannot be equated with the logical. Equating the two is demonstrated to be untenable, among others, by Toulmin (1980). It is argued that logical syllogisms merely provide a formal system. A rational argument, even though it may assume the form of a syllogism, is based upon substantive major and minor premises. These premises are not valid in themselves but are presumed to be so by the authoritative sanction of society. To the extent that societies can be shown to hold different premises to be true, what is rational in one society, may not be so in another. Secondly, what I am going to talk about is social action by which I mean, meaningful conduct on the part of human beings in relation to other human beings. Social


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action is voluntary, purposive and goal oriented. It is not a response to a stimulus: a release of tension and/or a process of a social structure.

Max Weber on Rationality Any account of rational social action should begin with the contribution of Weber (1978). He discussed rationality at two distinct but related levels; first, at the methodological and then, at the substantive level. He argues that one can generalize, and formulate concepts, rationally. The ideal types are so constructed. But this is not our concern here. What is relevant is his discussion of rational action and the processes of rationalization. He identified two types of rational action; the purposive and value oriented. Purposive-rational action is based upon the premise of optimization of utility. As such, from a subjective point of view, the actor evaluates ends and means and finds a fit between the two. Modern technology and primitive magic both belong here. The value-rational action on the other hand, eschews calculation of costs. Given the absolute ends, rationality consists in fitting appropriate means to the ends. Substantive rationality, on which such ‘fitting’ is to be carried out, is culture specific. The value postulates cannot be used cross culturally. Thus, for Weber what is rational action in one society, may not be so in another. Many commentators on Weber, chief among whom is Talcott Parsons (1937) believe that a culture-free, sufficiently abstract, analytical and hence universal principle has been discovered in the purposive-rational type of action. This belief is based upon the assumption that there is an invariant relationship or ‘best fit’ between means and ends. Numerous arguments can be offered against the universality of the instrumental, means-end rationality. In the first place, this type of rationality involves evaluation of not only the relative advantages of means but also of ends. An evaluation of ends implies, necessarily, a hierarchy of priorities for the actor. Hence, the preference for one end as against the other is variable either as a form of subjective choice of an actor or as a social norm. Secondly, the concept of unanticipated consequences of action has amply demonstrated that a given means can have diverse consequences (many of which may be downright undesirable) thereby giving a lie to the invariance postulated for the means-end scheme. I have, however, a more substantive objection to the characterization of instrumental-rational action as social action. A social action, for Weber himself, is one in which the subjective meaning incorporates the



meanings and probable actions of other actors and is guided in its course by these considerations. Simultaneously with this formulation, Weber would have us treat the other as a means to an end. Let us look at the implications of this formulation and for the sake of exaggeration in a conflict relationship. If an ego has to treat the other human being as an actor like him and then orient his actions accordingly, he will be caught up in an infinite regress. Ego knows that the alter knows the meaning of his action and will therefore take recourse to action to avoid it, which is in turn known to the actor—ad infinitum. If, on the other hand, the ego were not to take note of the probable reactions of the alter, the action ceases to be social action. In other words, instrumentally rational social action is an anachronism. Not that we have not had empirical examples of this approach. Those of us who remember recent world history, I am sure, will recall Pax Americana, a la Project Camelot or the Civic Action Programme in Vietnam. On the other hand, value-rational action qualifies as social action but is seen by Weber himself as culture specific—“what is rational for one society may be irrational for the other”. In sum, value-rational social action because of its alleged cultural specificity cannot become the basis for cross-cultural comparisons. On the other hand, instrumental rational action fails to qualify as social action.

Rationality and Sociological Relativism More or less as a reaction to the claim to universality of reason, an avowedly relativist position has been advocated in social science. Inspired by Wittgenstein’s works, rationality means ‘making sense’. Reason becomes reasons. One of the major philosophers in this area is Peter Winch (1958). In his book titled The Idea of Social Science, he insists that there is a fundamental difference between the world of nature and the world of man in so far as the latter is meaningful and can be comprehended as such. Men speak and live their lives and pursue their myriad interests in the context of ‘forms of life’—a phrase borrowed from Wittgenstein. The concepts they employ, the rational manner in which they accomplish their tasks, derive their validity from, and only from the place they possess in these ‘forms of life’. Therefore, what is a rational action in one form of life may not be rational in another. There


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is no common standard of rationality with reference to which ‘rational practices’ of different societies can even be compared. Garfinkel’s (1967, 1978) ethnomethodology is another variant of this theme. It has the added influence of Schutz’s phenomenology. In a recent article he has reiterated his claim that the rationality of science and of everyday life belong to two different genres. The rationality of everyday life is in the nature of ‘accountability’. Its stability and validity depends not on scientific rationality but upon the mores and folkways of a society. Obviously, therefore, what is considered as a rational action in one group pertains to it alone. The case for the relativity of rational social action appears to be fairly strong. It does not however, satisfy one for two reasons. The first is a purely intuitive feeling that the rational ‘ought not to be’ so relative and fickle. After all, we became interested in the examination of rationality in our search for the universal elements of our existence. The second objection is more substantive. The case of the relativists is based upon two premises. First, that the group, the society and the culture or the form of life is a closed system and second that it is internally homogeneous and stable. Both premises are demonstrably false. Howsoever a group may be isolated, it is never insulated against external influences, particularly those of technology. It has been argued that at least in this one case, superiority and inferiority of practices can be judged universally (Gellner, 1978). Gellner is partially right when he draws our attention to the spread of technology from one culture to the other. It is, however, equally well-known that the adoption of alien technology is not based on the criterion of technical efficiency alone. It must be congruent with or be made to be congruent with the symbolic system and the system of social relationships which surround the extant technology of the host society. It must, however, be admitted that societies, however closely integrated within, receive cultural traits from outside and thus change. The alleged internal consistency of the cultural system is a myth. Perhaps barring a few exceptionally small tribal societies, most societies are differentiated internally, both social structurally and culturally. Not only is there heterogeneity, there is also conflict and contradiction. What is the implication of internal heterogeneity for the cultural relativist position? Assuming that there are two opposing groups in a society with conflicting belief systems, whose actions are to be taken as rational? One cannot say that both are equally rational. The opposition is usually



sought to be resolved by invoking the non-cognitive political authority reminding one of Lewis Caroll’s characters. Quite apart from the sharply defined positions of antagonists, Foucault (1972) has shown how human communication is fractured. There are no smooth, systematic modes of communication corresponding to aesthetically satisfying modes. On the contrary, there are enclaves rupturing communicative interactions. The point I wish to make is that there is no one mode of ‘making sense’ in a cultural system. It is always problematic in that two or more modes of making sense compete for acceptance, thereby necessitating a comparison, calling into operation standards which must transcend the competing systems. We cannot accept a given system as rational just because it exists. The relativist position suffers a further setback when we look at the phenomenon of change. A change in the belief system brings out the paradox of the relativist position quite clearly. The question to be answered is which of the two conditions of the same society is rational? If the first, then, by definition, the second is irrational and vice versa. I am referring here to endogenous changes which may have come about in the structure, either due to the processes of the system including, inter alia, the dialectical or the consciously planned ones. In either case, the fact remains that human beings choose one mode of ‘making sense’ because it is deemed to be “better” than the other. This implies that some standards are used for comparing one rational system with another. Thus, the fact that there are diverse systems of ‘substantive rationality’, ‘life worlds’, and cultural enclaves, and that people live their lives in them, does not mean that these are autonomous, non-comparable, non-evaluable systems. If this were not so, we should be willing to accept the ‘rationality’ of apartheid in South Africa or the genocide of Jews in Nazi Germany because they made sense in those societies. I am sure none of us is willing to take this position. This forces us to go beyond cultural relativism and find a basis for comparing, evaluating, choosing and discarding social arrangements, norms, cultural items and if necessary, a whole social system. Not that such attempts have not been made in the past. But these were based on homogenization through the exercise of power. Successful creative comparisons can be made not by imposing the standards of one powerful society on the rest but on the shared characteristics of human beings. And I am still willing to rely upon the human capacity for rational social action. In the following section, the possibility of transcending the cultural relativity of


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substantive rationality which, in my opinion, is alone relevant for social action will be explored.

Towards a Model of Universal Rationality We are faced with a situation where we must take cognisance of cultural pluralism resulting in a diversity of systems of rationality on the one hand and the recognition that it should be possible to transcend the boundaries of these systems and make them comparable without destroying their distinctiveness on the other. A clue to the possible solution to this dilemma comes to us from the study of language. A near identical condition obtains there also. Each language is a complete and distinctive system in itself. Yet, through a process of translation a person belonging to one linguistic group is able to comprehend another language and engage in communication (Steiner, 1975). Granted that such comprehension is never complete and that there is always room for learning further nuances, the fact remains that it is possible to go beyond the bounds of at least two languages and to make them comparable and comprehensible without violating the distinctive identity of either of them. The objection that one never fully grasps the meaning in another language is not all that significant because we can show that even within a given linguistic group status differences do not allow everyone equal linguistic competence. Hence intercommunication even within that group requires translation. Translative understanding, communication and interaction obviously are not random. The translative process is based upon the existence of a second order, transcultural system. If we want to make use of the strategy of translation in the sphere of social action, the second order of cross-cultural rationality has to be located in the anthropological and historical characteristics of human beings. I believe Habermas’ work provides us the basis for identifying the kind of methodology we are looking for (1971). For him, as for Weber, rationality is multitypical. Based on three types of knowledge constitutive interests (the technical, the practical and the emancipatory) he identifies three types of rationality involved in three types of action. These are: (i) purposive-rational action or work (ii) interaction and (iii) critical self-reflection. The purposive rational action takes place at the man-nature interface. Action is governed by technical rules based on empirical



knowledge. Interaction occurs within an institutional framework based on the man-man interface. Communication and consensually held norms provide validity to competence in this field. He further argues that historically both become distorted: the former because of alienation of labour and the latter because of domination leading to systematically distorted communication. Critical theoretical rationality steps in as an ideological critique. Both the man-nature and the man-man interfaces are the domain of this dialectical reason. It aims not only at a theoretical comprehension of these two interfaces but also at transcendance and emancipation of man from domination. This is universal rationality, the vehicle of which is the proletariat. Like Weber, Habermas also sees the universality of purposive rational action, but unlike the former it is confined to man’s acting upon nature and not upon other human beings. One of the implications of this formulation for us is that the social organization of work can vary from one culture to another and within the same society from one period to another. Following Marx, Habermas finds that the initial nature of the social organization of work is holistic and cooperative. In course of time due to historical factors, exploitation and alienation destroy this essentially cooperative venture. Similarly, the communicative interaction based on consensually shared norms loses its consensus through systematically distorted communication. Consensus, instead of  being real, is contrived in that it is hegemonic. The ruling class imposes its normative structure upon the rest of the society. Both of these distortions again could take diverse forms. From the above discussion two principles seem to emerge which satisfy the condition of cross-cultural applicability because they are present in all of them. The first concerns itself with the social actions of man as oriented in the man-nature relationship. Man acts on nature with a view to satisfying his needs. If, in this process he were to destroy nature, it will be self-defeating. Hence, rationality consists in satisfaction of needs, through preservation of nature. Coming now to the social aspect of it, one can see that any arrangement that results in alienation is a deviation from the true nature of man and is, therefore, irrational. The second field is that of social interaction where freedom from domination can serve as a trans-cultural criterion. Social action can be seen as rational to the extent to which it enables an individual to


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participate in collective life. Any arrangement that deviates from it can be shown to be irrational to that extent. I should like to reiterate that the formulation of rational social action following Habermas does not require homogenization. Cultures and forms of life can still be shown to have their distinct identity. The common characteristics of work and communicative interaction are abstracted to make them comparable. This is a distinct improvement upon the evolutionary postulates of Talcott Parsons who would like to see human societies falling in a single mould, that of American society (1966).

References Foucault, Michel, 1972. Archeology of Knowledge (tr. from French by A.M. Sheridan Smith), London, Tavistock. Garfinkel, H., 1967. Studies in Ethnomethodology, Englewood Cliffs’ New Jersey, Prentice Hall. ———, 1978. “The Rational Properties of Scientific and Commonsense Activities” in Giddens (ed.), Positivism and Sociology, London, Heineman Educational Books. Gellner, E., 1978. “The New Idealism in Giddens”, (ed.), Positivism and Sociology, London, Heinman Educational Books. Giddens, Anthony, 1977. New Rules of Sociological Method, London Hutchinson University Library. ———, (ed.). 1978. Positivism and Sociology, London, Heineman Educational Books. Gouldner, A., 1971. The Coming Crisis of Western Sociology, London, Heineman. Gramsci, A., 1971. Selection from the Prison Notebooks Ed. & Tr. bj Q. Hoare and G. Nowell Smith, London, Lawrence and Wishart. Habermas, J., 1971. Towards a Rational Society, London, Heineman. Lukacs. G., 1976. History and Class Consciousness, London, Merlin Press. Parsons, Talcott, 1937. The Structure of Social Action, New York, The Free Press. ———, 1966. Societies: Evolutionary and Comparative Perspectives, Englewood Cliffs, Prentice Hall. Steiner, G., 1975. After Babel: Aspect of Language and Translation, London, Oxford University Press. Toulmin, S., 1980. Human Understanding, Oxford, Oxford University Press. Weber, Max, 1949. The Methodology of the Social Sciences, New York. The Free Press. ———, 1978. Economy and Society, (2 vols.) Berkeley, University of California Press. Winch, P., 1958. The Idea of a Social Science, London, Routledge and Kegan Paul.

6 Feminist Social Theories: Theme and Variations Beatrice Kachuck


must begin with a comment on feminism and political agendas. I am from the United States of America (US), a nation born with the virus of colonialism and seen by critics as reinventing its birth as it matured. Some suspect that feminism is a symptom of that virus. But when you compare that suspicion to others, feminism appears to be an opportunistic disease. In the US, for example, the orthodox Left calls it a bourgeois diversion from the true class struggle and the Far Right says it is a socialist disease. Although the word ‘feminism’ evokes Western stereotypes for many Indians (Kishwar 1990), Indian women are credited with having resisted patriarchal oppression for more than 2,000 years (Thara and Lalita 1993). The coalescence of isolated resistance into a movement in India in the 19th century emerged at about the same time as in the US (Donovan 1985) and Europe (Anderson and Zinsser 1988). Explanations of this synchrony are beyond the parameters of this paper. I will note only that travel by women was multi-directional then and communication has increased substantially since common concerns across the continents as well as differences are evident in the work of many feminist scholars (e.g. Enloe 1990; Gandhi and Shah 1991; Leonardo 1991; Lorde 1984; Mies 1986; Minh-ha 1989; Mohanty et al., 1991; Rowbotham 1992; Sen and Grown 1987; Soundararajan 1993).


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The work of these feminist scholars testifies to the diversity of feminist theories. In a variety of ways, they break into silences in predecessor theories specially those which do not specify women’s and men’s relative positions in society and they reveal distortions in what has been said (Jaggar 1983: 21). They agree on one point however: that gender, the socially constructed definitions of what it means to be a woman and a man, is a fundamental category of any analysis of social life. (For classical Marxist feminists in the US as in India, gender is subsumed under class analysis.) They raise new questions and provide new epistemological insights, some crossing disciplinary boundaries, others remaining within them. Among the latter, they contest sociology’s male perspective on experience (Smith 1979). Paradigmatic concepts of work and family illustrate this point. Traditionally, sociologists have defined work as labour performed in a public domain as distinct from activities within the family (a private) sphere. Feminists demonstrate the fallacy of the paradigm, pointing out that women’s work crosses the two realms with no neat divisions into work and leisure time. They enable us to look at a mother and an ayah playing with a child and ask: Who is working? We can see the permeability of family and state borders from evidence collected to show that national policies favouring the wealthy exacerbate conflicts between poor rural women and men (Agarwal 1988). The Marxist division of labour between production of use values for home consumption, and exchange values for markets, disappears for rural women who produce both (Nickols and Srinivasan 1994). In other words, the ontological public/private dualism is contested. The shield against public scrutiny of households, enshrined for liberals as a man’s private estate by Locke (1963[1690]: 308, 390−3), gets dismantled. A window is opened on Marx and Engels’ ([1846]1970): 51) assumption that gender relations arise from a natural, heterosexual ‘division of labour in the sexual act’. Such an assumption establishes the male’s ownership of the female in a private realm in a correlated concept that all division of labour entails property ownership (Ibid.: 43). As feminists dismantle the shield and open the window, they explore the nexus of women’s domestic and labour force subjugation (Jogdand 1995; Young 1981) and violence against women in both sites (MacKinnon 1986; Rege 1995). They analyse differences in women’s relationship to men within and across groups defined by race (Joseph 1981) and caste (Gupta 1990).



This paper presents four major feminist theories: liberalism, essentialism, Marxism/socialism, and postmodernism. I discuss them in terms of their intellectual roots, critiques, and political implications, offering a basis for identifying underlying ideas in past work on various topics and a location for future studies. The critiques invite new theorizing. The practice of categorizing theories as a method of inquiry into feminist projects is more common in the West than in India. In the US this is attributable to the larger number of academics expected to engage in theorizing while also doing research and teaching women’s studies courses. The numerous courses, more than 16,000 at college and graduate levels, stimulate publications, which, in turn, encourage theoretical writings. In India, crystallizing issues and activism has been more urgent. Thus, a book-length discussion of women describes issues with no reference to theoretical perspectives (Desai and Krishnaraj 1990) However, the need for theorizing to comprehend and guide activist work comes at the conclusion of a major review of issues published a year later (Gandhi and Shah 1991). Here the authors provide some theoretical lenses, pointing out, for instance, liberal and Marxist views of violence against women. At the same time, it should be noted, US feminist academics see a gap between their work and the real needs of women (Messer-Davidow 1991). Critical encounters of Indian and American thought promise to enrich both. This paper can be read as a critical review of prominent US feminist theories. Its attempt at perceiving that context by indicating common threads and divergences in Indian and US feminist thought adds another dimension. While the paper’s theoretical concerns also emerge in Indian work, the categories are derived from US feminist literature. However, readers are cautioned that the paper does not include all the theoretical developments in the US. That would not be possible in one paper. Moreover, the field is dynamic; new analyses emerge from theoretical and empirical encounters. No single paper can map important pathways. This one offers signposts to routes, not a definitive forum, and invites new directions.

Feminist Liberalism I begin with feminist liberalism, the most prominent feminist strand in the US and prevalent in India. It invokes theoretical liberalism, the US’s dominant ideology which is so entrenched in most Americans’ thinking


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that no other seems viable. Americans are schooled in the Enlightenment, liberalism’s wellspring, the cluster of doctrines that emerged triumphant in the 17th and 18th centuries to sustain indigenous and global colonization. The popularity of the theory in India is evident in its accelerated moves to a capitalist market economy, an offshoot of liberal thought. Its relevance is evident in arguments linking India’s distant past and concepts in the Gita with capitalism (Srivastava 1980). US schools teach students to revere the era for its generative concepts, the foundation of their Age of Reason, the pinnacle of man’s [sic] evolution. Feminist liberals argue that women evolved equally with men and participate in the Cartesian ontological dualism at least its normative form. That is, like many contemporary liberals they view human beings as especially valuable for their mental capacity for rationality (Jaggar 1983: 40−42), without committing to Descartes’ ([1637]1960) mind/body polarity. The linkage of the Cartesian ontology with dominant theologies merits comment for its illustration of continuity in historical change. Descartes explicitly and elaborately grounded his elevation of the human mind in the Roman Catholic Church’s divine/secular opposition. He attributed human cognitive capacity to a divine gift of a mind limited to knowing the secular world, attempting to avoid a threat to the Church’s authority and the condemnation Galileo had suffered. Locke ([1690]1956), supported by aristocrats demanding liberty from Church-ordained monarchs, revised the dualism along Protestant lines. His revision retains the divine/secular order, but asserts a rational man’s natural right to prove all truths, including the ‘Eternal Being[s]’ (Ibid.: 298−9). Feminist liberals appropriate this assertion for women. Their arguments merge with liberalism’s assumption of a Newtonian cosmos where one god sets natural processes in motion and all objects, including minds, are governed by laws discoverable by human reason (Donovan 1985: 2–3). They argue that women’s minds are formed in nature like men’s—free to find truth. The power of the natural rights argument can be seen in Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s rejection of a sacred text in the 19th century struggle for women’s rights in the US. When opponents drew on Locke’s claim that the Christian-Judaic bible authorizes sovereignty for Adam’s descendants but not for Eve’s, Stanton derided the book. She said it projects a



tribal morality ‘emanating from the most obscene minds of a barbarous age’ and wrote a women’s bible (Donovan 1985: 36–37). The US context of such heresy, in Stanton’s era and now, is significant. It violates the Christian command not to ‘suffer a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over a man, but to be in silence’ (Holy Bible 1978: 1234). It does not, however, renounce the divine/secular dualism and it invokes the liberal concept of pre-social individual rights, to which society must bend. The concept’s abstract quality and natural origin makes it ambiguous, permitting selective application, but it is commonly asserted as a cultural norm. In India, the rights argument encounters more varied norms. Consistent with their national constitution, Indian feminists claim women’s rights as individuals to, for example, education (Chanana 1988), pay equity (Gandhi and Shah 1991), and land control (Agarwal 1994). But the legitimacy of personal authority goes against the conception of individuals within family and kinship networks, where they have to consider others’ expectations and meet responsibilities to them (Karlekar 1988). Within those networks rights have been understood in association with status positions, generally privileging men over women, some men over other men, and some women over other women. Outside the networks similar understandings regulate relationships between, for instance, land owner and landless labourer and higher and lower caste members. The relationships can seem part of the natural social order, of traditions which are beyond questioning (Agarwal 1994: 58–59). Given this array of understandings, women’s natural rights can be more difficult to claim here. Meanwhile, the link of the Western concept of abstract rights with colonial subjugation makes claims to rights suspect (Tharu 1995). Tharu’s requirement that claimants scrutinize their own subject position seems appropriate in both India and the US, since each has its own versions of hierarchies. Her requirement highlights the slippery ground beneath the natural rights claim, that is, the ontological dualism. It generates perceptions of reality in terms of hierarchies: white/black, male/female, high/low, pure/polluted, fair/dark, self/other. The first element is absolute, located by its subordinate opposite. It is a system of thinking that defines you, for example, as free by someone not free, as good by someone considered bad. Some US experiences can help to illustrate the problem. As a presumed free agent, you can choose occupants of each element. Stanton


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and other women’s rights leaders did. They rejected Locke’s ([1690]1963: 211) choice of women as persons to be denied the right of consent to be governed. They also rejected his exclusion of slaves and their sons [adding daughters] from Adam’s legacy, who were, he thought, naturally subject ‘the Arbitrary Power of their Masters’ (Ibid.: 365–6). However, when slavery was abolished, the new material reality brought into play its ontological logic. How should the newly freed persons be perceived? In a politics that constructed ‘Americanness’ by defining African Americans as the Other (Morrison 1993: 5), many white feminists assumed the privileges of the Self. Not all did. Enough have, so that the history of African and European-American feminists’ relations is replete with episodes of hostility, equivocation, tolerance, and partnership (Davis 1983; Giddings 1984; Hooks 1984). The same logic across race/ethnic lines also emerges in the US feminist liberals’ endorsement of the Lockean private/public split. They project the family as a unit with a gender-neutral head or heads rather than ‘a man’s private estate’ (Locke [1690]1963: 308, 390–393). However, the unit remains a private preserve, sometimes seen as a bulwark against an overweening state. How, then, given the intellectual ground, can one develop a politics of equality? How, given the premium on mind, can one address the physical realities of reproduction, presumably a family matter, sexual orientation, and domestic violence against women? The liberal feminists’ solution is to improve women’s access to the ‘public’ realm. They demand state protection of women’s right as individuals to determine their lives, thereby becoming the equals of men. US liberals assume, as their Indian counterparts do, that women choose between careers and full-time family life for personal reasons (Singh 1990). The assumption disregards myriad pressures and overgeneralizes the choice of middle-class women with income from a spouse or another source. However, the demand for economic equality with men resonates across class, as in the Tamil Nadu women’s call for equal wages for ‘coolie’ work (Gandhi and Shah 1991: 183). The basic political programme in the US is outlined by the National Organization for Women (NOW), the country’s largest feminist organization (Friedan 1976: 124–130). It demands equality for women and men in all phases of society, emphasizing opportunities for jobs, particularly the better paying positions, and education; child care centers; and



sharing of income production and housework in marriage. The demands give all women the same voice and goal. Yet, NOW acknowledges differences. Attempting to bridge them, NOW notes the large proportion of Negro [sic] women in the lowest paid jobs and the need for equal rights for all deprived groups. More recently, NOW also champions lesbians’ rights and focuses on staving off attacks on abortion rights. Violence, including rape, is protested in terms of lawful protection. A major sticking point is the actual private-public link. Conceptually, the state mediates the individuals’ private interests. But the state, comprising elected individuals and their appointees, depends on corporations and other large financial contributors for its own survival. Thus, it has an interest in preserving and expanding capital within its borders and wherever capital travels in the world. The state, then, resists demands for women’s equality if its financial mainstays consider themselves better served by hierarchical gender relations: women as primary housekeepers, men as primary breadwinners. On the other hand, since women are voters, they are able to achieve compromises, a fact well illustrated by the US Family Leave Law of 1993. The law requires businesses with more than 50 employees to offer leave without pay for parental and other immediate family needs. What kind of compromise is this? It preserves existing gender-class-race power relations in a heterosexual paradigm. Note the law’s gender-neutral language. It avoids the physical realities of childbirth. Men may, in principle, take the leave. But since women usually earn less than men, which spouse takes the leave is predictable. Wives and husbands seem to make a private decision, but the political economy constructs their choice. This way heterosexuality is also rewarded, since lesbian and gay couples are not permitted to marry; they are not lawful families. Again for lowwaged women, disproportionately drawn from race/ethnic minorities, the law’s unpaid feature makes it virtually useless. A second, related, problem is garnering women’s active support for liberal feminist causes. In the US, this comes mostly from the middle class with its relatively small proportion of race/ethnic minority women. But most women belonging to the working class or the underclass are again drawn disproportionately from the minority women (Amott and Matthaie 1991). Interestingly, while liberals deplore the ‘feminisation of poverty’, their theory tacitly accepts it as an outcome of natural egoism. Sociality


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in this framework becomes a matter of negotiating contracts. Realistically, some come to the negotiation with less power than others. Historically, winners have created a political economy, capitalism, which requires losers in the acquisition of social goods. In the US, capitalists have created losers and winners by constructing competition between women and men, African and European American women, new and earlier immigrants within the country (Kessler-Harris 1984), and in worldwide expansions (Mies 1986). At best, feminist liberals promise equal numbers of women and men in gendered-raced-classed levels—not a great prospect for women who sew garments in sweatshops in the US or break stones in India. Indeed, without restructuring the economy and education to establish respect for their humanity and an equal distribution of social goods, they may lose places in ‘feminized’ occupations. Nonetheless, the call for individual rights reverberates. It puts women’s rights on the public agenda, bolstering their negotiations in important aspects of life. Rape and other violence, religious prejudice, and household inequities at least get contested. The most visible beneficiaries, unsurprisingly, have been middle-class women. For example, many are now admitted to colleges and universities where some develop feminist theories. NOW’s work does not, of course, constitute all feminist efforts in the United States. Diverse women there organize on behalf of women and also to benefit both women and men. In the latter, feminist issues are often downplayed. Women campaign, sometimes in coalitions, against rape and battering of women, sexism in employment and education, racism and imperialism, war, poverty and homelessness, and environmental destruction; they work within political parties and unions. Each campaign seeks reform within the country’s system, as single-issue campaigns do elsewhere. Despite the diversity, NOW has become identified as ‘the US feminist movement’. In contrast, the Indian ‘women’s movement’ is conceptualized as comprising diverse campaigns (Kumar 1993). In the US the cumulative effect of women’s public visibility and the economic advance of a relative few has unleashed a backlash. University professors ‘discover’ female defects and the media inflates women’s, especially feminists’, deficiencies (Faludi 1991). The religious and political right denounces feminists for destroying ‘family values’ (Eisenstein 1982), making them seem women’s enemies.



Feminist Essentialism Another school of feminist thought rejects the liberals’ claim that women and men possess the same epistemological resource, the transcendent mind. Instead, it locates an aspect of females which makes them essentially different from males. Dubbed ‘essentialists’ in feminist literature, advocates counterpose a Universal Woman to the Enlightenment’s Universal Man. In various ways they project her world view to show that the Enlightenment’s asymmetrical ordering of reality is a male construct validating masculinity and social paradigms of dominance and subordination. In contrast, the female perceives reality in terms of unities. Her rational mind is embodied, has feelings, and is engaged with, not in opposition to, other persons and things. These feminists celebrate aspects of the human being which have been deprecated and ascribed to women. They are intellectual kin to phenomenology in that they prepose an original female self. Like Husserl (1983), they assume that the self interacts with internal and external contingencies, but do not reduce it to atoms for a revivalist science as he does. Like Heidegger (1927/1962), many analyse the authentic self ’s (females’) existential struggle, a self without the historical birthplace and Volk that are clues to his affinity with Nazis. The theme of essential womanhood emerges in various forms. I describe prominent variations, four that originate in the US, one in France, and one in India. Gilligan (1982) in the US valorizes women’s morality, contesting the historical verity of their defective ethical sense. She targets psychology’s pre-eminent stage theorists, Freud, Piaget, and particularly her Harvard professor, Kohlberg, for claiming that women do not attain men’s level of moral reasoning. The similarity of her inquiry process and theirs is notable. Like them, she assumes an invariant sequence of development, biologically and socially programmed, and relies on interview evidence. But, Kohlberg had identified women’s deficiencies after establishing norms based on interviews with males—a common practice in psychology. Gilligan reversed that procedure. She developed norms by studying women, then investigated females’ and males’ moral reasoning. Her conclusions: her predecessors confused men’s notions of morality with human values. Women’s moral development is not deficient but


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different from men’s. Women possess an ethic of care, which peaks when they consider their own needs as well as others’. In contrast, boys and men reason from rules that permit no exceptions for individuals’ needs. Although Gilligan’s Sita-like figure survives to acknowledge her needs alongside Rama’s, the characterization of dedication to another offers a strikingly similar female model. It provides an alternative to psychology’s male, not a challenge to its construction (Fraser and Nicholson 1990). Ruddick (1989) attributes women’s caring to their maternal experience, which generates maternal thinking. It does not necessarily entail physical childbirth. She argues that anyone who does what mothers do, cares for young children and prepares them for social acceptability, has an epistemological resource for developing maternal thinking. Thus, everyone is a potential maternal thinker. Unlike Gilligan, she takes her argument to a political level to include men rather than offering an alternative model of morality. In maternal thinking she sees a route to world peace. To reach that point, she urges men to share child care with women, thereby becoming maternal thinkers. Also unlike Gilligan, she acknowledges lapses in women’s caring, avoiding a false universal. But she attributes the gaps to political pressures, a gesture recalling Sita forgiving the Raakshasis who were her prison guards because they had simply obeyed their king. Both instances propose that women are socially determined relative to others, leaving no ground for adjudicating conflicting interests. Chodorow’s (1989) account of mothering suggests an origin of the caring function that Gilligan and Ruddick believe determines women’s lives, though her picture is less benign than theirs. A psychoanalyst, she believes with Freud that the human psyche is formed in infancy in a family drama. Her scenario retains his Oedipus scene but highlights an earlier one in which mothers determine unconscious desires. Mothering becomes the cause of not only the female’s lifelong search for close relationships, but also men’s avoidance of intimacy. In an elaboration of object relations theory, scarcely known outside psychoanalytic circles until Chodorow popularized it, she has mother and child alone on stage with no scenery to suggest a context. They are subject and object for each other, motivated by sex difference or sameness. The mother pushes the son away, impelling him to reject intimate caring as her feminine role. Presuming some likely consequences, Chodorow thinks the rejection prepares men for masculine power



conflicts and rules of capitalist competition, traits reinforced in the Oedipal scene. Her mother and daughter develop a ‘prolonged symbiosis’, implanting the daughter’s desire for continuity with others. Ultimately, the daughter must seek intimacy with a man, the Oedipus effect, but he shuns emotional closeness. She desires a baby to find it, but then reproduces the mothering of daughters and sons. In other words, the mother-child scene constructs the political economy. Chodorow’s theory presupposes a father earning income and a mother isolated at home with a child in a nuclear family. Whereas Freud creates a female trapped into neurosis by her anatomy and morally defective because she misses his Oedipal lesson, Chodorow’s female is the instrument of her own and all humanity’s oppression. As a preventive, Chodorow recommends shared parenting. This, she believes, would free women to experience the external world, becoming less dependent on relationships, and would teach men to appreciate intimacy; everyone in society would value caring. Beyond her lens are lesbians, single mothers, married mothers earning income, mothers who must rely on sons for status and future financial support, mothers who prepare their daughters for self-reliance, women who do not want children, and mothers for whom any child is a burden, another mouth to feed. While the feminists discussed above assume women’s attachment to men, Mary Daly (1978) thinks our liberation requires separation from them. As evidence of the male’s invariable oppression of women, she points to Western gynaecology, European witch burning, Hindu sati, and Chinese foot-binding. Her vision of emancipation has fired the imagination of many women. It involves an escape from male—defined femininity that turns them into domesticated, cosmetized, caged birds in order to realize their inherent creative energy. For a key to open the cages, she provides a lexicon redefining words that convey patriarchal values. For example, a ‘spinster’ becomes a passionate spirit spinning imaginatively through life, not a pitiable unmarried woman; a witch is a wise woman with healing powers, not an evil, ugly one. Irigary (1980, 1985), in France offers a more complex analysis that weaves critiques of Western philosophy, its political economy, linguistics, and psychoanalysis. Sometimes considered a postmodernist because she addresses multiple oppressions, her identification with essentialists comes from her location of women’ sensitivity to interrelatedness in their biological sexuality. Neither Irigary’s nor other French theorists


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who focus on sexuality, it should be noted, represent the entire French feminist movement, a mistaken impression in the US and India. The topic is one strand in the political and intellectual movement (Moi 1987). Although Irigary, like Chodorow, is a psychoanalyst, both their accounts of gender and its connection to the political economy are very different. Irigary locates the origin of men’s consciousness in their possession of a singular erotic resource and interprets capitalism as an expression of their use of the genitals as an instrument for penetration and oppression. Women’s multiple sites of erotic pleasure, she assumes, give rise to a psyche that prefers caring relationships. As a way to explore this, Irigary uses a metaphorical speculum, the medical instrument for examining a female’s internal organs. Where Freud sees a lack, a missing penis, Irigary sees pairs touching, a resource for a sensibility of connectedness. Where Lacan sees an absent phallic sign for an Imaginary locking men into the father’s Symbolic Order, the world that excludes women, Irigary sees a potentially different Imaginary. To develop and emancipate themselves from male visions, Irigary urges women to discover their sexual potential in autoerotic and lesbian relationships. They would work with men and initially experience heterosexuality. To protect themselves in patriarchal society, they could practice mimesis, flaunting and exaggerating, mimicking the femininity that men define. Irigary concedes that this is risky since they may become what they play. But the greater risk she sees is to define the ‘feminine’ and slide into patriarchal terms. In other words, she wants women to withdraw from the patriarchal process while living in it. In India, Shiva (1988) develops an ecofeminist account of women’s caring, associating their tendency to preserve life with their use of natural products. Her analysis of the economy centers on ecological concerns, the destruction of resources women need to feed and care for their families. She shows how corporations clearing land for factories to produce products for export destroy forest products, wrecking women’s subsistence economy. But her women are not willing victims. She offers a model of women’s activism in response to threats against their lifesustaining work. In the Chipko campaign, mostly women hugged trees to prevent men from chopping them down for a factory, then monitored the use of the forest. The extent to which such campaigns can affect national and global policies on the environment and poverty, Shiva’s larger goal, is an open question.



More commonly, Indian feminists deplore assumptions of women’s inherent caring function as an ideology that impedes their full human development. Thus, essays on education critique practices that socialize girls for dedication to family service (Chanana 1988). This puts them in opposition to calls for women’s devotion to families as their national identity (Jain 1993) and to Indian psychoanalysts’ functionalism. The Sita and Draupadi ideals of female self-denial, assumed to create boundaries for women in both traditional and modern sectors in India (Kakar 1988), are shown to be harmful and changeable norms. The Freudian view that female’s ‘penis envy’ generates self-hatred, motivating hostility to other females as in mother-in-law/daughter-in-law conflicts (Nandy 1988), is undermined by displays of the contexts that demean both. In the US, criticism of essentialists’ thought by other feminists revolves around three points: 1) It universalizes women, assuming erroneously that all experience gender alike; 2) It confuses natural phenomena with women’s strategies for coping with patriarchal demands; 3) It invites continued perceptions of women as social housekeepers in worlds that men build. The essentialists, however, generate profound questions. Should we understand women in terms of patriarchal constructions or value their models of human ideals? How is women’s sexuality to be comprehended outside of patriarchal visions? How do women resist control?

Feminist Socialists Feminist socialists view the essentialist and radical feminist definitions of patriarchy as generative of human oppression as being anti-theoretical. However, many unanswered questions have stimulated them to revise their Marxism so as to account for gender, something which Marx ignored. They want sexuality and gender relations included in analyses of society. Thus, they reject the doctrine expressed in Lenin’s (1934: 101) rebuke to Clara Zetkin for permitting discussions of sexual and family matters instead of focusing on the class struggle. This rejection differentiates socialist and Marxist feminists, a distinction made explicit in the US. It should be understood, however, that both camps accept the basic tenets enunciated in classical Marxian texts (e.g. Engels 1972; Marx 1973a, 1973b; Marx and Engels 1970). Both socialist and Marxist feminists agree that humans are defined by their production of the


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means of their existence. Both see humans, not as liberals do, differentiated from animals by their rational capacity, but as biological beings in a continual process of praxis to solve problems of existence. Work is considered the essence of humanness, changing in form as people perceive new needs, devise ways to satisfy them, and develop appropriate social relations. Sociality, then, is seen as the human condition. Therefore, the liberal problem of explaining why autonomous beings come together is averted. Instead, the problem posed is how to regain a natural sociality which has been spoiled by social systems, currently exemplified in capitalism. Underlying Marxist tenets is a vision of a dynamic material foundation of perfectible human thought. Since each solution to meeting needs is negated by a new one, a dialectical analysis is required to understand history. Its contents would consist of contradictory forces that precipitate change in the economic base of each period in society. Unlike liberalism, which assumes we have already attained our evolutionary peak by conceptualizing transcendent reason, Marxism projects two more stages. It sees in capitalist class structure the setting for a final synthesis of the contradiction in capitalism: Technology to satisfy human needs has reached a high point, but most benefits accrue to the few who own the means of production through their exploitation of the workers who actually produce goods. It is assumed that if the workers seized the means of production, they would reap the benefits and continue to develop technology. In the new system of ownership, (i.e., socialism), benefits would be shared equitably because thinking would change. Instead of the competitive epistemology generated by capitalism, the socialist economy would stimulate cooperative thought and social relations. This would bring history to the last stage of progress, a communist society where work and leisure are creative activities. A problem which needs to be solved in this scenario is how to persuade the workers to engage in the conflict required to capture the means of production. The Marxist solution envisages vanguard revolutionaries instilling class consciousness. These vanguard revolutionaries have to help workers overcome their false consciousness by showing how capitalist hegemony has misled them into thinking that they voluntarily exchange their labour for meagre wages.



Given the monocausal account of social arrangements, conflicts such as those in gender, race, and caste relations are regarded as by-products of class. They reside, in Marxist terms, in society’s superstructure, not its economic base. Presupposing a unitary class of workers, it is anticipated that by overthrowing capitalism all other conflicts would be dissolved. In other words, classical Marxism envisions a second-stage liberation of women; it comes after capitalism is eliminated. Marxist and socialist feminists part ways here. Their disagreement revolves around definitions of women’s domestic labour, and everything they do at home. Both see this activity as providing capitalists with profits extracted from congealed labour, invisible but necessary to the economy. This analysis strikes a chord in many women, as it argues that their undervalued daily tasks of cleaning, cooking, and nurturing are crucial to reproducing the labour force, energizing adults and producing a new generation of workers. Despite experiencing discomfort with the implication that giving birth and rearing children is equivalent to producing objects, chairs or spoons, the labour involved takes on a new significance. For Marxist feminists, domestic labour produces use value since its products are consumed within the family; in the economy outside products with exchange valour produced. Their answer to what they call ‘the woman question’ is to bring women into the public labour force, make them available to learn class consciousness and join the struggle to hasten the arrival of socialism. At that point their domestic labour would be socialized, and therefore would be real work. Each step is seen as dissolving the separation of public and private realms (Zaretsky 1973). Meanwhile, in Zaretsky’s proposal, defining wive’s labour as somehow productive would make it seem valuable. His point (1974) is to persuade women that their enemy is capitalism, not men. Underscoring the point, he argues that women are attached to either bourgeois or proletarian men, and thus are on either one or the other side of class struggle with no class of their own. In what has emerged as a Marxist feminists’ domestic labour debate, Western advocates of wages for housework offer a different solution. As opposed to Zaretsky, they propose that the state pay housewives, hence constituting them as workers ready to join others in the class struggle (Costa and James 1972).


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Neither side of the debate addresses overlaps of women’s domestic and market work. The production of food and other items for sale as well as for family use (Nickols and Srinivisan 1994) falls outside their dichotomy. The proposal of wages for housework leaves women in their domestic position, adjuncts in the class struggle. Like the other side of the debate, it positions women in relation to the economy and ignores female-male relationships. That omission is addressed in a benchmark discussion among 14 US socialist feminists, aptly subtitled ‘The Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism’ (Sargent 1981). The discussion shifts the ‘woman question’ to feminist questions on the sources of women’s oppression and directions for change. Hartmann (1981: 1–42) opens the discussion with an analogy of a defunct British system that had created a single legal entity in marriage, the husband. She calls for a healthier marriage of feminism and Marxism or a divorce. The Marxists’ concern about whether women work for men or for capitalists she dismisses as misdirected: it is not attitudes that need changing, as Zaretsky would have it, but realities. Accepting Marxist insights into the laws of history and the economy, she complains that it fails to understand sexism. For that, she insists, a feminist analysis is necessary. Applying Marxist insights, she locates a material base of patriarchy, shifting it out of the superstructure in which was simply regarded as a psychological consequence of the economy, and points to dialectical moments in history. With these tools, she presents patriarchy as a structure parallel to capitalism, its partner. Its material base is in men’s control of women’s labour power, sexuality, and biological reproduction. The historical dialectic is in patriarchy’s working in different ways at different times with different economic systems, for example, feudalism and socialism. In capitalism, she points to men’s moves to benefit materially from women’s labour: 1) male workers’ demands that females be excluded from the labour market and stay home attending to men’s needs; 2) male workers’ collusion with male capitalists for a family wage instead of joining in women’s demands for equal pay with men; and 3) the male Left’s refusal to take women’s issues seriously. Her reasoning brings her to a definition of patriarchy: a system of social relations with a material base, and which though hierarchical, establishes solidarity among men to dominate women. In effect, Hartmann attacks the Marxist claim to working class women’s and men’s solidarity. Her



solution for feminists is to develop new analytical categories for understanding the intersection of class struggles and patriarchy. For Young (1981: 43–70), Hartmann has created a dual-system theory that retains the flawed liberal concept of a public/private split. She sees it as placing patriarchy in the family and capitalism outside, avoiding the interconnected division of labour. Given men’s control over women in both spheres, which Hartmann concedes, Young considers it more useful to conceptualize a single system that encompasses gender, class, and race. The dual-system theory seems to her to require two political campaigns, with women attending twice as many meetings. Joseph’s (1981: 91–108) response to Hartmann is to attack her racism. She makes two major charges. One is the neglect of the centrality of racism and the specific oppression of black women in the labour force. The other is the failure to understand the difference in white and Black women’s relationship to men. Neither as enslaved people nor in the racist polity since then, she points out, has Black men’s control over Black women been comparable to white men’s over white women. Instead, Black women and men are united in combating the racism of both white women and white men and in caring for each other. That unity is disputed by Black feminists who acknowledge Black men’s oppression of Black women, though they agree with the main thrust of Joseph’s analysis (Hooks 1984). Riddiough (1981: 71–90) takes on Hartmann’s assumption of heterosexuality, directing attention to lesbian and gay liberation struggles. Including these centrally in theory, she argues, would strengthen it, illuminating the utility of heterosexuality in the economy. These four arguments illustrate the direction in the essays. They also illuminate gaps. For instance, there is no conceptualization of global inter-twining of patriarchy and capitalism. The theorizing does not admit to such problems as recent upward moves of some Black women in the US, while others (along with Black men) lost jobs to lower-paid workers in other parts of the world (Brewer 1993). The arguments can usefully be compared to those developed by Indian left feminists. The Western distinction between Marxists and Socialists is not explicit. However, some trends can be discerned. Bypassing the question of new analytical categories to connect the domestic-public division of labour, Indian feminists construct new


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categories within each realm. The material and ideological bases of both patriarchy and capitalism is taken as a fact. While some are concerned with the scope of theorizing (e.g., Sangari 1993), others concentrate on analysing specific economic practices and gender relations (e.g., Agarwal 1994). Kalpagam’s (1994) conception of a multi-structural Indian economy dispenses with the US debate on single-versus-dual system theories. Her analysis of the complexity of the structure’s hierarchy illuminates vertical interactions. This reveals the depression of lower forms of production by the higher ones in British colonial and post-independence capitalism, with state agencies mediating economic development. In  that process, it is the effect on women’s labour force participation which interests her rather than female-male relationships, suggesting adherence to classical Marxism. This is clearest in her case studies. For example, her analysis of the informal labour sector focuses on women’s positioning for class struggle; their condition as women is not discussed. Sangari (1993) postpones confronting Marxist analytical categories. She enters the domestic labour debate to examine the context of domestic work, reasoning that such an analysis is a necessary precondition for considering whether that work can be assimilated into classical Marxist categories. In a richly textured study, she shows how gender elements in class and caste structures affect marriage, family relations, and women’s work and also how education is factored into domestic settings. It appears that selecting features from Indian and US leftist theorists could strengthen studies on patriarchal gender relations and social change. Sangari models the kind of analyses US socialist feminists have not undertaken. Her approach could also enrich analyses of tribal groups whose land has historically been held in common but not controlled equally by women and men (Chauhan 1990). Kalpagam’s concept of multi-structural contexts could usefully inform US analyses of its own stratified divisions and its informal sector, which has been ignored. Joseph’s point on inter- and extra-group solidarity suggests looking at caste/class relations, for instance, between Dalit women and men, high caste women and men, and their common interest in opposing Western colonialism. A combination of these features could improve the currently unsatisfactory definitions of household labour to account for long and short-term migrations (Boorah 1990).



But several critical issues remain unaddressed. There are descriptions but no theoretical explanations of the privilege of heterosexuality, race, ethnicity, caste, and religion in relation to the economy; Kalpagam’s concept of multiple structures only suggests possibilities. There is no adequate account of the gendering of multinational corporations abroad and in their home countries, for instance, in the US and India. Missing also, despite widespread concern about population control, are theories explaining policies on family size, it restriction as in India and China and its expansion as in Singapore. Analyses of patriarchy have not yet shown why women are ‘resubordinated’ after joining men in liberation struggles, for example, in India and Algeria. Fundamentally, there is not yet a clear vision of a democratic society to which to aspire and no political programme to go from here to there. Some of the difficulty lies in Marxist precepts. Assuming that an external factor changes the cognition of Marxism on social conditions, it leaves open questions on whether economic rationality is identical with all rationality and progress (Harding 1986: 214–215). Harding, a US theorist, suggests that the Marxist story of progress contains distortions, just as origin tales about positivist science do. The concept of external factors is also, she points out, threatened by relativism: the claim that changes in economic arrangements improve sociality cannot by itself support one idea about change as better than another. The concept of practice altering thought is also vulnerable to empirical evidence of a reverse sequence. Actually, Marx’s expectation of a vanguard which helps to change workers consciousness to stimulate them to action argues the reverse. That self-initiated thought can lead to action is demonstrated in women’s active opposition to patriarchy after consciousness raising sessions (MacKinnon 1989: 83–106). MacKinnon, a radical feminist in the US, calls consciousness raising the feminist method. This method discards what she considers Marxist scientism, which positions an expert outside a social situation to analyse it. In her post-Marxist analysis, she argues that in the feminist method women draw on their material being and thought, which is inextricably intertwined, to examine their own social context, where the two elements are similarly interconnected. Consciousness raising, MacKinnon believes, helps each woman recognize that all women’s sexuality is expropriated by men and that it constructs gender in families, at work, and on the street. The


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conclusion, summed up in the feminist slogan, ‘The personal is political’ is for MacKinnon a cue for action to liberate women. Along with her larger analysis it serves her critique of rape, sexual harassment, and pornography as well as her own activism on these issues and informs her proposal for a feminist theory of the state (1989: 237–49). While she links each issue to economic power relations between women and men, her cultural concern is describing capitalist practices, sexual exploitation rather than the capitalist system. But her assumption that all women draw on the same epistemology is disputed as a European American presumption. Thus, King (1988) particularizes African—American feminist consciousness in the multiplicative, not simply additive, experience of race, gender, and class oppression. This tension surfaces again in feminist standpoint theory, formulated initially by Harding (1986). Its research agenda, resonating group-consciousness raising, calls for researchers and respondents jointly analysing the contents of the lives to be studied and its context (Smith 1979). Smith, a Canadian, seeks to assemble the results of studies of diverse groups to find commonalities among them. Her design is altered in a proposal that the Black feminist standpoint represents collective sources within the African-American community (Collins 1990). In effect, one approach risks totalizing all women, the other attempts to universalize a group with its own diversities. The Marxian assumption of evolutionary progress is also contested on grounds more specific than Harding’s (1986), above. MacKinnon (1989: 13–36) disputes Engels’ account of the onset of women’s subordination. It is not plausible to her that women willingly yielded their economic power and sexual freedom, preferring monogamy in privatized families, at a time when men accumulated property and made it private. To think as Engels does seems to her a characteristic male bias. Her charge reiterates her central theme that sexuality is the crucial dimension of social relations. Ecofeminists Shiva, an Indian, and Mies, a European activist in India for many years, criticize the economy/culture dualism in Marxism (Mies and Shiva 1993: 11–23). They argue that privileging the economy belies the significance of culture in most non-European societies and resonates the thinking of multinational corporations. In foregrounding culture, however, Mies and Shiva avoid relativism. They insist on the necessity of value judgments, citing dowry, female genital



mutilation, and India’s caste system as examples of objectionable customs. In their view, accepting injurious local customs as simply different accords with multinational corporate interests working through the state as linchpins in a patriarchal system. Contradictorily, though, while they recognize the structural forces, their solution is individualistic. They expect women and men to re-educate themselves to develop sexual relations as part of loving and caring for the environment, ignoring the effects of constructions of gender relations.

Feminist Postmodernism Feminist theorizing is postmodern in its rejection of the Enlightenment’s fundamental proposition: the assumption of a self abstracted from its contingencies (body, emotion, and social location) knowing universal laws of nature. Each feminist theory—those discussed above and others—at least calls the proposition into question. They all, however, position women as subjects, a contested location in postmodernism. Its theoretical variations converge on a view that such positioning, necessarily subjective, presupposes the self ’s objectivity. In their spatially oriented terms, assuming a subject position constructs a centre of power and margins occupied by SOMEONE. To avoid this, they advocate indeterminacy, a stance of uncertainty admitting to multiple viewpoints. They point to such disastrous consequences of centralizing power as colonialism, the Holocaust, and the Vietnam war. The problem of postmodernism centring itself to monitor oversights of other theories is not analysed. A summary of postmodernism’s main features by a feminist proponent, Flax (1990), enables a comparison with other feminist views. Most generally stated, it abjures the Enlightenment’s ground for explaining human experience and promising human progress. Rejecting the belief in a rational self functioning according to universal laws, postmodernism denies that science—and its philosophy—can provide an objective, reliable foundation for knowledge. It scorns science’s claim to neutral methods that produce universally beneficial results. Language is considered less a transparent medium through which the real is represented than a strategy for controlling behaviour. It disputes contentions which hold that conflicts between truth, knowledge, and power can be


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overcome on the grounds of reason. No truth is seen as neutral, capable of serving power without distortion and leading to freedom. From these perspectives, meta-narratives are not to be trusted. Truth claims of Marxism, humanism, religion and feminism are seen as bids for power. Among Indian feminists, postmodernism may be perceived equivocally. Its rejection of a dominant centre is consistent with their own rejection of the idea of negotiating a space for Indians within feminism, which presumes that feminism is ‘Western’ (Kumar 1993: 195). Kumar claims for Indian feminists ‘a kind of universalism, of which Western feminism is one stream and Indian feminism another’, a claim discredited by postmodernism. Among US feminists, postmodernism is highly controversial. Some embrace the emphasis on discourse as a process of creating subjects and the meaning of experience (Scott 1992). Others see a threat not only to feminists but also to other previously silenced groups now redefining themselves as subjects (Hartsock 1990). The threat seems less serious when interpreted as a call to interrogate a subject’s identity (Butler 1992). An interrogation can lead to the evaluation of testimony in the spirit of Tharu’s (1993) recommendation to scrutinize a subject’s claim to rights. The point would be to abandon the homogenization of women and address differences in race, class, sexual orientation, and ethnic identities (Hooks 1984), a list to which Indian feminists would probably add caste and religion. Still, a question remains. How can women justify their demands without situating themselves as women? An argument for the mind’s contingencies offers an answer. Bordo (1990) points out that the body is materially situated in a particular place. It cannot be everyone and everywhere, endlessly flexible with no stopping point—or it is nowhere. Postmodernism’s refusal to accept such a limitation strikes her as inevitably ending up with the politics of individualism. Postmodern critiques of science, on the other hand, are shared by feminists. Harding (1986) denounces the androcentric bias in science’s ‘context of discovery of problems, to study hierarchical production systems, definitions of concepts, collection and interpretation of data, and justificatory strategies’. None the less, she accepts feminist empiricism for its strategic value (1986: 24–26). Disputing its practitioners’ claim that sexist results are simply instances of ‘bad science’, she sees it as subverting science’s claim to objectivity: its methods can reach opposite



conclusions and the significance of researchers’ social identity becomes visible. While admitting that this leaves in place a powerful source of social bias, feminist empiricism, she notes, provides data in political arenas where only traditional science is acceptable. Harding prefers a feminist standpoint to produce knowledge (1986: 26–28, 150, 158). It is grounded in women’s subjugated position, mediated by analyses of masculine domination and a search for a successor to Enlightenment science. Researchers treat women as subjects, not objects of inquiry as in empiricist methodology. This, she argues, provides the possibility of more complete and less perverse understandings. An example is the women’s health movement. She points to its use of data from women’s perspective which makes its findings more reliable than those emanating from men; their dominant social positions explain harmful conclusions. Disrupting her assumption of a standpoint, Harding proposes a third epistemological route, feminist postmodernism. It accepts women’s ‘hyphenated’ identities: Black, Asian, Native American, working class, lesbian (1986: 27–9, 163–4). Rather than dismiss her standpoint theory, however, she embraces ambivalence, a stance she considers preferable to theorizing an incoherent world to make it seem coherent. Although difference is acknowledged, there is no theory of difference, reflecting the difficulty of locating women in extant paradigms. The female subject disappears into he in the rationalist framework and dissolves into a plurality in postmodernism (Stefano 1990). Postmodernists attempt to simplify the problem by arguing for local perspectives, where homogeneity is assumed. This renders useless any cross-cultural work on gender and leaves invisible patriarchy and other macro level structures of power (Benhabib 1990). Rather than abandoning such projects or writing off feminism because some feminists falsely universalize female behaviour, a better solution lies in giving closer attention to axes of social constructs intertwined with gender (Fraser and Nicholson 1990). Questions on power, however, would remain. In Foucault’s (1979) theory, lauded by feminist and other postmoderns, vivid analyses of regimes of power alert us to symptoms of coercion elsewhere. Each regime, however, remains discrete and with no perceptivity of its gendering. Foucault hides males’ invention of prisons and asylums and their valorization of masculinity. In a telling example of his gender bias, his history of sexual repression recalls with nostalgia an earlier era of males’ free exploitation of females. A man’s sexual abuse of little girls was once natural, he thinks, simply part of rural life (Foucault 1980).


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Power seems inescapable to Foucault. In his argument that unmasking power can only destabilize, not transform it, Hartsock (1990) perceives a colonizer’s perspective: He resists power, but never risks a comfortable relationship with his peers to suggest ways to comb at them. The reverse seems true. As Hartsock points out, Foucault thinks power is discoverable through ascending analyses, suggesting it comes from below. For her this tantamounts to blaming victims without analysing the coercive means used to make them comply with power. What women need, Hartsock (1990) argues, is a theory of power that will help them and subjugated men change relations of domination. Instead of the total coerciveness portrayed by Foucault, she calls for attention to women’s strengths and abilities. In contrast, Weedon (1987) locates useful clues for feminists in her discussion of post-structuralism, the branch of postmodernism emphasizing textual analysis. She finds a method of comprehending signs that communicate gender relations in Foucault’s concept of discourse as a ‘field’ in which to examine the relation of institutions, subjectivity, and power. Dress and demeanor become signs in a ‘discursive field’. From this perspective, Western women’s stiletto heels, restricting their gait and deforming their leg muscles, would be compared to Western men’s low heels and open stride as signs of institutionalized power. The saree of Indian women, constraining their movements, would similarly be compared to Indian men’s Western corporate style suits, which permit free movement. Analysing linguistic discourses, signifiers and the signified, can help make sense of contradictions, as Weedon suggests. But her definition of post-structuralism, a standard one, reveals its limitation. It says experience has no meaning without language, denying the material reality of unarticulated experience, for example, sexism. Because feminism has unanswered questions on the meaning of gender, Flax (1990) considers it only an entry point into comprehending social reality. Focusing on the universalizing done in feminist essentialism and overlooking other theories, she wants feminism situated within postmodernism to avoid that problem. For understanding gender, she looks to psychoanalysis despite its reductionism. Post-Structuralism can be understood as the French intellectuals’ assumption of responsibility for the West’s crisis of legitimation (Jardine 1985). According to Jardine, they seek to fill the space of intellectuals’ ‘non-knowledge’ that permitted the devastation of so many people. That space, she says, is coded by Derrida, the leader of the deconstructionists’



as feminine, a horizon towards which thought moves but cannot be reached. She claims that the presence of text-sexuality in Derrida’s work is lost in their translations into English, but that his insistence on deferring certainty reflects a deeply political and sexual stake. Applying his own deconstructive method, she reads his work as not preferring the absence of knowledge, but wanting to think about why Western philosophy could not find the gap in its knowledge. In her reading, Derrida and his followers play on the female body as the space they could not find. Jardine’s interpretation of the Derridean project is supported in a defining monograph (Derrida 1985). As a writer, he claims to encompass male and female, the inheritance of his dead father and his mother, producer of his life. His fantasy of a female who becomes a bad real woman, a vagina-as-ear-mouth, leads him to warn women to remain mothers to retain their purity, losing themselves in anonymity and surviving only if they remain submerged. Obviously his male aspect dominates the female, the subject with no visible position. Although there is strong opposition among feminists to Derrida’s presumption (Jardine 1985), he also has a feminist following. Spivak (1988) stands out for her agreement with his doctrines. Yet, she suspends them for ‘practical exigencies’. She joins him frequently in warning that the positioning of a central subject inevitably marginalizes others. A  self-identified feminist, deconstructionist, and Marxist, she applies each school of thought selectively. Thus, she takes a stand against her own marginalization by a group of men, explaining the necessity of shuttling between the centre and the margins to make a point (Ibid.: 103–117). That is, she advises reading the postmoderns with a pinch of salt.

Conclusion To summarize the review presented above, feminist liberalism identifies women as a class entitled to rights as women, but leaves economic and social structures intact, with no way to redress inequitable distributions of social goods among women—and men. The essentialists’ useful attention to hitherto unappreciated qualities of women is gravely flawed by failing to notice artefacts of their status in a patriarchal society. They also err in ignoring the diversity of gender experience. Their analyses present women as biologically, socially, and/or psychologically determined. While the essentialists recognize gender power relations, women’s agency to change their status emerges in impractical programmes.


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The postmoderns provide important cautions against privileging some women at the expense of others. When they insist on prohibiting all truth claims as equal threats of dominance, women’s demands for relief from oppression can only be seen as no more justified than that of their oppressors. The endless deferral of conclusions, as a critic suggests, can be seen as constructing a ‘feminine’ space where intellectuals aggressively play out tentative ideas. Feminist socialism seems the most promising of the theories reviewed. It overcomes the limitations of the others. The requirement for material historicity grounds accounts of women in diverse realities, countering the essentialists’ universalizing attempts. The concept of socially constructed thought discards the liberal assumption of a natural substrata of mind, entitling an elite group to control those who deviate. The vision of the end of capitalism offers hope of eliminating not only gender but all oppressions by eradicating hierarchical social structures. More thorough revisions of the Marxist monocausal account of society and its related definitions, however, seem in order. The economy is an important pillar of social arrangements but does not stand alone. What is needed are feminist syntheses of economy with its dimensions of consciousness, sexuality, procreation and child rearing, and cultural phenomena that are at least partially independent of the economy, such as race, religion, and ethnicity. The relationship of individuals to the community needs to be thought out. Finally, to fulfil the promise, a political programme is necessary. The critical review of feminist theories in this paper argues that each has merits and limitations, some with more of one than the other. As indicated in the introduction, the review presents a limited array of theories and only summarizes each one. There is a need to explore these and others more fully, select one or a combination of useful elements, or improve on the choices here. Given the critiques noted, theorizing anew seems in order.

Note Earlier versions of this paper were presented at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, Jadavpur University, Calcutta, and Kurukshetra University, Kurukshetra. The argument developed during my tenure as Visiting Professor at JNU in 1994–95. Helpful comments on a previous draft by M. N. Panini are acknowledged with thanks.



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Kalpagam, U. 1994. Labour and Gender: Survival in Urban India. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Karlekar, Malavika. 1988. ‘Women’s Nature and Education’, in Karuna Chanana (ed.), Socialisation Education and Women: Explorations in Gender Identity, pp. 129–65. New Delhi: Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. Kessler-Harris, Alice. 1984. Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States. New York: Oxford University Press. King, Deborah K. 1988. ‘Multiple Jeopardy, Multiple Consciousness: The Context of a Black Feminist Ideology’, Signs, 14(1): 267–91. Kishwar, Madhu. 1990. ‘Why I Do Not Call Myself a Feminist’, Manushi (Nov.–Dec): 2–8. Kumar, Radha. 1993. The History of Doing: An Illustrated Account of Movements for Women’s Rights and Feminism in India, 1800–1990. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Joseph, Glora. 1981. ‘The Incompatible Menage a Trois: Marxism, Feminism, and Racism’, in Lydia Sargent (ed.). Women and Revolution: A Discussion of the Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism, pp. 91–108. Boston: South End. Lenin, Vladimir I. 1934. On the Emancipation of Women. New York: International. Leonardo, Micaela D. (ed.) 1991. Gender at the Crossroads of Knowledge: Feminist Anthropology in the Postmodern Era. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Locke, John. (1690)1963. Two Treatises of Government. New York: Cambridge University Press. Locke, John. (1690)1956. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Chicago: Regnery. Lorde, Andre. 1984. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. Freedom, CA: Crossing. MacKinnon, Catherine A. 1989. Toward a Feminist Theory of the State. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Marx, Karl. 1973a. Capital: A Critique of Political Economy. New York: Vintage. Marx, Karl. 1973b. Grundrisse: Foundations of the Critique of Political Economy. New York: Vintage. Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels. (1846)1970. The German Ideology, Part 1. (Lawrence & Wishart, translator). New York: International. Messer-Davidow. 1991. ‘Academic Knowledge and Social Change’, in Joan E. Hartman and Ellen Messer-Davidow (eds), (En)Gendering Knowledge: Feminists in Academe, pp. 281–310. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press. Mies, Maria. 1986. Patriarchy and Accumulation on a World Scale: Women in the International Division of Labor. London: Zed. Mies, Maria and Vandana Shiva. 1993. Ecofeminism. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Minh-ha, Trinh T. 1989. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Mohanty, Chandra et al. (eds). 1991. Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Moi, Toril (ed.). 1987. French Feminist Thought: A Reader. New York: Basil Blackwell. Morrison, Toni. 1993. Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination. New York: Vintage. Nandy, Ashis. 1988. ‘Woman versus Womanliness in India: An Essay in Social and Political Psychology’, in Rehana Ghadially (ed.), Women in Indian Society: A Reader, pp. 69–80. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Nickols, Sharon Y. and Kamala Srinivasan. 1994. ‘Women and Household Production’, in Romy Borooah (ed.), Capturing Complexity; An Interdisciplinary Look at Women, Households and Development, pp. 102–122. New Delhi: Sage Publications.


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Rege, Sharmila. 1995. Caste and Gender: The Violence Against Women in India, in P. J. Jogdand (ed.), Dalit Women: Issues and Perspectives, pp. 18–36. New Delhi: Gyan. Riddiough, Christine. 1981, ‘Socialism, Feminism, and Gay/Lesbian Liberation’, in Lydia Sargent (ed.), Women and Revolution: A Discussion of the Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism, pp. 71–90. Boston: South End. Rowbotham, Sheila. 1992. Women in Movement: Feminism and Social Action. New York: Routledge. Ruddick, Sara. 1989. Maternal Thinking. London: Verso. Sangari, Kumkum. 1993. ‘The “Amenities” of Domestic Life: Questions on Labour’, Social Scientist, 21(9–11): 3–46. Sangari, Kumkum and Sudesh Vaid, 1990. ‘Recasting Women: An Introduction’, in K. Sangari and S. Vaid (eds), Recasting Women: Essays in Indian Colonial History, pp. 1–26. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press. Sargent, Lydia (ed.). 1981. Women and Revolution: A Discussion of the Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminism. Boston: South End. Scott, Joan. 1988. Gender and the Politics of History. New York: Columbia University Press. Sen, Gita and Caren Grown. 1987. Development, Crises, and Alternative Visions. New York: Monthly Review Press. Seshadri, Subhadra. 1994. ‘Issues in Methodology with Specific Reference to India’, in Romy Boorah (ed.), Capturing Complexity: An Interdisciplinary Look at Women, Households and Development. New Delhi: Sage Publications. Shiva, Vandana, 1988. Staying Alive: Women, Ecology and Development. New Delhi: Kali for Women. Singh, Renuka. 1990. The Womb of Mind: A Sociological Exploration of the Status-Experience of Women in Delhi. New Delhi: Vikas. Smith, Dorothy. 1979. ‘A Sociology for Women’, in Julie Sherman and Evelyn T. Beck (eds), The Prism of Sex: Essays in the Sociology of Knowledge, pp. 76–99. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. Soundararajan, Rajeswari. 1993. Real and Imagined Women: Gender, Culture and Postcolonialism. New York: Routledge. Spivak, Gayatri C. 1988. In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics. New York: Routledge. Srivastava, A. K. 1980. Bhagvad Gita: Economic Development and Management. New Delhi: Shakti Malik. Stefano, Christine D. 1990. ‘Dilemmas of Difference: Feminism, Modernity, and Postmodernism’, in Linda J. Nicholson (ed.), Feminism/Postmodernism, pp. 63–82. New York: Routledge. Tharu, Susie. 1995. ‘Slow Pan Left: Feminism and the Problematic of Rights’, in Jasodhara Bagchi (ed.). Indian Women: Myth and Reality, pp. 44–57. Hyderabad: Sangam. Tharu, Susie and K. Lalita (eds). 1993. Women Writing in India. New York: Feminist Press. Toi, Toril. 1987. French Feminist Thought. New York: Blackwell. Weedon, Chris. 1987. Feminist Practice and Poststructural Theory. New York: Basic. Young, Iris. 1981. ‘Beyond the Unhappy Marriage: A Critique of the Dual Systems Theory’, in Lydia Sargent (ed.), Women and Revolution: A Discussion of the Unhappy Marriage of Marxism and Feminisim, pp. 43–70. Boston: South End. Zaretsky, Eli. 1973. ‘Capitalism, the Family, and Personal Life.’ Socialist Revolution, 3(1–2): 69–125. Zaretsky, Eli. 1974. ‘Socialism and Feminism III: Socialist Politics and the Family.’ Socialist Revolution, 4(1): 83–98.

7 Social Structure M.N. Srinivas



uring the last twenty five years, the concept of social structure has come to occupy a central place in social anthropology. This concept is to be found in Montesquieu (Evans-Pritchard, 1951, 22F) and in later times, in Herbert Spencer and E. Durkheim, Radcliffe-Brown used it consistently in his lectures since about 1911 and, as the years went by, he gave an increasingly important place to it in his teaching. Modern British social anthropology is not intelligible without it. “All British social anthropologists are structuralists in their use of the analytical principles developed by this method.” (Firth, 1955). Although sociologists such as Durkheim had pointed to the importance of social morphology or structure, a new departure was marked in the thirties of the present century by the works of a number of British social anthropologists. Field studies by these anthropologists, mainly in Africa, produced a succession of monographs in which the concept of social structure was used as the central theoretical frame of reference. These studies, mainly by reason of the small size of the communities investigated, were able to present successful accounts of the total social structure by delineating the principal enduring groups and categories in a tribe and their interrelations. In a way it could be said that social anthropology had been grouping for some time for a well-defined field of its own, and a criterion of


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relevance, and found both in the concept of social structure. The delineation of social structure is a primary task, and even when such delineation does not actually take place, the social anthropologist views institutions or institutional complexes against the structural matrix. In a word, he regards institutions as part of the social structure, being both influenced by the total structure as well as influencing it. The concept of social structure and the bringing to bear of a structural point of view into the study of social phenomena are the specific contributions of social anthropologists. It is well-known that while there are several brilliant studies of the social structure of primitive and peasant communities, there are no comparable studies of the social structure of a big, modern country. This is due, in the first place, to the difficulty and complexity of undertaking such a study. Secondly, in the last twenty years or so, British social anthropologists have been preoccupied with problems of social structure to the exclusion of almost everything else. This has resulted in several good structural studies of primitive and peasant societies. It must be mentioned here, however, that there are available studies of sections of modern societies such as village communities and towns in India, Japan, China, U.K., U.S.A., and Canada. Studies have also been made of national institutions and problems such as race relations in the U.S.A. and caste in India.

II There are different views regarding what is social structure. According to Radcliffe-Brown (1952, 191–192): “There are some anthropologists who use the term social structure to refer only to persistent social groups, such as nations, tribes and clans, which retain their continuity, their identity as individual groups, in spite of changes in their membership. Dr. Evans-Pritchard, in his recent admirable book on the Nuer, prefers to use the term social structure in this sense. Certainly the existence of such persistent social groups is an exceedingly important aspect of structure. But I find it more useful to include under the term social structure a good deal more than this. “In the first place, I regard as a part of the social structure all social relations of person to person. For example, the kinship structure of any



society consists of a number of such dyadic relations, as between a father and son, or a mother’s brother and his sister’s son. In an Australian tribe the whole social structure is based on a network of such relations of person to person, established through genealogical connections. “Secondly, I include under social structure the differentiation of individuals and of classes by their social role. The differential social positions of men and women, of chiefs and commoners, of employers and employees, are just as much determinants of social relations as belonging to different clans or different nations.” In my opinion, the two views mentioned above are not as divergent as they seem at first sight. Dyadic relations can be usually referred to classes or categories which are a part of the structure. The relationships of master and servant, patron and client, and priest and worshipper, provide examples of such categories while rich and poor belong to different classes. Dyadic relationships between relatives are not fully understandable except as part of the wider kinship structure. The mutual rights, duties and privileges of mother’s brother and sister’s son vary from society to society and must be looked at as part of the kinship structure which is in turn a part of the total social structure. The relation between priest and worshipper is part of the religious structure while the relation between master and servant, and patron and client are part of the economic structure and the status system. Dyadic relationships are by and large referable to enduring classes or categories which are as much a part of the social structure as lineages and village communities. Any restriction of social structure to enduring groups only and to the exclusion of enduring categories and classes would seem to be arbitrary and unjustified. (But on the other hand dyadic relationships are referable to deeper elements of the social structure).

III A social structure may be looked upon as consisting of innumerable corporations, aggregate as well as sole. “English lawyers classify corporations as Corporations aggregate and Corporations sole. A Corporation aggregate is a true corporation, but a Corporation sole is an individual, being a series of individuals, who is invested by a fiction


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with the qualities of a corporation. I need hardly cite the King or the Parson of a Parish as instances of Corporation sole. The capacity or office is here considered apart from the particular person who from time to time may occupy it, and this capacity being perpetual, the series of individuals who fill it are clothed with the leading attribute of Corporations—Perpetuity. Now in the older theory of Roman Law the individual bore to the family precisely the same relation which in the rationale of English jurisprudence a Corporation sole bears to a Corporation aggregate”. (H.  S.  Maine, 1871, 155. Italics mine.) The traditional Indian village community is a good example of a corporation aggregate while the village headman, accountant and priest are examples of corporations sole. The legal mechanism which assures perpetuity to corporations is “universal succession”. “A universal succession is a succession to a universitatis juris. It occurs when one man is invested with the legal clothing of another, becoming at the same moment subject to all his liabilities and entitled to all his rights . . . In order that there may be a true universal succession the transmission must be such as to pass the whole aggregate of rights and duties at the same moment and in virtue of the same legal capacity in the recipient”. The corporations aggregate and sole which go to make up a social structure are perpetuated by means of universal succession. Duties and rights are attached to every office or role. The concept of office or role is the link between the individual and the social structure. Every holder of an office, whether it be that of a village headman, priest or manager (karta) of a joint family, is expected to behave in a particular way. There are norms to be observed, and failure to observe them will result in sanctions being brought to bear on the defaulter. Sanctions are of many kinds, and of varying degrees of severity and severity itself is culturally defined. Public opinion and reciprocity are two of the most important sanctions. Conscience, it needs hardly be said, is the subjective aspect of the normative system, the result of persistent training and indoctrination, especially in the first few years of life. Corresponding to every role or office in the structure, there are norms of conduct. Two or three decades ago, among the upper castes in India, looking after her husband was regarded as the moral and



religious duty of the wife. He was to be regarded as her god and serving him as her highest duty. It was a woman’s ambition to be a pativrathu. This does not necessarily mean that every upper caste wife or even a majority of them did actually behave in the way they were expected to behave. In no society is there a perfect overlap between the norms and actual conduct, and divergence between the two is an important field for investigation. Again, within the same society, norms may be obeyed in different degrees in different sectors of social life. It is somewhat facile to think that such conflicts are always due to the clash of selfinterest with those of duty. There is no doubt that this occurs frequently but norms may not be obeyed because, often one norm clashes with another. A woman’s role as wife may clash with her role as mother, daughter and daughter-in-law. In a situation of social change, there will be clash between traditional and new norms. An educated girl in an underdeveloped country often experiences such conflicts. A norm imposed by the government might clash with the traditional norms of the people. For instance, in modern India, a Hindu is required to give a share of ancestral property, including land, to a daughter. This conflicts with the traditional norms of the people, which require that land be passed on only to agnatic heirs.

IV A distinction has to be made between formal and informal or ‘operative’ structure. As Firth (1955, 3) observes, “it is one of the discoveries of modern industrial analysis that such informal structures are often the most effective in regulating working behaviour. In the ‘primitive’ field the informal structure and the formal structure may merge easily, if only because of the lack of any means such as charts or other written records by reference to which the formal structure can be maintained and established”. Any analysis of social structure which wishes to proceed beyond the delineation of the formal groups and categories into the actual functioning of it, must take note of informal structure. The formal structure is concerned only with the various roles and offices each, whereas the informal structure deals with the actual alignment of forces and their relation to the formal social structure. The informal structure usually operates within the framework of the formal


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structure. But individual members try to manipulate the offices and rules to further their self-interest. The scope for manipulation is greater when the rules are not clear. If the formal structure alone was considered individuals would appear to have very little freedom and initiative, while if the concept of informal structure were also considered, it would not only give them power, but also bring the concepts closer to social action and reality. When we consider the way a structure actually works, individuals have choice between alternative courses of action, and also, rules and offices become subject to manipulation by members of society. The informal structure does not have the stability of the formal structure but it is there and it influences the flow of social life. Firth is aware of this aspect of social life and his concept of social organisation meets it to some extent. “In the concept of social structure, the qualities recognised are primarily those of consistence, continuity, form and pervasiveness through the social field. But the continuity is essentially one of repetition. There is an expectation of sameness or an obligation to sameness, depending upon how the concept is phrased. A structural principle is one which provides a fixed line of social behaviour and represents the order which it manifests. The concept of social organisation has complementary emphasis. It recognizes adaptation of behaviour in respect of given ends, control of means in varying circumstances, which are set by changes in the external environment or by the necessity to resolve conflict between structural principles. If structure implies order, organisation implies a working towards order—though not necessarily the same order. There is an arrangement of activity in reference to the possible reciprocal movements of the factors involved in the situation.” (Firth, 1955, 2. Italics mine.)

V Does the concept of ‘social structure’ necessarily imply that every society is a unified whole? Such a presumption is probably strengthened by the frequent reference in literature to the ‘structure-function’ school or approach. It is true that in the recent history of British social anthropology the two most important concepts have been ‘function’ and ‘structure’, and by and large, the ‘functionalists’ of the twenties and thirties



are the ‘structuralists’ of today. So it would seem that historically at least the structuralists are committed to the view that every society is a whole and that its various parts are interrelated. More, the very concept of social structure would imply that the various groups and categories which are part of a society are related to each other. (Terms like ‘web’ and ‘network’ have been used in describing social structure.) The economic, kinship, political, legal and religious structures are not unrelated entities existing by themselves. As a matter of empirical observation it is known that changes in any one sector of the structure are followed by changes in the other sectors. But a question that needs to be asked is whether the existence of inter-relation between the parts implies that the parts so inter-related constitute a unified whole? If by a unified whole is meant that the various parts dovetail with each other to produce a state of equilibrium, then the assumption is unjustified. Tensions and conflicts do exist in all societies and they exert pulls in different and opposite directions. This view is not only in accord with experience, but it is also free from the teleological implications of the first view, viz., that in every society each part makes a contribution to the equilibrium of the whole. Every society may be looked at as striving towards equilibrium, but rarely actually achieving it. “But in the ‘organic’ metaphysics of liberal practicability, whatever tends to harmonious balance is likely to be stressed. In viewing everything as a ‘continuous process’, sudden changes of pace and revolutionary dislocations—so characteristic of our times—are missed, or, if not missed, merely taken as signs of the ‘pathological’, the ‘maladjusted’. The formality of the assumed unity implied by such innocent phrases as ‘the mores’ or ‘the society’ decrease the possibility of seeing what a modern social structure may be all about”. (C. Wright Mills: The Sociological Imagination, New York, 1959, p. 86). Conflict between different parts of the social structure should be treated as an essential attribute of it, as the aims and activities of different groups do not dovetail. Conflict between an individual’s self-interest and the groups of which he is a member is frequent. It may be added here that it is only in recent years that the subject or conflict within the social structure has received some attention from structural anthropologists. (See Prof. M. Gluckman’s stimulating booklet Custom and Conflict in Africa, Oxford, 1955). In fact, under the leitmotif of


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function and structure, the dominant emphasis has been on the analysis of stability and equilibrium conditions. According to Prof. EvansPritchard, “. . . modern social anthropology is conservative in its theoretical approach. Its interests are more in what makes for integration and equilibrium in society than in plotting scales and stages of progress”. (Evans-Pritchard, 1951, 41). What Prof. Evans-Pritchard says is specially true of research conducted before World War II, but it should be added here that not everyone is happy with an exclusive preoccupation with problems of stability and equilibrium. Dr. Leach, for instance, writes, “English social anthropologists have tended to borrow their primary concepts from Durkheim rather than from either Pareto or Max Weber. Consequently they are strongly prejudiced in favour of societies which show symptoms of ‘functional integration’, ‘social solidarity’, ‘cultural uniformity’, ‘structural equilibrium’. Such societies, which might well be regarded as moribund by historians or political scientists, are commonly looked upon by social anthropologists as healthy and ideally fortunate. Societies which display symptoms of faction and internal conflict leading to rapid change are on the other hand suspected of ‘anomie’ and pathological decay.” (1954, 7). This criticism does not, however, apply to Evans-Pritchard who is one of the few anthropologists to have undertaken a historical study. (See his The Sanusi Order in Cyrenaica, Oxford, 1949). Social anthropologists doing field-research subsequent to 1945 have had to reckon with change. Isolated and stationary communities are not to be found anywhere in the modern world. But the more or less exclusive preoccupation of anthropologists with synchronic problems meant that social anthropologists were utterly unprepared to undertake studies of changing social conditions. That is why the writings of many social anthropologists have an air of unreality, and not closely related to what is actually happening. The comparative ignoring of conflict by social anthropologists is surprising as the idea of conflict has been prominent in the intellectual heritage of anthropology. Conflict has been emphasised by Darwin, Marx and Freud. Malinowski, applying the idea of Freud to the matrilineal Trobrianders, discovered an “avuncular complex” existing among them. Such application has been fruitful to both anthropology and psychology.



It may be taken as axiomatic that in any social structure both conflict and co-operation are prevalent, and that at any given moment there are pulls in diverse directions. The concept of perfect equilibrium has only a heuristic value, societies being actually in a state of disequilibrium, the only question being the extent or degree of disequilibrium. The concept of disequilibrium postulates that the various parts of a society are inter-related, for disequilibrium is either the result of external forces acting on the society or due to internal stresses. In the latter case there is the implication that one part of the society is influenced or being influenced by the others. Interrelation only means that any part of the structure issues as well as receives forces from other parts. Thus a ‘stable’ kinship system might be adversely affected by the changing economic or religious system, or a changing kinship system might influence the economic system. This is putting the issue at its simplest. The existence of inter-relation should not be taken to mean that every small movement in a part of a social structure will be followed by movements in other parts. It is more likely that a movement has to acquire a certain amount of force before it influences other parts. Even then some parts may be more easily influenced than others. Again the parts may be more closely linked in some societies than in others and this would result in easier interflow between the parts in the former. Speaking generally, the different parts are more closely linked in a primitive society than in a big, highly differentiated, industrial society. One reason for such close linkage is that relationships are multiplex in a primitive society, the same people being involved in several relationships with each other whereas relationships are uniplex in an industrial society. The entire problem of the mutual discreteness of the various parts of a society has not been investigated mainly because of the dogma of the functional unity of a social system. A social structure can be looked at from different points of view. So far I have regarded it as a network of groups, categories and classes. From the point of view of individual members, however, it consists, on the one hand, of a set of rules which are to be obeyed and to the violation of which sanctions are attached, and on the other, of a configuration of sentiments and values. In a complex society with a highly differentiated structure, members of different sections have different sentiments and values though all share certain common values. Thus the different castes


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in a village have different sentiments and values though all have a common attachment to the village and to Hinduism. It is only in a plural society that the different segments are bound together, if that is indeed the phrase to use, by nothing more than administrative and political bonds. In describing a social structure, the ideas or images which the members have of the social structure are very relevant though rarely taken into consideration. Every people conceptualize their social structure though the way in which they do it and the degree of clarity with which they do it varies from group to group and individual to individual. Educated Hindus conceive of the caste system as consisting of five orders viz., Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas, Shudras and Harijans. This is a crude, over-simplified, and inaccurate, picture of the caste system as it actually exists in any small region of India. For instance, it may be found that the local caste-group which claims to be Kshatriyas does not really have the status which Kshatriyas have in the varna hierarchy. The customs and rituals of this group may be different from the customs of groups which are generally recognized to be Kshatriyas. More important, the picture of a five-tiered hierarchy which varna envisages is inapplicable to a situation which involves a few hundred groups many of which claim superiority to those with whom they are usually classed. The hierarchy is clear only at the extremes, and is vague and disputable in the middle regions. It is also vague between groups which are structural neighbours. Vagueness permits arguability which in turn makes possible mobility. I have said that there are sentiments and values in the minds of members which are the subjective side of the objective structure. This, however, is only true of a stable society. In a situation of change the sentiments of at least some people should be antagonistic to the existing structure. In India today there are some people who believe that untouchability should be done away with, and some others who believe that the entire institution of caste should go. When the old structure has been replaced by a new one, there will be a lag between the sentiments which the new structure requires and the sentiments of a good many people. It is the task of the new rulers to generate new values and sentiments. Such discordance is a feature of changing societies. This is quite different, however, from the discordance which exists when different segments of a society pull in



different directions. The latter situation might obtain even in stationary societies. Social change means change in the structural pattern. In modern society the dissemination of social knowledge among members is itself a factor making for change. In democratic countries such knowledge is in fact used to support as well as oppose the programmes of political parties. The fact that there are professional social scientists whose findings reach the public, is itself an element of the social structure, and their support becomes a critical factor in “social engineering”, to use an inelegant phrase. The power of propaganda in modern society is well-known, and in propaganda the persons using it are aware that they are selecting particular facts and arguments which support their views in order to achieve a particular end. The concept of social structure enables us to mark off the special area of social anthropology and sociology from the other social sciences. When the sociologist is studying economic, political, legal, moral or religious behaviour of a group, he views such behaviour in relation to the total social structure. This is peculiar to the social anthropologist and sociologist and this is what differentiates their approach from that of the other social scientists. Social structure may be viewed as being made up of kinship structure, economic structure, political structure, etc. As every community lives in a particular part of the world, the attributes of the latter influence the former and vice-versa. “Neither the world distributions of the various economies, nor their development and relative importance among particular peoples, can be regarded as simple functions of physical conditions and natural resources. Between the physical environment and human activity there is always a middle term, a collection of specific objectives and values, a body of knowledge and belief: in others words, a cultural pattern.” (G. D. Forde, 1934, 463) The relation between social structure and ecology is beginning to be systematically investigated (See Evans-Pritchard, 1940). Certain areas have yet to be investigated, however: the relation between social structure and population, and between it and heredity-environment.

References Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1940): The Nuer, Oxford. Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1949): The Sanusi Order in Cyrenaica, Oxford. Evans-Pritchard, E. E. (1951): Social Anthropology, London.


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Firth, R. (1955): “Some Principles of Social Organisation”, Jrai, 85 III, 1–18. Forde, C. D. (1934): Habitat, Economy & Society, London. Gluckman, M. (1955): Custom And Conflict in Africa, Oxford. Leach, E. R. (1954): The Political Systems of Highland Burma, London. Maine, H. S. (1871): Ancient Law, Oxford, 1946 (World Classics) Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1950): Structure And Function in Primitive Society, London. Radcliffe-Brown, A. R. (1958): Method In Social Anthropology, Chicago.


8 Vidyas: A Homage to Auguste Comte G.S. Ghurye

“. . . and if anything, is plain it is that during the period that counts—from Pericles to now—there has been a gradual advance and that our view of life today is more manifold than it ever has been before. . . . the science is the root from which comes the flower of our thought. When I have seen clever women who have read all their lives go off into enthusiasm over some oriental, pseudo-oriental, or spiritualistic fad it has struck me that all their reading seems to have given them no point of view no ‘praejudicia’—or preliminary bets as to the probability that the sign turn to the left will lead to a ‘cul de sac’.” Justice Holmes1


t is nearly a hundred and thirty five years ago that Comte arrived at the conclusion that Social Physics was a science which needed to be formulated and to be crowned the head of the hierarchy of what he called the Positive Sciences. It was then that he had announced his formulation of two famous laws, namely, that of the Three States2 and that of the Classification and Hierarchy of the sciences. After the publication of the first volume of his Positive Philosophy, Comte was hailed in Britain by some leading scholars—philosophers and historians—as a star in the intellectual firmament of Europe. People like John Stuart Mill, the philosopher G. H. Lewes and the historian Grote were prominent among them. So much was this the case that Miss Harriet Martineau published a condensed translation of the six volumes of Positive Philosophy in 1853, eleven years after the publication of the last volume of the work in French. Frederic Harrison, the essayist-historian joined the ranks of the


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group that became known as the Comtists and continued to espouse the cause of Comte’s status and work as an original thinker for long afterwards. In the hundredth year of the publication of the second volume of Comte’s The System of Positive Polity, F. A. Hayek, who has been known fairly long as an economist, severely criticizes almost everything of his and tries to show that his influence was due to irrational and emotional holism.3 In view of Hayek’s exposure of Comte in this manner, it is but proper that in the centenary year of his death, I, as a sociologist, should try to assess his real worth, and I cannot do better than begin by referring to the high appreciation of Comte as a philosopher by the wellknown historian of philosophy, Alfred Weber. Weber’s book, History of Philosophy, which appears to have been first published in 1898, contained a fairly detailed account of Comte’s work under the category, Empirical Positivism. R. B. Perry, a Harvard Professor of Philosophy, in his contribution in 1925 by way of extension of Weber’s work, did not find it necessary to change much of Weber’s estimate of Comte and his work. Not only that but he traced the sociological positivism of Emile Durkheim and other Frenchmen as “continuously related to Comte.”4 Another Continental historian of Philosophy, writing almost at the same time, is hardly less appreciative. In expounding Comte’s Law of the Three Stages, Hoffding asks his readers to compare similar theories propounded by Kant, Fichte, Hegel, Saint-Simon, Rousseau and Lessing.5 He devotes to Comte a whole chapter, little over forty pages, in the ninth book of his treatise which he designated Positivism. His real criticism of Comte largely centres round his Utopian creation of a new religion and a new social order. Another philosopher and this time a mathematician, A. N. Whitehead, exploring the adventures of ideas in 1933, paid perhaps the most glorious tribute that has ever been paid to the father of Sociology. Joining Comte with Jeremy Bentham, Whitehead writes about them: “. . . they effected an immense service to democratic liberalism. For they produced a practical programme of reform, and practicable mode of expression which served to unite men whose ultimate notions differed vastly.”6 This is not to say that Whitehead has nothing to say philosophically against the limitations of their thoughts. The appreciation is almost wholly the appreciation of one humanist for another, for a



predecessor much more emotionally charged. It is as an inspirer of humanitarian action that Whitehead values the services of Comte and that is why he associates him with Jeremy Bentham who was definitely a great inspirer and social thinker. Whitehead admits that the theoretical foundations on which Comte based his Positivism, which he equates with the latter’s “Religion of Humanity”, have largely been repudiated but asserts that “as practical working principles they dominate the world.”7 I consider this appreciation rather over-done. The other part of it justifies in a fair manner the treatment that another philosopher, who was an early collaborator of Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, gives to Comte and his Positivism in his History of Western Philosophy. He simply ignores them. Neither Comte nor Positivism figures even in the index. It means that Russell does not consider Positivism as a philosophical system and its promulgator Comte as a philosopher to be treated along with such great philosophers as Spinoza, Hume, Kant and Hegel. The total omission means even more than this, for Russell’s History of Western Philosophy is really a history of philosophical thought and even of some social thought. That is how he comes to include not only Karl Marx but also Byron. He devotes a chapter to the utilitarians, yet completely passes over Auguste Comte. This total omission of Comte by Russell strikes me as rather ironical. The late philosopher George Santayana, while in a reminiscent mood in 1953,8 blamed his friend ‘Bertie’ (Bertrand Russell) for having thrown away his splendid gifts in the following words: “I can imagine two ways in which Bertie might have proceeded to prove how great a man it was in him to be. . . . The other way would have been by emulating people like Bacon, Hobbes, Spinoza or Auguste Comte, I do not mean in their doctrines but in their ambitions. He might have undertaken an instauratio magna of scientific philosophy. He could have done it better than Bacon in as much as the science at his command was so much more advanced.”9 About the beginning of the twentieth century, Lord Morley, who as Beasly10 informs us was not a Comtist, paid a great tribute to Comte, evaluating his debt to Saint-Simon in the following words: “We see the debt, and we also see that, when it is stated at the highest possible, nothing has really been taken from Comte’s claims as a powerful original thinker, or from his immeasurable pre-eminence over Saint-Simon in intellectual grasp and vigour and coherence. “In the long biographical


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note on Comte appearing in the 14th edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica, Morley’s note contributed to the 11th edition is reproduced. It quotes excerpts from a number of British worthies to lead upto the very laudatory note: “This analysis of social evolution will continue to be regarded as one of the great achievements of human intellect.”11 Robert Flint, a student of the philosophy of history, in his History of the Philosophy of History, published in 1893, devoted maximum space to Comte among the French contributors. Examining the law of The Three Stages, or of The Three States as he refers to it, he finds it not only unproved but to some extent also contradicted in Comte’s work and ends on a note which implies that the whole philosophy is confused.12 In the United States, Albion W. Small, one of the four traditional pillars of American Sociology, reviewing the development and position of Sociology in the States, not only categorically denied that American Sociology used the Comtian plan but also pointed out that Lester F. Ward, another traditional pillar—a sociologist who, of all others, tried to follow out some of the Comtian ideas in his Dynamic Sociology—was almost the only one to look up to Comte by 1890.13 Even he severely criticised Comte for his many errors.14 L. T. Hobhouse, who was a philosopher before he turned a sociologist, soon after his taking up the Chair of Sociology in London University, considered Comte’s Law of the Three Stages and declared that “considerable modifications have to be introduced into it.”15 J. T. Merz, writing as late as 1914,16 reviewed “the celebrated ‘law of the Three States’ ” of Comte. Merz is one of the scholars who has referred to this law as the law of the Three States and not as the Three Stages that most others do. In the footnote, his reference to Comte’s repetition of the law as ‘endless’ and his tracing it back to Fichte and in France to a friend of Saint-Simon, really gives his evaluation of it. Nevertheless, he sees that the central doctrine of the philosophy of Comte is regarding human progress. And the philosophy of Comte, as a whole, he characterizes as “comparatively simple in its main features” and contains “so many germs of newer thought.” For Comte’s contribution to the philosophy of history, he shows much greater deference and even admiration.



J. B. Bury,17 unravelling the history of the idea of progress, naturally introduces Comte as the first among the searchers for a law of progress who attained some definiteness about it. The “law of the Three Stages” he describes as “familiar to many who have never read a line of his [Comte’s] writings.” He justly characterizes Comte’s synthesis as only pertinent to European history. Bury’s final summing up is that Comte’s positive laws contribute as little to the comprehension of history as Hegel’s metaphysical categories, categorically stating that “the law of the Three Stages is discredited.” The Law of the Three Stages was also the law of human progress to Comte, and the theological, the metaphysical and the positive stages were alternatively termed the ‘fictitious’, the ‘abstract’ and the ‘scientific’ respectively. Support for this law was attempted to be gathered from two sources. The third apparent source cannot be considered to be a real source of such proof. This third source is the correspondence of the three stages with three different social milieus, a point the significance of which was pointed out by Barnes in a statement already quoted. But such correspondence as was established by Comte only raises a presumption in favour of the sociology of knowledge but does not necessarily uphold the stages as a universal law. One source of support I shall reserve for treatment later. The remaining source which in Comte’s mind was perhaps the strongest, was based on his categorical conviction that it was demonstrated in the history of every science. As early as 1854, T. H. Huxley who, in the field of biological sciences, was the greatest scientist next to Darwin in the latter half of the 19th century, while dealing with the place of Natural History sciences, pointed out certain fundamental contradictions in Comte’s methodological excursions.18 In 1887, reviewing the progress of science, he gave his conclusions about the development of every branch of physical knowledge and of the three stages, which in their logical relation are successive, pointing out inter alia that the order of growth was not met with in the history of any science.19 The same scientist had earlier in 1869 categorically denied that the history of the science supported the so-called Law of the Three Stages. He even pointed out that Comte himself in the fourth volume of his Philosophic Positive had largely nullified his own statement.20


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Now, for the source of proof of the Law of the Three Stages left over, it has to be very clearly stressed because latterly it does not seem to be well understood or if understood, not clearly indicated by writers. Comte postulated his law, not merely in relation to the supposed history of the origin and development of the sciences but also in relation to the individual, and I should say, to the social mind or the group mind as well. Comte observes:21 “Returning to the fundamental law enunciated at the commencement of this chapter, I think we may sum up all the observations relating to the existing situation of society, by the simple statement that the actual confusion of men’s minds is at bottom due to the simultaneous employment of three radically incompatible philosophies—the Theological, Metaphysical, and Positive. It is quite clear that, if any one of these three philosophies really obtained a complete and universal preponderance, a fixed social order would result, . . .” And again: “This general revaluation of the human mind [from theological to metaphysical and then to positive] can, moreover, be easily verified today, in a very obvious, although indirect manner, if we consider the development of the individual intelligence. The starting-point being necessarily the same in the education of the individual as in that of the race, the various principal phases of the former must reproduce the fundamental epochs of the latter. Now, does not each of  us in contemplating his own history recollect that he has been successively—as regards the most important ideas—a theologian in childhood, a metaphysician in youth, and a natural philosopher in manhood.”22 Huxley, who categorically repudiated Comte’s statement that the history of the sciences provided evidence for his Law of the Three Stages,* yet thought that Comte’s reasoning which was based on the growth of intelligence in the individual man or in the human species was much more plausible though, according to his (Huxley’s) analysis and understanding of the development of the intellect of a child he did not consider it a just or even an adequate account.23 In the observation quoted above, Comte had arrived, it appears to me, through the mediation of the Law of the Three Stages, at ideas which are fundamental as far as our social problem is concerned. And their fundamental nature in the tackling of our social problem has become progressively manifest only since the First World War. It ought



to have been clear to all intelligent people that the so-called lag of morals behind technology, of the social and mental sciences behind the physical and biological ones, and of group action behind radical thought, is largely the consequence of the human mind having strata of varying rationality. Freud has once for all proved that the conscious sector of the mind is not the whole mind and that simultaneous with its operation are active sectors or strata or layers which are not under the control of the conscious. According to Freud, there are two strata or layers of the human mind other than the conscious one. Curiously enough, Comte too postulated three stages or three layers, though his nomenclature of these layers is entirely different. Their functions postulated by him, however, are not so very different. The function of the latest stage or layer may be said to be identical with that of Freud’s conscious sector. That the social problem of our age is fundamentally a consequence of the layered nature of the human mind was perhaps first appreciated by James Harvey Robinson, the American promulgator of the New History, in his book The Mind in the Making, first published in 1921. H. G. Wells was so much taken with it that an English edition of the book with his Introduction, was published in 1923. Robinson concluded that there are “four historical layers underlying the mind of civilized man—the animal mind, the child mind, the savage mind, and the traditional mind.”24 Though postulating four layers for the civilized mind, he has actually dealt with only three: 1)  our Animal Heritage, 2)  our Savage Mind, and 3) our Critical Thinking. Comte does not seem to have developed his observations on this aspect of the Law of the Three Stages or States but we, the sociological posterity should be glad to note that he had, by his instrument, however faulty, managed to articulate the fundamental aspect of our social problem. The other fundamental law which Comte formulated is that of the classification and hierarchy of sciences. It was in virtue of this law that he postulated the two sciences of Sociology—one a narrower or the proper one and the other, the wider or the grand one. The knowledge-system beginning with Mathematics and ending with Physiology or Biology of his days and extended by him to include the crowning science of


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Sociology exhibited to him “a regular gradation from the most general, simple, and abstract phenomena to the most special, complex and concrete.” He argued that the science of Sociology was a necessary consequence of the inherent nature of the subject matter of the sciences. It will be seen, first of all, that Comte was not concerned with a survey of all existing knowledge; he concerned himself only with the sciences. It is clear from his references that he was not only aware of but had also carefully considered “the numerous Classifications” which were “proposed during the last two centuries as general systems of human knowledge, regarded in its entirety.”25 He stated categorically that the “encyclopaedic scales” of Bacon and D’Alembert were “radically defective.” Herbert Spencer, in his essay on “The Genesis of Science” in 1854, criticised Comte’s scheme of classification of the sciences.26 He made his scheme of the classification of sciences, without attempting to arrange them in a hierarchy. In the same year, T. H. Huxley in an address on the educational value of the Natural History Sciences,27 defined science as “nothing but trained and organized common sense, differing from the latter only as a veteran may differ from a raw recruit.” Inter alia in his footnotes appear, at least once or twice, criticisms of Comte’s treatment of the subject of scientific method. In 1868, T. H. Huxley delivered a long sermon, which was afterwards published as “On the Physical Basis of Life.”28 As the subjectmatter of that sermon was severely criticized by Congreve, Huxley published in 1869 a reply entitled Scientific Aspects of Positivism.29 Criticising Comte’s contribution by pointing out a number of contradictions in the classification and hierarchy of sciences proposed by him, Huxley observed: “Mr. Spencer has so thoroughly and completely demonstrated the absence of any correspondence between the historical development of the sciences, and their position in the Com-tean hierarchy, in his essay on the ‘Genesis of Science’, that I shall not waste time in repeating his refutation.”30 And, he generally endorsed Herbert Spencer’s classification of the sciences as based on “profound thought, precise knowledge, and clear language.”31 Karl Pearson, the first grammarian of science, born in 1857, published his book The Grammar of Science in 1892, in which he devoted a whole chapter to the classification of sciences. He passed under review



the systems of classification propounded by Bacon, Comte and Spencer. His general conclusion can very clearly be stated in his own words: “. . . we have in Comte’s staircase of the intellect a purely fanciful scheme which, like the rest of his System of Positive Polity, is worthless from the standpoint of modern science.”32 He, however, was grateful to Comte “because he taught that the basis of all knowledge is experience and succeeded in impressing this truth on a certain number of people not yet imbued with the scientific spirit, and possibly otherwise inaccessible to it.”33 For Pearson, Comte’s contribution was not merely defective as a classification but also unacceptable as a hierarchy. He commended Spencer’s classification “in particular because he returns to Bacon’s notion of the sciences as the branches of a tree spreading out from a common root, and rejects the staircase arrangement of the Positivist hierarchy.”34 That is, however, not to say that like T. H. Huxley, he upholds Spencer’s classification. Pearson is convinced that not only Comte but both Bacon before and Spencer after him have failed.35 However, he schematically presents Bacon’s chart of human learning,36 and omitting the schemes of both Comte and Spencer, offers his own in a schematic form. It has been a marked feature of Comtism that its followers have tended to ignore very authoritative criticism of their contribution to knowledge and have continued to proceed on their own lines. Frederic Harrison, one of the staunchest Comtists, represents this attitude even more than many others. Addressing the Sociological Society of London in 1910 as its president, he sketchily criticised Herbert Spencer’s classification of the sciences and upheld Comte’s classification.37 He did not refer to Pearson’s criticism, much less to T. H. Huxley’s strictures on the Comtian classification of the sciences and seems to have been hardly aware of the significance of Comte’s arrangement of the sciences in a hierarchy. Franklin Giddings, another of the four traditional pillars of American Sociology, far towards the latter part of his career in 1922, brought up for treatment some of Comte’s contributions. And one of them was regarding the various sciences, their sequence and connections.38 Generally upholding Comte’s contention about the hierarchical relation of the sciences, Giddings observes: “The progress of knowledge, however, has necessitated a revision of the order that he


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set down, and new designations. The series as it now stands is: mechanics, electro-physics and electro-chemistry, chemistry, thermodynamics, astronomy and geology, biology, psychology, anthropology, ethnology, archaeology, history and sociology.”39 This is about the last time that sociologists took notice of the classification and hierarchy of sciences. Even Hayek in his criticism of Comte, referring to his classification and the ‘positive hierarchy’ of the sciences, only enters the lists with him as far as the position of Sociology is concerned. He is eager to show that sociology does not depend on natural science and need not wait till these sciences have developed positivism. Finally, he points out the paradox posed by Comte’s reasoning about the hierarchy of the sciences, namely, that the human mind, which, according to the theory, is the “most imperfect of all phenomena” should have “the unique power to control and improve itself.”40 The endeavour to classify the sciences, to establish a logical hierarchy among them, if any, and to state their social hierarchy which generally exists, is not altogether fruitless. The consideration of logical hierarchy is, of course, a highly difficult task. But the fact that it has been attempted more than once in western European history from the days of Aristotle shows that there is a peculiar fascination about it. And, though latterly, neither scientists nor perhaps philosophers proper have attempted it, yet, the fact that such a radical thinker as I. A. Richards—and so recently as 1954—has thought the attempt necessary to move “toward a more synoptic view” clearly shows that the pursuit is worthwhile. Richards arranges the sciences in the following sequence:— Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, Poetics, Dialectics and he explains the basis of this sequence in these words: “The parallelism of this sequence to the scale of increasing complexity of subject and to cosmic history or evolution would be not accidental. Furthermore, it might be held, the higher up you go on the scale of complexity the MORE of the mind you bring in as apparatus or instrument of the inquiry.”41 The soul of Comte will surely be disturbed to see his sociology occupying just the middle place in the hierarchy of nine sciences and not the proud place of the apex of the hierarchy! And this is not all; for Richards informs his readers that



though “Dialectics would thus be the supreme study” it has to have “Philosophy as its Diplomatic Agent.” We see in this evaluation that even the logical sequence of the various branches of knowledge or knowledge-systems may depend on the needs of the moment or the crisis of the age. Richards speaks of Philosophy as an overall synoptic view and he has evidently in mind some kind of Philosophy of science or at least a comparative study of the sciences. For, in another essay, lamenting the use of modern processes of communication for power grabbing as a cultural crisis, he maintains that only the reciprocal influences of the sciences and the humanities, in his own words “only a recreated organon, the United Studies,” can save it.42 Soon after the First World War, we begin to have books on the history of science, evincing the interest of western intellectuals in the history and philosophy of science.43 The purpose of these books was to acquaint the intelligent public on the fundamentals of the natural sciences and to arouse the consciousness of responsibility and interrelatedness among the votaries of the sciences themselves. It was not long after it that Bertrand Russell, who was sent down from Cambridge during the war, was invited back to hold the chair that was being instituted for philosophy of science. He did not return and I think the chair was not occupied and the subject did not get going. Since then, not only histories of science and scientific ideas but a general consideration of what is science and its place in social life has been the topic of writing for many an eminent scientist. Without going into details I may select for mention the book, Modern Science and Modern Man by the famous scientist-administrator James B. Conant. It was first published in 1952 and its 3rd printing appeared in 1954. Bertrand Russell’s History of Western Philosophy, much more popular than Conant’s book it would appear—first published in 1946, 4th impression in 1954—though not a book on science, its history or its philosophy, still aims at occupying the intermediate position between theology and science.44 Philosophy is both a “theory as to the nature of the world” and “an ethical or political doctrine as to the best way of living,” and latterly has introduced into its method ‘scientific truthfulness’, “one of the few unifying forces in the welter of conflicting fanaticism.”


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Though the move for the institution of a chair and course of studies in History and Philosophy of Science did not fructify in the nineteen twenties, it did not completely die out. It has found a place in Part I of the Natural Sciences Tripos at Cambridge,45 albeit as a subject of the near future in 1955–56, as one of the ‘half-subjects’ which a candidate may offer. In London University, the progress of the movement has been even greater. A whole degree, M. Sc, is now available in History and Philosophy of Science. One of the headings in the course reads: “The methods and mutual relations of history, science and philosophy.”46 The strength of this urge for a more integrated knowledge of man’s intellectual achievements, of the numerous knowledge-systems he has created, has been so great that even students of the humanities have been impelled to attempt to understand and appraise aspects of the natural sciences. Witness, for example, the endeavour of H. Butterfield, Professor of Modern History in the University of Cambridge. In response to the call of the History of Science Committee of Cambridge, he delivered in 1948 some lectures on the origin of science and published them in a book form as The Origins of Modern Science 1300–1800 in 1949. The need for such a summing up by a historian, a ‘non-scientist’ was so keenly felt that the book had to be reprinted twice by 1951. In view of these developments, the prophetic vision of Comte deserves to be applauded rather than its defects to be jeered at as Hayek does. Comte’s positive philosophy was intended precisely to be the History and Philosophy of Sciences. And that too to avert a crisis, though an intellectual one, which he saw. Comte says: “All that is necessary is to create one more great speciality, consisting in the study of scientific generalizations. We need a new class of properly-trained scientists, who, instead of devoting themselves to the special study of any particular branch of Natural Philosophy, shall employ themselves solely in the consideration of the different Positive Sciences in the present state. . . . There would be a distinct class of men (always open to the criticism of all the other classes), whose special and permanent function would consist in connecting each new special discovery with the general system; and we should then have no cause to fear that too great an attention bestowed upon the details would ever prevent us from perceiving the whole.”47



Notes * Huxley was also one of those who referred to it as the law of the Three States. 1. Holmes-Laski Letters, p. 210. 2. That is how Comte first described his law which alternatively he called the law of the Three Stages and that is how his latest critic, F. A. Hayek, refers to it; and Hayek is one of the large majority of such authors. 3. F. A. Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science (1952). 4. Loc. cit., pp. 491–500, 512. 5. Harold Hoffding, The History of Modern Philosophy, Vol. II (1900), p. 336. 6. A. N. Whitehead, Adventures of Ideas (Penguin 1948), pp. 50, 51. 7. Ibid., p. 49. 8. My Host the World. 9. Ibid., p. 36. 10. The Fundamental Principles of the Positive Philosophy, p. 3. 11. Encyclopaedia Britannica, Vol. VI, p. 194. 12. Loc. cit., p. 615. 13. Albion W. Small, Origins of Sociology (1924), pp. 316, 329. 14. Loc. cit., p. 83. 15. The Sociological Review (1908), Vol. I, p. 277. 16. A History of European Thought in the Nineteenth Century, Vol. IV, pp. 483, 534, 592, 192. 17. The Idea of Progress, pp. 290–301. 18. T. H. Huxley, Collected Essays, Vol. III (1895), pp. 48–9. 19. Ibid., Vol. I (1893), p. 64. 20. Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews (6th ed., 1877), pp. 156–57. 21. The Fundamental Principles of the Positive Philosophy, p. 39. 22. Ibid., p. 23. 23. Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews, p. 159. 24. Loc. cit, p. 83. 25. The Fundamental Principles of the Positive Philosophy, p. 42. 26. First in the third volume of Essays by Herbert Spencer (1875). 27. T. H. Huxley, Collected Essays, Vol. III (1895), pp. 38 ff. 28. Seventh in Huxley’s Lay Sermons, Addresses and Reviews, p. 120. 29. Loc. cit, pp. 147. 30. Ibid., pp. 168–69. 31. Ibid., p. 170. 32. Loc. cit., (Everyman’s Library, 1943), p. 317. 33. Ibid., p. 315. 34. Ibid., p. 317. 35. Ibid., p. 320. 36. Ibid., p. 314. 37. The Sociological Review (1910), Vol. III, pp. 38–9. 38. Studies in the Theory of Human Society, p. 110. 39. Ibid., p. 134. 40. Op. cit., pp. 173–76. 41. Speculative Instruments, p. 115.


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42. Ibid., pp. 104–05. 43. C. Singer (ed.), Studies in the History and Method of Science, (1917–21); G. Sarton, Introduction to History of Science (1927); W. C. D. Dampier-Whetham, A History of Science (1929). 44. Loc. cit, pp. 10, 863, 864. 45. The Students Handbook to the University & Colleges of Cambridge, 1955–1956. 46. University of London, Regulations for Internal Students, 1955–56, p. 1479. 47. The Fundamental Principles of the Positive Philosophy, p. 32.

9 Max Weber’s Theory of Social Stratification: Controversies, Contexts and Correctives Rajendra Pandey



he intellectual origins of the ‘multi-dimensional’ approach to stratification were usually traced to the work of Max Weber. Much of Weber’s account of stratification is the product of a long and intense debate with Marx’s view of stratification. It was an irony of the fate that Weber’s account of stratification, like Marx’s, remained fragmentary (Parsons, 1964: 30), short and unfinished due to his death (Atkinson, 1971: 71–72). Weber’s theory of stratification is spread merely in twenty odd pages of his mammoth Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft (Weber, 1922; 1968, 1: 302–307; 11: 926–940; 1964: 424–429; 1970: 180–195). The discussion, though brief, contains a critique of cruder, ‘one-dimensional’ models and provides an important analysis of stratification which is complex and ‘multi-dimensional’. Weber’s approach is said to be corrective to, or displacement of, Marx’s perspective. Hence his view varies from Marx’s in several ways. Firstly, Weber broke away with Marx’s “mono-dimensional approach” of “economic determinism” and replaced it with a multi-dimensional approach by giving emphasis on social (status) and political (power) dimensions which


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operate independently of class. In fact, Weber, while reacting to the limited approach of Marx, disentangled a number of separate variables conflated in Marx’s concept of class and added a few more to the list. Secondly, Weber replaced Marx’s social-structural analysis by social-action analysis. Thirdly, Weber laid emphasis on the significance of attitudes, values and aspirations in his perspective which were neglected by Marx in laying emphasis on rationality. Weber argued that irrational and non-logical motivation and other attitudes are important considerations for a theory of stratification. Differently put, Weber held that stratification is not the product of economic factors alone but several non-economic factors operate at the root of it. Fourth, and finally, Weber wanted to counter the Marxist explanation of the origins of capitalism and celebrate the moral and political superiority of the capitalist hero of the present and future. Weber had all this in his mind when he advanced his theory of stratification. The objective of this essay, however, can be more specifically stated. First, an attempt will be made here to pinpoint the controversies now current in the field, especially those formulated by neo-Weberians in the course of discussion of Weber’s theory of stratification in the light of his metatheoretical principles. Then those particular features of Weber’s thought will be clarified which are important for an understanding of the problems posed by the criticism directed against Weber’s stratification theory. Finally, Weber’s theory of stratification—its nature and content— will be discussed keeping in view the controversies raised by neoWeberians and Weber’s theoretical and methodological principles. To some extent, this endeavour will involve a defense of Weber’s position against many—though not all—of the attacks levelled against it. Briefly put, the essay is divided into three parts—controversies, contexts and correctives.

I The Controversies Current Conflicting Interpretations of Weber’s Theory of Stratification Weber’s multi-dimensional approach to stratification, its elaboration and further clarification become preoccupation of a large number of social stratification theorists of the day (Gordon, 1963). As a result of it, many of the recent scholars, although they have broad affinity with the Marxian tradition, are more Weberian than Marxist (Wrong, 1976: 47–48). This tendency is visible in the work of C. Wright Mills (1956),



Barrington Moore, Jr. (1958), Ralf Dahrendorf (1959), Reinhard Bendix and S. M. Lipset (1956) and several others (Gluckman, 1955), all of them except Mills being alive and still at work today. The neo-Weberian scholarship has brought out certain important issues with regard to Weber’s principles and theory of stratification. Important among them are: 1. Social-structural versus social action perspective of stratification, 2. Bi-partite versus tri-partite model of stratification, and 3. Conjunction versus disjunction between different dimensions of stratification.

1. Social-Structural versus Social Action Perspective of Stratification This issue relates to the application of methods and perspectives by Weber in his analysis of stratification. The neo-Weberian scholarship is divided into two camps. One group of scholars charges that Weber departed from his methodological principles and social action analysis and embraced social-structural perspective to account for stratification. This group argues that methodological individualism is missing from Weber’s theory of stratification and his discussions of stratification permit an adequate explanation in structural terms. For example, Gerth and Mills write that Weber’s methodological and theoretical principles are not to be found in his analysis of social stratification and that theory of stratification is explained by structural as opposed to an action analysis. Coser, like Gerth and Mills, notes that Weber’s methodology employs social-structural analysis and argues that Weber “did not always follow his own methodological guidelines. Contrary to his nominalistic stress on the acting person as the unit of analysis, he advanced a theory of stratification based largely on structural explanations” (Coser, 1971: 217–218). Similar stance has been taken by a number of other writers of Weberian tradition (Bendix, 1966: XVIII–XIX; Eisenstadt, 1968: XXXIII; Lukes, 1973: 111, n. 3. For a recent attempt, see Fulbrook, 1978). In reaction to these tendencies, many scholars defended Weber’s position. This group of scholars rejects the arguments held by the exponents of social-structural perspective. This set of scholars argues that it is wrong to say that Weber departed from verstehen sociology in his analysis of social stratification; his theory may better be understood only in terms


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of the social consciousness. Aron writes that for Weber “sociological statements . . . seek to arrive at or re-create . . . human behaviour in terms of the meaning assigned to it by the actors themselves. Weber’s ambition was to understand how men have lived in different societies as a result of different beliefs” (Aron, 1970, II: 192). Bendix also recognizes the same point when observes that Weber’s “extrapolation of class- or statusoriented action” means that a preference for economic advantage gives rise to class stratification and a preference for social honour gives rise to status stratification although Bendix (1974: 153) holds that Weber employed social-structural interpretation. Recently Barbalet has argued that “Weber’s treatment of class and status conforms entirely to his methodological principles of social action and ideal type analysis” (Barbalet, 1980: 401–418). So they argue that Weber did not go in for social-structural interpretation in his analysis of stratification and any logic to the contrary is faulty and incoherent. To them, Weber’s theory of stratification is very much within the ambit of his theoretical principles of social action and methodological model of the ideal-type analysis. There is a third group of scholars which holds that the explanations through social structure and social action are not opposites, but two levels of a single model. To them, the idea of opposition between social structure and social action is without base. Parsons, for example, argues that the subjective meanings, expectations and motives of individuals, through which social action takes place, insofar as it is the orientations of relating individuals, constitutes the structure within which social action is located (Parsons, 1964: 22). Cohen seems to be in essential agreement with Parsons when he proposes that if the conditions “of lateral and temporal standardization and recurrence” of action obtain, it can then be said that there exists a structure” (Cohen, 1975: 95). Cohen reasons that if different actors in a common situation tend to do the same or similar actions, and if at different times the same actors in similar situations tend to outdo the same or similar action, and this action is called structured action. Lukes observes that reasons for making the ‘structure’ an “essentially contested concept” (Lukes, 1975: 75) are multiplicity of types of constraint and the proclivity of theorists to select only particular ones for explanation. Despite the synthetic interpretations, there are scholars, like Allardt, who insist that “the notions of the participating individuals . . . may not enter the explanation itself ” of social structure (Allardt, 1972: 59). Social structure must, therefore, be explained without recourse to subjective orientations, motives or intentions.



Before we turn to a consideration of the second controversy, it is important that the context of issues be enlarged in order to appreciate fully the discussions to follow. This necessitates the presentation of an outline of the opposition between a sociology of system and a sociology of social action. The idee fixe of social action has always and everywhere generated its opposition in the concept of social system (for systems theory, see Spencer, 1897; Gierke, 1934; Durkheim, 1950; McDougall, 1928). This could be witnessed in the fact that sociology has been concerned with the problem of relationship between the individual and society. One may argue that the ‘individual’ (For the individualistic idea, see Bogardus, 1950: 54–55; Locke, 1959; Hobbes, 1962; Rousseau, 1973. For a good criticism, see Appadorai, 1950: 20–23), and “society” are two sides of the same coin, but it is a fact that the claims of the two remain in competition (on the theme of reconciliation between social action and social system, see Cohen, 1975; Berger and Luckman, 1957: 152–153), whether this persistent tension between them is recognized or overlooked. The problem of relationship between individual and society is an existential problem. For example take the everyday experience of individuals. On the one side, the individuals feel dominated by huge organizations and all kinds of confusing and conflicting social expectations (Jerkel, 1975: 152–157; Fraser, 1969: 172, 176). The machine, the bureaucracy, the system denies human attributes and human beings are, to borrow Dawe’s expression, less than “just human”. On the other side, society is said to give human being a social experience, purpose, meaning and life. The moral choices, fundamental character as a creative enterprise and link of human social experience with other social forms are all product of the social system (Hoggart, 1970, 1: 26; Dawe, 1973: 25–55). Differently and precisely put, there has been conflict between two types of social analysis, variously labelled as organismic vs. mechanistic approaches, collectivism vs. individualism, holism vs. atomism and so on. For modern sociology, the same conflict centres on the opposition between a sociology of social system and a sociology of social action— or, an opposition between the system and human agency of modern social experience. The outlines of the opposition between the sociology of social system and sociology of social action may be sketched briefly and simply in a tabular form.

It holds that social actors are at the receiving end of society; The social system is viewed as the emergent product of the social it is the system which determines men’s subjective meanings action and interaction consequent upon the subjective meaning, and their consequent action and interaction in terms of their the understanding of this meaning and its relation to action. very existence and nature as social beings and their very sense of personal identity as human beings.

Society is supra-human, self-generating, and self-maintaining Society is not a thing ‘a being sui generis’; it is a distinctive kind system, or to use Durkheim’s expression, “society” is “a being of entity, its nature residing in its generation by social action and interaction on the basis of humanely constructed meaning. sui generis.”

Society is a reality sui generis, a thing like things which comprise the subject matter of the natural science upon whose logic the sociology may be modelled. So system can be conceptualized in terms of convenient analogies drawn from natural science, such as the organic or cybernetic. Human consciousness makes no difference of this process.

The moral and analytic concern to which the doctrine of the social system addresses is the problem of social order.

2. The view of relationship between man and society

3. The view of society

4. Metatheoretical view

5. The central concern

Source: The table has been prepared drawing arguments from Dawe (1979: 362–417).

The moral and analytic concern is the problem of human control.

The human capacity for the construction of meaning is held to constitute the subject matter of sociology where natural science is not applicable. The society is not an object on par with those of natural sciences. Hence it rejects the methodology of the social system, and use of natural science model of systems. The distinctive approach to the nature of social inquiry is the “interpretive”, ‘verstehende” or “Understanding” mode of sociological analysis.

It takes the optimistic view of man which is re-which resides in the idea of human control over the system and is reflected from the belief that meaning and action are decisive.

It presents a pessimistic view of man which is reflected from the belief that social actors are totally manipulable creatures and, if left to their own devices, can and will create self- and socially-destructive anarchy and chaos.

1. The views of human nature

Sociology of Social Action

Sociology of Social System

Broad Bases

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2. Bi-Partite versus Tri-Partite Model of Stratification Another issue on which neo-Weberians are divided is that of model of stratification. One group of scholars argues that Weber adopted a bipartite model of stratification based on distinction between only class and status. It is argued that for Weber the primary foundations of stratification are “class” and “status” and in support of their assertion they cite Weber’s statement which reads that class and status are the principal “phenomena of the distribution of power within a community” (Weber, 1970: 181). They, therefore, refuse to recognize “power” as one of the primary foundations of stratification (Barbalet, 1980: 401–416). They take the plea that since parties merely represent interests determined by class or status or some other basis of group formation, they are derivative phenomena and not germane for stratification. As against this, other group of scholars is in favour of the tripartite model of stratification founded on class, and power (Giddens, 1973: 44). They too rely on same source where Weber mentions that parties also relate to the distribution of power (Weber, 1970: 194). “Classes’”, “status groups”, and “parties” are phenomena of the distribution of power within a community” (Weber, 1970: 181). These scholars treat power phenomenon distinct from class and status in its own right. According to this set of scholars, Weber maintained that stratification is an organized manifestation of unequal power in society separated into three spheres of activity for analytical purposes: economic, social and political, and, within each sphere, power is designed according to class, status and party. Weber, then, they say, analyzed the characteristics of power in each sphere as basis for describing of system of stratification. The second view—the tri-partite model of stratification—is typical of many interpretation and we shall follow it.

3. Disjunction versus Conjunction between Different Dimensions of Stratification There are two views now current in the field regarding the question of conjunction between three-dimensions of stratification—class, status and power, and the difference between the two schools is truly striking (Pandey, 1982: 210–213). One group of analysts says that Weber did not regard them as separate dimensions of social stratification. Reissman, a noted authority on stratification, states that “whatever its form,


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stratification was manifestation of the unequal distribution of power” for Weber (Reissman, 1959: 59). Another group of analysts, maintains that the three-dimensions— class, status, and power are separate. Weber regarded power dependent on political parties as different from the class dependent on market situation and status dependent on prestige-raking. Hence class, status, and power give three different meanings (Goldschmidt, 1950; Dumont, 1970: 251–252).

II The Contexts Weber’s Metatheoretical Stand Before we proceed to examine the exact nature of Weber’s theory of stratification in the light of preceding discussion, we must place on record his metatheoretical view in order to justify our discussion. For we think that any apparent plausibility which there might be in these objections and charges stems from a confusion over the nature of Weber’s concept. We shall clarify what we consider it to be Weber’s views. This will, we feel, serve as a prologue to the discussion to follow. To be sure, the central and definitive preoccupation of Weber’s work was the social action. This is well reflected from his concern with the process of rationalization. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism—a complex work concerned with the historical explanation of capitalism—contains sustained discussion of the meaninglessness of human existence (1930: 78), a theme which figures most prominently in his later essay on “‘Objectivity’ in Social Science”. This concept or rather theme was interpreted with another crucial theme, “rationalization” which refers to a world shaped by what Weber called “fine special and peculiar rationalism of Western culture”. Rationalization is expressed in the mastery of modern science over nature and of bureaucratic organization over society. It signifies the human action in a world whose structures require action to be calculating, instrumentalist, and predictable. The process of rationalisation, says Weber, has led modem industrial society into the “iron cage” (Weber, 1930: 181) of a totally bureaucratized society. Weber’s man was everywhere dominated by the machines, the bureaucracy, and the system in this society.



Weber wrote: This passion for bureaucracy is enough to drive one to despair. It is as if we were deliberately to become men who need order and nothing but order, who become nervous and cowardly if for one moment this order wavers, and helpless if they are torn away from their total incorporation in it. That the world should know no men but these; it is in such an evolution that we are already caught up, and the great question is therefore not how we can promote and hasten it, but what we can oppose to this machinery in order to keep a portion of mankind free from this parcelling out of the soul, from this supreme mastery of the bureaucratic way of life (Weber, quoted in Mayer, 1956: 127–128).

Here, then, is Weber’s central concern: the problem of social control. This decisive concern led him to insist on the social action perspective consequent upon that concern. Weber wrote: In general, for sociology, concepts such as “state”, “association”, “feudalism” and the like designate certain categories of human interaction. Hence it is the task of sociology to reduce these concepts to “understandable” action, that is, without exception, to the actions of participating individual men (Weber, 1970: 55).

The clue to which we refer lies in the mention first of “participating individual men” which is one part of our experience of ourselves, and second of that ‘participating individual men’ being dominated by such entities as the “state” and “association”. Here the ‘participating individual men’ and ‘social entities’ are poised one against the other. Weber sides human agencies against those entities. This is the notion to which we shall return soon. It is in this context that Weber defines sociology and its subject matter which demonstrates that Weber was the exponent of the sociology of action. For Weber Sociology (in the sense in which this highly ambiguous word is used here) is a science which attempts the interpretive understanding of social action in order thereby to arrive at a causal explanation of its course and effects (Weber, 1964: 88).

There are two emphases in Weber’s definition of sociology: one is on scientific or objective nature of sociological discourse; and the other is on the material dealt with by sociology which is ‘subjective’. “Interpretive


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sociology”, Weber wrote, “considers the individual and his action as the basic unit, as its ‘atom’ . . . In this approach, the individual is also the  upper limit and the sole carrier of meaningful conduct” (Weber, 1970: 55). Once again, Max Weber provides a clue to his social action orientation. Here is his conception of action: We shall speak of “action” insofar as the acting individual attaches a subjective meaning to his behaviour—be it overt or covert, omission or acquiescence. Action is “social” insofar as its subjective meaning takes account of the behaviour of others and is thereby oriented in its course (Weber, 1968: 4).

Social action is linked with the concept of social relationship. To quote Weber again: The term “social relationship” will be used to denote the behaviour of a plurality of actors insofar as, in its meaningful content, the action of each takes account of that of others and is oriented in these terms (Weber, 1968: 26).

It transpires, then, that for Weber social quality resides in the subjective meaning which their interaction has for other actors, for action is social when “by virtue of the subjective meaning attached to it by the acting individual (individuals), it takes account of the behaviour of others and is thereby oriented in its course” (Weber, 1964: 102). Weber, thus, ruled out the concept of externality and constraint of the system over individuals. Weber holds in no uncertain terms that social entities are understood in terms of meanings, motives and intentions (Weber, 1964: 107–108). Weber reasons that a scientific law of sociology requires that “typical motives and typical subjective intentions of the actors” must feature in understanding or explanation of ‘given conditions (in which) an expected course of social action will occur” (Weber, 1964: 107–108). Weber then classified social actions and orientations into four types (1) Zweckrational (instrumentally rational) action is geared to “the attainment of the actor’s own rationally pursued and calculated ends”; (2) Wertrational (value-rational) action is “determined by a conscious belief in the value for its own sake of some ethical, aesthetic, religious or other form of behaviour, independently or its prospects of success”; (3) affectual action “determined by the actor’s specific affects and feeling states”;



and (4) traditional action “determined by ingrained habituation” (Weber, 1964: 24–25). It will be helpful to introduce at this point his methodological principles. Stated simply, Weber defined social science as one of the ‘cultural sciences’. This enabled him to see the difference between science and culture. The cultural science was concerned with “meaning” or “patterns” rather than with predictions and regularities in phenomena (Weber, 1949: 74–86), culture is a value-concept (Weber, 1949: 76). Weber then talked of construct which he designated as “ideal-types”. Ideal-types are based on “subjective suppositions” and “formed by the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis” of numerous “concrete individual phenomena”. Weber likened them to “a utopia which has been arrived at by the analytical accentuation of certain elements of reality” although they “cannot be found empirically anywhere in reality” (Weber, 1949: 76). The subjective element in these one sided ideal type constructs formed part of Weber’s conception of human life: “every single important activity and ultimately life as a whole . . . is a series of ultimate decisions through which the soul—as in Plato—chooses its own fate” (Weber, 1949: 18). This conception colours the whole of Weber’s work. Choice for Weber is the essence of true science: “The objective validity of all empirical knowledge rests exclusively upon the ordering of the given reality according to categories which are subjective” (Weber, 1949). Scientific activity, Weber says, represents a series of  decisions; it is “always” from “particular points of view” (Weber, 1949: 81). In the passage cited earlier, Weber referred to Plato’s conception of soul. Plato in his Republic gave a three-fold division of the soul-reason, appetite, and passion and compared it with “three orders” of that were “to hold together” his ideal state. For Weber, the politics of the soul appears in the identical virtue which he ascribed to scientific and political man: “objectivity” or “distance”, “passion”, and “responsibility” for the consequences of one’s choices. Ideal-types are constructs created by the social scientists to render a particular historical reality intelligible and coherent. They arc constructed by abstracting features of a phenomenon, e.g., capitalism or bureaucracy and reconstructing them to form an internally consistent whole. Ideal-types are, Weber emphasized, deliberately constructed to


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be “one-sided”. Ideal types “illuminate . . . reality although they cannot “exhaust its infinite richness”. “They are all attempts . . . to bring order into the chaos of those facts which we have drawn into the field circumscribed by our interest” (Weber, 1949: 105) where there is no construct, there is the construct of the past, inherited constructs are “in constant tension with the new knowledge which we can desire to wrest from reality. The progress of cultural science occurs through this conflict” (Weber, 1949: 105). Having briefly sketched the manner in which Weber sought to employ his initial epistemological presupposition and methodological principles, let us turn to a consideration of Weber’s theory of stratification.

III The Correctives Weber’s Theory of Stratification: Nature and Content Weber maintained that stratification is an organized manifestation of power in society. Power, for Weber, can be separated into three spheres of activity for analytical purposes: economic, social, and political, and, within each sphere power is designated according to class, status, and power (Weber, 1970). Let us analyse each of these dimensions of stratification one by one.

1. The Class Concept in Weber For Weber, “‘classes’ are stratified according to their relations to the production and acquisition of goods. . . .” (Weber, 1970: 193) and class  is “any group of persons occupying the same class situation” (Weber, 1964: 424). While moving to a definition of ‘class situation’ Weber says: We may speak of ‘class’ when (1) a number of people have in common a specific causal component of their life chances, in so far as (2) this component is represented exclusively by economic interests in the possession of goods and opportunities for income, and (3) is represented under the conditions of the commodity or labour markets (Weber, 1970: 181).



This passage contains almost all the essential ideas of Weber’ concept of class. In it we get three significant terms in relation to class: “life-chances’ ”, “economic interests” and “market conditions”. We must explain these concepts to underline the basic postulates of Weber’s concepts of class. The notion of life-chances, which is central to Weber’s formulation of class, refers to “the kind of control or lack of it which the individual has over goods and services and existing possibilities of their exploitation for the attainment of receipts within a given economic order” (Weber, 1964: 424). Note that the concept of “life-chance” does not refer to class situation. It is not the objective structure of life-chances as such which determines the class, but only those life-chances that are represented by market determined interests. That Weber was of this view further becomes clear when we look at his treatment of the economically conditioned life-chances of slaves—not entering the property and labour markets as sellers—only as the property of others. Weber says that slaves “whose fate is not determined by the chance of using goods or services for themselves on the market . . . are not, however, a ‘class’ in the technical sense of the term. They are, rather, a “status group” (Weber, 1970: 183). Here, then Weber is adding the ‘subjective meaning’ to the class through the concept of life-chance and it would be wrong to conclude that he was using this word in the objective sense. “Economic interests” determine the class for Weber. “The factor that creates “class” is, says Weber, “unambiguously economic interest, and indeed, only those interests involved in the existence of the “market” (Weber, 1970: 183). In his essay The Social Psychology of World Religions, Weber states that “the specific and typical cases of class situation are ones determined by markets” (Weber, 1970: 301). But he hastens to add that “such is not necessarily the case: class situations of landlord and small peasant may depend upon market relations in a negligible way”. In saying so, Weber wants to convey that it is not any intrinsic property of the market as such which determines class, but rather it is what market conditions impose upon the formation and nature of economic interests. Weber’s concept of “market situation’ ”, like earlier two, also operates predominantly in terms of social action rather than in social structural terms. Weber observes: “By the “market situation” for any object of


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exchange is meant all the opportunities of exchanging it for money which are known by the participants in the market situation to be available to them and relevant in orienting their attitudes to prices and competition” (Weber, 1970: 181–182). It implies then that insofar as the market is a component of class situation, it is premised on the concept of class subjectively determined orientations of action. Insofar as Weber holds that economic interests create the class, and largely those interests found in the market, he seems to be insisting upon a definition of class based on an understanding of motives and intentions of the social actors. For him, market situation interests are oriented by cognition and attitude of those who participate in the market. When Weber speaks of life-chances, he means only those lifechances that are represented by market determined interests. Thus it is obvious that Weber was following his principles of sociology of social action in the analysis of class. It is useful at this point to caution that Weber’s definition of class situation in terms of life-chance represented by economic interest should not be misunderstood. One may erroneously conclude that Weber was falling in the trap of social structural analysis and departing from social action interpretation. This confusion is likely to be compounded when Weber and Marx are compared. Most of Weber’s critics have focused their attention upon the definition of class situation by Weber and Marx’s definition of class position and drawn similarity in their treatment. The class situation, writes Weber, is one “in which a given individual and many others find their interest defined” (Weber, 1964: 424). This statement of Weber tallies well with Marx’s definition of class which gives the impression that Weber was following the social-structural perspective. Marx, you will remember, proposed that persons have their interests assigned to them by their class position. Class interest to Marx “does not exist merely in the imagination . . . but first of all in reality, as the mutual interdependence of the individuals among whom the labour is divided”. (Marx, 1968: 44). This observation of Marx is well within the parameters of structural approach, for it holds that the class interests are social attributes objectively derived from social relations of production. But critics overlook that despite a definition of class position in structural terms, Marx was very well aware of the role of man, and of his actions: “History does nothing, it “possesses no immense wealth”, it “wages no battles”. It



is man, real living man, that does all that, that possesses and fights” (Marx, 1965: 125). Marx’s this focus on social action sounds that class is the product of social action of the real men. Similarly for Weber the social actors’ significance was most important. It is wrong to equate Weber’s interpretation of class falling in social-structural trap on the basis of Marx’s first assertion at the exclusion of the second. In other words, Weber is well within his verstehen sociological analysis in the analysis of class in several ways. First, Weber treats class position as purely empirical concept which signifies the interest of individuals and which takes an ‘average’ form for those persons sharing a common class situation (Weber, 1970: 183). Here Weber is not perceiving an entity external to and superordinate over man, but quite simply, in the actions of other actors, or to paraphrase Sartre, the constraint is ‘other people’. Weber feels that the bearers of ‘average’ class interest—the other people—pursue their interest variously and these variations in the pursuit of interest are themselves the consequence of social actors. Class interest is nothing else but the individual interest for Weber. Class interest is the consequence of the real living man’s motivation, subjectively determined. One need only to recall Max Weber’s famous statement about class interest which is only the average interests of discrete individuals sharing a common economic position: “classes” are groups or people who, from the standpoint of the specific interests, have the same economic position” (Weber, 1970: 405). Weber does insist that the “basic categories of all class situations” are ‘property’ and ‘lack of property’. However, he quite explicitly states that it is not the possession or non-possession that determines the class situations of individuals, but rather “the ‘meaning’ which they can and do give to the utilization of property” (Weber, 1970: 182). It is further interesting to note that for Weber class relationship—a relationship between those sharing a common economic interest—is “associative” relationship. According to Weber, the associative relationship is one in which “the orientation of social action within it rests on a rationally motivated adjustment of interests or similarly motivated agreement” (Weber, 1964: 136). Class relationship, that is to say, is explained by Weber in terms of actor’s orientation and not in economic terms which is structural and which is supposed to act independent of actors. For Weber, the social dimension of economic activity is its


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appreciation of the ‘others’ action, (Weber, 1964: 112–113). Class action is rational-instrumental action (Weber, 1964: 115). The concept of social action, which focuses upon orientations, meanings and intentions is the basis of the concept of class. Class is a ‘social world’ created by “man, real living man”. Let us consider now Weber’s class categories. We have said earlier by quoting Weber that he explained ‘class situation’ in terms of individual orientation and conditions. It is quite logical for Weber to assume that as individual orientations and conditions are many, so are the structuration of class situations. For an understanding why and how Weber adopted a pluralistic conception of classes let us look at his wider categories of class situations corresponding to social groupings. It was logical for Weber to assume that “control over different combinations of consumer goods, means of production, investments, capital funds or marketable abilities constitute class situations which are different with each combination and variation” (Weber, 1964: 424–425). As combinations of property and skills are innumerable, so are class situations. There are, therefore, infinite class categories on the basis of infinite class situations. How to cope with this situation? In order to contain this situation, Weber developed a two-fold distinct schemas for the structuration of class categories: one is the particular nature of different types of market situation and the other is the possibilities for mobility between class situations. In Weber’s view, class categories based on the nature of different types of market situation are many, but it could be reduced to two for analytical purposes: property market and market for service. Basing on the distinction between the property market and the market for services, Weber differentiates between “property classes” “primarily determined by differentiation of property holdings” and “acquisition classes” “primarily determined by their opportunity for exploitation of non-property resources such as skills on the market” (Weber, 1964: 424–427). In each of the specific classes—‘property class’ and ‘acquisition class’, Weber observes, there are two different classes around an axis of ‘privilege’. He distinguishes “property class” into ‘positively privileged property classes’ made up of the owners and direct controllers of property, deriving their income from property rent and securities and the ‘negatively privileged property classes’ made up of those without property consisting of outcasts, debtor class and the poor, and slaves—who



are themselves the property of others. Similarly Weber distinguishes ‘acquisition class’ into the ‘positively privileged acquisition class’ made up of those who control the management of productive enterprises and whose security of position derives from their ability to infuence economic policy in their favour, and the ‘negatively privileged classes’ made up of skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled workers. Between these two classes are those groupings which are labelled as “middle classes”. Thus Weber develops a complex typology of classification which gives impression of his pluralistic conception of classes (Giddens, 1973: 42)—a theme contrasting to Marx who thought that there remain ultimately two classes— proletariat, consisting of those who possess only their labour power and bourgeoisie, who appropriate a portion of surplus value and own and control the means of production. It needs to be noted that in categorization of the class on the basis of the market situation, Weber preserves his principle of social action by separating the structure from action in his analysis of class structure. Weber does not hold that the expropriation of the worker from the means of production in the transition from feudalism (Estate society) to capitalism (Class society) may be explained in class terms (Weber, 1964: 246). Likewise, the process of exploitation of labour for him is a nonclass phenomenon (Weber, 1964: 233–238, 245–261). He also does not regard class struggle as a relation between classes, but merely as “an action between members of different classes” (Weber, 1970: 185)—a type of ‘conflict’, a form of relationship between particularly oriented individuals (Weber, 1964: 132–66). In fact, conflict and struggle were endemic in society as well as between societies. “Peace” is nothing more than a change in the form of conflict” (Weber, 1949: 27). In effect, Weber invokes his notion that the actors in class struggle cannot be reduced to classes as such. He refuses to reduce class relations to the structural form. He insists upon understanding the actions of individuals occupying different class situations. Classes as structural form are the product of actions of social actors. The second schema of Weber’s structuration of class situation is that of social class to be understood in terms of the possibilities of mobility between class situations. According to Weber, “the social class structure is composed of the plurality of class situations between which an interchange of individuals on a personal basis or in the course of generations is readily possible and typically observable” (Weber, 1949: 424). This implies that a number of groupings whose class situations are


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sufficiently similar—largely in terms of mobility chances—justify the aggregate being termed a social class. Social classes will vary across the whole range of class situations and may be positively or negatively privileged property or acquisition classes. Here social class refers to a specific content of life chance, namely, the range of movement through a number of class situations which individuals may pass. For Weber, mobility is a market dependent phenomenon in the same way as he defines ‘social class’ as a “plurality of class situations” which themselves are defined in market terms. As the economic interests determine the class situation, so the social class must refer to the available range of economic interests within a social world created by social actors. The common mobility chances as also the economic class alone could not be the basis of class action. The action depends on individual orientations and meanings. Weber does not discuss the question of closure of class and wherever he uses it, he uses it in terms of subjectively motivated orientations within “social relationships” (Weber, 1949: 139–140). The mobility refers to individual movements within classes. The concept of social class if supplemented with a notion of closures it refers to a class barriers between individuals, or what we earlier paraphrazing Sartre referred to as ‘other individuals’. Again, in the second classification, the principles of social action is kept intact by Weber. He perceives mobility in terms of social actors and barriers to mobility in terms of other actors. In this way, he rejects the concept of system in the analysis of class. Furthermore, Weber insists that life-chances, and/or class situations, are almost never determined by economic factors alone. For example, a social class may combine so as to protect its privileges, then it will resemble a status group. Similarly, a status group may attempt to reserve monopolies or hold property and in this way it would also be a property class. This shows that Weber maintains multi-dimensional nature of class, even when he describes economically determined concept of class. Moreover, in our view, Weber explicitly chose to follow the methodology he developed in his account of the class concept. The concepts of ‘property class’, ‘acquisition class’, and ‘social class’ are instances of the ideal-type formulation. It refers to the properties not drawn from any single society but from a number of phenomena, without regard to their historical context (Weber, 1949: 429).



In a dialogue with vulgar Marxism current in German social thought at the time at which Weber was writing, Weber wanted to counter Marx on two counts. Firstly, Weber wished to negate Marx’s assumption that objective class membership leads to common class action. He instead argued that it was subjective meaning and its consequent social interaction that give rise to common class action. Secondly, Weber refuted Marx’s assumption of causal priority of economic factors. He contradicted what he considered to be the “economic determinism” which he perceived in Marx’s work and advanced the significance of non-economic factors.

2. Status Concept in Weber Power in social domain is designated as social status. All persons who are accorded the same estimations of social honour or prestige and who live the same style-of-life generally fall within the same status group of “status-situation”. A person’s power in the social sphere derives from the amount and the extent of prestige that he receives from others. Here is the typical passage from his famous essay, “Class, Status and Party”: In contrast to classes, status groups are normally communities. They are, however, often an amorphous kind. In contrast to the purely economically determined ‘class situation’, we wish to designate as ‘status situation’ every typical component of the life fate of men that is determined by a specific, positive or negative, social estimation of honour . . . But status honour need not necessarily be linked with ‘class situation’. On the contrary, it normally stands in sharp opposition to the pretensions of sphere property . . . In content status honour is normally expressed by the fact that above all else a specific style-of-life can be expected from all those who wish to belong to the circle. Linked with this expectation are restrictions on ‘social’ intercourse . . . With some oversimplification, one might thus say that ‘classes’ are stratified according to their relations to the production and acquisition of goods; whereas ‘status groups’ are stratified according to the principles of their consumption of goods as represented by special styles-of-life (Weber, 1970).

The concept of status then is defined by Weber through the social estimation of esteem. Status conceived as a dimension of stratification which is functionally distinct and separate from class, or to use Bendix’s expression, class and status were defined in “terms that are mutually exclusive” (Bendix, 19: 153). Weber’s theory of stratification draws


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distinction between class and status which may be presented in tabular form as follows: Class


1. Class is a function of market situation. 1. Status operates in the absence of the market. 2. Class is a mere economic situation.

2. Status originates from social community.

3. Opportunities for possession characterize class.

3. Status is typified by consumption patterns, styles of life and social honour.

Elsewhere, in his Religion of India, Weber perhaps expressed the relation between class and status more succinctly; Social honour (status) can adhere directly to a class situation and it is also; indeed most of the time, determined by the average class situation of the status group member. This, however, is not necessarily the case. Status membership, in turn, influences the class situation in that the style of life required to status groups makes them prefer special kinds of property or gainful pursuits and reject others (Weber, 1958: 39).

To be sure, in Weber’s analysis of stratification, status has been given not one, but three different contextual meanings turning it to be a controversial concept. The first meaning which Weber gives to the concept of ‘status’ is that of an ‘epoch’. He conceived the status as a dimension of stratification historically preceding the advent of society. To this. Weber calls the “epoch of status groups” (Weber, 1970: 193). Here he refers to Hellenic and Roman antiquity and the Middle Ages. In the words ascribed to Weber, status groups “develop and subsist most readily where economic organization is of a monopolistic and liturgical character and where the economic needs of corporate groups are met on a feudal or patrimonial basis” (Weber, 1964: 429). Weber uses the concept of ‘status group’ in discussion of the limits of competition in the medieval guild in contrast to the capitalistics ethos of Christian sects (Weber, 1970: 321–322). Here Weber poses very clearly class and status as mutually exclusive categories—status group referring to the societies where household and work group are undifferentiated and class referring to the societies where they are differentiated (Bendix, 19: 156–158; Fallers, 1974: 143; Parkin, 1972: 29, 38–39; Therborn, 1978: 141).



The second meaning of status refers to the social estimation of honour. In this sense, status, according to Weber, “may be connected with any quality shared by a plurality, and, of course, it can be knit to a class situation: class distinctions are linked in the most varied ways with status distinctions” (Weber, 1970: 187). Although class and status refer to two different dimensions of stratification, Weber suggests a relative dependence of status on class when he writes that “today the class situation is by far the predominant factor, for, of course, the possibility of a style-of-life expected for members of a status group is usually conditioned economically” (Weber, 1970: 127). However, Weber is frying to consider class and status distinct even though he notes dependence of the latter on the former. Weber states that status “is not . . . determined by (class situation) alone” even though it “may be based on class situation directly or related to it in complex ways” (Weber, 1964: 428). For, while “present-day society is predominantly stratified in classes . . . (it) contains a very tangible element of stratification by status” (Weber, 1970: 301). It is clear, then, that Weber considers class and status as dissimilar and distinct even though the status may be socially related to, and even conditioned by, class (The defenders of class hold this position. See Marshall, 1972: 45; Runciman, 1972). The third meaning of status refers to purely distinct character of status. Class and status for Weber are connected with each other even when they are distinct. Weber says, “social status may partly or even wholly determine class situation without, however, being identical with it” (Weber, 1964: 428). The same point is made elsewhere (Weber, 1970: 405). Given that this is so, status retains its own identity as a precondition of class; it is instrumental in class formation. But some confusion creeps in when Weber designates occupational groups as status groups (Weber, 1970: 405), even though he considers occupational group also as a part of the class structure (Weber, 1964: 250). Critics say that class and status here refer to one phenomenon and no distinction between them is maintained, although both are sharply distinguished. However, Weber’s such treatment is simply to show that at times one determines the other, although they are different from each other. Even the account of status illustrates the point that Weber does not allow his principles of social action slip from the analysis of stratification. Status, for Weber, is the judgement of men by men, “that is


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determined by a specific, positive or negative, estimation of honour” men bestow on men. Furthermore, status has also pluralistic nature like class divided into positive and negative types of status. Status groups as of an amorphous kind speaks of his application of ideal-type method.

3. Power Concept in Weber Political power, last of three dimensions, least developed by Weber, does not belong to either economic or the social sphere; but political order. Weber was profoundly political man. At several points in his life he seriously thought of abandoning academic life. Weber once wrote: “I am born for the pen and the speakers tribune, not for the academic chair” (Monmsen, 1959: 279; Beetham, 1974: Giddens, 1972; Wolin, 1981: 401–424). He was deeply involved in politics and wrote a great deal about politics. He has a bourgeoisie outlook and was fully aware of it. However, he was aware that “To take a political stand is one thing, and to analyze political structures and party positions is another” (Weber, 1970: 145). One need to recall this famous declaration to perceive the direction in which his thought was moving. However, we are concerned here with what he wrote about power per se. The definition of power offered by Weber in his Wirtschaft and Gesellschaft is of central importance. Weber distinguishes between power (Macht) and leadership or rule (Herrschaft). There are many variations in the meaning among the more prominent commentators on Weber’s definition of power or Macht1. Not so clearly conceptualized as class and status, power (macht) is defined by Weber as follows: Within a social relationship, power means every chance (no matter whereon this chance is based) to carry through one’s own will (even against resistance) (Walliman, et al., 1980: 266).

One reason of confusion in various definitions of commentators is that they are not referencing the identical portion of Weber’s Wirtschaft and Gesellschaft which Wallimann and his associates claim to do. Like status, Weber recognizes the “amorphic” character of power and the innumerable situations wherein an individual may be in a position to carry through his own will. It should be noted that Macht is also



applicable to the will of both a single person or actor as well as individuals. Weber distinguishes between Macht and Herrschaft. Herrschaft is defined by Weber as “The chance for an order with a certain content to find obedience with designatable persons” (Weber, 1925). While Macht includes Herrschaft, it is not limited to it. Weber’s definition of power does not imply the necessity of legitimacy. Only in that kind of Macht called Herrschaft is legitimacy a consideration. This distinction negates political analysts’ statement that ‘‘Weber dealt only with authority, that is legitimate power” (Dahl, 1963: 20; Gurr, 1970; Deutsch, 1963). Weber uses Herrschaft often translated as ‘authority’ but it is not an exact equivalent of die Autoritat. The meaning of Herrschaft typically connotes “mastery” and “domination”. Weber would write about the “domination (Herrschaft) of man over man”. It implies that while in some contexts it may be perfectly appropriate to translate Herrschaft as  “authority” or “imperative control” and to emphasize the element of legitimacy, it is also important to attend to the harsher overtones of Herrschaft as domination that is, of humanly constructed structures of power and domination. The harsher meaning of Herrschaft is connected to more universal plane. Weber wrote: “The decisive means for politics is violence . . . who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical power” (Weber, 1970: 121, 123). Conflict and struggle was recognized by Weber everywhere (Weber, 1949: 27). Weber used a large number of ‘power-words’ such as struggle, competition, violence, domination, Machtstat, imperialism. Weber put forward a three-fold classification of ideal-types of legitimation. He stipulates that “there are three pure types of legitimate domination. The validity of the claims may be based on: (1) Rational grounds, (2) Traditional grounds, and (3) Charismatic grounds”. Rational-legal type of authority rests on “a belief in the ‘legality’ of patterns of normative rules and the right of those elevated to authority under such rules to issue commands” (Weber, 1968, 1: 215). The traditional authority is defined as “resting on an established belief in the sanctity of immemorial traditions and the legitimacy of status of those exercising authority under them” (Weber, 1968, I: 215). “Charismatic authority” rests on “devotion to the specific sanctity, heroism, or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him” (Weber, 1968, I: 215).


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Most of Weber’s interpreters argue that Weber’s concept of power was limited to ‘legitimate power’ and that it can be explained in structural terms. We disagree from both these general views. Max Weber’s concept of power “is restricted to wholly human relationships . . . It is a the chance of carrying through the will of a person, or a group of persons, within a social relationship” (Walliman, 19: 226). This shows that Weber thought of power in terms of subjective meaning of social actors. Furthermore, the notion of legitimacy is not included in Weber’s power definition and becomes consideration only in discussions of Herrschajt. “Macht (power) includes Herrschaft but is not limited to it. . . . Weber conceived of power as a process taking place in social time and space, both in its potential state and in actions that are oriented toward realization of this potential” (Walliman, 1980: 226). As one element in Weber’s definition of power is the concept of chance, some scholars, say Luhmann, note the inclusion of the element of structure. The usage of chance in Weber, as interpreted by Luhmann, is in such a way that it smacks of a structure, of a kind of catalyst, amenable to manipulation by those specific actors possessing what Weber terms power. Hence the chance implies a ‘given’ of social interaction that is persistent feature of social life; it is not a random occurrence (Luhmann, 1975: 118). Although said in a sense of a critique, there is a nice fit between the argument of Luhmann and Weber’s social action approach. A probabilistic definition of power excludes any sense of the structural context whatsoever (Burr, 1973: 189; Perrucci and Pilisuk, 1970: 1042). In fact, power is an action state for Weber initiated and carried through in social time and space. Weber’s sociology is characterized by a keen awareness of the reflexive relationship among process, actors and the social milieu. Weber places the person at the centre of the concept of power. In the power-analysis as well, Weber keeps his metatheoretical position intact.

Conclusion We have maintained in this essay that there is an inextricable link between the specific features of Weber’s metatheoretical argument and stratification theory. Weber has followed his verstehende method of understanding social stratification in terms of subjective meanings and social action consequent upon it. He has also kept himself along the line of methodological principles of ideal types.



In examining the nature and exploring the dimensions of stratification, Weber struck to a ‘three-dimensional’ view of class, status and power. The critics’ contention of ‘two-dimensional’ view of class and status’ is rejected. At the same time, Weber treated class, status and power as distinct phenomena and held the notion of disjunction among them. Both features of Weber’s thought on stratification are well expressed in the social bases of choice or preference between alternatives which lead to different types of social action generative of either class or status or power stratification. When the bases of acquisition and distribution of goods are relatively stable, stratification by status is favoured. Every technological repercussion and economic transformation threatens stratification by status and pushes the class situation into the fore-ground. Epochs and countries in which the naked class situation is of predominant significance are regularly the periods of technological and economic transformations. And every slowing down of the shifting of economic stratification leads, in due course, to the growth of status structures and makes for a resuscitation of the important role of social honour” (Weber, 1970: 193–194 . . . Power derived from a constellation of interests that develops on a formally free market, power derived from social estimation and power that derived from established authority (Weber quoted in Bendix, 1960: 294) are different.

Note 1. Talcott Parsons, “On the Concept of Political Power,” in Talcott Parsons (ed.), Sociological Theory and Modern Society (New York: Free Press, 1968), p. 656: “The probability within a social relationship of being able to secure one’s own ends even against opposition”; Talcott Parsons and A. M. Henderson (eds.), Max Weber’s The Theory of Social and Economic Organization (New York: Free Press, 1965), p. 152 “The probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance regardless of the basis on which this probability rests’; G. Roth and C. Wittich (eds.), Max Weber, Economy and Society, p. 53, presents the version similar to Parsons and Henderson above, Reinhard Bendix, Max Weber. An Intellectual Pomait (New York: Anchor, 1962), p. 290: “The possibility of imposing one’s own will upon the behaviour of other persons”; Julien Freund, The Sociology of Max Weber, trans, by Mary Ilford (New York: Vintage, 1969), p. 221: “The probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance”; Peter M. Blau, “Critical Remarks on Weber’s Theory of Authority”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 57 (June, 1963), pp. 306–316, esp. p. 221: “The ability of a person to impose his will upon others despite resistance”; Raymond Aron, German Sociology, trans, by Mary and Thomas Bottomore (New York-Free Press, 1964); p. 101 “The chance of obtaining the obedience of others to a particular command”, Dennis H. Wrong, Max Weber (Englewood Cliffs, N J.: Prentice


Rajendra Pandey Hall, 1970), p. 54: The Probability that one actor within a social relationship will be in a position to carry out his own will despite resistance, regardless of the basis on which this probability rests”, H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (eds.), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology (New York: Oxford, 1958), p. 180: “In general, we understand by power the chance of a man or of a number of men to realize their own will in a communal action even against the resistance of others who are participating in the action”.

References Allardt, Erik. 1972. “Structural, Institutional, and Cultural Explanations”, Acta Sociologica, Vol. 15, No. 1. Appadorai, A. 1950. The Substance of Politics, Madras: Oxford University Press, Fifth Edition. Aristotle. 1892. Notes on the Nicomachean Ethics, trans, by J. A. Stewart, Oxford: The Clarendon Press. Aron, Raymond. 1964. German Sociology, trans by Mary and Thomas Bottomore, New York: Free Press. ———. 1970. Main Currents in Sociological Thought, London. Weidenfeld. Atkinson, Dick. 1971. Orthodox Consensus and Radical Alternative, London. Heinemann. Barbalet, Jack M. 1980. “Principles of Stratification in Max Weber—An Interpretation and Critique”, British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 31, No. 3 (September): 401–418. Beetham, David. 1974. Max Weber and the Theory of Modern Politics, London. Bendix, Reinhard. 1966. Max Weber: An Intellectual Portrait, London: Metheun. ———. 1974. “Inequality and Social Structure: A Comparison of Marx and Weber”, American Sociological Review, Vol. 39, No. 2. Bendix, Reinhard and Seymour Martin Lipset. 1957. Class, Status, and Power: A Reader in Social Stratification, Glencoe, III.: The Free Press. Berger, Peter L. and Thomas Luckmann. 1975. The Social Construction of Reality, London: Allen Lane. The Penguin Press. Blau, Peter M. 1963. “Critical Remarks on Weber’s Theory of Authority”, American Political Science Review, Vol. 57 (June): 306–316. Bogardus, Emory S. 1950. The Development of Social Thought, New York: Longmans. Burr, W. 1973. Theory Construction and the Sociology of the Family, New York: Wiley Press. Cohen, Percy. 1975. Modern Social Theory, London, Heinemann. Coser, Lewis. 1956. The Functions of Social Conflict, Glencoe, III.: The Free Press. ———. 1971. Masters of Sociological Thought, New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich. Dahl, R. A. 1963. Modern Political Analysis, Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice-Hall. Dahrendorf, Ralf. 1959. Class and Class Conflict in Industrial Society, Stanford: Stanford University Press. Dawe, Allan. 1973. “The Role of Experience in the Construction of Social Theory”, The Sociological Review, Vol. 21, No. 1. (February): pp. 25–55. ———. 1979. “Theories of Social Action”, in Tom Bottomore and Robert Nisbet (eds.) A History of Sociological Analysis, London: Heinemann, pp. 362–417. Deutsch, K. W. 1963. The Nerves of Government, New York: The Free Press. Dumont, Louis. 1970. Homo Hierarchicus: The Caste System and Its Implications, Delhi: Vikas Publications.



Durkheim, Emile. 1950. The Rules of Sociological Method, trans, by S. A. Solovay and J. H. Mueller, Glencoe, III.: The Free Press. Eisenstadt, S. N. 1968. “Introduction” to Max Weber on Charisma and Institution Building, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Falters, Lloyd. 1974. “Social Stratification and Economic Progress in Africa”, in Reinhard Bendix and Seymour Martin Lipset (eds.), Class, Status and Power, London: Routledge & Kagan Paul. Fraser, Ronald. 1969. Work, 2 Vols, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Freund, Julien. 1969. The Sociology of Max Weber, trans, by Mary Ilford, New York: Vintage. Fulbrook, Mury. 1978. “Max Weber’s Interpretive Sociology: A Comparison of Conception and Practice”, British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 29, No, 1. Gerth, Hans and C. Wright Mills. 1970. “Introduction” to From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Giddens, Anthony. 1972. Politics and Sociology in the Thought of Max Weber, London. ———. 1973. The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies, London: Hutchinson. Gierke, Otto. 1934. Natural Law and the Theory of Society, 1500–1800, trans, by E. Barker, 2 Vols., Cambridge: The University Press. Glukman, Max. 1955. Custom and Conflict in Primitive Society, London: Basil Blackwell and New York: The Free Press. Goldschmidt, Walter. 1950. “Social Class in America: A Critical Review”, American Anthropologist, Vol. LII. Gardon, Milton M. 1963. Social Class in American Sociology, New York: McGraw Hill. Gurr, T. R. 1970. Why Men Rebel? Princeton: Princeton University Press. Hobbes, Thomas. 1962. Leviathan, ed. by Michael Oakeshott, New York: Collier Books. Hoggart, Richard. 1970. Speaking to Each Other, 2 Vols., London: Chatto and Windus. Locke, John. 1959. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. by Alexander Fraser, New York-Dover Publications. Luhmann, N. 1975. Macht, Stuttgart. Enke Verlag. ———. 1975a. “Klassische theorie der Macht. Kritik inhver Pramissen”, zeitschrift fur Politik, 16, Heft 2 (June): 149–170. Lukes, Steven. 1973. Individualism, Oxford Blackwell. ———. 1975. “Power and Structure”, in Essays in Social Theory, London Macmillan. Marshall, T. H. 1972. Class, Citizenship, and Social Development, New York Doubleday. Marx, Karl. 1965. The Holy Family, London: Lawrence and Wishart. ———. 1968. The German Ideology, & Moscow. Progress Publishers. Mayer, J. P. 1956. Max Weber and German Politics, London: Faber. McDougall, William. 1928. The Group Mind, New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons. Mills, C. Wright. 1956. The Power Elite, New York: Oxford University Press. Mommsen, Wolfgang. 1959. Max Weber und die deutsche Politik, 1890–1920. Jubingen. Moore, Barrington Jr. 1958. Political Power and Social Theory, Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. Pandey, Rajendra. 1982. Social Inequality: Features, Forms, and Functions, Lucknow: Anuj Publications. Parkin, Frank. 1972. Class Inequality and Political Order, London-Paladin. Parsons, Talcott. 1964. “Introduction” to Max Weber, The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, trans, and ed by A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons, New York: The Free Press. ———. 1968. “On the Concept of Political Power”, in Talcott Parsons (ed), Sociological Theory and Modern Society, New York: The Free Press.


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Perrucci, R. and M. Pilisuk. 1970. “Leaders and Ruling Elites: The Interorganizational Bases of Community Power”, American Sociological Review, Vol. 35 (December): 1040–1057. Plato. 1875. Republic in the Dialogues of Plato, trans, by B. Jowett, 5 Vols. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. Reissman, Leonard. 1959. Class in American Society, Glencoe, 111.: The Free Press. Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 1973. The Social Contract and Discourses, trans, by G. D. H. Cole, London: Dent. Runiciman, W. G. 1972. Relative Deprivation and Social Justice, Harmondsworth: Penguin. Spencer, Herbert. 1897. Principles of Sociology, 3 Vols. London: Williams and Norgate. Therborn, Goran. 1978. What Does the Ruling Class Do When It Rules? London: New Left Books. Turkel, Studs. 1975. Working, London: Wildwood House. Wallimann, I., H. Rosenbaum, N. Tatsis and G. Zito. 1980. “Misreading Weber: The Concept of ‘Macht’”, Sociology, Vol. 14, No. 2 (May): 261–275. Weber, Max. 1922. Wirtschaft und Gesellschaft, Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr, now published as Economy and Society, ed. by Guenther Roth and Claus Wittich, Vols. 3, New York: Bedminster Press, 1968. ———. 1925. Wirtschaft and Gesellschaft; Grundriss der Sozlalokonomik, Abteilung 111, Verlag Von J. C. B. Mont Paul Siebeck, Tubingen. ———. 1930. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, trans, and ed. by Talcott Parsons, London. ———. 1949. The Methodology of the Social Sciences, trans, by E. A. Shils and H. A. Finch, Glencoe, ILL.: The Free Press. ———. 1951. “Die Wirtschaftsethik der Weltreligionen: Einleitung”, Archiv fur Sozialforschung, Vol. 41 (September), now translated as “The Social Psychology of the World Religions”, in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans, and ed. by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills (London: Routledge & Kagan Paul, 1970, pp. 267–301. ———. 1954. Max Weber on Law in Economy and Society, trans, and ed. by Edward A. Shils and Max Rheinstein, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. ———. 1958. Gesammelte Politische Schriften, 2nd ed., J. Winchelmann, Tubingen. ——— 1958 The Religion of India: The Sociology of Hinduism and Buddhism, Glencoe, 111.: The Free Press. ———. 1964. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, trans and ed. by A. M. Henderson and Talcott Parsons, New York: The Free Press. ———. 1970. “Science as a Vocation”, in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans, and ed. by Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ———. 1970. “Class, Status, and Party”, pp. 180–195, in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans, and ed. by Hans Gerth and C. Wright Mills, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ———. 1970. “The Protestant Sects and the Spirit of Capitalism”, in From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, trans, and ed. by H. H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Wolin, Sheldon S. 1981. “Max Weber: Legitimation, Method and Politics of Theory”, Political Theory, Vol. 9 No. 3 (August): 401–424. ———. 1970. Max Weber, Englewood Cliffs, N. J.: Prentice Hall. ——— .1976. Skeptical Sociology, New York: Columbia University Press.

10 Malinowski on Freedom and Civilization Vinay Kumar Srivastava

This paper deals with one of the last contributions of Bronislaw Kasper Malinowski (7 April, 1884—16 May, 1942) entitled Freedom and Civilization (1944 U.S. ed. 1947 U.K. ed.)1 This work, written during the Second World War (1939–45) when Malinowski had come to the United States of America in 1938 on sabbatical leave, is a cogent example of the relevance of anthropology to the study of crucial problems that confront all of mankind. To quote him: In these times of sophistication and relativism it is the duty of an anthropologist to restate and reaffirm the existence of certain values and principles which are indispensable to the very process of maintaining and advancing culture (p. 4).2

The tremors, ravages and devastations of the war can be felt in his text—a collation of the lectures he delivered during the war. It is a treatise on peace, outlining the programschrift through which peace and freedom could be restored permanently. Did this work have a minority status because he was a Pole, or because he was an ‘outspoken opponent of National Socialism’ (p: V), which in those days was Hitler’s ideology? Did he view anthropology as a discipline that could contribute to issues like freedom, peace, liberty and equality? We submit that his Trobriand studies had already paved an anthropological way for a judicious examination of freedom and culture.


Vinay Kumar Srivastava

The Second World War deeply pained him. He wrote: “At present, an international war, like World Wars I and II, is a civil war of mankind divided against itself ” (p. 293). This was an expression of his abhorrence for war. Totalitarian regimes were condemned by him as ‘states organised for the supreme mobilisation of national resources for war efficiency’ (p. 305). His unceasing attacks on war and totalitarianism led to the imposition of a ban on his books in Germany. Sir Raymond Firth writes: War—at least in the civilized sphere—seemed to him (Malinowski) a negation of cultured behaviour; destructive of the finest flowering of the creative arts.3

Malinowski died before the holocaust of Hiroshima and Nagasaki— an event which terribly shook the value-neutrality of scientists.4 Had he lived through it, his writings would have been more poignant. In this essay, we propose to discuss Malinowski’s ideas on freedom, war, totalitarianism, democracy and his pragmatic efforts to establish peace and freedom. The last deals with what he called ‘practical anthropology’. Before this, however, we will discuss Malinowski against the background of anthropological paradigms. The greatest strength of any social science, said George Homans,5 lies in its analytical abilities. This conviction is corroborated by theoreticians deeply concerned with rendering analytically holistic paradigms for comprehending—with as much approximation to truth as possible— the past (diachronic or obliterated) and existing realities of human society. Anthropology has contributed significantly to analytical perspectives. Without glorifying anthropology, lest it provoke the protaganists of other disciplines, let us state that it championed a holistic approach, or to use the phrase coined by Stanley and Ruth Freed ‘holistic ethnography’.6 This places the discipline in a position to offer both a theoretical approach and methodological insight for a meaningful understanding of human behaviour. Again, anthropology contributed several analytical perspectives that had their genesis in the study of the so-called primitive cultures, and that permeated other disciplines and were harmoniously assimilated by them7. Therefore, Homans’s observation about the prime contribution of the social sciences applies more so to anthropology. It is our belief that the future survival of anthropology will be less dependent on ethnographic studies of pre-literates than it will be on the



analytical-cum-methodological system that it presents for an understanding of the world in which traditional obsolescence, nuclear resources, robots, technocracy, materialism and consumerism are prominent features.8 One may ask how can an anthropological perspective extracted from the study of a primitive society, be applicable to a mass-industrial society. This is a criticism also of functionalism. It has been argued that as functionalism is the product of a small, integrated, undivisive, traditional and almost changeless society, it could not be applied to the understanding of a large, relatively mal-integrated, divisive, stratified, modern and fast-changing one.9 Those who make this criticism forget that societies can be aligned on a continuum rather than in terms of clearly divided polar categories. Once the continuum approach is adhered to, certain fundamental properties of human society—as a whole—stand out. These are characteristics that exist irrespective of any gradual or radical social transformation. If change and a loose integration of institutions characterize a modern society, it should not be forgotten that orderly persistence is equally an indispensable characteristic. It is widely recognized that consensus as well as conflict are dialectically related in any social system.10 Of course, an approach emerging from the simple society for its fuller application in a complex society may require some degree of modification in theoretical propositions. The fact that all human societies, because of a common and intrinsic subject matter form a unified whole, means that there are several basic threads that cut across apparent dissimilarities. Hence, a total rejection of functionalism, with the onslaught of conflict and change approaches (including the dialectical methods), also means a rejection of certain fundamental and universal characteristics in all human societies. We are not in favour of an approach that falls short of explanatory potency, but its rebuttal should not be done at the expense of its better attributes. Functionalism, in a similar vein, has some important aspects that must be taken care of while altering and/or rejecting its premises. An inspection into the history of anthropology reveals the emergence of several theoretical and methodological perspectives, which were revolutionary from the point of view of the anthropological practice hitherto prevalent. One such perspective, a vociferous criticism of the speculative construction of evolutionary stages, was functionalism.


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Critics might argue that the functional theory of society emerged immediately after the French Revolution (1789) in the writings of Auguste Comte. They have the freedom to trace the metaphorical usage of organic analogy (one that provided initial strength to functionalism) from St. Paul or other Biblical sources. But the pith of our argument is that what is known as the ‘empirical justification of functionalism’11 was the result of the cumulative efforts (though carried out independently) of two social anthropologists, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown and Bronislaw Malinowski, who later were labelled as the respective founders of British Social Anthropology tradition. Both, in their own rights, established the field work tradition and the synchronic study of small societies. It is however, not to deny that the founder of Annee Sociologique, Emile Durkheim, was one of the first brilliant contributors to the study of social facts. In his studies of division of labour (1893), suicide (1897) and religion (1912), he expounded sociological explanations, that went unchallenged for quite some time.12 Although Durkheim’s definition of function—based on organic analogy and the beneficial contribution of a part to the well-being and maintenance of the whole—was substantially adopted by Radcliffe-Brown13 and his approach—called ‘sociologistic positivism’ by Talcott Parsons14—had reverberating influence on anthropology as a whole, he did not contribute to the field-work tradition. In his study pertaining to simple social organizations, he relied on the data collected by travellers.15 Therefore he could not escape from some of the weaknesses that applied to most of the classical evolutionists and diffusionists.16 If Thomas Kuhn’s distinction between ‘normal’ and ‘revolutionary’ science is recapitulated, it emerges that when ‘normal’ science is practiced, there are multitudinous competing paradigms, equally versatile— or at least claim to be so—for the explanation of reality. Here the truth of the existing paradigms is invariably asserted albeit its capability to explain a given array of phenomena. When the paradigms comprising ‘normal’ science. Kuhn asserts, glaringly fail and the dissatisfaction connected with them thickly precipitates, there is a pressing need to change them in a revolutionary way, thus, giving birth to ‘revolutionary’ science17. The academic dissatisfaction emerging from the classical varieties of evolutionism and diffusionism, changed the focus from a conjectural to a scientific study: from a diachronic one to an essentially synchronic; from a ceremonious reliance on itinerants, missionaries and travellers to



an objective cognition of a field worker; from just what people think to what people think and do; from an ‘arm-chair anthropology’ to a ‘fieldwork anthropology’ and from a pedagogy based on academic romanticism to an anthropology which understood a primitive not as an exhibit but a human being who craves to survive in a differential setup. The field work paradigm—scientifically shown by Radcliffe-Brown in his study of Andaman Islanders (1906–08) and Malinowski in the study of eight thousand people of Boyowans (1914–18)—was nothing short of a ‘revolutionary’ science. Functionalism, which later acquired prominence, was empirically founded by these two protagonists. One tends to agree with Adam Kuper who said that the year 1922, when Radcliffe-Brown’s The Andaman Islanders and Malinowski’s Argonauts of the Western Pacific were published, should be regarded as the annus mirbilis (year of wonders) of functionalism18. The angels of this year of wonders were able to show, in their respective ethnographies, how functional studies are to be carried out and the meaning of institutions discerned. The methodology pioneered by them was qualitatively different from their predecessors.19 Malinowski commenced his field work eight years after Radcliffe -Brown had embarked on to the study of the Andamanese. He was a great field worker, who endeavoured to study the natives not by observing them from without, but by participating in their socio-cultural system (participant observation—participation requires a knowledge of the vernacular language).20 The supreme aspect about his ethnography was that he depicted Trobrianders in their vivid group life,21 by taking into cognizance a ‘full account of the complexity of human nature’22. He did not, like his predecessors, consider the Trobrianders a fine example of ‘primitives’23. He vehemently stated that the ‘myth of primitivism should be exploded once and for ever’.24 Hence his ethnography— understanding the natives in a complete social system—was a candid depiction of man ‘in the round and not in the flat’.25. This was a sharp contrast to the bloodless, prosaic and dry ethnographies of the past26. For him, the Trobriander was not a bizarre creature whose oddities required intellectual discourses, but a human being to be recognized in his full humanity. Like all human beings, he is endowed with a biological equipment and a cultural apparatus. He struggles with nature for subsistence; is involved in various sorts of conflict; has a sense of humour; lives amidst a complex social organization; has nefarious goals


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and aims; sings, dances and possesses strong aesthetic qualities, and is endowed with human sensibilities, drives and aspirations, although they are determined and conditioned by his cultural milieu. In a nutshell, the principle humanum est errare (to err is human) can be fully applied in his case. This recognition of humanum was certainly a contrast to the ethnocentrism nurtured by others. It was ‘out of a deep respect for cultures other than our own that the doctrine of cultural relativism evolved’.27 Malinowski was its ardent supporter. An anthropological recognition of humanum at the Trobriand level was extended at the methodological one in his A Scientific Theory of Culture and Other Essays (1944a)28 and in Freedom and Civilization (1944b). His vivid Trobriand ethnographies may depict the Kiriwinian as an epitome of humaneness, but, he took every care to consider the evil nature of his anthropological subjects. The famous ethnographic fact that the best sorcerer (bwagu’a) is one who succeeds in committing matricide shows a negative aspect of the Trobriand culture.29 Although Malinowski tried to explain it in terms of “generalized psychology and standardized emotions”30, as a tension between father and mother’s brother, in an overall framework, he comprehended both good and evil, freedom and slavery, white and black magic, benevolent gods and virulent witches, beauty magic and the magic to reinforce social order, non-knowledge of sociological paternity and matrilineality, to name just a few examples, as having emerged from the culture. In this sense, he was only at a stone’s throw from Emile Durkheim who said that both the ideal conceptions of society and the prevailing realities of social structure are unified in the transfiguration and epitomization of deities.31 The humanum is an underlying theme in his posthumously published Freedom and Civilization also. After recognizing his Trobrianders in full humanity, he undertook the task to apply and extend it to all beings32: the cardinal yearning of man is to achieve freedom in full human sense. Examined in isolation, his Freedom and Civilization may sound, in the words of Professor Marvin Harris ‘an effulgent paean on “freedom” ’33 (and hence its anthropological worth may be underestimated), but if seen in the context of humanum, as it grew in his Trobriand studies, it is a culmination of studies pertaining to the concept of humanity over a couple of decades. We see the essence of Malinowskian studies in the latter sense, as he himself stated in his Diary:



“What is the deepest essence of my investigations? To discover what are (the native’s) main passions, the motives for his conduct, his aims. . . . His essential, deepest way of thinking. At this point we are confronted with our own problems: Universalgedanke, Volksgedanke (universal ideas, folk ideas).”34 Malinowski is popularly known as a Trobriand ethnographer (as Professor Edmund Leach told us for almost fifteen years, it was believed that anthropology emerged in visits to the islands of Papua and New Guinea).35 A master field worker (for a long time the anthropology students used to seek apprenticeship under him)36, he was also a precursor to linguistic anthropology (his semantic analyses are widely popular)37, and a forebearer of the gift theory (in Malinowski lay its genesis, Marcel Mauss38 developed it and its full realization came with Claude Levi-Strauss).39 His functional analysis of magic (‘magic is summoned when mechanical technology ends’)40 was a blow on Sir James Frazer’s conception of magic as the earliest stage in the evolution of human thought and a kind of ‘bastard sister of science’41. This analysis could also stun the followers of Hubert and Mauss, who saw magic as ‘anti-social’.42 Lying at the interface of various social sciences, Malinowski’s field work approach, consisting of his articulate intellectual programme, attracted various scholars. Professor Ernest Gellner, the present Chairman of Anthropology at Cambridge, observes: . . . his (Malinowski’s) position in the history of the social sciences is perhaps, in one respect, rather like that of Lenin in the history of political thought: it is impossible or at any rate pointless, to investigate his ideas without at the same time being concerned with the institutions which were engendered by them. The importance of Malinowski lies perhaps in this fusion of certain set of ideas into a kind of whole and, above all, in setting up the institutions, the traditions and the ethos which perpetuated the application of these ideas in cumulative and profitable research.43

This, however, does not mean that Malinowski escaped from a critical (and also denigrating) assessment. He received a sizeable share of uncharitable comments. In fact, one of his first two students, whom he lectured in London in 1924, Edward Evans-Pritchard (later Sir Professor) commented on A Scientific Theory of Culture in the following words: It is a good example of the morass of verbiage and triviality into which the effort to give an appearance of being natural-scientific can lead. Malinowski was in any case a futile thinker44.


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Malinowski’s need theory also roused cheap utilitarianism. Raglan in his review of 1930 asked: “Does Professor Malinowski really believe that sub incision was invented to detach boys from their mother’s apron strings?”45 Professor Firth tells us that Malinowski had a “particular sense of humour. He delighted in playing with words”. His description of himself as “the arch ‘functionalist’ was his idea of a joke”46. If one follows the context, then Malinowski’s statement in the preface of Professor Firth’s We, The Tikopia (1936)—“This is certainly not a genuine ‘functional’ preface which functions as a preface should function”47—should better be taken as a kind of Malinowskian humour. Or his statement, often quoted to criticise him, in the special foreword to The Sexual Life of Savages48: ‘the magnificent title of the Functional School of Anthropology has been bestowed by myself, in a way on myself, and to a large extent out of my own sense of irresponsibility,’ should be followed in this zeal. Notwithstanding the critical tributes, our contention is that Malinowski’s work is relevant in the contemporary age. Undoubtedly its anachronism, wherever discovered, needs modification. He should not only be accepted as a Trobriand ethnographer, or a propounder of psychological (or bio-cultural) functionalism, or the formulator of a ‘field worker’s vade mecum, a wordy Notes and Queries’49, or merely an anthropologist concerned with a simple and pristine culture. There is another dimension of his work, relevant in an interdisciplinary way, whose applicability in the modern world is quite high. It is also a good example of what Professor Harris calls ‘the wedding of functional theory to a universal theory of evolution’.50 It is concerned with the relationship between freedom and culture. The inductive premise that humanness of a simple tribal can be extended to embrace the entire mankind led Malinowski to look for the basic characteristics of the whole human kind. All human beings share a charter of needs and imperatives, which applies in all social organizations irrespective of spatio-temporal dimensions.51 If generality exists at this level, there should not be a difficulty in formulating a universally valid theory of society.52 The humanum of the Trobriander, realized in all monographs pertaining to him, got a theoretical sacrosanctity in his posthumously published A Scientific Theory of Culture. The needs of all human beings—primitive or modern—are biological, but are fulfilled by



cultural mechanisms.53 Malinowski was not very sure whether to call his scientific theory of culture a theory in the real sense of the term, or just a guideline (a methodological devise) ‘to equip the field worker with a clear perspective and full instruction regarding what to observe and how to record’.54 One may debate on the status of Malinowski’s functionalism. Is it a theory or just a guideline? But the summary of his thesis that the biological endowments are satisfied by cultural mechanisms would remain almost unaltered. Once the biological needs are satisfied, a system of social imperatives comes to the fore, again requiring the cultural system to provide the instrumental and consummatory aspects. The sequence, though endless, can be reduced to a charter of needs and imperatives. In the whole analysis, culture stands out as a fact par excellence, primarily directed towards the survival of human species.55 Consisting of an ‘instrumental apparatus’56, it supplies man with material and nonmaterial entities by which man adapts to the natural and social environments. It transforms man—the animal into man—the socio-cultural being and his brain, in the process of enculturation, becomes mind— the seat of cognitive faculty. Culture provides motivations, knowledge, systematic (and socially approved) ways of handling various instrumentalities, the value-orientation and normative consensus; the goals (practical or traditional) for which men fight—the altruism at whose altar they do not hesitate in sacrificing their lives, and the ways in which nature is tamed. Malinowski believed—and his belief has become an inseparable part of anthropological thought—that man can only be identified with the presence of culture. In other words, culture does not exist at the non-human level (one is reminded of the culture vs. instinct distinction). Since all conceptual categories, which facilitate human interaction and give human society a distinct character, emerge from the all pervasive quota of knowledge57 called culture, it can be deductively argued that freedom, as a concept, does not have any extraneous existence. It originates with culture, and it is the culture which defines the content of freedom. Malinowski’s logic can be presented in the following axioms: 1. All conceptual categories, which direct human behaviour or define the aspirations of people, have their origin in culture. 2. Freedom is a conceptual category.


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3. Hence, freedom has its origin in culture. To quote Malinowski: “. . . the real battle ground of freedom, as well as the workshop in which it is produced in all its qualities, forms and varieties, is culture” (p: 51). And “We refuse to follow the fictitious detachment of our concept of freedom from its cultural context” (p: 58). 4. The content of culture defines the content of freedom. Man is, Malinowski believed, an animal with culture. This conception can be compared to Aristotle’s Zoon Politikon.58 Every act carried out by him has to be comprehended within the cultural categories. Malinowski says, “. . . not a single human act, relevant to the science of man, occurs outside the context of culture” (p: 37). 5. Freedom is a cultural category. 6. Therefore, freedom does not exist at the sub-human level. (To use the term freedom for, say, the movements of the beasts—they may go wherever they wish to—is wrong). Freedom exists at the human level only, which is nothing but exclusively cultural. Culture, at every stage in the life of human beings, imposes a plexus of rules. Every person is directed to abide by them. Contranormative actional patterns are firmly dealt with the instruments of social control. Culture, in the Malinowskian sense, can be compared to an erudite teacher who not only teaches, but controls punitive sanctions: a student failing to imbibe the teachings within the prescribed limits is corporally, psychically or socially punished. Man, when culturalized, becomes a human being. 7. Human society is distinguished from non-human organization in terms of culture. 8. Culture comprises a set of rules and values. 9. The process of internalization of culture, called enculturation,59 transforms the plastic and malleable human material with the aid of rules and values. 10. Freedom as a value is meaningful only in the context of culture. 11. Therefore man can only be free within the context of culture. (Outside the threshold of culture, the concept of freedom does not exist).

Freedom is a culture-bound concept. The theme that man’s freedom exists within the bounds of culture reminds one of Karl Marx’s observation that man can only be individuated within a society.60 The all encompassing role of culture on man can be discerned right from the time of birth. Therefore man is never free. At this juncture, Malinowski criticizes the famous statements of Rousseau: ‘Man is born free, but everywhere bound in chains’. How can a newborn be called free, when the concept of freedom is culturally determined? A newborn, at every step, is guarded by cultural mechanisms and instrumentalities. Malinowski tells us: Neither ontogenetically nor phylogenetically is “man born free” . . . He (man) is born to a new freedom which he can only achieve by taking up the chains



of tradition and using them, for, paradoxically, these very chains are the instruments of freedom (p: 33–34). In reality he (man) is not born free, since a human infant is superlatively shackled and dependent (p: 79). The man of nature, the Naturmensch, does not exist61.

We call the relation between culture and freedom dialectical. Freedom can be defined and secured within the range and constraints of a culture. The dialectics of culture and freedom can be expressed in the following propositions: 1. Man cannot survive because of his biological apparatus. (‘Were man to rely on his anatomical equipment exclusively. he would soon be destroyed or perish from hunger and exposure).62 2. The flint-hearted nature would wipe out man because he does not have an adequate phenotypic paraphernalia. At this level there is an unremitting conflict between man and nature where the latter reigns (what Marxists call the man-nature contradiction responsible for the metamorphosis of the system from a classless society to a class-ridden one’.63 3. Culture, once improvised, helps man to free himself from the trammels of nature. Thus culture becomes the cause of the most crucial freedom: the freedom of survival. Malinowski says, ‘Culture thus means primarily the freedom of survival to the species under a variety of environmental conditions for which man is not equipped by nature’ (p 30). The freedom of survival is divided into two categories: (a) Freedom of security: it includes the ‘protective mechanisms’, like artifacts, facts of cooperation, etc, which grant the species a ‘much wider margin of safety’ (p: 30): and (b) freedom of prosperity: it includes the ‘increased, widened, and diversified power of exploiting environmental resources, allowing man to prepare for periods of scarcity, accumulate wealth, and thus obtain leisure’ (p: 30–31).

Let us refer to this function of culture by the phrase: Culture as an instrument of freedom. 4. Culture provides regulatory mechanisms. Human behaviour is properly channelized by it; deviance is condemned while conformity is hailed (and sometimes rewarded). The idiosyncrasies of man are controlled and social life is regulated for the benefit of all. In this sense, ‘culture inevitably becomes a source of new constraints imposed upon men’ (p: 34). It performs two interrelated functions: (a) supplying ‘man with derived potentialities, abilities and power’, and (b) imposing a number of limitations on man (‘Culture imposes a new type of specific determinism on human behaviour’).64


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We refer to this task of culture as: culture as an instrument of constraints. 5. Although culture is the creator of codes of conduct, moral maxims and precepts, rules of behaviour and ‘conceptual wealth, its malleability in the hands of a small tyrannous oligarchy, or a selfish sultan, or a handful of mendicants’ is also noted by Malinowski. If freedom is created out of culture, so is its antithesis— the denial of freedom. If on one hand, culture offers the concept of peace, on the other, it gives the concepts of constraint and war. It can be used ‘for destructive as well as constructive ends. It can be transformed into an instrumentality of power for power’s sake’ (p: 235). We call it: malleableness of the cultural base. 6. When the cultural base is transformed by the rapacious intentions of a minority to its own vested interests and the system of inequality is legitimized at the normative level, a large share of mankind is stripped of freedom. Since freedom is the leitmotive of human development, man cannot languish under the jackboots of slavery forever. History testifies that various militant movements have grown against cruel emperors, monstrous plutocracies, totalitarian regimes and against all those attempts where authority was abused to establish slavery or bondage. Malinowski states that human beings fight against such a malicious transformation of culture. ‘We fight for freedom’ (p. 3, 43). Thus, the logical steps of Malinowski’s deduction are clearly formulated.

Non-survivality of man if he depends only on his anatomical structure. Man-nature contradiction: Improvisation of culture:

Organization of social life: Culture as a dynamic whole: Manipulation of cultural base:

Culture as an instrument of freedom (first of all, trying to ‘liberate man in an evolutionary scale, from the shackles of nature’) Culture as an instrument of constraints. Malleableness of cultural base. Movements to attain freedom.

1. Curtailment of the ‘natural man’ is a movement towards freedom. 2. Denial of the sense of achievement, personal value, and development is an abrogation of freedom.



Malinowski abhorred a system that led to the diminution of freedom. He used anthropological knowledge to enunciate the ways through which world peace could be established and the freedom of survival, achievement and development attained fully. If on one hand Malinowski justifies cultural relativism (things are meaningful in their respective cultural contexts) and an ethically-neutral analysis,65 on the other, he attributes an unflinching support to freedom, thus, expressing his commitment to this value. The epitome of all cultural achievements, for him, lies in full realization of freedom, though it also requires a value-committed (and ethical) understanding of it. The great malleability of the cultural apparatus often testifies killings, loot, plunder and carnage under the name of nationalism. Racialism may be legitimized by seemingly innocuous linguism in racially stratified societies. The cultural substratum can also be differentially manipulated. Therefore there is a need to adhere to these values indispensable for human advancement. A small paragraph quoted below from Freedom and Civilization shows that activities that are regarded criminal in non-war times become prize values during war. Please note the malleability of cultural values and their evaluations depending on the context. War is the reversal of the normal constructive rules of human cooperation. Acts which are prescribed as criminal under normal conditions and within the tribe, become military virtues during war. In its preparation and in its execution, war consists in the reversal of most of the principles of human law and ethics (p: 286).

Contemporary phraseology has normatively welcomed the terms like equality, liberty and freedom. A consanguinity exists between these concepts. Equality presupposes freedom and liberty. Respective statements with freedom and liberty as independent variables can be logical deductions with equality as a dependent one. In Malinowski’s analysis, freedom is a central and overarching concept (nowhere has he tried to distinguish it either from liberty or equality). It seems that in his writings it is intrinsically related to liberty and equality. It is one for which human beings—individually and collectively—fight. There are national liberation movements destined to  free the land from alien rules. Uprisings against exploiting lords,


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rebellions against tyrannous autocratic incumbents, revolutions to eradicate a politically oppressive and an economically exploitative structure are all movements aimed at acquiring freedom in one way or the other. Freedom in all historical contexts has been celebrated as a virtue. This is reflected in independence day celebrations, when countries gained liberation from the clutches of metropolitan powers. A curtailment (and tailoring) of ‘natural freedom’ (if a phrase of this nature is used) is ‘cultural freedom’. A threat to the latter is reacted back with immense pressure. If freedom is a primary virtue—and Malinowski sings its paeans (to remember Harris’s observation) eulogizing it as a ‘double faced goddess, sublime yet ruthless ideal’66—it needs a definition in precise, objective and comprehensive terms. He laments that a conceptually clear definition of freedom, which is neither ‘flippant nor supine’ has, however, not been formulated (p: 43). One important contribution of Renaissance has been in expanding the domain of reason. It actually meant the explanation of man, nonhuman beings, universe, natural and physical phenomena, theologies, social phenomena and other entities without bringing god or any unverifiable entity in the purview of analysis. In other words, our faith in particular concepts, values, ideologies must be in “harmony with reason” (p: 43). It is not only that a precise definition of freedom is enough. It has to be objectively validated, to help independent observers in analyzing this phenomenon correctly. Earlier we mentioned that Malinowski is one of the precursors of linguistic anthropology. His approach, cogently put, implies understanding the meaning of an act from the native’s point of view—focussed on the semantic analysis of the words used by the respondents either to convey their opinion or in the ‘imponderabilia of day to day existence’. Along with a semantic inquiry of the verbal actions of the participants (non-verbal actions also contribute to the cognition of the verbal message), the concepts and terms, used to render the analysis anthropologically meaningful should also be properly defined. Malinowski in his earlier works had been very careful about the semantic aspects of the words,67 but his Freedom and Civilization is an outstanding example of a ‘full length commentary’ on freedom, a word that besides being a concept of sociological value is also a part of layman’s vocabulary. Professor J. R. Firth, in the festschrift of 1957, finds this analysis ‘not only more sophisticated but more stimulating than similar general semantic studies which have appeared in the United states’68.



In the semantic analysis of freedom, Malinowski makes two notable contributions: 1. a delineation of the sociological meaning of freedom from its multiple meanings imposed both by lay public (following the dictionary meaning) and the political theorists. A multiplicity of meanings is responsible for the ‘semantic chaos’ hovering around this concept (p: 43, 53); and 2. while deriving an order out of this semantic chaos, he also makes certain crucial observations about the problem or definition (of terms, concepts) in social sciences.

Let us discuss the latter theme first. Certain rules (not laid down in any systematic sequence), grasped from Malinowski’s work, are quoted below: 1. “There is no inherent wisdom in language. The ontological argument that the nature of an entity is somehow contained in its name has long been rejected even in theology. It must be rejected in all scientific thinking. We have completely to throw overboard any meek acquiescence in dictionary meaning, in the dictates of epigram, metaphor and linguistic vagary. We have often stressed that in science we must run counter to linguistic usage. This is even more important in social science than in the study of matter or organism” (p: 69; emphasis added). ‘Social science is still burdened with the superstition that words contain their meanings’ (p: 86). 2. ‘. . . every concept used must be open to objective, that is, universally accessible, public, and factual observation. Hence an entity which by definition occurs only within the realm of personal introspection cannot be a subject of scientific discourse. All mental states which are postulated as occurrences within the private consciousness of man are thus outside the realm of science’ (p: 84; emphasis added). (This rule reminds us of Emile Durkheim’s analysis of social facts. He stated that individual manifestations of a rule do not themselves constitute a social fact. Social facts are not psychic facts69). Like Durkheim, Malinowski also rejects the role of subjectivity in defining the concepts.

Combining both these rules, Malinowski does not lend credence to either the dictionary or to the layman’s definition of freedom. He also rebuts the approach which favours an ‘intuitive meaning’. (We all understand what freedom is, therefore, what is the need to define it. Intuitivists also feel that a complete definition of freedom is almost impossible to achieve). The intuitive approach seeks to understand freedom at the subjective and individualistic plane. For it, freedom means liberation


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from all restraints. Such a conception is entertained not only by the common public, but, as Malinowski showed, various scholarly writings fall in this category.70 The intuitive approach (which as Malinowski shows legitimizes ‘free-floating freedom’) as contrasted to the antinomian one (p: 46): Intuitive Approach

Antinomian Approach

(also includes the views of some liberal and libertarian thinkers)

(Malinowski adheres to this definition of freedom)

Liberty is almost synonymous with the ‘absence of chains, removal of restraints, and the minimum control of the individual’ (p: 45).

This view expresses the idea that ‘freedom can only be achieved through restraint (law)’ (p: 46).

Freedom is defined negatively (‘absence of restraint, freedom from law’)

Freedom is a positive quality, as it increases the efficacy of people. It is an inseparable aspect of human growth and development.

It is primarily subjective in nature.

As a concept to be applicable in social analysis, it must be defined objectively.

A subjective definition of freedom is however not amenable to any scientific or cross-cultural analysis. If, as intuitivists say, it lies at the deep-rooted psychic level, it cannot be analyzed at the general level. Malinowski tells us that there is no psychoscope (p: 53) that could help us in observing the deep psyche. Concept of freedom cannot be operationalized in cardial terms. At best one has to draw an ordinal scale. For Malinowski, ‘freedom from law’ is theoretically different from ‘freedom through law’. The former is nothing short of a wild surmise—a figment of imagination. It is not a scientific concept. Human freedom is only possible through law because no human capital can ever dream to survive without a battery of laws. By law, Malinowski means ‘a socially established rule—a command or rule of conduct sanctioned by organized constraints’ (p: 175). Laws are executed through the machinery of power. In every society, there is a cadre of officials, who are deemed to enforce law and order. The term official does not only imply a bureaucrat of modern capitalism, but, in general terms, it refers to those entrusted with the task of



carrying out a successful administration. In the Trobriand society, Malinowski reports that the king rarely inflicts any physical punishment on the criminal. But it is the duty of his sorcerer to punish the offender through magical rituals. When a man comes to know that the king’s sorcerer is after him, he would not dare to use any counter-magic. Instead, he would consider himself doomed in reality. In this situation, the task of executing the customary law is assigned to a person who combines the role of a magician with that of an executioner of law.71 The ubiquity of power—there is a hierarchy of people placed in relation to the differential distribution of power—led Malinowski to reject the theories of ‘primitive communism’. There is never an egalitarianism at the level of power. There are three principal sources of power: moral, economic, political. One is reminded of Max Weber’s discussion of social stratification, where its three forms, viz. class, status and party are the phenomena of distribution of power in a community.72 Malinowski’s moral power is almost akin to Weber’s status group. It should be noted that these are only apparent similarities as Malinowski’s analysis of power is not at all penetrating as is Weber’s, who holds a classical ground in political sociology. Power, its birth and development (pp: 244–251), a chapter in Freedom and Civilization, is rather one of the weakest expositions. Compared to the semantic analysis of freedom or law, where Malinowski excelled, he has not tried to sort out the sociological definition of power from its semantic chaos. Perhaps he did not foresee any debate on this concept. He used power and authority interchangeably and failed to evolve the difference between power in the loci of administration and one emerging from organized politics. Regardless of these lacunae, his conception of power as a link between institution and law is quite useful in the analysis of culture. Moreover, the acceptance of power as an organizing principle in all systems (what some sociologists call the non-zero-sum concept of power)73 denies, even remotely, the possibilities of the emergence of a system— where men are freed from any political authority, howsoever benign. We said the concept of power links institution and law. Every institution, besides comprising the material apparatus and personnel, has a set of norms, rules and regulations, collectively called laws.74 These must be reinforced if the social organization has to persist as an ongoing system. Every institution has its own organs—either inbuilt or external— that are supposed to exercise power for the maintenance of the


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homeostatis. To reiterate, the function of the power instruments is to maintain the system of laws and restraints, thereby, establishing, in the final analysis, the culture. The paradigm of cultural relativism is used to explicate the equation between power and freedom. If power is used legitimately, the result is freedom; if it has been maximized and is being abused, there is a negation of freedom. Malinowski says: Wherever therefore we find the development of institutions based on violence and organized power, in which there is embodied a principle of discrimination as well as compulsory membership we face an abrogation of freedom culturally established (p: 251).

A relativism of the same nature is observed in the relationship between institution and freedom. Every institution, in structural terms, consists of instrumentalities, personnel and norms. It is oriented towards the fulfillment of certain needs and functions through the medium of group (institution provides the actional patterns; it is through the group that the action takes place). Since an institution is a segment of the system of knowledge, called culture, in itself, it comprises the ways, modes and procedure, through which needs are satisfied. [That is why Malinowski believed that: ‘The study of any culture must therefore be carried out in terms of institutions. This means in other words that an object or artifact, a custom, an idea or an artistic product, is significant only when placed within the institution to which it belongs’ (p: 154)]. Like culture, institution is high in the levels of information but because it cannot act on its own, it does not possess any quantum of energy (we apply the cybernetic relationship between information and energy to establish the relation between institution and individual). Contrasted to this, human beings— encultured beings—have high energy and insignificant information of their own. High Energy

Individual performs action, provides knowledge to High Information Institution (quota of knowledge) Institution provides the individual with knowledge, but action (call it social action) results from individual efforts and processes. In Malinowski’s perspective, the institution is the seat of actional patterns, but it is not ‘sui generis’, as is ‘collective consciousness’ in Durkheim’s



writings. Undoubtedly, an institution is at the centre of the synoptic chart of social behaviour, but human control is always exercised over its functioning. The individual, in Malinowski’s scheme, is as important as is culture. Therefore he did not accept the theories of Levy Bruhl on mystical savage, the writings of W.H.R. Rivers and the French School (Emile Durkheim and others) on clan solidarity. Nor did he accept their floating concepts—analyzing the simple societies—like promiscuity, group marriage, primitive communism, on the ground that in all these there is an assumption (and which has been negated by the empirical evidence) that in simple societies the individual is completely submerged in his group (to use Durkheimian expression: ‘the individual consciousness disappears in conscience collective’. His studies of primitive societies convinced him that it is a hypothetico-deductive picture derived from the wrong axiom that in simple societies the group wholly prevails over individual.75 Once Malinowski succeeded in establishing that individual is as important as is culture, and that human control also prevails over institutional framework as the influence of culture on man, he saw that the  way in which institution is manipulated by those who control the instruments of power, could have deep consequences for freedom. He says: The real instrument both of freedom and oppression is always the organized partial constituent of a community: the institution (p: 153). The denial of freedom within an institution occurs, therefore, through an abuse of the authority held by those who organize and control the institution (p: 170).

The explanatory mode is similar to one we discussed at the level of power. If institution is controlled by a totalitarian minority, its content will be geared to exploitation, oppression and slavery of human beings. On the other hand, if it is ruled by a selfless, benevolent and legitimate authority, which rests on the fundamental postulates of freedom, the institution itself would be the very instrument of freedom. Every institution is directly or indirectly concerned with human freedom or slavery. In line with his general inquiry that the relationship of an institution with freedom must be sought, Malinowski analyzes magic and religion, along with other institutions, both as system of freedom (freedom of survival) and was also concerned with the abuse of power.76 But the most important one—that is primary for the discussion of freedom—is state. Malinowski’s understanding of state is definitely


Vinay Kumar Srivastava

superior to that of power. The underlying principle of relativism influences the analysis of this ‘historic institution’, which he defines as having a total ‘monopoly of force’ (p: 265). The way in which state is used by the regime makes the difference between its role as an arbiter or aggressor. He writes: We see . . . that the state in certain of its forms becomes the best guarantor of freedom, and in others the worst enemy (p: 268). All negations of freedom come from a monopoly ‘of the constitution of the state’ (p: 269).

For him, state exists at all human levels, a fact contested by the study of stateless societies. He believes that the state in simple societies is not tyrannical (p: 266, 233) because it is mostly organized on the basis of kinship ties. Moreover, the ‘instruments of coercion are still very rudimentary’ (p: 267). Once the coercion instruments are refined and the kinship ties dissolve as far as the structuration of state is concerned, it can always be mobilized for aggression, as an instrument of mass scale exploitation, or can be the key instrument of human freedom. A nation that cherishes freedom is based on the democratic principles and the state furthers it. For Malinowski, democracy is a principle of cultural constitution, rather than political organization (p: 219) and is defined on the principle of functional autonomy—institutions are autonomous, yet interdependent. Such a principle of organization emerges with the primitive societies (if also we regard them as first in the scale of development). It consists of ‘a number of largely independent, yet cooperatively related institutions which conjointly work out and maintain their culture’ (p: 227). Democracy emerges with the separation of power or functional autonomy. It ‘implies that administration, the framing of laws, and the system of administering justice should not all be in the hands of the same individuals’ (p: 229). Mainly relying on the parameter of time, Malinowski calls the kind of democracy found in simple societies, proto-democracy, which extends over the evolutionary scale, although at several stages, it may be in peril. If democracy is transformed into totalitarianism, freedom is equally abrogated. For any kind of cultural development, democracy is an essential principle. In simple societies, based on functional autonomy (although the interpenetration of institution is much more than in modern ones), the choice structure



is of course limited, but a freedom to evolve new mechanisms to handle nature always exists. He says: Man therefore undoubtedly loses at each step of his career some of his possibilities of choice. He never loses his freedom (p: 243; he makes a distinction between choice and freedom).

This may sound contradictory, but truism lies in a paradox. Individualism may be less; choice structure may be restricted; but freedom of human beings—freedom of survival, achievement or development—does rule. If human society has progressed from the stage of an ‘unpolished stone’ (p: 273) to the atomic age, it has achieved these strides because of freedom. In this analysis, Malinowski views that the essential fabric of a nation is democracy, closely connected with freedom. At the international level of relationships, nation as a concept is also susceptible to the dichotomy of freedom and slavery. Malinowski distinguished between the ‘legitimate claims of nationhood and the aggressive impositions of nationalism or imperialism’ (p: 270). A distinction between ‘nationalism’ and ‘nationhood’ is of considerable value in Malinowski’s overall framework. One wonders whether this distinction will be accepted by students of political science. Both ‘nationalism’ and ‘nationhood’ refer to the emergence of an identity, almost like the passionate waves of patriotism, which crystallize in the times of war, natural catastrophe or any accidental happening. Nationalism is defined by him ‘as the mobilization of the nation by the state for aggression and conquest’ (p: 271), while nationhood refers to the ‘‘way of life’’ of a group of people (p: 272). If nationhood implies the process of unification of a cultural group, nationalism is a social fact—deliberately constructed and meant to crush the peripheries for the gain of the master nation. Elites, in the latter case, resort to either ethnocentrism or racial superiority. This infringes upon the international harmony. Hence nationalism inspires a nation to prepare for war and launch it in an opportune moment. Contrary to the popular and cherished meaning, for Malinowski, ‘Nationalism today is one of the main courses of humanity’ (p: 271). This was not only a theoretical critique of nationalism, but also a condemnation of Hitler’s ‘National Socialism’. One, however, is not sure whether his concept of nationalism is a generalized one, or applied in


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the times of Second World War, because whenever he has referred to this, he had in mind racialism. He wrote: ‘Nationalism indeed in some of its forms is one of the most pernicious tendencies of our present world’ (p: 272). Contrasted to this, nationhood—referring to the unity of a cultural group—is greeted by him, and he regarded it as ‘synonymous with freedom’ (p: 275). For the freedom of the entire human species, a reliance on nationhood is a prerequisite. It can produce a world—a cultural mosaic—where unity in diversity is held high. Underneath the efforts to sustain freedom or to wage a war, the ideology of a given culture plays an amplifying role. If it favours racialism, the power hierarchy will intend to extradite the members of some other racial groups, as happened in Nazi Germany. If the ideology upholds freedom, equality, liberty and justice, it would provide room for every racial offshoot to survive and contribute wholeheartedly to the development of the nation, its nutritive maintenance, and its nationhood. Freedom emerges from culture. It is essential for the maintenance and progression of the latter. Cultural progress is thwarted when the prevailing ideology denies freedom to all components. Is Malinowski’s functionalism teleological? At several places, he looks for the functions performed by institutions, and on the other, in the case of certain phenomena, he does not fail to examine the negative consequences. In this sense, it is not teleological. A good example from A Scientific Theory of Culture and Freedom and Civilization is that of war. If war is the main denial of freedom and the ‘collective abrogation of law’ (p: 277), it is also functional in some respects. It unifies various smaller sized units into a larger one, as the latter generally has a ‘greater scope for development’ (p: 289): it is ‘functionally constructive only when in the long run both sides are compensated by an integral gain, and when violence is the only means to break down barriers so that the cultural processes can develop’ (p: 293; emphasis added). Besides this, Malinowski believed that anthropology can immensely contribute to the clarification of various issues. If we take the example of war, the anthropologist can take up the problem “whether war is primeval”.77 If yes, it becomes indispensable for human affairs. If it is strictly localized, its applicability as a universal functional proposition is doubtful. In both the books of 1944, he asserts that the inter-tribal disputes are not settled by armed force. From this, it can be postulated by



means of an inductive logic that war ‘is not to be found at the beginnings of culture’, implying that it is not essential for settling disputes.78 This reasoning always raises an important question: if war is not indispensable, why does it exist? It seems Malinowski, like other functionalists of his generation, failed to see war as a mechanism of social change. And moreover, inter-tribal wars are not unknown. Remember how Nuer and Dinka solve their disputes. It is through war. Malinowski was committed to a functional understanding of institutions, but he was always sympathetic to an evolutionary and diffusionistic analysis. In Freedom and Civilization, he did try to bring an evolutionary understanding in comradeship with a functional inquiry. But his evolutionism was nothing but skin deep—consisting of simple conjectural statements,79 without being anchored to a firmly placed evolutionary theory. The simple reasoning that since war is not found to exist amongst the Australian Aborigines or Veddahs of Ceylon or Dyaks of Borneo (a sample of primitive tribes), it can be hypothesized that the earliest stages of mankind did not have it, is open to criticism. A logic of this kind reminds one of Tylor’s idea of ‘social fossils’ or McLennen’s ‘survivals’. In addition, the approach to look for cultural universals is also fraught with risks. War may not be a universal category, but its evolution with the changed socio-economic conditions needs proper historical investigation. In this modern world, where we live under the constant threat of war; where our foreign policy has enough place for strategic manipulations; and where scholarly analysis of the probable third war is available, one cannot resist asking: what does war (or threat of war, or war in animated suspension) intend to express? Malinowski not only condemned war, but also its preparedness. Preparedness refers to the ‘full, determined wholehearted training of a people, body and soul, mind, conscience and convictions, for war’ (p: 7). In both these cases, a totalitarianism extolling the virtues of nationalism emerges—a transient patriotism is emphasized by burying freedom. If peace and freedom are to be established and the cultural progress vouchsafed, ‘some fundamental guarantees for freedom, law and honest)’ are to be posited at the level of ‘international affairs’ (p: 7). To achieve these goals connected with peace and freedom, Malinowski puts forward some concrete suggestions, which included a ‘complete disarmament of everyone except for internal police and militia’, ‘the establishment of an international world police force’, ‘the


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principle of the division of powers’, ‘the establishment of an international court and executive offices’, etc. (pp: 334–35). He also insisted that: ‘permanent peace be restored by the commmonwealth of nations led by the United States of America’ (p. 11). This programschrift indeed has some valuable suggestions, but the problems that need further investigation can be formulated. Most of the suggestions exist in practice, nevertheless perpetual threat of war exists as an ominous jinn. A large share of the national income is spent on arms production and the inventions of sophisticated techniques for a total holocaust. And this, when an overwhelming segment of mankind does not have cultural resources for the satisfaction (what to talk of optimum) of seven basic needs, identified by Malinowski. The confounded developing world, always threatened by hostile neighbours and uncooperative peers, is constrained to arm itself at the gravest cost of the lowly fed majority. The politics of super powers, various categories of alliances, neocolonialism, dependence on the developed world, hegemonism and imperialistic tendencies have several questions before what is known as the issue of world peace. Malinowski was a staunch critic of totalitarianism. He defined it in terms of ‘slavery of most human beings and mastery by one nation, or, more exactly, by a small group within this nation’80 (p: 314). The most exact example of totalitarian regime given by him was that of Hitler’s New Order. It is not very clear whether he intended to include communism under the rubric of totalitarianism, but he certainly rejected some of the central aspects of the former. He stated that a ‘new aristocracy’, existing in the communist system, has enacted a ‘new type of exploitation of the many by the few’ (p: 95).81 If one correctly follows cultural relativism and examines a system, one may find that most of these value labels and propositions would be rendered meaningless. A term like totalitarianism cannot be confidently used for the communist system, as  the system could always be justified as ‘democratic centralism’ and not the rule of an oligarchy. When an outsider looks at a system with a particular value framework, he has to maintain a precarious balance between ‘respect for all cultures’ and value-commitment. Malinowski in the analysis of Hitler’s totalitarianism and cultural relativism (as portrayed in Trobriand studies) succeeded in combining ethically committed understanding with a value-free anthropology. One agrees with Malinowski that freedom of survival, thought, action and expression are essential ingredients of a multidirectional



cultural growth.82 He, in an extremely eloquent language, endeavoured to show how anthropology can contribute to various vital issues of social life, thus exorcising the notion that it is only concerned with simple and tribal societies struggling in inaccessible areas. Malinowski’s study exemplifies the statement with which we began: the greatest strength of any social science lies in its analytical abilities. If there was a Malinowski who bestowed an anthropological immortality to a small community of eight thousand people, there is another who was an unsullied advocate of peace and freedom in the world system. What linked these two Malinowskis? Humanum.

Notes It is a revised version of a paper, which was presented at the Symposium titled “Functionalism; An Assessment in the Birth Centenary year of Bronislaw Malinowski”, organized by the Department of Anthropology, Lucknow University from 29 December 1984 to 1 January 1985. I am grateful to Professor Gopala Sarana for extending me an invitation to participate in this Symposium. I am indebted to my teacher, Professor Andre Beteille, for various useful suggestions. Page numbers given in brackets are from Bronislaw Malinowski, Freedom and Civilization, London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1947. 1. I have consulted the 1947 U.K. edition. 2. The invasion of Poland during the Second World War touched him intimately. His sense of nationality and the feeling of solidarity with Poles were rejuvenated. Before that he was not ‘particularly conscious of himself as a Pole in any politically nationalist sense’ (Firth, 1957: 14). Lucy Mair (1957: 235) writes: ‘in part because of his own experience as one of a subject people in a European empire, he was deeply sympathetic to African discontents’. 3. Firth (ibid.: 13). There were personal as well as intellectual reasons why Malinowski hated war (See Firth, ibid.: 13–14). 4. See, for example Gouldner (1962). 5. Homans (1967: 5). 6. Freed and Freed (1981). Holistic ethnography can be compared to problem-oriented research. 7. One may take the examples of functionalism, structuralism, symbolic interactionism, new ethnography, etc. 8. Madan (1983) provides a good example of how anthropological knowledge can be used for examining contemporary problems. Among the recent books on this theme, also consult Mair (1984). 9. For a paraphrasing of this argument and a general critique of functionalism, consult Martindale (1905), Merton (1968: 73–136). 10. Among the recent publications reinforcing this theme, see Bottomore et al. (1982).


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11. This phrase is from Srivastava and Malik (1982: 222). 12. For Durkheim, sociological explanation comprises the functional and causalhistorical aspects. His chief contribution lay in separating social from psyche, thus giving a distinctive character to both sociology and social anthropology. 13. Radcliffe-Brown (1952: 178) states that the ‘first systematic formulation of the concept (function) as applying to the strictly scientific study of society was that of Emile Durkheim in 1895’. 14. Durkheim assigns reality to group and not to individual (sociologistic) and the study of this reality sui generis should be carried out scientifically (positivism). See Parsons (1974: 343–375). 15. For his study of religion, Durkheim relied on the data supplied by Spencer and Gillen on the Australians. 16. For example, he regarded totemism as the elementary form of religious life. See Malinowski’s review (1913: 525–31; also published in 1963: 283–288) of Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life. 17. Kuhn (1902: 169) says that the ‘new paradigm . . . . . . . preserve a relatively large part of the concrete problem-solving ability that has accrued to science through its predecessors’. 18. See Kuper (1973: 9). 19. See Leach (1965: VI1I–IX). 20. See Malinowski (1926: 126). 21. See Leach (ibid.: XIII). 22. Frazcr (1922: IX). 23. Though I.each (ibid.: XV–XVI) thinks that Malinowski treated the Trobrianders as both unique and universal. 24. Malinowski (1922; 60) rejected the title ‘primitive’ for the Trobrianders, but continued to call them ‘savages’. 25. Frazer. ibid. 26. See Young (1979). 27. Levi-Strauss (1968: 278). 28. Malinowski’s (1944) is a fine exposition of bio-cultural or psychological functionalism. Also see Voget (1975: 513–528). 29. Malinowski (1922: 73–74). 30. See Young (ibid.: 10). 31. See Durkheim (1947). 32. ‘Anthropology to Malinowski was not simply the study of savage, but the study through which by understanding the savage we might come to a better understanding of ourselves’ (Firth, 1957: 9). 33. See Harris (1969; 522). 34. Malinowski (1907: 119). There are also entries in his Diary where an exasperated Malinowski, suffering the pangs of ennui, writes all that which could be called unethical, contrary to the spirit of a value-neutral science. A statement on page 107 can be cited as an example: ‘As for ethnology, I see the life of the natives as utterly devoid of interest or importance, something as remote from me as the life of a dog’. On the basis of a number of statements of this type, Young (ibid.: II) writes; ‘But like everyone else, Malinowski cultivated one kind of honesty commensurate with his public self, and nurtured another kind for his private self’. 35. See Leach (1961: 1). 36. See Kuper (ibid.: 13).

MALINOWSKI ON FREEDOM AND CIVILIZATION 37. 38. 39. 40. 41. 42. 43. 44. 45. 46.

47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52. 53. 54. 55. 56. 57. 58. 59. 60. 61. 62. 63. 64. 65.


67. 68. 69. 70.

71. 72.


See J. R. Firth (1957: 93–118). Mauss (1954). Levi-Strauss (1969). Malinowski (1922: 392–394). See a good paraphrasing of Frazer’s views in Bohannon (1963: 315–320). See Mauss (1972). Gellnar (1973: 126). Evans-Pritchard (1981: 199). Cited in Kuper (ibid.; 34). Firth (ibid.; 9). He (ibid.) writes that Malinowski ‘was never hesitant to show the comic rather pathetic human figure on the stage of destiny. Harlequin was always to Malinowski a sympathetic image’. See Malinowski (1936: VII). Goody (1973: 185) described Malinowski a ‘victim of his self-described irresponsibility’ See Malinowski (1929: XXIX). Evans-Pritchard (ibid.: 199). Harris (ibid.: 552). Kuper (ibid.: 35) writes: ‘Malinowski’s greatness lay in his ability to penetrate the web of theories to the real man. boasting, hypocritical, earthy, reasonable’. For Malinowski’s concept of social organization, see Parsons (1957: 53–70), Sarana (1983: 57–69). See Malinowski (1944: 75–84). Malinowski (ibid.: 150). Malinowski (1931: 621–646). Malinowski (1944: 150). Parsons (1972) has examined culture in terms of knowledge. ‘Man is a political (i.e. social) animal’. Also called socialization by sociologists and psychologists. See Marx (1976: 10). Malinowski (1931: 621). ibid. See Giddens (1973: 26–27). Malinowski (1944: 119). ‘Ethical neutrality . . . means that the scientist in his professional capacity does not take sides on issues of normal or ethical significance. As a scientist he is interested not in what is right or wrong or good or evil, but only in what is true or false’ (Bierstedt, 1957: 10). An interesting statement from Freedom and Civilization (p. 78) can be quoted; ‘Freedom, which is an aspect of the inevitable determinism of human action and of the conditions under which human beings act, becomes a live object, a status with a torch, an absolute goddess with a cornucopia of indefinite free choices, of unlimited possibilities and gifts, real and magical’. See, for example Malinowski (1965). J.R. Firth (1957: 113). See Durkheim (1938: 1–13). Malinowski (1947) mainly discusses Anshen’s edited volume (1940). The article by Franz Boas in this volume is regarded by him as the first anthropological contribution to freedom, though in no way a satisfactory exposition (ibid.: VII). Malinowski (1922: 58–60). See Weber (1947: 424–429).


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73. See Giddens (1970). Also see Balandier (1967: 78–98). 74. See Schapera (1957: 153). 75. Malinowski (1926: 3) writes: ‘In short, underlying all these ideas was the assumption that in primitive societies the individual is completely dominated by the group—the horde, the clan or the tribe—that he obeys the commands of his community, its traditions, its public opinion, its decrees with a slavish, fascinated, passive obedience”. 76. See Malinowski (1947: 205–214, 245–247). 77. Malinowski (1944: 216). 78. ibid.; also Malinowski (1947: 277–282). 79. We present few statement’s in which evolutionary bias is very clear: We cannot imagine the earliest beginning of culture without at least two social groupings, the family and the horde (p. 227). The earliest ways of using wealth is power as related to magic and religion (p. 247). The principle of authority comes into bring from the beginning of mankind (p. 234). 80. For an analysis of totalitarianism, see Kornhauser (1960). 81. At few places in Freedom and Civilization, Malinowski has criticized Marxian analysis and communism (see pp. 10, 58, 94–95). 82. See Mannheim (1951, 1957), Bidney (ed.) (1963).

References Anshen, Ruth Nanda (ed.) 1940. Freedom, Its Meaning, New York: Harcourt Brace & Company. Balandier, Georges. 1967. Political Anthropology, London: Penguin Press. Bidney, David (ed.) 1963. The Concept of Freedom in Anthropology, The Hague: Mouton & Co. Bierstedt, Robert. 1957. The Social Order, New York: McGraw-Hill. Bohannon, Paul. 1963. Social Anthropology, New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. Bottomore, Tom et al. 1982. Sociology: The State of the Art, London: Sage Publications. Durkheim, Emile. 1938. The Rules of Sociological Method, New York: The Free Press. ——— 1947 (orig. 1912). The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life: A Study in Religious Sociology, New York: Free Press. ——— 1949 (orig. 1893). The Division of Labour in Society, York: Free Press. ——— 1951 (orig. 1897). Suicide, New York: Free Press. Evans-Pritchard, E.E. 1981. A History of Anthropological Thought, London: Faber & Faber. Frazer, James. 1922. ‘Preface’ to Broniwlaw Malinowski, Argonauts of the Western Pacific, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. Firth, J. R. 1957. “Ethnographic Analysis and Language with Reference to Malinowski’s Views,” in Raymond Firtli (ed.), Man and Culture; An Evaluation of the Work of Bronislaw Malinowski, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Firth, Raymond. 1957. “Introduction: Malinowski as Scientist and as Man”, in Raymond Firth (ed.) Man and Culture: An Evaluation of the Work of Bronislaw Malinowski, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 1–14. Freed, Stanley A. and R. S. Freed 1981 (October). “Sacred Cows and Water Buffalo in India: The Uses of Ethnography”, Current Anthropology, Vol. 22, No. 5. Gellnar, Ernest. 1973. Cause and Meaning in the Social Sciences, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.



Giddens, Anthony. 1970. “‘Power’ in the recent writings of Talcott Parsons”, in Peter Worsley (ed.). Modern Sociology, London: Penguin Books. ———. 1973. The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies, London: Hutchinson. Goody, Jack. 1973. “British Functionalism”, in Raoul Naroll and Frada Naroll, Main Currents in Cultural Anthropology, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall. Gouldner, Alvin W. 1962. “Anti-Minotaur: The Myth of a Value-Free Sociology”, Social Problems, 9 (Winter). Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. Harris, Marvin. 1969. The Rise of Anthropological Theory; A History of Theories of Culture, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Homans, George C. 1967. The Nature of Social Science, New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc. Kornhauser, William. 1960. The Politics of Mass Society, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Kuhn, Thomas S. 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Kuper, Adam 1973 (rev. 1983). Anthropologists and Anthropology, Penguin. Leach, Edmund R. 1961. Rethinking Anthropology, London: University of London. ———. 1965. ‘Introduction’ to Bronislaw Malinowski, Coral Gardens and their Magic, (vol. I), Bloomington: Indiana University Press (first published 1935). Levi-Strauss, Claude. 1968. “Anthropology: its Achievements and Future”, in John Middleton (ed.), Studies in Social and Cultural Anthropology, New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company. ———. 1969. The Elementary Structures of Kinship, London: Eyre and Spottiswoode. Parsons. Talcott. 1957. “Malinowski and the Theory of Social Systems”, in Raymond Firth (ed.), Man and Culture: an Evaluation the Work of Bronislaw Malinowski, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ———. 1972. The Social System, New Delhi: Amerind Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd. ———. 1974. (orig. 1938) The Structure of Social Action, New Delhi: Amerind Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd. Madan, T. N. 1983. Culture and Development, Delhi: Oxford University Press. Mair, Lucy. 1957. “Malinowski and the Study of Social Change”, in Raymond Firth (ed.). Man and Culture: An Evaluation of the Work of Bronislaw Malinowski, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ———. 1984. Anthropology and Development, London: Macmillan Press. Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1913. “Review of Emile Durkheim’s The Elementary Forms of the Religious Life”, Folklore Vol. 24, No. 4. ———. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. ———. 1926. Crime and Custom in Savage Society, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. ———. 1929. The Sexual Life of Savages in Worth-Western Melanesia, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. ———. 1931. ‘Culture’, in Encyclopaedia of the Social Sciences, Vol. 4, New York: Free Press. ———. 1936. ‘Preface’ to Raymond Firth, We, The Tikopia: A Sociological Study of Kinship in Primitive Polynesia, London: George Allen S: Unwin Ltd. ———. 1944. A Scientific Theory of Culture and Other Essays, London: Oxford University Press. ———. 1947 (orig. 1944). Freedom and Civilization, London: George Allen it Unwin Ltd. ———. 1963. Sex, Culture and Myth, London: Rupert Hart-Davis. ———. 1967. A Diary in the Strict Sense of the Term, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.


Vinay Kumar Srivastava

Mannheim, Karl. 1951. Freedom, Power and Democratic Planning, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. ———. 1957. Systematic Sociology: An Introduction to the Study of Society, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Martindale, Don (ed.). 1965. The Social Sciences; The Strength and Limits of Functionalism in Anthropology, Economics, Political Science, and Sociology, Philadelphia: The American Academy or Political and Social Science. Marx, Karl. 1976. Preface and Introduction to a Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy, Peking: Foreign Language Press. Mauss, Marcel. 1954. Gift: Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies, London: Cohen and ———. 1972. General Theory of Magic, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Merton, Robert K. 1968. Social Theory and Social Structure, New Delhi: Amerind Publishing Co. Pvt. Ltd. Radcliffe-Brown, A R. 1952. Structure and Function in Primitive Society, London: Cohen & West Ltd. Sarana Gopala. 1983. Sociology and Anthropology and Other Essays, Calcutta: Institute of Social Research & Applied Anthropology. Schapera, I. 1957. “Malinowski’s Theories of Law”, in Raymond Firth (ed.), Man and Culture; An Evaluation of the Work of Bronislaw Malinowski, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. Srivastava, Vinay and S. L. Malik. 1982. “On Ethnography and the Sacred-Cow Controversy”, Current Anthropology, Vol. 23, No. 2. Voget, Fred W. 1975. A History of Ethnology, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Weber, Max. 1947. The Theory of Social and Economic Organization, New York: The Free Press. Young, Michael W. 1979. The Ethnography of Malinowski; The Trobriand Islanders 1915–1918, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.

11 Some Reflections on Karl Popper’s Theory of Social Explanation Goutam Biswas


he search for the logic of the method adopted in social sciences is a conspicuous and important preoccupation of the philosophy of social sciences. The principal clue in this pursuit is the term science which is applied to the study of society. Social science is viewed as having a methodological alignment with the positive sciences. The term ‘positivism’ rejects any fundamental distinction in methodology between science and social science. It assumes that the same methods which have proved valuable in the analysis of physical world will hold well in social scientific inquiries. Auguste Comte (1798–1857) talked about “Social Physics”. Emile Durkheim (1858–1917) treated various social and cultural phenomena as ‘things’ in accounting for them. G.H. Von Wright states that the tenets of positivism are: (i)  “Methodological monism, or the idea of the unity of the scientific method amidst the diversity of subject matter of scientific investigation; (ii) the exact natural sciences, in particular mathematical physics sets a methodological idea or standard which measures the degree of development and perfection of all the other sciences, including humanities; (iii) casual explanation which involves the subsumption of individual cases under hypothetically assumed general laws of nature, including human nature” (1971). Contemporary methodological monism is guided by


Goutam Biswas

the third tenet. Karl Popper who is a leading methodological monist propounds the thesis that all explanations are basically tentative, awaiting the test of falsification. They consist of hypothetically assumed general laws and certain individual tests to confirm these laws and deductions made out of them to establish the phenomenon to be explained (explanandunx). The epistemological ground of this thesis is of great significance in suggesting an alternative to the traditional subjectivistic approach to knowledge, viz., ‘objective knowledge’. In this paper I attempt to develop a critique of this concept of explanation and its epistemological background in the light of its implications for the problem of method in the social sciences. The point is whether a viable theory of social explanation can be envisioned in this framework. Popper’s hypothetico-deductive model of scientific explanation demands no unattainable certainty and no induction. It does not entirely proceed on a priori reasoning nor does it abandon the concept of truth as part of the scientific quest. There is no finality in it—either of acceptance or of rejection. The explanation is ‘hypothetical’ in the sense that it does not make any claim to certainty. It is ‘deductive’ not because it proceeds deductively from axioms, but because its logical structure is deductive. For Karl Popper, the aim of any science—natural or social—is “to find satisfactory explanations of whatever strikes us as being in need of explanation” (1979: 191) and an explanation proves satisfactory “in terms of testable falsifiable universal laws and initial conditions” (1979: 192). Falsifiability, while questioning the idea of finality and certitude of scientific explanations, suggests the possibility of progressively approximating certainty. From the traditional positivists Popper imbibes the idea of methodological monism and attempts to bring particular social sciences under the purview of one general science and its methodology. In Open Society and its Enemies, Popper says: “The only course open to the social sciences is to forget all about the verbal fire-works and to tackle the practical problems of our time with the help of the theoretical methods which are fundamentally the same in all sciences. I mean the methods of trial and error, of inventing hypotheses which can be practically tested, and of submitting them to practical tests. A social technology is needed whose results can be tested by piecemeal social engineering” (1973: 222). Its impact is very apparent even in the text books of the philosophy of social sciences. Richard Rudner’s statement is noteworthy in this context: “The structural characteristics of a social science theory are precisely the same as those of any other scientific



theory” (1966: 10). Popper’s hypothetico-deductive model of scientific explanation provides a major exemplar in the philosophy of social sciences. Rudner’s book, for example, is fashioned in that direction. Acquisition of scientific knowledge, according to Karl Popper, is based on observations which are always “preceded by a particular interest, a question, or a problem, in short, by something theoretical [and] we can put every question in the form of a hypothesis or conjecture” (1979: 342– 343). The hypothesis, again, is constructed by the scientist who is living in the centre of a “horizon of expectations” by which he means “the sum total of our expectations, whether they are sub-conscious or conscious or even explicitly stated in some language” (1979: 345). A scientist’s horizon of expectations “consists to a considerable extent of linguistically formulated theories or hypotheses” (1979: 345). Though the scientist is amidst his expectations his horizon of these expectations may be destroyed, reframed or replaced by a different set of expectations in the course of his critical process of falsification and testing of his hypotheses. It is this principle of falsification which may be broadly termed as the emancipatory power of criticism, which seems to be, in Popper’s framework, independent of the horizon of expectation. Popper’s explanatory ideal consists of (i) that which is to be explained (the explanandum), (ii) the hypothesis which introduces something unknown or much less known as a cause of the explanandum, and (iii) certain specific initial conditions, i.e., independent tests. The hypothesis and these initial conditions together constitute an “explanans”. The conclusion which is deduced from the “explanans” is nothing but the deduction and thereby the establishment of the “explanandum”. One may put it in the following way: (i) Explanandum—“This rat here died recently”. (ii) Hypothesis or universal law: “If a rat eats at least eight grains of rat poison it will die within five minutes.” (iii) Specific initial conditions: “This rat ate at least eighteen grains of rat poison more than five minutes ago.” From (ii) and (iii) together, which form the explanans, we may deduce the explanandum that this rat has died recently. This model has its problems and intricacies because the initial conditions pertaining to the individual case may not be accepted as presenting the sufficient condition for the rat’s death. In that case some other tests are required to establish the case and reach a more satisfactory explanation.

The hypothetico-deductive model of scientific explanation applies straight away to what Popper calls “situational logic” or “situational


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analysis”. By situational analysis, he refers to “a certain kind of tentative or conjectural explanation of some human action which appeals to the situation in which the agent finds himself. It may be a historical explanation; we may perhaps wish to explain how and why a certain structure of ideas was created. Admittedly no creative action can ever be fully explained. Nevertheless we can try, conjecturally, to give an idealized reconstruction of the problem-situation in which the agent found himself, and to that extent make the action understandable (or ‘rationally understandable’), that is to say, adequate to his situation as he saw it” (1979: 79). The essential feature of this analysis is that it is non-psychological and objective, and thereby distinguished from Collingwood’s subjectivistic and interpretative approach. For Collingwood it is the subjective re-enactment of certain experiences of a past character (say, for example, an emperor) in the investigator’s mind that helps him or her in envisaging the situation of the character which provides a clue to understanding the particular historical phenomenon under investigation. He says: when a man thinks historically, he has before him certain documents or relics of the past. His business is to discover what the past was which has left these relics behind it. For example, the relics are certain written words; and in that case he has to discover what the person who wrote those words meant by them. . . . To discover what this thought was, the historian must think it again for himself (Collingwood, 1961: 282). Taking the example of some edict of an emperor, Collingwood says that, for the historian, merely reading the words and being able to translate them does not amount to their historical significance. In order to do that he must envisage the situation with which the emperor was trying to deal, and he must envisage it as that emperor envisaged it. Then he must see for himself, just as if the emperor’s situation were his own, how such a situation might be dealt with; he must see the possible alternatives, and the reasons for choosing one rather than another. . . . Thus he is re-enacting in his own mind the experience of the emperor; and only in so far as he does this has he any historical knowledge, as distinct from a merely philosophical knowledge, of the meaning of the edict (Collingwood, 1961: 283).

Popper rejects this re-enactment thesis and gives it an objective turn. According to him: the historian’s analysis of the situation is his historical conjecture which in this case is a meta-theory about the emperor’s reasoning. Being on a level different from the emperor’s reasoning, it does not re-enact it, but tries to produce an idealized and reasoned reconstruction of it . . . the historian’s central metaproblem is: “what were the decisive elements in the emperor’s problem situation”?



To the extent to which the historian succeeds in solving this meta-problem, he understands the historical situation (Popper, 1979: 188).

Hence from Popper’s point of view, ‘understanding’ is not a unique method for humanities and social sciences, it is based on hypotheticodeductive model of explanation only. The problem-situation is conceived by Popper against a “thirdworld background”. What is this third world? The third world is an objective world consisting of theoretical systems, problems, problemsituations, concepts, books, libraries and the like. It exists independently of the human mind though a large part of it “arises as an unintended by-product of actually produced books and argument” (Popper, 1979: 17). “We may also say that it is a by-product of human language. Language itself, like a bird’s nest, is an unintended by-product of actions which were directed at other aims” (Popper, 1979: 117). It has an autonomy and feeds back on the second world which is the mental, psychological world and even upon the first world which is the physical world. This feed-back is the most important facet of the growth of knowledge. Knowledge, in its real sense, is objective; it consists of objective contents of thought, not the subjective act of thinking. This model of scientific knowledge when applied to our socialscientific awareness makes the later dependent on a problem-situation that belongs to a conceptual world. It is in this sense that a methodological unity could be conceived with regard to exact and natural sciences and human social sciences. It takes the form of P (the problem from which we start)—TT (the tentative theory which is the imaginative conjectural solution which we first reach)—EE (the error elimination consisting of a severe critical examination of the conjecture—P (new problems which were not thought off earlier). The new problems (P) emerge out of the error elimination (EE) of a tentative theoretical solution (TT) of an old problem (P). Popper generalizes this model considerably: “There are no living beings, neither animals nor plants, without problems and their tentative solutions which were equivalent to theories; though there may well be, or so it seems, life without sense-data” (Popper, 1979: 146). Since the problem which we pick up is objective and has already undergone the process of human performance (if the problem relates to humanities and social sciences), one major corollary of this explanatory model is that the objects of social scientific explanation are not human


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actions proper, but results (which may be unintended as well) of such actions. I.C. Jarvie, Popper’s student says: “By and large action is to be explained by reason, and often these are very simple and straight forward. Those philosophers who identify such giving of reasons with the activity of doing social science really miss the whole point” (Jarvie, 1972: 3). Even human actions which are conscious can be said to be emerging from certain institutions and objective contents of thought which transcend such actions and human empirical consciousness. The real world thereby becomes Popper’s third world. The traditional positivism, Weber’s pro-positivistic thought1 (which brought into focus unintended consequences of human action and capitalism) and the present-day scientism of Popper and Hayek ultimately end up with this conclusion. According to Jarvie, the sorting out of the logic of the social situation is of utmost importance for the purpose of social scientific explanation. What follows is that the results of certain human actions and not those actions as such are of primary significance for the social scientists. The situational logic brings those actions under a heuristic intellectual exercise to give them intelligibility by means of its hypotheses. The salient features of the hypothetico-deductive model of explanation as a method in social science could be summed up in the following way: (i) It is a scientific method; (ii) It approximates certainty, but never attains it finally; (iii) It is preceded by a problem situation which does not essentially evolve from a human subject, but belongs to a conceptual world. The working out of situation and a tentative solution to it, in turn, adds to the stock of human knowledge i.e., the third world: “All work in science is work directed towards the growth of objective knowledge. We are workers who are adding to the growth of objective knowledge as masons work on a cathedral” (Popper, 1979: 121).

While Popper rejects the absolute certainty in knowledge, he absolutizes his method and its epistemological framework. We may accept the existence of a conceptual third world which has its impact upon the actual process of thinking and acquiring knowledge. But, can the latter be completely subsumed by the former? I fear that Popper’s framework would have to answer it in the affirmative. The rational argumentative enterprises of humans are, for him, (a) descriptive and (b) argumentative. The argumentative function presupposes the descriptive function because



arguments are about descriptions. The verisimilitude of descriptions depends on the correspondence with the facts that are described. But gradually descriptive language develops exosomatically outside the body of the language user and achieves an objectivity beyond the human subject. With the language becoming so transcendent, Popper says, “a linguistic third world can emerge; and it is only in this way, and only in this third world, that the problems and standards of rational criticism can develop” (1979: 120). But this is too wide an implication. Without continuous dialectics between individual speech-acts and a given linguistic world, it is difficult for anyone to explain the creativity in language and its growth. Incorporating Popper’s concept of third world we can conceive of three sources of human knowledge: (a) man himself, (b) nature and (c) symbols, definitions concepts, theories, etc., the abstract world as reified from human subjectivity. Very often these sources are intermingled to produce a complex kind of knowledge. The theorist of knowledge has the enviable competence to analyze this complexity and isolate its divergent aspects, but, he cannot be permitted to assign any primacy to any one of these aspects. Even if we grant that it is the third world i.e., which dominates any knowledge situation, the problems concerning the translation of any alien conceptual scheme remains. This problem is crucial as far as the social scientific knowledge is concerned. Suppose the social scientist is assigned, or himself wishes to provide an explanation of a phenomenon that took place in a society or community in which he does not live. According to Popper’s viewpoint, he has to have familiarity with the “horizon of expectations”, “the third world” of the people of the community from where he has to compose his problem situation. Knowledge of the third world itself is not possible without a direct participation in the community. Even the knowledge of the language spoken there would not help, because, as Wittgenstein said “Language—1 want to say—is a refinement, ‘in the beginning was the deed’” (1980: 31e). In his Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein makes an allusion to one’s coming “into a strange country with entirely strange traditions”, and even with “a mastery of the country’s language” one may not understand the people. This happens, Wittgenstein adds, “not because of not knowing what they are saying to themselves” (1968: 223), but because “we cannot find our feet with them.” So far as social scientific knowledge is concerned, the relationship between man and man is a prerequisite. This relationship alone can teach us what a particular concept means. Every explanation of a social


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phenomenon or social action has a general universal law. We need not oppose Popper and other propounders of the explanatory model in this regard. But, Popper himself would perhaps admit that the formulation of the law itself is problematic. Before one is able to formulate it, one has to undergo an inarticulate process of relating oneself to the ethos of the people and period of investigation. The words “scientific” or “unscientific” are adjectives prefixed to an already formulated, articulated theory or law. In this sense, this inarticulate process is obviously “prescientific”. As Michael Polanyi (1973: 139) says: “In relying for its own interest on the antecedent interest of its subject matter, science must accept to an important extent the pre-scientific conception of these subject matters. The existence of animals was not discovered by zoologists, nor that of plants by botanists, and the scientific value of zoology and botany is but an extension of man’s pre-scientific interest in animals and plants”. Concepts like “empathy” or “sympathy” would be too narrow and psychologistic to enable us to understand what this process is. More and more one has to understand what ‘empathy’ or ‘sympathy’ means in a specific conceptual framework. The communicative competence of man is innate to him which fulfils another innate urge of his for communion with other fellow human beings and nature. It reveals itself in various forms according to the diverse modes of his adjustment and adaptation to other humans and nature. Acquaintance with any one of such forms is possible only when one gets into and participates in that specific mode. Popper’s hypothetico-deductive model of explanation lacks this foundation of real participation and understanding from which one can find the road to social explanation. The realities of social and community living and different conceptual paradigms growing out of them are not untranslatable. Their translatability is the basic presupposition of social sciences. But how is this translation possible? Its possibility is taken for granted because we can quite naturally and unquestionably feel that the other is approachable, understandable and capable of friendship. Our entry to a ‘third world’ is possible by cultivating this relationship. Popper contends that even if the actual human world is destroyed, the existence of its ‘third world’ remnants is possible. Even if it exists, a one-man investigation into it would make sense to nobody else. Such a solipsistic situation is fictitious. If they are decided and explained by a team of archaeologists, a dialogical agreement among the team workers is surely a criterion for the establishment of their meaning.



The key to social explanation, which is an argued and reasoned construction, and a consistent formulation is understanding. Instead of putting explanation and understanding in opposition, as both idealist and positivist sociologists often do, they should be conceived as complementary to each other. As G.H. Von Wright rightly points out: “Before explanation can begin, its object—the explanandum—must be described. Any description may be said to tell us what something ‘is’. If we call every act of grasping what a certain thing is as ‘understanding’, then understanding is a prerequisite of every explanation, whether causal or teleological” (1971: 135). Explanation can be viewed as a further enrichment of understanding. While rejecting the subjectivistic attempts (like those of Dilthey and Collingwood) to mark the method of understanding as the sole method of humanities and social sciences, Popper did not consider the problems peculiar to understanding and also understanding as the beginning of explanation. The real question is not that of a rivalry between understanding and explanation and, consequently, between social sciences and natural sciences. Rather, it is about the initiation of understanding by cultivating inter-subjectivity and then the enrichment and establishment of it through explanatory process. According to Popper, there is no reason why understanding can be a special mode of intuition or cognition of human affairs and not of natural and physical matters of fact. Perhaps he forgets that it is sometimes not the content but the process of awareness itself that becomes unique. It becomes so by virtue of its relationship with the content. A poet’s relationship with the stars is obviously different from a scientist’s or astronomer’s relationship with them. It is not the ‘third world’ alone which is responsible for different and unique linguistic expressions of the same content of experience. It depends on different modes of awareness and relationships. The grasping of a social phenomenon or social understanding always takes place in the context of inter-subjectivity. Verbal or explicit understanding, say, of a phenomenon of racial violence, or magic, or worship in a society is preceded by a tacit apprehension of the same through participation with the members of the society or community. Without this participation it would be difficult for the social scientist to discern whether something is what he thinks it to be. Popper failed to realise the intricacies involved in understanding alone and sense the complementarity between understanding and explanation. “How is understanding possible” is, of course, a question to be dealt within a separate discussion.


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Note 1. Despite Weber’s insistence on a non-naturalistic stance with regard to social understanding, his adherence to build sociology as a value-free, objective science is wellknown. In the very definition of sociology offered by Weber it is to be regarded as a “science whose object is to interpret the meaning of social action and thereby give a causal explanation of the way in which the action precedes the effects which it produces” (Weber, 1978: 7). This effort to bring the subjective meaning categories under the pale of science was definitely due to Weber’s nurturing a positivistic temper. An observation is worth quoting in this connection: “He [Weber] comes closest to the rationalistic, positivistic and empirical attitude [of the West]. He ceaselessly elaborated more precise definitions, classifications, systematization, and methods for the testing of objectivity. He believed in the possibility . . . of a methodology by means of which sociology would mature into a full-fledged, value-free, objective science” (Pelz, 1974: 6–7). Though Weber talked of social understanding through subjective meaning-categories, the specific question about such meanings which was of concern to Weber was that one must recognize the fact that meaningful behaviour blurs off into non-meaningful forms. Hence Weber’s actual procedure consisted mainly in the construction of typologies of behaviour. Such meanings tend to run out of concrete existential perspective and constitute a ‘third world’ of Popper’s kind. These meanings get disconnected from actual human intentions and survive as self-subsistent entities. This situation moulds the attention of the social scientist as far as the task of the theoretical social sciences is concerned. And Popper could not bypass it. In Conjectures and Refutations he says: “It is the task of social theory to explain how the unintended consequences of our intentions and actions arise” (Popper, 1963: 125). Can we not add to the sentence “as Weber showed the development of Capitalism out of Protestant asceticism?” Hayek (1952: 39) is of the view that “the problems [in the social science] we try to answer arise only insofar as the conscious actions of many men produce undesigned results.”

References Collingwood, R.G. 1961. The Idea of History. Clarendon: Oxford University Press. Hayek, R.A. 1952. The Counter Revolution of Sciences. London: Allen and Unwin. Jarvie, I.C. 1972. Concepts and Society. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Pelz, Werner. 1974. The Scope of Understanding in Sociology. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Polanyi, Michael. 1973. Personal Knowledge. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Popper, Karl R. 1963. Conjectures and Refutations. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ———.1973. Open Society and Its Enemies. II. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ———.1979. Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. Clarendon: Oxford University Press (Paperback, Revised Edition). Rudner, Richard. 1966. Philosophy of Social Science. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall. Von Wright, G.H. 1971. Explanation and Understanding. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. Weber, Max. 1978. Selections in Translation (Edited by Runciman). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wittgenstein, L. 1968. Philosophical Investigations. (Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe). New York: The Macmillan Company. ———. 1980. Culture and Value (translated by Peter Winch). Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

12 Outsider Bias and Ethnocentricity: The Case of Gunnar Myrdal* Susantha Goonatillake


he last ten years has seen a spate of writing emphasizing the bias that is often inherent in the work of social scientists. One of the important writers on this subject has been Gunnar Myrdal (1969, 1972) who has written with feeling on this subject. Gunnar Myrdal is more widely known in the South Asian region for his massive work (“ten years in the making”), Asian Drama and this work has been considered by many to be a good compendium of the development problems of the area. He is also reputed to be a sympathetic liberal with Asian development being an area close to his heart. The purpose of this paper is to apply Myrdal’s methodology to detecting bias in his work on development, namely Asian Drama, and elicit the hidden ethnocentricities in his work. The aim of this exercise is not purely academic, but to elicit general principles that can guide Social Scientists in assessing the output of an outsider’s writings and the nature of the contribution they can make for understanding of other societies. This paper is in two parts, in the first we discuss Myrdal’s basic position on bias and ethnocentricity in Social Sciences, in the second we discuss his views on Asian development from the perspective of his strictures on ethnocentricity.


Susantha Goonatillake

Myrdal’s Approaches to Bias in the Social Sciences Among the main sources of bias in social research, Myrdal lists two—the influence of the cultural, social-economic and political milieu in which the writer works as well as the influence of the writer’s personality, individual history, constitution and inclinations (1969: 3–59). Further, he states that valuations are implicit even before the proper scientific work begins. An a priori element pervades all scientific work. “Questions must be asked before answers can be given” (1969: 9). The questions themselves under evaluations that lie hidden, the valuations being defined as expressions of our ideas on what ought to be as opposed to what is (1969: 11). Social scientists, he declares, are no different from other human beings in that they tend to falsify reality to fill their inner needs. (1972: 1). Even the matters they choose to ignore are the part of this falsification process. “All ignorance, like all knowledge tends thus to be opportunist” (1969: 19). Futher, “we almost never face a random lack of knowledge. Ignorance, like knowledge is purposefully directed” (1969: 29). The social scientist in his humanness, tends also to aim opportunistically for conclusions that fit prejudices markedly similar to those of other people in the society (1969: 43). In this falsification process, hidden valuations have a very strong role to play, biases arising from concealed valuations that insinuate into research at all stages from its planning to its final presentation (1969: 50–52). “The only way in which we can strive for “objectivity” in theoretical analysis is to expose the valuations to full light and make them conscious, specific and explicit and permit them to determine the theoretical research” (1969: 56). In a paper calling for a sociology of social sciences and scientists Myrdal (1972) bemoans the lack of work on this topic. He implies that an enquiry into the hidden valuations of social scientists is not difficult for as he says “the corpus deliciti, our writings are on the table” to be examined. He compares the need for such a study of the “scientific man” in much the same manner as those that have been made on “economic man” and which have revealed that the latter ideal-typical economic man is not identical with the actual business executive (1972). In his Asian Drama, Myrdal recognises the problems of objectivity and following his prescription on hidden values, he states his valuations



openly with the assumption that this will contribute to objectivity. In the discussion to follow, we will examine the corpus deliciti, namely his Asian Drama and show how his openly stated valuations are not the only values that underlie his study.

Myrdal’s Main Conclusions To obviate the possibilities of bias Myrdal states at the start of his work, his value premises which are his “modernisation ideals” as given below: (1) Rationality, (2) Development and Planning for Development, (3) Rise of productivity, (4) Rise of levels of living, (5) Social and economic equalisation, (6) Improved institutions and attitudes, (7) National consolidation, (8) National independence, (9) Political democracy and (10) Social discipline, and value premises derived from the above. On the basis of these value premises he analyses the South Asian condition. His analysis leaves one with a distinct air of gloom as to the development possibilities in the region and this feeling surfaces in almost all of his chapters. To discuss this in detail we will refer first to the model of development he presents in Appendix II. This model is presented by him without proof and we can discern the conclusions this model implies colouring in one form or another most of the chapters in the book. The model is presented as a circular causation model, where the situation of a country is viewed as a social system consisting of a great number of conditions that are causally interrelated in that a change in one will cause changes in the others (1968: 1860). Those conditions are classified into six broad categories: (1) Output and income, (2) Conditions of production, (3) Levels of living, (4) Attitudes towards life and work, (5) Institutions, and (6) Policies. Of these six categories, categories 4 and 5 are non-economic ones. In conventional economic analysis only conditions (1) and (2) are considered. In the prevalent Asian conditions categories 1 to 5 are unfavourable and those keep these nations in a low level of equilibrium. Of these six conditions he identifies the two social ones of attitudes towards life and work and institutions as providing the main resistance to desirable changes (1968: 1873). Thus in Myrdal’s view the main cause of underdevelopment are the Asian attitudes and institutions, and his gloom as


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to development in Asia is that these factors are not changing and under the given conditions cannot change fast. Myrdal distinguishes two broad social strata in South Asia, a westernised elite and an inarticulate mass of common folk. The negative attitudes he refers to are incorporated among the masses although the westernised elite are themselves not immune to these attitudes. These negative attitudes among the South Asians are also largely behind what he terms the “soft state” which is characterised by an inability of the state to place obligations on people. They are also behind most of the other characteristics like corruption, non-rational behaviours etc.

Myrdal’s Methodology As the presumed social factors among the masses are central to his conclusions, it is necessary for us to enquire as to his methodology of data collection, especially on the attitudes and behaviours of South Asians, specifically its masses. Methodologically Myrdal’s approach is that of the outside observer external to the social system under study (namely South Asia). Myrdal however does not raise the implications of a pure outsider’s view of the social system as liable to give a false picture, the fact that the social system may be perceived differently by the observed from the way the observer ascribes to him, is not taken into account in his data collection. Myrdal sees a distinct advantage in the outsider’s view or as he puts it “There are two ways of knowing a toothache: as a patient or as a dentist” (1969: 18). He prefers the dentist’s view. Although he prefers the outsider’s view he requires the insider’s view when he deals with attitudes of the people he studies. The only insiders of the South Asian region he knows are the westernised decision making elite, which he recognises as not representative of the population at large. On several occasions he confesses to the lack of data on the ordinary mass of people. He says that of this area “most data is unreliable” (1968: 25); that the paucity of reliable data hampers proper comparison (1961: 45); that he does not know much about the feelings in the inarticulate broader strata (1968: 93); that it is difficult to ascertain the values of ordinary people on the deeper and everyday level (1968: 102); the task of specifying the value assumptions of the people in the region is



extremely difficult and more so than in Western countries (1968: 51). He admits to the ignorance of how people in different occupations, social and locational positions really feel (1968: 51). Talking about “ideology”, he says that in the absence of empirical studies there is very little information about the relationship of “ideology” to masses (1968: 101). Again, he notes that almost nothing is known of how all that is continually happening in these countries affects the attitudes of different groups and strata (1968: 112–113). It is evident that on his own admission, he is very ignorant of the attitudes, feelings and thoughts about the ordinary people. It should be pointed out that this presumed absence of data is not borne out by the facts. There is considerable literature on the area in the sociological and anthropological field. This may not be entirely unintentional (from a Myrdalian analysis of bias view point) for Myrdal recognises at one stage the vastness of the available literature (1968: 43) but ignores this, giving as his reason his inability to master it and because he considers the literature spotty and not entirely relevant. He admits to the possibilities of erroneous deductions resulting from this lack of knowledge. He is aware that because of weak data his study “cannot aspire to high degree of intensity and much encyclopaedic comprehensiveness” even in the limited field of economics (1968: 43). The inevitable result, he states, is that “considerable space” in the book is given over to “generalising judgements, which are presented without the support of conclusive evidence.” (1968: 44). Thus, he admits to a data vacuum and an inability to digest the voluminous available literature. In such a situation a perceptive social scientist could still be able to extract information about his subjects by a process of empathy, but as he chooses to look at the toothache from purely the dentist’s point of view (to use his metaphor), this avenue is closed. The masses to whom he has so little access, emerge as having several negative characteristics. They are seen as passive and resistant to change (1968: 52), they create obstacles to progress (1968: 56). The masses are irrational, (he deplores studies which have shown peasants to be otherwise) (1968: 62); they are static (1968: 73); they have a very limited historical perspective (1968: 77); the revolution of rising expectations attributed to the masses is a myth, being purely a projection of the imagination of the elite (1968: 115–730); they are seen as cowering


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(1968: 138); they are submissive to authority and in addition are sullen, dissatisfied, resistive and lacks discipline (1968: 724). They are ignorant of the need for development (1968: 729); they are inarticulate, very poor, split by caste and community (1968: 767) and in discussion on the possibilities of an upper class dictatorship for South Asia, Myrdal brings an underlying tone of regret that the South Asian masses cannot always be deprived of the vote and brought under heel (1968: 783). The attitude among the masses which form a crucial element in his model of circular causation and consequently of his entire thesis on Asia, are thus assumed to be very negative and inimical to progress. They are static, irrational, inarticulate etc. These deductions on the masses we must note are on Myrdal’s own admission based on an absence of adequate data and he has according to his own account ignored the “voluminous” literature in the sociological and anthropological fields on South Asia. Two random examples can be cited indicative of this general problem from the available literature which gives a contrary and positive view of the masses; there has been a strong mass participation and ferment for instance, in the political process in Bengal, Kerala, Tamilnadu and Ceylon not to mention the revolutionary movements of the Naxalites and the Ceylon JVP. Peasants do calculate rationally (one of such studies has been done by one of his collaborators on the Asian Drama, Michael Lipton (1968). Myrdal’s ignorance of such studies suggest here the possibility of the role of hidden valuations (1969: 50) or more damaging, that all ignorance like knowledge tends to be opportunistic (1969: 19). As has been noted Myrdal divides the Asian population into an English speaking elite and the broad masses (1968: 55, 73, 113, 259 etc.). Myrdal’s modernization ideals (which we will deal with later) is an abstraction of what Myrdal feels are the significant element of the attitudes of this elite. These ideals he notes are essentially Western derived and especially are part of the heritage of the Enlightenment (1968: 55). He however notes another strand of attitudes among the elite arising from their non-Western background.

The Asian Values A class of attitudes among the elite belonging to Asian sources are what he terms the “Asian Values” (1968: 95ff ). He notes that a definite core of Asian attitudes at the higher level are held to exist both by Asians



themselves and by Westerners. He deplores this belief, denies the existence of such values (1968: 102) and even if they exist he evaluates them negatively and derogatively. (Although the existence of Asian values among Asians is denied, he however assumes without reservations the universal existence of the modernizing values in the west vide infra). The “Asian values” he refers to are those that picture the Asians in a comparatively positive light as having attitudes of abstention, spiritualism, lack of materialism (1968: 112), glorification of frugality (1968: 1210), appreciation of leisure (1968: 1617), a tradition of tolerance and nonviolence and an inherited respect for learning (1968: 101). He notes that the Indian decision making elites have believed in the existence of these values, have seen them in a positive light and have wished to incorporate them in the new India that is emerging. The two of the most profound influences on modern India, Nehru and Gandhi, held these views strongly (1968: 101, 722, 755, 775, 855). The Asian values as discerned not to exist by Myrdal have, as he also notes, been observed to exist by other Western writers specially Indologists, sociologists and anthropologists because some of these values are determined by the historical experience of the region. If field observations and deep historical study was the methodology of these writers, what is Myrdal’s methodology of discerning the existence of “Asian Values”? Myrdal’s views on this are largely “based on personal observation and on comments of journalists and others who do not pretend (sic!) to write as professional social scientists” (1968: 98). We have mentioned earlier the methodologically unscientific nature of Myrdals ‘personal observations’ as compared to some of the accepted tenets of the social sciences. This, combined with his willful deprecation of the assumed “pretentiousness of professional social scientists” (1968: 98) leaves him doubtful as to the reliability of his data. Before we leave the field of Asian values, we should mention the misconceptions, for example of religion, which Myrdal’s lack of correct data and approach leads him to. Thus his view of Hinduism is at best journalistic and ignores that under the umbrella of Hinduism there lurks a vast array of philosophical and intellectual positions. These positions, for example, vary from monotheism to polytheism and even to atheism in the religious field and in the philosophical field, have ontological bases of monism as well as dualism. His ignorance of the vast research done by Western scholars (there being not a single reference to


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such works) on Asian philosophical traditions is surprising for any scholar who attempts to study South Asian Society as a whole. His ignorance of the works in the field make him offer such blanket and false statements as Indian philosophy not being held together by logic (1968: 80) or that the Asian religions having never contributed to change. For instance, “the Buddhist religion is and has not been for centuries a force for modernization and development” (1968: 1630). His charge on Asian religions ignores completely that the Indian independence movement was an effective alliance between traditional religious ideas and modern ones. Or his charge on Buddhism again ignores the fact that the significant changes that have occurred in the two excolonial Buddhist countries of Asia namely Burma and Sri Lanka have been explained by serious sociologists as due at least partially to Buddhism, especially to its legitimising power vis-a-vis social change (Ames 1963, Evers 1964, Singer 1964, Wickmann 1965). At one stage Myrdal states that the “Asian values of ascetism and renunciation of material pleasures is a typical example of making virtue out of necessity in very poor countries” (1968: 98), a plainly untrue assertion when one remembers that the leit bild of renunciation has always been that of the rich man giving up his pleasures, from the time of Buddha down. Myrdal surely reaches absurd heights when he also seriously states that “some of the characteristics commonly ascribed to South Asians—their bent to contemplation, their other worldliness, their passivity and their appreciation of leisure etc . . . may be due in part to deficiencies in nutrition and health” (1968: 1917). Myrdal surveying the South Asian intellectual scene generally sums up his position by prefering African intellectuals, because unlike those of Asia, “they do not carry the same pretentions (sic) of ancient history, religion and philosophy” (1968: 78). The hidden valuations of Myrdal are beginning to emerge. Thus far, we have demonstrated strong elements of purposefully directed ignorance (vide Myrdal 1969: 19), a weak methodology of observation and data collection, and above all a strong streak of ethnocentrism. This ethnocentrism emerges not only in his biased and uninformed evaluations of Asia vis-a-vis the West but also with respect to his discipline, his country, his religion, etc. For example, “economists have always been the cavalry of the social sciences.” “Western civilization condemns corruption” (1968: 50) (Which civilization does not?). Just as Asian is



presented in exaggerated negative terms so is the West presented in exaggerated positive terms. The West is not just modern it is “ultra modern” (1968: 46); specifically the Scandinavian countries are on the top of the heap, they are the “highly developed countries in North Western Europe.” Further the countries of North Western Europe are not simply advanced, they are “the most advanced” (1968: 53); and the ideal-type of democratic planning exists in the Scandinavian countries (1968: 865) and Scandinavia represents the ideal towards which South Asia is striving (1968: 867). Myrdal’s ethnocentrism branches to other fields, it colours what he chooses to discuss as well as what judgements he makes. Myrdal, although he criticises the Western approach in developmental economics, he conceives of the order in which events followed each other in the last two centuries in the West (which order was by no means identical in all the Western nations), as being the corrects and only one. Thus he seems the so-called “teloscoping” effect in Asia where some events like say general education in some countries may precede industrialization as a “lack of orderliness of historical precedence”, (1968: 119) the immutable order and scale of judgement being of course the Western one. In another instance, he states that the entire population of Denmark is capable of participating in national debate and discussion where as in India only the one percent English educated elite is capable of it. The obviously wrong observation is shown up in instances like Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu where the non English educated have effectively participated in the national debate and in fact have sharply veered their respective regions away from the wishes of the English-educated. The further assumption that the entire mass of Denmark’s population, participates in  national debate must militate against known facts of such participation. When Myrdal discusses the animus the educated South Asians have against manual work (1968: 1129) he ignores that the entire hierarchical structure of the Western world is built on a decreasing ratio of prestige for the manual content of one’s job. The bottom slot of the Western social hierarchy is occupied by the unskilled labourer where work is purely manual and the top slot by a managerial and professional elite whose work is purely mental (ignoring for the present that the top most slot is possibly occupied by a capital owning class that often does very


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little manual or mental work). Kusum Nair (1970) who has done field work in both the United States and India as to attitudes of farmers finds little fundamental difference between the farmers in the two countries as to this dimension. Myrdal’s work is studied with “opportunistic ethnocentricity” and “misrepresentation” (to use the terminology of Myrdal the theorist on bias). I will now merely list some other examples of these ethnocentric and biased views, to complete the picture. The granting of independence to these countries are presented as largely an external development and the independence movements of the countries are denigrated (1968: 45 and Chapter 4). The present pace of history in South Asia is seen as slow (1968: 46), (a contrary thesis might be that in the effort to catch up with the West the historical pace is faster than the West). The population explosion is seen as tending to solidify institutions and attitudes (1968: 114), (the population explosion has been seen by others as resulting in just the opposite, with the resulting pressure on resources for example, eroding traditional social relations and attitudes). The weakness of Latin American democracies is seen as due to internal reasons alone (1968: 774) (ignoring here the continuing US presence and its preference for pro-American authoritarian regimes). Voters in India are wooed using appeals to ethnic factors (1968: 776); (the only comparable case of a similar “pluralistic democracy” is America, where appeal to ethnic factors is well documented—in fact Myrdal did write a book on ethnicity in American society a few decades ago). He is concerned with the semantics and diplomacy involved in the use of the word ‘developing’ country, (a part of a chapter, an appendix, repeated also in subsequent publications) and insists that these countries are not developing, although their rate of growth (2 to 3%) is more than the 1.5% growth which was the average for the development period in the West, namely the nineteenth century. Space limitations prevent one from enumerating the large number of other cases, but we hope here in conclusion to bring out three broad areas of concern in the development problem of South Asia which have been dealt with by Myrdal and consider them somewhat in detail. These are (a) corruption, (b) the effect of climate on development and (c) Myrdal’s concept of the “soft state”. When we discuss these three areas it is emphasized that what we discuss is not primarily the presence or the absence of these conditions. Many other recent writers have written about these symptoms (excepting possibly the climate issue). What we



wish to explore is the manner in which Myrdal approaches these problems, his methodology and his unstated biases and the ensuing prescriptions.

The “Soft State” Myrdal states that all the South Asian countries are “soft states” in “that policies decided on are often not enforced, if they are enacted at all, and in that authorities, even when framing policies are reluctant to place obligations on people” (1968: 66). In this definition, we would like to delineate two component strands, one emphasizing administrative ineffectiveness and the other, the reluctance to place obligations. We will deal with them separately. Administrative ineffectiveness in this region (as well as in other development settings) have been rigorously studied by many scholars during the last twenty years or so. In fact in America a sub-profession grew up associated with this branch of administration studies and a considerable literature based on individual case studies as well as on fairly sophisticated models have grown up. Well known names in this field are for example, Fred Riggs, Diamant, Waldo, Presthus, Siffin etc. The works of these writers are based on field research and they tried to show how organizations in these countries actually work and attempted to present explanatory models. These models, although having varying degrees of explanatory power are sociological in import. Most of these assume the Weberian concept of legitimate power in organization, namely that power (authority) in an organisation is not naked power based on compulsion or force but is power that is perceived as legitimate by the participants in the organisation. The prescriptive side of the research of these workers have sought organisational mechanisms different from those assumed in the West, that will work in these essentially non-western social settings. None of them have seen recourse to the rather naive and crude techniques using compulsion and force. In contrast, Myrdal brings a very apparent vein of authoritarianism as a solution to the problem. He regrets that changes in the region are difficult because “all these countries are reluctant to apply compulsion” (1968: 68). He further says that the abstention from compulsion in these countries is made to “masquerade as part of the modernisation


Susantha Goonatillake

ideals” (1968: 67). Institutions according to him can only be changed by compulsion supported by force (1968: 116). The hidden evaluations of a writer are revealed by not only what he ignores but also by what problems and alternatives he chooses to discuss; a question always presumes an evaluation (Myrdal 1969). Myrdal’s tendencies are shown in the alternatives he chooses for possible political forms in the region. He does not discuss the alternatives of communism, or a diffuse democratic form like the communes or Kibbuttizam but he discusses what he terms the “upper-class State alternative” (1968: 783 passim). This is an authoritarian form where a Westernised upper-class elite controls the masses. His upper-class state alternative is based on a model existing at the beginning of industrialization in the Western countries but he is wrong when he states that in the Western Europe of the early industrial period, the elite did not have to legitimate their actions in terms perceived by those that they controlled (1968: 769). Just the contrary position has been very effectively demonstrated by a well known work of Bendix on forms of authority during the period (Bendix 1954). In discussing the “upper-class state alternative” for South Asia Myrdal regrets that the clock cannot be turned back and a system of restricted democracy based on education, property rights and income qualifications introduced (1968: 728). He further states that a military dictatorship committed to “the idea of reducing the social and economic inequalities that hamper progress” might well be “the ideal rule for an underdeveloped country” (1968: 784). The repressive and contemptuous views on the masses we have earlier noted, provides Myrdal’s basis for the crude authoritarian tendency in his prescriptions. Some of the examples he gives of the “soft state” could well apply to contemporary Britain or America. Unions readily give “organized expression to workers”, “protests against changes in established practices in the workshop.” Another symptom (1968: 898) is student sit-down strikes and other examples of student indiscipline which he claims simply does not happen in the West (1968: 898fn). The soft-state outlook appears again in his concern with industrial relations and the fact that management does not instil discipline (1968: 1140) and that efficiency is low (1968: 1144–1146). The prescription is again heavy handed techniques but does not consider that different economic, social and cultural mechanisms may be at work in these settings



that demand appropriate analyses. (There is for instance the well known studies of A. K. Rice (1958) who has precisely used such approaches in Indian industry and has seen dramatic increases in efficiency). To Myrdal, the measuring rod apparently is always the Western one and if the measured quantity falls short; the next step is to take the rod in the hand and use it as a beating stick. Myrdal’s implied rampant lack of discipline among the masses in discussions on the soft state is in curious contrast to his discussions elsewhere when he labels the masses as submissive and cowering. We have not been criticising Myrdal for the fact of pointing out the existence of the symptoms of soft state. These symptoms are well known. What we have been concerned with is in pointing out Myrdal’s basic methodology, selectivity of data, authoritarianism, attitudes towards the masses, ethnocentricity and the resulting conclusion of reliance on compulsion.

Corruption In discussing corruption too, we will not concern ourselves primarily with the issue of corruption as such (corruption exists in South Asia as also it does in the West) or its degree (probably it exists more in India than in the West), but in Myrdal’s approach to the problem. He states that a taboo exists on research on corruption in South Asia and that his aim is to explain that this taboo be broken and in the course of the ensuring discussion he hopes to present “some reasonable, though quite tentative, questions to be explored and hypothesis to be tested” (1968: 959). He further states that it is difficult to assess the extent of corruption (1968: 942); that the data on corruption is vague (1968: 946) but goes on to discuss corruption assuming it is widespread, and exists everywhere, asserts that corruption is growing in recent years (1968: 944) and then suggests remedies (1968: 955). As a moral issue corruption is exceedingly important but the fact that it is a taboo subject is no surprise, especially in the event of corruption close to the holders of power. This perhaps is more true of Western countries than in the South Asian countries where the peculiar “development” relationship laying bare the South Asian countries to examination by almost any Western academic, does not exist.


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Taking the leader of the Western world, America, as an example, one could assert the same charge, that in spite of widely publicised and almost institutionalised corruption, there is hardly any research labelled as research on corruption—at least above the “local” level. Institutionalised corruption in America is widespread and acknowledged, the entire political spoils based on concepts of civil administration and pork-barrel politics being at the core of the American system. The Watergate affair, the ITT donations to the Republican party as well as the former company’s attempted interference in Chile, using the American government are not isolated instances. They are built into the system, just as oil depletion allowance for Texas oil millionaires, an institutionalised lobby system that uses such devious means as bribery and call girls; a New York police system that has a finely graded system of cutbacks. Mafia reputed to be the largest business in the world but essentially ignored by Congress, the FBI and the Presidency. The list could go on. When discussing political institutions he mentions that the 1952 Indian general election (the most recent election he discusses in reference to these issues) was fought “with less coercion, fraud and other illegal practices than in more developed countries” (1968: 269) but when he discusses corruption he ignores this. Similarly when he implies that bribe giving Western companies is a significant part of corruption in India (1968: 947) he ignores the implications that in this context both the Western bribe giver as well as the Eastern bribe taker are corrupt. Myrdal’s ethnocentricity is not in his pointing out that corruption is relevant to development, but that he ignores that corruption is possibly as rampant, if not more so in the West than in Asia.

Climate Climate has an important effect on economics, it shapes not only the form of the economy but even the manner in which people within the economy organise their lives. The monsoons in South Asia stops outdoor construction work for days and the South Asian mid-day sun makes one more tired than the cooler mornings. Similarly the arctic wastes of north Sweden makes life and outdoor work extremely miserable during the long dark winter months.



Climate has been, as Myrdal notes, an important ascribed factor in the racial theories of the colonial period. Myrdal purports to reject the racialist overtones but he regrets that the “diplomacy” in intellectual argument that has characterised post-war discussion on the South Asian countries has driven the climate issue out of useful discussion (1969: 670–680). For as he says, it “cannot be entirely an accident of history” (1968: 677). The countries to be industrialised are all in the colder climates including Japan and the Soviet Union. In other parts of the book he refers to the fact that “India and many other South Asian countries had advanced cultures and at the time when the new rich and powerful Western countries were uninhabited, or were inhabited by barbarians” (1968: 76). He also refers to the extensive systems of irrigation in the area during ancient times (1968: 420) and also states that “there is general agreement in the literature that in the pre-colonial era, many sections of South Asia were not inferior to the countries of Western Europe in manufacturing of a pre-industrial character” (1968: 453). Now, the main difference between pre-industrial manufacture and industrial manufacture is that the latter basically removes physical effort from work. Where the worker in pre-industrial time used muscle power and physical effort, the industrial revolution substituted mechanical power. If climate had any significant effect on physical activity then, it should reveal itself more in pre-industrial manufacture. A comparison as to the effect of climate on physical effort would have to be on these pre-industrial conditions which would seem to indicate that climate favours the South Asian lands rather than the “most advanced nations of North Western Europe”. Climate itself cannot be a serious determinant of industrialisation. A change of climate did not prepare Western Europe for industrialisation, neither did change of climates precede and determine the Meiji restoration or the Russian revolution, the two significant acts which led to the industrialisation respectively of Japan and the Soviet Unions. The lack of significant effect of climate and its irrelevancy in comparison with other issues is apparent to any visitor to South Asia who sees chains of women on building sites transporting metal, cement and sand by baskets and compare how the corresponding worker in the West has only to press a button on a conveyer belt. When Myrdal states also that in parts of the US the climate is not unlike that of South Asia and that this does not significantly affect


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performance (1968: 1081) the suspicion arises whether Myrdal is perhaps even unconsciously propagating racialist biases. The suspicion perhaps grows when he at one stage bemoans the lack of research on effects of climate (1968: 680) only to assume in later discussions that climate does have an effect. As Myrdal has noted in his pronouncements on objectivity, the questions one asks and the problem areas one decides to explore are based on prior valuations. The fact that one does not ask whether the stars and moon have an effect on industrialisation and the fact that one does not delineate this as a problem area is because one does not think that it has any effect. That Myrdal believes in the effect of climate is of course very apparent and is pointer to some of his hidden beliefs. Our aim in selecting a few areas of Myrdal’s work is not to provide a critique of the whole work, but to discern using Myrdalian methodology, if any hidden valuations exists outside his stated modernisation values. Having shown that such valuations exist in a very obvious fashion it is our intention now to consider his overtly stated values, namely his “modernising ideals.”

The Modernising Ideals—Rationality We have already dealt somewhat obliquely with Myrdal’s “modernising ideals” in the previous discussion on his hidden valuations. Among them were institutions and attitudes, political democracy and social discipline (the “soft-state” problem). We have shown that he has a very simplistic and ethnocentric view as to what the present attitudes among the masses are. However, the institutions and attitudes he wishes for, are eminently worthy as they consist also of attitudes which even the traditional civilization values. The attitudes are almost the commonsensical one of efficiency, diligence, orderliness, punctuality, frugality, honesty, self-reliance, rationality and decisiveness (this list could be almost a page torn directly from the Vinaya Pitaka, the Buddhist monks’ code of conduct). Of these qualities one, namely rationality, appears also at the beginning of the list as we will deal with it in detail as it presents some interesting problems. About the other modernising ideals there is no basic quarrel as they are overtly stated by the countries concerned and Myrdal does not bring much unstated valuations in discussing them.



We will discuss rationality at length because it holds interesting possibilities in that many interpretations can be given to this word and as the rationality concept has been a debated subject even in the case of the use of it by Max Weber, a far more serious social scientist than Myrdal. To Myrdal, rationality takes many forms and interpretations. Firstly rationality is logical reasoning (1968: 57); it is also that activity which the calculating “economic man” does (1968: 61); rationality is implied as a lack of emotion (1968: 88: 89: ?); he denounces as irrational, studies that have sometimes shown the cow slaughter ban as rational husbandry (1968: 92) whilst he considers the ban on alcoholic drinks as rational (1968: 93); the flexible use of traditional cultural mechanism to promote modernisation is irrational (1968: 101); rationalism is inherent in the national planning ideology (1968: 726) and rationality is the use of individual based reward systems in organisation (1968: 1143– 1144, 1147). It is seen that the few examples we have given of Myrdal’s use of the concept of rationality encompasses a wide variety of meanings. There is also the underlying assumption that these modernising ideals are more or less realised in the West. As the comparisons are with the masses of South Asia the assumption is that the masses in the West are rational according to Myrdal’s criteria. Let us take the definitions one by one. The assumption that the Western common man bases his decisions on logical reasoning would if pushed to a trivial but obvious conclusion implies that the entire advertising industry in the West, which appeals to the emotions as opposed to logic, would collapse, (compare for instance the observations that Western man as an individual has grown increasingly irrational whilst industrial society has become more and more rational Zijderreld 1970). The modern Western business man does not act as the fictional “economic man” as shown by numerous studies in industrial sociology, his actions are governed by such “irrational” factors as conflicts of interest, interpersonal rivalries, the desire for power etc. Further, the assumption that the cow slaughter ban is irrational while prohibiting alchohol is not, smacks of ethnocentricity in that the issue of alcohol in Myrdal’s home country Sweden is in many ways a sacred cow! Flexible use of traditional cultural mechanisms specially those associated with feudalism to promote industrialisation have for instance been effectively used by Japan (in making this observations


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the present writer does not necessarily agree that such uses are a positive thing) and are in this sense a “rational” means of achieving industrialisation. The rationalism inherent in the national planning ideology must surely oppose that inherent in the laissez-fairs concept of the “economic man”. And finally, individually based reward systems are by themselves not rational, they may be an irrational device in a cultural setting that emphasises collective values. For example, rationality in this area would to a Japanese imply just the opposite for Myrdal’s concept of rationality (Abbeglen 1958).

Conclusion We have attempted in this paper to study the values which Myrdal brings into his study, Asian Drama. We have studied the values at the overt level as well as at the hidden level. We have also enquired into his methodology as a social scientist. We have discerned important areas of hidden valuations which almost pre-determinate Myrdal’s conclusions and prescriptions irrespective of the particular data. These tendencies have been ethnocentricity, a weak methodology, a purposeful selectivity of data, a strong tendency towards authoritarianism and a basic reluctance to see any significant good either among the masses or the elite of these countries that is not Western in origin. All the negative qualities which Myrdal ascribes to South Asia without sufficient data have a curious similarity to beliefs held in the West during the colonial era. In fact he seems to be close to saying that the worst fears right-wing elements in the colonising countries had of the wisdom of granting independence seems to have been borne out. He echoes using different terminology what Mac Cauley in the nineteenth century wished for India, Indians without Indianness. The significant difference between the understandable ethnocentric valuations of these writers of the colonial era and Myrdal seems to be that in the former case there was no mention of value premises and objectivity. Their value premises were overt and stated openly and bravely; we cannot truly say this of Myrdal. Myrdal has consciously attempted to model his work after the classical economists like Adam Smith and Marshall who brought out a broad institutional approach. As he points out their economic theories



were integrated with the social and economic ideas of the times and grow organically in the intellectual environment of the time. In criticising the “Western” approach and favouring the institutional approach he expands his horizons to include some of the other non-economic ideas of his times. But these ideas all originate from the West and embodies many conscious and unconscious ethnocentrisms. It is a moot point to question whether the integration of social and economic ideas should arise from the intellectual climate where the economics are to be applied (namely South Asia) on from a foreign environment. Clearly the classical approach had been to integrate the ideas current within the economy under study. The fundamental fact is ignored by Myrdal who does not let the intellectual climate of the region percolate at all into his study. The major fact that Myrdal’s massive work points to is that even an allegedly sympathetic and liberal minded writer who took pains to avoid bias cannot, in such a large undertaking escape from the traps of ethnocentricity which his own culture brings. This is more so in a work that utilises a model of circular causation where the manner in which economic, social and cultural factors interact with each other have to be understood properly. Circular causation—which almost says that the poor are poor because they are poor—is perhaps not the best explanatory model for South Asian countries, because it ignores major factors of historical origin. However, even in a historical materialist model of development and underdevelopment, which to the present writer appears to fit the South Asian case better an outsider without empathy and intimate knowledge of the region is bound to yield an erroneous and inadequate analysis.

Note * An earlier version of this paper was read at a conference on “Development, Theory, Research and Training” organised by the British Sociological Association. I wish to thank Gavin Williams, David Thorns and Don Monro who gave useful comments.

References Abegglen, James. 1958. The Japanese Factory: Aspects of its Social Organisation. Cambridge: MIT. ———. 1970. “The Economic Growth of Japan”. Scientific American, 222(3).


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Ames, Michael. 1963. “Ideological and Social Change in Ceylon”. Human Organisation, XXII(I). Evers, Hans Dieters. 1964. Kultur Wandel in Ceylon. Baden-Baden. Geertz, Clifford. 1969. “Myrdal’s Mythology—Modernism and the Third World”. Encounter, XXXIII(i). Lipton, Michael. 1968. “A Game Against Nature: Strategies of Security”. Listener, 79(2035–2036). Myrdal, Gunnar. 1968. Asian Drama: An Inquiry into the Poverty of Nations. Harmondsworth: Penguin. ———. 1969. Objectivity in Social Research. New York: Pantheon Books. ———. 1972. “The Need for a Sociology and Psychology of Social Science and Scientists”. Paper read at the B. S. A. Annual Meeting (April). Nakane, Chie. 1970. Japanese Society. London: Weidenfeld and Nicholson. Nair, Kusum. 1969. “Asian Drama—A Critique”. Economic Development and Cultural Change, 17(4). Rice, A. K. 1958. Productivity and Social Organisation—The Ahmedabad Experiment. London: Tavistock. Singer, M. R. 1964. The Emerging Elite. Cambridge: MIT. Wickmann, Arthur A. 1965. “Buddhism, Economic Development and Neutralism in Burma”. South Western Social Science Quarterly, 6 1 June 20–27. Woodford, C. A. 1969. The Growth of a Party System in Ceylon. Providence: Brown University Press. Yoshino, M. Y. 1968. Japan’s Managerial System—Tradition and Innovation. Cambridge: MIT. Zijderreld, Anton C. 1970. “Rationality and Irrationality in Pluralistic Society”, Social Research. 37(1).

13 Robert Merton’s Formulations in Sociology of Science* Pravin J. Patel


ociology of science, broadly speaking, is concerned with the construction of logico-empirical propositions about the dynamic interdependence between science and society. In this sense it is a branch of sociology of knowledge, since the latter studies different types of idea systems (science, religion, philosophy, ideology, etc.) and their relations with various societal factors. Merton’s formulations in sociology of science may be considered as centred around the following main themes: (i) Social origin of scientific knowledge. (ii) Science and the environing social structure. (iii) Normative structure and reward system of science.

These themes will form the main rubrics of our discussion here. We will discuss them one by one without suggesting, however, that Merton’s views are formulated in this sequence.

(i) Social Origin of Scientific Knowledge Since the adherents of structural-functional theory in sociology consider man’s behaviour as a response to certain functional problems, man’s response to science is also seen as a response to his need to generate adjustive knowledge about the environing empirical world (Barber,


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1968: 92). Thus science is considered as a social product rather than the product of a few gifted individuals. Being a functionalist, Merton also subscribes to this view. In support of his stance, that science is a social product, like Ogburn and Thomas (1922), he also refers to the strategic phenomenon of multiple independent discoveries, which is quite common in all sciences and at all times (Merton, 1961). Multiple independent discoveries are those discoveries which are made by several scientists (at the same time or at different times). For example, many of the discoveries by an eminent scientist like Cavendish were made independently by other contemporary scientists or those who came later. The proof of this lies in the fact that Cavendish’s discoveries were not known to them, as they remained unpublished for a pretty long time (Merton, 1961: 478). In collaboration with Barber, Merton has intensively examined 264 such multiples, out of which 179 were doublets; 51, triplets; 17, quadruplets; 6, quintuplets; 8, sextuplets; 1, septuplet; and 2, nonaries. Moreover, it is ascertained that 20 per cent of these discoveries occurred within an interval of one year and some of them on the same day or in the same week; another 18 per cent occurred within a two-year span; and 34 per cent involved an interval often years or more (Merton, 1961: 483). Merton has come to the conclusion that, by and large, every discovery is a multiple, either potentially or in actuality; multiple is a rule rather than an exception (1961: 475–482). While explaining this phenomenon Merton observes that certain social needs of a society, demanding urgent solutions, pressurise the men of science to do scientific research, which in turn is facilitated by the prevailing culture of the society, accumulated knowledge, scientific methods, interaction among the scientists, etc. Therefore, a number of scientists come to the same discoveries simultaneously (Merton, 1961: 470–75). While he refutes the excessive claims made by the greatman theory, which overemphasizes the role of the scientific geniuses, like Kelvin or Newton, Merton does not completely dismiss the role played by them. For, scientific genius single-handedly discovers so many scientific truths, which otherwise require a sizeable number of lesser talents. For example, Kelvin, the great scientist, made at least 32 such discoveries which were simultaneously made by an aggregate of 30 other scientists. Thus, it required the labour of 30 scientists to contribute what Kelvin alone contributed. Similar was the case of Freud (Merton, 1961: 485); and the same is true in the case of Galileo, Newton, Clerk Maxwell, Hooke, Cavendish and many others, including most Nobel laureates (Merton, 1968a: 60).



However, this does not mean that in the absence of great scientists science would not have advanced. Because, most of the discoveries of such scientists are always rediscovered, as they are generally involved in many-fold multiple discoveries. Therefore, Merton says, if any scientist, including the great one, had failed to make a discovery it would have been made by other scientists, involved in such multiples. Thus, a number of lesser talents are a functional equivalent to the great scientist. In this sense, though geniuses do play an important role in enhancing science, they are not indispensable. Thus, Merton has enlarged the conception of scientific genius by construing him sociologically, rather than psychologically, and thereby muted the false controversy over the issue of social determination of scientific discovery versus the role of individual men of scientific eminence (1961: 483–85).

(ii) The Interdependence between Science and the Social Structure The above theory of the social origin of scientific discoveries can explain universal occurrence of at least the modicum of scientific knowledge. But the variation in the growth of such knowledge from society to society, time to time, and discipline to discipline, still remains to be explained. Posing this problem Merton has observed that in order to explain such variation it is necessary to understand the reciprocal relationship between science and other social constellations1. Agreeing with Max Weber’s proposition that definite cultures, and not nature, produce faith in scientific truth, Merton adds that sometimes science is opposed by certain socio-cultural structures (1938: 591). Therefore, he has examined the dynamic relationship between science and other social institutions at two levels: (1) the functional interdependence between science and other social institutions and (2) the sources of strains between the two.

(1) The Functional Interdependence Merton’s analysis of functional interdependence between science and society is mainly based on, what he calls, the middle range theory of the interdependence of institutions (1968: 63, 68) on the one hand, and, on the other, empirical data of the seventeenth century England.


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Espousing the hypothesis suggested by Max Weber about the significant influence of Calvinist puritanism, the ideal typical expression of “Protestant ethic”, on the development of science and technology Merton has examined the growth of science in the seventeenth century England (1936: 628–670)2. Through content analysis of various historical documents, he established that interest in scientific study was steadily increasing in the seventeenth century England. Then he tried to explain this phenomenon by showing value integration between science and Puritanism. Again through content analysis of various theological writings, sermons, and books of moral guidance for laymen he came to the conclusion that Puritanism embodied following values: (a) Rationalism. Men chosen of God, alone possess reason. Reason constrains the passion. Experience and reason must be the bases for action and belief. (b) Empiricism. The observation of nature, and unravelling its mysteries by discovering the order in it, is an effective means of promoting the glory of God—the Creator. (c) utilitarianism. Social welfare and public service were prescribed as God’s greatest service. (d) Secularism. Systematic, methodical labour and constant diligence in one’s calling were emphasized. (e) Scepticism and Free Inquiry. Libre-examen was considered not only a right but also an obligation. Even Bible as final and complete authority was subject to the individual interpretation.

All these values of Puritanism were obviously in harmony with the institutional values of science. However, this shows only a certain probability of the connection between Puritanism and science. But it is not a sufficient verification. Therefore, Merton sought the crucial test of his hypothesis in the following behavioural evidences. (i) The norms of Puritanism were deeply internalized and consciously expressed in their writings and behaviour by Puritan scientists like Robert Boyle, John Ray, John Wilking, John Wallis, William Oughtred, etc. (ii) The Puritans had greater prosperity for science and technology as against Catholics in proportion to their total population. For instance (a) out of the ten initial members of the ‘invisible college’, the prototype of the Royal Society of London, seven were decidedly Puritans; only one was nonPuritan and about two no information was available regarding their religious orientations and (b) these Puritan scientists played a very important role in the Royal Society of London. Out of sixty eight listed members of



the Royal Society for the year 1663, whose religious background was known, forty two were clearly Puritans. Thus, the Puritans formed the hard core of the scientific corps of the seventeenth century England, though they were a minority in the total population. (iii) The inclination of the Puritans for science and technology was likewise manifested in the type of education introduced and fostered by them. They established new universities and academies with a pronounced stress on realistic, utilitarian and empirical education. (iv) At other places (i.e. U.S.A., France, Germany and other European countries) and at other times (i.e. even after the seventeenth century) where and when Puritanism or its variant religion (e.g. Pietism) was effective, its relationship with science was also found intact. Thus, the elimination of other extraneous or non-religious factors, like political regime or economy, further confirms the hypothesis about the functional interdependence between science and the Protestant ethic.

By mustering all this evidence Merton has cogently demonstrated that the ethos of Protestantism induced its members to form socially favourable attitudes for science, and thereby enhance the growth of scientific knowledge. This also explains that in the medieval era when these values were absent science did not develop as rapidly as it did later on. But, it would be incorrect to presume that there was perfect integration between Puritanism and science. For instance, as Gillispie (1951) has observed, some of the geological discoveries (e.g. the concept of geological uniformitarianism) were opposed by the Puritans, since these came into conflict with Biblical ideas of Puritanism. Though Merton has paid attention mainly to the positive relationship between the two, he is not unaware of such conflict. Therefore, he has added the following necessary qualifications to the proposition. First, the favourable consequences of Protestantism for science were not intended by the initiators of that ethic. For example, Luther, Calvin and others, from whose teachings Protestantism emerged, paradoxically did not approve of the scientific activities of their contemporaries. Thus, the increased interest in science among Protestants was the unintended consequence of a manifest commitment to the Protestant ethic. Second, the mere fact of an individual being nominally a Catholic or Protestant has no bearing upon his attitudes toward science. It is only when the tenets and implications of the religious teachings are deeply imbibed by its followers, the religious affiliation becomes meaningful. Third, the supporting values of science tended to be secularized as time passed and science acquired its autonomy with its proven utility. Therefore, it has continued to


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thrive, even after the weakening of the theological base of the religion which supported science (Merton, 1936: 660). Further, it must be noted that Merton construed the relationship between science and religion in the seventeenth century England in conjunction with other societal factors. For instance, England’s insular position, its nascent capitalism, widening markets and military warfares caused a remarkable expansion of both mercantile as well as military marine. However, the increased economic and military sea voyages, in turn posed a series of problems such as finding out longitude and latitude, determining the time of tides, preservation of timber, development of effective fighting warships, etc. All these problems created a pressure on the scientists to solve them. Moreover, scientific achievements which promised profitable application were applauded by the leading men of the society, including the King, and thereby enhanced the status of scientists. Therefore, the curious men of science were also socially motivated to do scientific investigations in order to solve contemporary problems. As a result the field of astronomy, geography, mathematics, mechanics, botany, hydrostatics, hydrodynamics etc. developed fast in the seventeenth century England (Merton, 1939: 661–681). But, Merton notes that just as there are certain social and cultural factors which support science, similarly there are certain factors which oppose it. Interaction between these two sets of contrary forces account for the lopsided development of scientific knowledge in different societies, times and disciplines. Though, Merton’s analysis of the forces producing strains and tensions between science and the social structure is not based on any systematic empirical study, it suggests a few significant hypotheses which can be mentioned as follows. (a) Value-dissensus between sciences and the socio-cultural structure produces strains between the two. When other constituent parts of the social structure try to expand their control and encroach upon the autonomy of science then strains and tensions develop. In a liberal social order, where limited loci of power are vested in several domains of human behaviour, other non-political institutions, including science, enjoy considerable autonomy. But in a totalitarian or a dictatorial social structure, where power is centralized in political institutions, science and other social constellations are not given much freedom (Merton, 1938: 591–594). For example, in the Nazi Germany of the 1930’s it was believed by the ruling party that, only those persons having ‘Aryan’ ancestry, and not



others, were capable of undertaking scientific activities. In accordance with this dogma of race purity the ‘non-Aryan’ scientists were driven out of the German universities and scientific institutions. Even the cooperation with a ‘non-Aryan’ scientist or acceptance of his theory was considered as a symbol of political disloyalty and hence frowned upon. The latent function of this racialist purge was that the growth of science was adversely affected in Germany, since many eminent ‘non-Aryan’ scientists were considered as ‘outcastes’. Thus the demand for primary loyalty to racialistic, nationalistic, ideological or religious dogma of a dominant institution contradicts the important values of science like rationalistic utilitarianism and universalism, and thereby hampers the development of scientific knowledge. Similarly, science values scepticism by advocating explicit questioning of certain bases of established routine, authority, procedures and the realm of the ‘sacred’. This may be considered by other organised religious, political or economic groups as encroachment of science into their respective institutional domains, since science subjects them to detached scrutiny. This leads them to revolt against science. According to Merton, in the past such resistance mainly came from organised religion. But now as the locus of power has shifted from religious to economic and political institutions the source of revolt against science also has changed. Another source of tension is a conflict between the value of communication and the value of secrecy. In modern competitive states (both totalitarian and democratic) secrecy is valued, particularly in the field of military and strategic research. Besides, certain industrial organizations in capitalist countries also keep some of their formulae as business secret. Even a patent is a device to maintain the exclusive use or often non-use, of invention. This value of privacy is at variance with the value of science that knowledge should be freely communicated. Thus it does not accelerate the accumulation of certified knowledge. However, Merton does not mention the methodological difficulties involved in observing and measuring the exact damage done to science by secrecy. One more barrier to the growth of science is the social pressure to ‘deliver the goods’. Too many utilitarian demands upon science also affect the growth of science, since its pure branches are neglected in favour of applied ones. In Nazi Germany, for instance, financial support was given to those applied scientific researches which had immediate


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practical utility. As a result pure sciences suffered very badly and the growth of science as a whole was hindered in the long run. (b) Another important surmise by Merton is that the dysfunctional consequences of science and technology are also responsible for the social resistance of science (1947: 616–627). Especially, if the effects of scientific knowledge are considered as socially undesirable then, rightly or wrongly, science becomes the target of social revolt. For instance, processual or technological innovations stemming from scientific inventions require the workers to give up their old work habits as they become obsolete. Besides, specialization is also increasing and this leads to changes in work routine, meaning of work, social relations and consequently work satisfaction. Moreover, unplanned introduction of such innovations also has some adverse consequences. For instance, the introduction of labour-saving automatic machines at the time of economic depression may render many workers unemployed and many of them may be reduced to the status of unskilled workers. This creates an atmosphere of anxiety, uncertainty, distrust and fear, which may naturally invite a hostile reaction. Merton feels that such dysfunctional consequences are partly due to the overcommitment of the scientists to the values of pure science and disinterestedness. Nevertheless, it may be mentioned that scientists are not always indifferent to such dysfunctional consequences of science. As many scientists have expressed their deep concern about the use of poisonous gas, germs and, above all, the atom bomb in war. Besides, their concern about air-pollution, water pollution etc. is also well known. (c) Thirdly, it is conjectured by Merton that the esoteric nature of science is also a source of tension between science and society (1938: 600–601). Each scientific discipline has developed its own special language. As a result, the gap between science and the lay man is ever widening. Thus in the garb of scientific jargon new mysticism has developed which helps the business and political propagandists. The borrowed authority of science becomes a powerful prestige-symbol for unscientific doctrines produced for the consumption of the intellectually unsophisticated laity. This creates distrust even in truly scientific statements and thereby weakens the social support for scientific activity. Here again Merton has ignored, or perhaps he is not concerned with the methodological problems involved in measuring the damage



done to the status and consequently to the growth of science by its esoteric nature.

(iii) Normative Complex and the Reward System of Science While discussing the normative complex of science he has pointed out that the norms of science are moral as well as technical prescriptions. They are binding to the men of science because they are considered to be technically efficient and morally right. For example, it is the technical prerequisite for sustained, true and systematic prediction that evidences should be adequate, valid, reliable and logically consistent. Generally, scientists follow these standards, not only because they are a technical prerequisite but also because the deviation from these standards is morally condemned, since they are institutionalized norms (Merton, 1942: 604–615). Some of the important institutional imperatives which, according to Merton, comprise the ethos of modern science are as follows:

(a) Universalism A scientific statement should be evaluated according to the established impersonal criteria of science and not according to the particularistic attribute of the individual who has made the statement.

(b) Communalism In science collective ownership of knowledge is emphasized. Intellectual product is not a private property. Therefore, scientists should freely exchange and communicate their scientific findings. In order to avoid ideological connotations Barber prefers to call it “communalism” (1952: 9, 268).

(c) Disinterestedness A scientist should examine the worth of scientific research with detached objectivity and without emotional involvement.


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(d) Organized Scepticism No scientist is supposed to accept any idea or belief, how-so-ever popular or sacred it may be, without freely testing it—both logically and empirically.

(e) Originality A scientist is expected to contribute something original to the already existing fund of scientific knowledge. In addition, humility, intellectual honesty, integrity etc. are also the cherished norms of the institution of science. Since these norms are transmitted by precept and example, and reinforced by operative sanctions, they have not remained merely as normative prescriptions but have also become institutionally patterned motives. Moreover membership group of scientists is also their reference group, because they consider their peers as significant others. Therefore they always try to conform to the accepted norms of their group and thereby gain status among their own group members. Nevertheless, they are not equally internalized by all the scientists. In this connection it may be noted that in order to understand the variation in internalization of values it would be interesting to examine the socialization process of the scientists in different disciplines and in different societies. However, Merton expounds that these effectively loaded norms of science are functional because they facilitate the continuity of science as a large scale social activity. But, he adds that they have some dysfunctional consequence too. Especially because, like other social institutions, science also has a hierarchy of values, by which certain values are considered as more important and therefore highly emphasized in comparison to other less important values. For example, originality is more important a value and hence more fully rewarded. Because the main function of originality is to give an impetus to science with every new discovery or invention. Therefore, there is a greater cultural emphasis upon it. The manifestation of this cultural emphasis is found in an elaborate and graded reward system which is developed to motivate talented persons in a given population to do some original scientific work (Merton, 1957: 642–646). For instance, the eponymy is the highest kind of reward given to a scientist by which his name is associated with a scientific era (e.g. Newton’s



age), or with a science as its father (e.g. August Comte is considered to be the father of sociology3) or with a law or a theory (e.g. Einstein’s theory of relativity) or a method (e.g. Bogardus scale), discovered by him. Thus his name is remembered for ever in human history and thereby he gets ever lasting fame. In addition to eponymy there are other rewards also, though less prestigious than the former, such as: Nobel prize, other medals or prizes, honorary membership of a scientific society, or honorary degree conferred by a university. Besides, the historians of science also support this reward system by correcting the errors in giving (or not giving) the reward and thus putting the record straight. The function of this elaborate reward system is to encourage original scientific research and thereby to advance science. (Merton, 1957: 658). But, this very emphasis on the value of originality has some dysfunctional consequences too. These dysfunctional consequences pointed out by Merton, can be classified in two categories: (1) related to the deviant behaviour of scientists and (2) related to the opportunity structure of science.

1. Deviant Patterns of Scientists’ Behaviour Since the social organisation of science allocates highest rewards for originality, the individual scientist is always motivated to get such reward. But often this leads to the deviant patterns of behaviour also. One such pattern is found in the form of priority conflicts (Merton, 1957). These conflicts are centered around the issue of the priority of one scientist over the other for a discovery, and hence to get social recognition for the same. Even the great scientists like Galileo, Newton, Hooke, Civendish, Watt, Darwin, Freud, Comte, and Sorokin, to mention only a few, were involved in such conflicts. Merton considers this as a repetitive and regular pattern because the history of science is full of such bitter disputes over priority; they are found in all sciences and in all times (1969; 1971). Hence it requires explanation. However, Merton rejects the psychological explanation which considers the egotism of scientists and their quarrelling nature as responsible for these conflicts. Because, he contends all scientists, who are involved in priority contests, do not have such quarrelling nature. As a matter of fact, some like Darwin or Cavendish or Watts were very modest and shy persons and yet they got involved in such conflicts. Besides, instead of the affected scientists themselves, sometimes, their friends and colleagues have fought the battles for priority who had


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obviously nothing to gain personally out of these conflicts. As for illustration, it happened in the case of Wallaston, whose friends, rather than the distinguished scientist himself, involved him in a priority conflict with Faraday about the experiments on electro-magnetic rotation. Similar was the case of Cavendish and Watts conflict over the watercontroversy. Moreover, another lacuna of this psychological explanation is that it does not explain the priority conflicts between the scientists of different nations putting forward their national claims for the priority of a discovery or invention. As Merton observes, from at least the seventeenth century, Britons, Frenchmen, Germans, Dutchmen and Italians have urged their countries’ claims for priority; a little later Americans and Russians also joined this race (1957: 637–642). In place of this psychological explanation, therefore, Merton has proposed a more adequate sociological explanation, which can stand the empirical test. For this he seeks the clue in his own theory of deviant behaviour. He considers the priority conflict as a form of deviance from the another important value of science i.e. humility or modesty. To explain this he argues that because of the phenomenon of multiple independent discoveries and because of the institutional emphasis on originality, the scientists involved in such a multiple discovery are putting forward their claims for recognition. This competition for social recognition leads to claims and counter-claims, asserting the priority of one scientist against the other over a discovery or an invention. Because there is a cultural pressure on the scientist to prove his originality and because, the only right of a scientist over his intellectual property is the right of recognition, (when it is lost he has nothing more to lose) the scientists caught in such multiples, contest their claims with intense emotional involvement. This is further complicated by two other factors: eureka syndrome and cryptomnesia. Eureka syndrome means socially reinforced elation that comes with having arrived at a new and true scientific idea or result. Therefore, there is a deep concern about establishing priority or at least the independence of one’s discovery. Cryptomnesia means unconscious plagiarity. Sometimes, a seemingly creative thought of a scientist is based on his past reading or discussion. But it is not recalled by him and hence he takes the idea as new and original. This further complicates the already complex emotions related with multiple discoveries (Merton, 1963a: 270–282). Thus, according to Merton the culturally induced motives for original contribution and the phenomenon of multiple independent discovery along with eureka syndrome and cryptomnesia explain the priority conflicts in science and not the psychological dispositions of scientists.



However, these conflicts have led to a variety of institutional innovations designed to cope with the strains caused by them. Among these, following are specially mentioned by Merton: (a) to report the discovery in the form of anagrams, (b) to publish the abstracts of one’s original ideas before publishing the detailed account of the same, (c) to deposit sealed and dated manuscripts with scientific academies while working on it, (d) to print the date of receiving a manuscript along with the article published by the scientific journal and (e) some personal expedients like to write personal letters detailing one’s own ideas to one’s potential rival, or to circulate preliminary and confidential reports of one’s work to the select few or to keep meticulously dated personal records of one’s research (1957: 654). Moreover, the strains caused by such dysfunctional conflicts on the social structure of science also have been responsible for some changes in the behaviour of scientists. As Merton and Elinor Barber have found, there is a gradual decline in the number of priority conflicts. For example, as many as 92 per cent of the multiples were subjected to conflict before 1700 A.D.; 72 per cent in the eighteenth century; 74 per cent in the first half of the nineteenth century and 59 per cent in its second half; whereas only 33 per cent of the multiples were subjected to the contest for priority in the first half of twentieth century. (Merton, 1961: 483). This shows that there is an increasing recognition by the scientists that multiples is a fact; that they can be anticipated, or their contemporaries may arrive at the same result at the same time; and that others can be truly independent in their discoveries. Another trend which indicates change in the social organisation of scientific research is registered in the form of publications. As evidences show an increasing tendency is found for joint-authorship in research papers. Besides, proclivity for team research is also remarkably increasing. Of course, the extent of this change varies from discipline to discipline (Merton, 1963: 94–95; Merton, 1963a: 278–279). But, there should not be any misgiving that the value of originality or even individual work has become less important, or that the scientists have become large-hearted and broad-minded. Furthermore, in some of the sciences the concern about originality has either led to intense conflicts or to extreme secrecy (Kaplan: 857–60). Even Merton accepts that priority conflicts are still prevalent (1971), and that, in the collaborative works the individual scientists are concerned about the recognition of their own contribution in the total work (1963: 95; 1963a: 279).


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However, priority conflict is not the only form of deviant behaviour found among scientists. Merton has observed certain other patterns also (1957: 649–658). The use of fraud to obtain credit is one such active pattern of deviant behaviour. It is observed that the pressure to demonstrate the truth of a theory or to produce a sensational discovery has some times, motivated some scientists to produce fake evidences. For example, Paul Mammerer, the biologist who was offered a chair in the university of Moscow had created fake specimens to prove Lamarkian thesis experimentally. But, when it was exposed, he attributed the fraud to his research assistant and committed suicide. Another instance of such fraud was revealed recently when it was found that the skull and the jaw from which the existence of Piltdown man was inferred were nothing but a carefully contrived hoax. Similarly, cooking of evidences, triming closely guarded secrecy of one’s research, plagiarity or even the false charges of plagiarity are the instances of this type of deviant behaviour. These patterns of deviancy can be classified as ‘innovation’ according to Merton’s paradigm of deviant adaptations. Because, in this type of behaviour some illegitimate, or socially disapproved, means are accepted to achieve the goal of successful recognition of originality. There are some passive forms of deviant behaviour also found among the scientists. One such form of behaviour is ritualism, which is expressed in the behaviour of those scientists, who continuously publish just for the sake of publication. Thus publication becomes a ritual. Here the means becomes the end. Another passive form of deviancy is found in the form of retreatism. That means, to abandon the cultural goal of originality and also to abandon the means useful to achieve the goal. Here, the scientist withdraws from the field of scientific research. Either he gives up the scientific pursuit itself or he accepts another alternative role, such as teaching or administration. Moreover, in certain cases the scientist’s ambition becomes too high to be realized and it results into apathy imbued with fantasy. In such instances, a scientist nourishes, of course secretly, the hope of making some great discoveries some day in future. Nevertheless, Merton observes that though there are some such instances of deviant behaviour in the institution of science it is not a dominant pattern. Rather, such instances are exceptions from the general rule of conformity (Merton, 1957: 657–658). Because, other institutional norms of science, like, humility, disinterestedness, communism, intellectual honesty and integrity curb the deviant tendencies.



Merton notes that sometimes these other norms do produce ambivalence among the scientists. For example, it is found that scientists often contest the claim of priority with painful feeling of dislike for such conflicts. Because they are caught in the conflict between the value of originality on one hand, and the value of humility on the other. But the contest between these two values is unequal, as originality is more important and more fully rewarded than the value of humility (great modesty may elicit respect, whereas great originality may promise immortality). Therefore, even very modest persons (like Cavendish or Watts or Darwin) are dragged into such conflicts. But as they also value humility they hate or dislike their own behaviour. Thus this ambivalence shows that the scientists are comtemptuous of the very attitudes acquired by them from the institution which they support. In addition, motivated neglect to recognize the fact of priority conflicts, or not expressing the ambivalence (Merton, 1957: 647–649; Merton, 1962).

2. Normative Complex and the Opportunity Structure of Science Merton observes three more consequences of the graded reward system of the institution of science: (a) the phenomenon of the 41st Chair4, (b) The ratchet effect5, and (c) The Mathew effect6 (1968a). (a) The phenomenon of the 41st Chair. This is an outcome of the limited positions at the top of the ranking system. Particularly in a more productive era quite a few of the talented individuals are likely to be excluded from the top positions who may be possibly superior to the ‘tops’ of the low productive era. Of course, there are other rewards also but because of their low ranking they do not enjoy the same prestige as Nobel prize or its equivalent. (b) The Ratchet Effect. Second consequence of the reward system is the ratchet effect. A belief that ‘once a Nobel laureate, always a laurete’ tends to induce continued effort on the part of a Nobel laureate or, an equally honoured scientist. As more and more is expected from him, it creates its own measure of motivation and stress. Merton concedes that this social pressure keeps the eminent scientists continuously at work; and hence it is functional. But, partly as unintended consequence, this affects the “class structure” of science by providing honoured scientists some enlarged facilities


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for further work. Thus, the scientists are located in varying positions within the opportunity structure of science which is favourable to some and unfavourable to others. (c) The Mathew Effect. Third consequence of the reward system in science, which partly stems from the above two, is the Mathew effect. That is, the eminent scientists get disproportionately great credit for their scientific contributions, whereas comparatively less known scientists tend to get disproportionately little credit for their comparable contributions. This pattern of recognition, which is more favourable to the established scientists, is revealed in collaborative works and also in the case of multiple independent discoveries. When a Nobel laureate or an equally eminent scientist writes in collaboration with less known scientists the entire credit generally, though not correctly, is given to the former because of his reputation. Similarly when the same discovery is made independently by various scientists of distinctly different ranks the more eminent scientists get the recognition of the discovery and the unknown scientists are deprived of it. According to Merton, this Mathew effect has both functional and dysfunctional consequences. It is functional for the system of communication. As an eminent scientist is involved in a collaborative writing or in a multiple discovery, the visibility of that writing or invention tends to be heightened. However, it has some dysfunctional consequences too, particularly for the careers of the young scientists as they are deprived of social recognition in the early stages of their development when they want it the most. As for illustration, many young or unknown scholars’ articles or books are not published by established journals or publishers, in the beginning of their careers, because they are not considered as capable to contribute something significant. Similarly, the centres of demonstrated scientific excellence are allocated far larger resources for scientific research than the centers which have yet to make their mark. In turn the high reputation of established centers attracts a disproportionately higher share of the truly talented and promising students. These processes of social selection help the concentration of research funds, facilities and scientific talents in the reputed centers and create problems for the growth of new centers of scientific excellence. Thus, the Mathew effect sometimes violates the norm of universalism and hinders the growth of science, particularly when it is transformed into an idol of authority.



Concluding Remarks According to Merton, science is a societal product which requires social support for its continuity and development. Therefore, variation of the growth of scientific knowledge depends upon the dynamic relationship between science and the social structure. Neverthless, once science proves its utility, it becomes autonomous and acquires its own institutional imperatives along with operative sanctions. However, like the normative complex of science its reward system also has functional and dysfunctional consequences, which necessitate some organizational innovations. It is clear from the foregoing that Merton has consistently used his theoretical frame of reference to formulate a series of propositions regarding science and the behaviour patterns of scientists. However, a few words are in order with reference to his theoretical stance. 1. Since he uses functional approach, his propositions share some of the limitations inherent in this approach. For instance, he does not consider Protestantism as the cause of the growth of science in seventh century England. His contention is modest. He considers that the growth of science at that particular time and place was the latent consequence of Protestantism. Thus, religion is neither a sufficient nor a necessary condition for the growth of science. Therefore, at the outset he begins with Waber’s hypothesis about the interrelationship between Protestantism and science but finding it inadequate he has to clarify that “Puritan ethic . . . . . . . . . . . . constitute one important element in the enhanced cultivation of science” (1936: 628) and has to add other antecedent variables also viz. economic and military needs of the society, accumulation of scientific knowledge, opportunities for sustained interaction between scientists, development of techniques and methods of research, reward system of science etc. (1935, 1939, 1961). 2. The growth of science reveals following empirical diversities: (a) Substantive and methodological growth of science is not monolithic (Kaplan, 1964: 854). The natural sciences are more advanced than social sciences. Even among natural sciences, some are pretty well developed than the others. Besides, various sub-branches of a particular science also may not be equally developed. (b) The “normal” growth of science is different from its “revolutionary” growth (Kuhn, 1962) as was the case of the seventeenth century England. The same type of scientific revolution may be said to have occurred in twentieth century U.S.A. and post-revolutionary Russia.


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(c) Even among the societies sharing almost the same type of cultural background, the rate of scientific growth is uneven. For example, the contemporary U.S.A. is much more productive in scientific activities than the contemporary Europe. (d) All sciences do not enjoy the same degree of autonomy in all times and places. Perhaps, as Marx has observed and Mannheim has reasserted (Barber, 1956: 92–94) the natural sciences are more autonomous than their social counterparts in almost all societies. (This also raises a methodological question: is it possible to measure the exact degree of autonomy of a science at a given time in a given society?)

Perhaps, realizing some of these problems Merton has emphasized that it is necessary to find out the types, extent and processes of the non-scientific determinants of science in different social structures (1939: 661; 1968, 589). 3. Kaplan (1964: 855) feels that the four institutional imperatives of science formulated by Merton (1942) have not remained uncharged ever since their early origins. This is a debatable hypothesis. But it must be mentioned that Merton does not consider science as a perfectly integrated social institution (1963: 77–80). Besides, he has perceived the changes taking place in the organization of science indicated by the form of publication, priority conflicts etc. which also suggest that values do change from time to time. 4. Merton’s use of anomie paradigm to explain some of the deviant behaviour patterns of the scientists (1957) confirms his assertion that the middle range “. . . . . . theories are sufficiently abstract to deal with differing spheres of social behaviour and social structure. . . . . . . . .” and that “These theories do not remain separate but are consolidated into wider networks of theory. . . . . .” (1968: 68). 5. Merton very often rejects, in true Durkheimian tradition, the psychological explanations, and proposes alternative sociological ones. But his approach is not that of a reductionist. In his sociological explanations he generously incorporates the psychological facts and concepts. For instance, he tries to explain the growth of science in the seventeenth century England by showing the value-integration between puritanism and science. Yet he frequently states that the puritan values were internalized by the scientists; that the consciously expressed motivation was provided by this ethic; that this ethic produced favourable attitudes for science; that eureka syndrome and cryptomnesis (unconscious plagiarity) play very important role in the priority



conflicts; that psychological processes of creative work and psychological traits of the scientists also are significant in scientific activity etc. Thus, his propositions become socio-psychological, instead of purely sociological ones.

Notes * This is a revised version of a paper presented at the research seminar, on September 4, 1974, in the Department of Sociology, M. S. University, Baroda. I am grateful to Professor Robert K. Merton for providing the reprints of a number of his articles on sociology of science which induced me to write this paper. I am also indebted to Professor K. C. Panchanadikar and Dr. (Mrs) J. Panchanadikar for their valuable comments on the basis of which the earlier drafts of this paper were extensively revised. However, the final responsibility of the views expressed and errors that might have crept in, is mine. 1. Although Merton accepts that psychological traits, and the psychological processes of the creative work along with the interpersonal relations in the formal organization of scientist’s work-place do affect his scientific activity, he asserts that outstanding scientists tend to be ‘cosmopolitans’ rather than ‘locals’ and that the scientific behaviour is not merely the result of the idiosyncratic characteristics and the local ambiance of the scientists. The influence of the wider social and cultural structure is not insignificant (1936: 239–243). 2. Merton’s earliest formulations regarding this are found in his “Science, Technology and Society in Seventeenth Century England” in George Sarton (ed.) Orisis, 4: 2, Bruges, Belgium, 1938, pp. 360–632; which are aptly summarized in his “Puritanism, Pietism and Science” (1936), and “Science and Economy of 17th Century England” (1939). 3. Though Merton considers eponomy as the highest reward given to a scientist he does not agree with the belief based on biological metaphor, that a science can be fathered by one person. He says, polygenesis is the rule in the realm of science (1968: 2). 4. This concept is based on the example of French Academy which earlier decided that only a group of 40 could qualify as its members and thus emerge as immortals. As a result, some equally competent persons, excluded from the Academy, have become immortal by occupying the ‘41st Chair’. 5. Ratchet means a set of teeth on edge of bar or wheel in which a pawl engages to ensure motion in one direction only. 6. According to Gospel, St. Mathew puts it this way: “For unto every one that hath shall be given and he shall have abundance, but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath” (Mathew, 25: 29, The New Testament).

References Barber, Bernard. 1952. Science and Social Order. Glencoe, III.: The Free Press. ———. 1956. Sociology of Science: A Trend Report and Bibliography. Current Sociology 5(2).


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Barber, Bernard. 1959. “The Sociology of Science”. In: R. K. Merton, L. Broom and L. S. Cotrell, Jr. (eds.) Sociology Today: Problems and Prospects, pp. 125–288. New York: Harper Torchbooks. ———. 1968. “The Sociology of Science”. In: David L. Sills (ed.) International Encyclopedia of Social Sciences 14: 92–100. New York: The Macmillan and the Free Press. Gillispie, Charles C. 1951. Genesis and Geology. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Kaplan, Norman. 1964. “The Sociology of Science”. In: R. E. L. Faris (ed.) Handbook of Modern Sociology, pp. 852–881. Chicago: Rand McNally and Company. Kuhn, T. S. 1962. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Merton, R. K. 1935. Science and Military Technique. Scientific Monthly 44(37): 542–545. ———. 1936. “Puritanism, Pietism and Science”. In: R. K. Merton Social Theory and Social Structure, pp. 628–660. New York: The Free Press, Enl. ed., 1968. (Hereafter referred to as STSS). ——— 1938. “Science and the Social Order”. In: R. K. Merton, STSS, pp. 591–603. ——— 1939. “Science and Economy of 17th Century England”. In: R. K. Merton, STSS, pp. 661–681. ——— 1942. “Science and the Democratic Social Structure”. In: R. K. Merton, STSS, pp. 604–615. ——— 1947. “The Machine, The Worker and the Engineer”. In: R. K. Merton, STSS, pp. 616–627. ——— 1957. Priorities in Scientific Discovery: A Chapter in the Sociology of Science. American Sociological Review 22(6): 635–659. ——— 1961. Singletons and Multiples in Scientific Discovery: A Chapter in the Sociology of Science. Proceedings, American Philosophical Society 105(5): 470–486. ——— 1963. The Ambivalence of Scientists. Bulletin of the John Hopkins Hospital 112(2): 77–97. ——— 1963a. Resistence to the Systematic Study of Multiple Discoveries in Science. European Journal of Sociology IV: 237–283. ——— 1968. STSS, op. cit. ——— 1968a. The Mathew Effect. Science 159(3810): 56–63. ——— 1969. Behaviour Patterns of Scientists. The American Scholar 38(2): 197–225. ——— and R. Lewis, 1971. The Competitive Pressures (1): The Race for Priority. Impact of Science on Sociology 21(2): 151–161. Ogburn, W. F. and D. S. Thomas, 1922. Are Inventions Inevitable? Politcal Science Quarterly 37(32): 82–98.

14 Bourdieu’s Theory of the Symbolic and the Shah Bano Case Sheena Jain



ourdieu’s theory of the symbolic, and the theory of practice of which it forms a part, are products of a rigorous dialectic between conceptual traditions and innovations, on the one hand, and empirical observations of particular social realities, on the other. The epistemological status conferred on them by Bourdieu is that of universally valid frameworks of analysis, capable of yielding sociological truths in diverse empirical contexts. This assertion is qualified by the understanding that the theories are not closed, but open-ended constructs, and thus subject to change and modification when demanded by subsequent research. They are constituted by conceptual tools that are heuristic devices to be used as such. This quality of Bourdieu’s contribution prompts one to undertake the exercise of exploring in a preliminary way the strengths and limitations of his theory of the symbolic by viewing it in relation to the symbolic aspects of a selected social reality distinct from the ones analysed by Bourdieu himself.1 The reality I have chosen pertains to an event involving the rights of women in India, namely, the Shah Bano case. In what follows, I will explore how far Bourdieu’s theory of the symbolic goes towards illuminating its reality, examining in particular the fruitfulness of the following conceptions: (i) the notion of


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differentiated societies as characterised by doxa, orthodoxy, and heterodoxy, (ii) the definition of the state as an institution having a monopoly over legitimate symbolic violence, and (iii) the understanding that subordinate social groups, including women, are subject to symbolic violence involving a process of misrecognition. As a prologue to the exercise of viewing, through the lens of his conceptual framework, an event located in particular time and space dimensions, I would like to briefly outline Bourdieu’s concept of history. According to Bourdieu, every historical action brings together two states of history: objectified history, that is, the history which has accumulated over the passage of time in things, machines, buildings, monuments, books, theories, customs, law, etc.; and embodied or internalised history, in the form of habitus. The concept of habitus refers, in Bourdieu’s oeuvre, to systematic propensities to perceive, think, evaluate and act in certain ways, embodied in individuals, but shared by all those living in similar social and material conditions. The habitus is the product of a historical acquisition, which makes it possible to appropriate the legacy of history. This is so in the sense that the institution or objectified, instituted history, becomes historical action, that is, enacted active history, only if it is taken in charge by agents whose own history predisposes them to do so; who, by virtue of their previous investments, are inclined to take an interest in its functioning, and endowed with the appropriate attributes to make it function (Bourdieu 1981: 305–06).

The structures of objectified history constitute part of what Bourdieu calls fields, and the relation between habitus and field is conceptualised as two modes of the existence of history. The concept of fields refers to relatively autonomous structures of relations between agents that emerge in specific socio-historical contexts. They are the site of struggles between agents, with their own particular stakes and rewards, and their own logic. Bourdieu clarifies that the notion of field implies transcending the conventional opposition between structure and history; conservation and transformation, since fields are sites of struggle, and the relations of power which form their structures provide the underpinnings of both resistance to domination and resistance to subversion. Moreover, to see how struggles account for a transformation of structures, one needs to enter into the details of particular historical



conjunctures and analyse the positions in the structure. In fact, Bourdieu argues for a form of structural history, ‘which finds in each successive state of the structure under examination both the product of previous struggles to maintain or transform this structure, and the principle, via the contradictions, the tensions, and the relations of force which constitute it, of subsequent transformations’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992: 89–91). Indeed history, or time, is at the centre of Bourdieu’s analysis, in that it is built into his conceptualisation of social space. Thus, the model of structure of social space put forth in his study, Distinction, for example, is a three dimensional one: in addition to the volume and structure of capital possessed by social agents, it takes into account the evolution over time of these two properties. By viewing the relation between habitus and field as two modes of existence of history, Bourdieu is able to found a theory of time that breaks with two opposed philosophies of time: on the one hand, ‘the metaphysical vision which treats time as a reality in itself, independent of the agent (as in the metaphor of the river) and, on the other hand, a philosophy of consciousness’ (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992: 138). This is because ‘far from being a condition a priori and transcendent to historicity, time is what practical activity produces in the very act whereby it produces itself ’ (ibid.). At the same time, Practice need not—except by way of exception—explicitly constitute the future as such, as in a project or a plan posited through a conscious and deliberate act of will. Practical activity, in so far as it makes sense, as it is sensee, reasonable, that is, engendered by a habitus adjusted to the immanent tendencies of the field, is an act of temporalisation through which the agent transcends the immediate present in a practical mobilisation of the past and practical anticipation of the future inscribed in the present in a state of objective potentiality’ (ibid.).

We may note here that Bourdieu, while excluding the category of subject, which is central to philosophies of consciousness, does not exclude agents. For, it is as active participants in historical action that agents either reproduce or transform structures, even as they are products of these structures. Thus, social agents are the product of history; of the history of the social field and of the accumulated experience of a path within the specific subfield. But they also make history. Bearing in mind this conception of history, and the overall aim of this paper, which is to view the Shah Bano case in the light of Bourdieu’s


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theory of the symbolic, I will proceed next to an account of the case and then move on to its analysis.

The Shah Bano Case The Shah Bano case refers to the events that followed from a criminal appeal in the Supreme Court of India by appellant Mohammed Ahmed Khan against respondents Shah Bano Begum and others in 1985. The appeal was a response to an application filed by Shah Bano, a divorced Muslim woman, for maintenance under Section 125 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC). Shah Bano was married to Mohammad Ahmed Khan in 1932, had borne him three sons and two daughters, and was driven out of her matrimonial home in 1975. In April 1978, she filed an application against her husband asking for maintenance and, in November 1978 she was divorced by him by an irrevocable talaq permitted under the personal law of the Muslims. He defended himself against Shah Bano’s petition for maintenance by stating that she had ceased to be his wife after the divorce; that he had paid a maintenance allowance for two years and deposited a sum of Rs 3,000 by way of dower as per Muslim personal law during the period of iddat (which normally is three menstrual cycles or the passage of three lunar months for post-menopausal women). The Judicial Magistrate of the concerned High Court did, however, sanction a small sum to be paid as maintenance in terms of Section 125 of the CrPC, and following a revised petition, the sum was raised nominally. It was then that the husband appealed to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled that a Muslim woman unable to maintain herself was entitled to take recourse to Section 125 of the CrPC that requires husbands with sufficient means to pay maintenance to wives or ex-wives who are unable to support themselves. The ruling was based on the understanding that Muslim personal law, which limits the husband’s liability to provide maintenance to a divorced woman for the period of iddat does not deal with a situation of destitution, the prime concern of the provisions of the CrPC. The judgement provoked widespread consternation in the Muslim community in the country. The ulema (Muslim clerics) condemned the judgement as an attempt to undermine the Shariat, the source of Islamic



law. A large number of Muslims took to the streets to register their protest, accusing the Supreme Court of trespassing on their domain. What added to their outrage was the reference in the judgement to the desirability of evolving a uniform civil code, which questioned the suitability of Muslim personal law, as indeed of all religious personal law, as an agency capable of fostering national integration. This was viewed as a position contrary to the principles of secularism on the basis of which different communities were bound together in India, and as particularly threatening to the Muslims, who as a minority community, had for long, sought through the preservation of personal law, a means of protecting their self identity. The leadership of the movement came from the ulema and the All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), an organisation established in 1974. They were joined by several other Muslim organisations, and by Muslim politicians in centrist parties, such as the Congress and the Janata Dal. They mobilised Muslims in Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Kashmir, Andhra Pradesh and Kerala, and their campaign spread through religious institutions, mosques, newspapers, and local community leaders. While initially, when it focused on the issue of maintenance rights for women, the movement failed to gain popular support, it gained momentum towards the end of 1985, when it shifted to the much larger issue of the status of the Muslim minority and its right to exist as a religious community in a secular society. Passions were aroused with protests against interference with Muslim personal law and by the fuelling of fears of its substitution by a common civil law, which, it was suggested, would spell the death warrant of Muslim identity in Hindu India. In April 1985, G.M. Banatwala, a Muslim League member from Kerala, introduced a private bill in Parliament to ensure the continuance of the regime of personal law. In May, six Muslim organisations issued a joint statement expressing fear of the extinction of personal law. The Secretary of the AIMPLB explicitly demanded that the government should nullify the judgement by reiterating its commitment to uphold the Muslim personal law. The organisation warned the government that ‘it would be unwise and against the interests of national unity to arouse fears and apprehensions and to create a sense of religious insecurity’ (Zoya Hasan 1989: 46). Numerous public meetings were held in the course of the Shariah week launched in October 1985, culminating in


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the observation of the All India Shariah Day, marked by street-corner meetings and demonstrations. Doctrinal differences between organisations were underplayed to safeguard personal law, as were regional and class divisions among Muslims. Towards the end of 1985, the fundamentalists persuaded Shah Bano to hold a press conference, where she put her thumb impression on a statement demanding that the Supreme Court withdraw its verdict as it amounted to interference in the Muslim personal law (Engineer 1987: 63) However, even as this fundamentalist tide grew, a large number of Muslims saw no conflict between the Supreme Court verdict and Islamic principles. Significantly, it has been noted that many Muslim women were unaffected by the tide and supported the demand for maintenance rights provided under the CrPC. Women who were initially unaware of the maintenance issue became conscious of it as the campaign against the judgement gained momentum. Muslim women groups in Kerala, West Bengal, Mumbai and Delhi reaffirmed the right of maintenance and criticised the mullahs for making religion an instrument of injustice. The formation of the committee for the Protection of the Rights of Muslim Women in Kolkata, Thiruvananthapuram and Delhi gave organised expression to such sentiments. It organised public meetings and conventions in different parts of the country to highlight the issue of women’s rights, and submitted memoranda to the Prime Minister emphasising the need to protect all sections of the minorities, particularly women (Zoya Hasan 1989: 47). These stirrings of protest were strengthened by voices from within the Muslim intelligentsia. Important sections of enlightened and liberal Muslim opinion, drawn from the educated and professional classes, signed a memorandum demanding the preservation of the right of a divorced Muslim woman to claim maintenance from her former husband (ibid.). In short, the claims of some Muslim leaders that the community was unanimously opposed to the Supreme Court verdict in favour of maintenance were false. As regards the government, the ruling Congress Party initially welcomed the Supreme Court verdict, and the Prime Minister was openly supportive of the Union Home Minister Arif Mohammed Khan, who denounced the Banatwala Bill in Parliament. However, the defeat of the Congress Party in the by-elections in December 1985 ‘led the government to execute a volte-face’ (ibid.). Fearful of further electoral reverses, the government initiated several moves to assuage Muslim feelings.



Thus, members of the AIMPLB were summoned to Delhi for consultation; Ali Mian, the alim of the Lucknow Seminary, Nadvatalulma, was assiduously cultivated; and the Prime Minister found time to attend the All Momin Conference where he assured his audience that the Muslim personal law will not be modified or altered. In May 1986, the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill, 1985, was introduced in Parliament (ibid.). The Bill denied Muslim women the option to avail of Section 125 of the CrPC. It legitimised the arguments of the AIMPLB and the Muslim League that a woman’s natal family should maintain her after her divorce and not the husband as she has ceased to be his wife. It provided that the inheritors of her property would be responsible for her maintenance in accordance with the property to be inherited, without fixing the amount of property to be inherited by the divorced woman. Where a divorced woman has no relatives or any one of them does not have enough means to pay the maintenance, it was decreed that the State Wakf Board would pay. In passing the Bill, the government had clearly surrendered to fundamentalist pressures. The Bill was widely criticised, and women’s organisations mobilised public opinion, highlighting gender identity and the need to safeguard the rights of women. They pointed out how women’s identity often gets subsumed in the larger issue of community identity. Their intervention restored the focus on women, and exposed the subordinate and unequal position of women within the family, that is, with reference to personal laws, and in the public realm, where, for example, women could not avail of Section 125 of the CrPC because that would supposedly threaten community identity (ibid.: 48). Streetcorner meetings, protest marches and signature campaigns were organised, but the government refused to recognise the strength of Muslim opposition to the Bill. It has been pointed out that the most important factor which made the government take such a stance was the need to stem the anger over the Shah Bano verdict, which was losing the Congress its Muslim votes. Moreover, the Bill was a sequel to the communal pressures mounted by Hindu organisations agitating for the reopening of the Babri Masjid Ram Janam Bhoomi temple in Ayodhya. The temple was opened in February 1986 to appease and conciliate the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Ram Janam Bhoomi Mukti Samiti, and at this point, Muslim


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communal leaders threatened to boycott the Congress if the Babri Masjid was not restored to Muslims. The Muslim Women Bill was an effort to pacify ruffled Muslim sentiments over the reopening of the disputed Babri Masjid and the conservative objections to the Supreme Court verdict. As Zoya Hasan comments, ‘In this way the Indian State performed a balancing act of accommodating and according protection to all religions and religious sentiments under the umbrella of multitheocratic pluralism and an ideology of secularism that encourages and protects all religions’ (ibid.: 48). Furthermore, she notes that the most pernicious aspect of the controversy was the attempt by the government to defend the AIMPLB sponsored Bill (which would clearly debilitate and deprive the Muslim community) and lament the absence of reformist tendencies among Muslims at the same time (ibid.). But, while the responsibility of the Muslim Women’s Bill was transferred to the Muslim fundamentalists, in effect, it was an attempt to mollify them.

Analysis To see what light Bourdieu’s theory of the symbolic sheds on this case, we need to note that the realm of the symbolic refers, in his work, to mental structures, including schemes and categories of perception, thought, evaluation, and action, both conscious and unconscious, as well as to activities, institutions, and objects pertaining to the same (Bourdieu 1998: 40, 46, 53, 54, 56, and 121). We can begin the exercise by asking whether the concepts of doxa, orthodoxy, and heterodoxy provide useful tools for analysing how the events related to the case unfolded. This means considering the available empirical evidence regarding the mental make-up of the litigants involved; of the judges in the context of the judgement proclaimed; and of the dramatis personae who participated in the response to the judgement. It may be noted that doxa refers to the ensemble of common opinions, established beliefs, and received ideas, which remain undiscussed. Orthodoxy may be defined as a system of euphemisms, of acceptable ways of thinking and speaking the natural and social world, which rejects heretical remarks as blasphemies. Heterodoxy refers to the existence of competing possibilities in the field of opinion. To look at Shah Bano’s actions first: they have to be viewed against the backdrop of her biographical trajectory in a milieu characterised by a subordinate position for women which went into the constitution of



her habitus. Illiterate and aging, abandoned by her husband, and living with one of her three grown-up sons, it is unlikely that her legal application for maintenance was based on a conscious decision to fight for her rights. It was more likely the product of an acceptance in the doxic mode of what the significant males in her immediate milieu dictated she do. Regarding their motives in prompting her to do so, it may realistically be doubted if she would have had much control even over the meagre sum which she would have been given as maintenance, had she not retracted her claim. This is likely even as her sons were well off enough to be able to support her. Indeed, as journalist Saeed Naqvi has noted, the maintenance claim by Shah Bano followed a series of disputes on the ownership of certain properties, largely inspired by the sons (see Engineer 1987: 68). Thus what was important in Shah Bano’s case of adopting her earlier stance, and of later retracting from it, was not a consciousness of the legal or perhaps even religious correctness or incorrectness of the particular positions taken, but the fact that they were authorised by significant persons—all males—who she was subordinate to. The doxa that governed her actions made her consistent even when apparently inconsistent. We can also discern the element of misrecognition involved, when we consider her statement to the effect that she was following the dictates of a religious consciousness in changing her stance. For, this was in conformity with the orthodox discourse of Muslim clerics which was put up in response to the heterodoxy of the legal verdict and of certain currents of public opinion. While Shah Bano’s interests as a woman were thus thwarted, it was precisely her gendered subjectivity that made her complicit in what happened. Incidentally, the fact that the concept of habitus, which takes into account individual variations in skills and experience has greater explanatory power than the Durkheimian concept of ‘collective consciousness’ becomes apparent if we compare Shah Bano’s actions to those of another divorced Muslim woman, Shehnaz Sheikh, subject to the pressures of a similar milieu. Unlike Shah Bano, the young and educated Shehnaz Sheikh, did not succumb to these pressures, but instead took up the cause of Muslim women, and formed an organisation for the same. This was after she petitioned the Supreme Court, challenging the discrimination against women inherent in Muslim personal law on issues of polygamy, divorce, maintenance, custody of children and inheritance (Menon 1994).


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As for the actions of Shah Bano’s husband, Mohammad Ahmad Khan, it must be borne in mind that he was a lawyer with substantial earnings, for whom the payment of maintenance would not have caused great financial hardship. What seems more pertinent is the reference to the limitations of Muslim personal law in the Supreme Court judgement, which ignited the whole issue of the infallibility or otherwise of the Shariat and of certain interpretations of it, and its implications for the status of the Muslim community in India. As a Muslim lawyer, Mohammad Ahmad Khan was perhaps only too conscious, in appealing under Muslim personal law, of these implications, including the role they had played in legal discourse in India so far, and even more, of the sociopolitical support from sections of the Muslim Community that such an appeal carried. His actions stemmed from a calculated bet on the strength of the orthodoxy characterising certain sections of the Muslim community which had figured in legal debates in modern India, and which was very likely a part of his habitus anyway. The calculation involved in his actions was not strictly speaking rational calculation, but the activation of a practical sense. Thus, it is significant that, as has been noted, since he had appealed under Muslim personal law and lost, he became an instant hero among the more conservative maulvi elements (Engineer 1987: 68). As regards the Supreme Court judgement on the case, a notable feature is the fact that, in the course of upholding the High Court decision on the provision of maintenance to Shah Bano, it also commented upon several other issues, and we will consider its various components here. With reference to strictly legal aspects, the judgement drew upon colonial legislation, citing the speech of Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, who had piloted the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1872 as Legal Member of the Viceroy’s Council. It clarified the purport of the relevant sections of the Code within which Section 125 occurred, which, significantly, is not concerned with individual rights, but with ‘prevention of vagrancy’ as a threat to public order. As Veena Das comments, ‘The creation of a legal category of vagrants, as well as the criminalisation of “close relatives” who could be held responsible for supporting indigent relatives, reflected the basic opposition of colonial rulers to the maintenance of unproductive populations’ (1995: 97). Within the framework of modern law, which is a product of heterodox discourse, the judgement thus conformed to colonial orthodoxy on strictly legal issues.



In supporting itself against an appeal based on Muslim personal law, however, the judgement went on to the terrain of heterodox beliefs and opinions. It questioned the role of religion as protector of the interests of women; it contested the interpretation of the sacred legal texts offered; and it spoke of the desirability of a common civil code ‘to help the cause of national integration by removing disparate loyalties to law which have conflicting ideologies’ (Engineer 1987: 33). This heterogeneity, Das (1995: 95) observes, allowed the judgement to become a signifier of issues which touch upon several dimensions, including the nature of secularism, the rights of minorities, and the use of law as an instrument of securing justice for the oppressed. It is reasonable to suppose that the judges concerned had certain convictions with regard to all these issues, and that these convictions formed part of the existing heterodox discourse associated with certain individuals and groups in modern India. Its constituent elements can be analysed briefly as follows. The unjust treatment of women in religion was illustrated in the opening paragraph of the judgement by quoting from Manu, followed by a statement by Sir William Lane made in 1840, to the effect that the fatal point in Islam is its degradation of women (Engineer 1987: 23). Das very perceptively identifies the semiotic function of this manner of framing things, which was ‘to establish the secular and learned credentials of the judges, for, by a time-honoured tradition in our political culture, secular credentials are signalled by handing out in an even manner criticisms of the majority community and minority community’ (1995: 98). As regards the exercise undertaken in the judgement, of examining Islam’s position on the issue of maintenance, it is significant that this was not strictly relevant to the legal judgement pronounced. For, stating that Section 125 was part of the Code of Criminal Procedures, and not of Civil Law, the judges asserted that they were not concerned with the broad and general question of whether a Muslim husband was liable to maintain his wife, including a divorced wife, under all conditions. The correct subject matter of Section 125 related to a wife who was unable to maintain herself, and their ruling was limited to such a case. Clearly, given the fact that there is a uniform criminal code to which all Indian citizens are subject, the court could not take into account the religion of the persons involved (ibid.: 97).


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Yet, the judgement did examine the question of whether there was any conflict between the provisions of Section 125 and those of the Muslim personal law on the liability of the Muslim husband to provide for the maintenance of his divorced wife. For this, it drew upon legal texts and the Quran, and came to the conclusion that there was no conflict. The process by which the judges arrived at this conclusion involved opening up to scrutiny the legal orthodoxy that existed in textbooks on Muslim law. That this exercise provoked such strong reactions from sections of the Muslim community, not all of whom, it may be realistically supposed, were acquainted with these texts, testifies to the extent to which this orthodoxy had become the doxa—unquestioned and taken for granted—for part of the community. Even more powerful was the typical stance of all orthodoxy that characterised the response, which was to not countenance any questioning whatsoever of its contents— and to term any exercise of scrutiny an interference or even blasphemy (Bourdieu 1986: 167–68). Moreover, it would be naÏve to restrict our analysis of this phenomenon to the realm of discourse alone. For as Bourdieu points out, where there is a correspondence between mental structures and social structures, systems of classification are political instruments which contribute to the reproduction of the social world (ibid.: 164). Indeed, this conceptualisation of the political efficacy of the link between symbolic structures and social structures gives a critical edge to Bourdieu’s analysis of the symbolic. Thus, the disadvantageous position of women in legal orthodoxy, only served to reinforce and to contribute to the reproduction of their subordinate position in the community. Nevertheless, as the differentiated reaction to the judgement, even within the Muslim community shows, the orthodox response was not an attempt to legitimise doxa in a vacuum, but was a response to the constitution of a field of opinion, which included heterodoxy. The judgement partook of this heterodox discourse, whose voice could be heard in several other responses to the judgement as well. As regards its perspective on the need to evolve a common civil code, the judgement articulated a stance conforming to one of the major strands in heterodox discourse on the issue of secularism in modern India. Insofar as it posited a contradiction between the existence of a plurality of personal laws based on religion and the interests of the oppressed and of national integration, it represented what may be



termed a position of militant secularism. However, it is significant that while positing this, ‘there is no attempt in the judgement to explain why different ideologies in the sphere of personal life are seen as intrinsically threatening to national integration’ (Das 1995: 99). Also, the question of the rights of women is ‘raised but then totally eclipsed by the allegiance to abstractions like public order and national integration’ (ibid.: 100). Questioning the version of secularism associated with the proposal for a uniform civil code further, Zoya Hasan (1998: 116) points out that the notion of national integration on which it is based, and whose development can be traced back to the debates in the Constituent Assembly on the same, is not that of the principle of citizenship or the equitable distribution of resources. As this suggests, there is, in contrast both to the position of the militant secularists and the orthodoxy of those in favour of unreformed personal laws, an alternative position in the field of opinion. This is that of secularism in favour of a legal pluralism based on a reform of personal laws in the light of the principles of justice and equality, including gender justice. That the demand for a uniform civil code was appropriated by Hindu communalists, so that ‘women’s right is subordinated to imperatives of unity defined by majoritarianism and pluralism defined in terms of minority rights’ reflects the extreme vulnerability of the position of women in processes of the constitution and exercise of law; a vulnerability whose specificity the overall text of the judgement does not take into account, despite its ruling in favour of Muslim women (ibid.: 117). The occlusion of women from the terms of the competing discourses was almost total. It also draws attention to an absence in Bourdieu’s theory of conceptual tools for analysing the phenomenon of conflicting and competing orthodoxies in society as are found in the case of communal ideologies in India. It would not do to subsume them under the category of heterodox discourse, for they are characterised by a defensiveness, rigidity and resistance to dialogue, which are typical of orthodoxy. Neither would it do to see them as ultimately the same, or as subspecies of a general orthodoxy, since they are manifestly hostile to each other, with this hostility affecting social processes significantly, even as they play a similarly regressive role in society. It may be argued, however, that while in his schematic presentation of the concept in his Outline of a Theory of Practice, Bourdieu presents


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orthodoxy as a singular phenomenon opposed to heterodoxy; its rendering is far more complex in his various subsequent analyses of the cultural field (see Bourdieu 1986: 268; 1993). In them, there appear struggles between producers with their products to attain to the position of orthodoxy, that is, in Max Weber’s terms, claims to the legitimate and monopolised use of a certain class of symbolic goods (Bourdieu 1993: 116). This suggests a preliminary framework within which communal discourses and practices could possibly be analysed. However, the specificities of the phenomenon of communalism in India would shape the concept, as much as its analysis would be aided by its use. To return to the Shah Bano case: to understand the orthodox response to the judgement better, it is necessary to see how it was shaped by the existence of a relatively autonomous political field. For, the construction of a discourse and doxa that regards Muslim identity as being based on adherence to infallible Islamic personal laws is a historical construction produced in the context of actors and organisations participating in political processes characterising modern Indian history. This becomes clear when we observe that the common sense among certain sections of the Muslim community that Muslim identity is equal to Muslim personal law, papers over the heterogeneity, which is the true condition of the Muslims in India—heterogeneity of region, class, caste and culture. In this sense, orthodoxy is a creation which does not preserve an initial doxa but which creates a new doxa. In the process, misrecognition occurs: the diversion of people from their real interests, to the defence of a symbolic entity which furthers the interests of clerics and politicians, being thereby an instance of the exercise of symbolic violence by them. Thus, apart form the hold of orientalist clichés that projected Islam as providing a complete identity, explanation and oral code for Muslims, and colonial stereotypes of an Islamic community organised on a pan-Indian or transnational basis, as well as mythical portrayals of Muslim unity in nationalist discourse, what is of particular relevance to us is the existence of practitioners of modern day politics ‘who purported to represent the “millat”, or the “community” as a whole, but were actually exploiting Islam and communitarian solidarity as a shield to cover their political designs’ (Mushirul Hasan 1997: 51). That the Indian state was responsive to pressures from such politicians is, of course, a significant fact, which we will discuss when we examine the



notion of the state as an agency with a monopoly over legitimate symbolic violence. What is important from the point of view of understanding the orthodox response to the case is the presence of organisations with a leadership that had sought to carve out a place for itself in Indian politics through mobilisations on the issue of Islamic law. Among the organisations which condemned the judgement as interference in Muslim personal law were the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, the Jamait-ul-Ulema-Hind, the Jamait-e-Islami, the Muslim League, and the Muslim Majlis Mushawarat. While the first is an apex body of several Muslim organisations committed to upholding the sanctity of Muslim personal law, the other organisations are marked by the existence of doctrinal differences between them. Thus, to compare the Jamait-ul-Ulema-Hind and the Jamait-e-Islami for instance: the Jamaitul-Ulema-Hind, which took the lead in demanding restoration of the Islamic laws, was founded in 1919 by a group of influential ulama from Deoband. It had worked closely with the Congress in the anticolonial struggle and in the post-independence period, it held that both in theory and in practice, democracy and secularism adequately safeguarded and guaranteed the religio-political interests of Muslims. Its leadership, at least up to the 1970s, was secure in the belief that an enduring CongressMuslim alliance was the way out of post-Partition conflicts. In the 1970s, the breakdown of the secular consensus and the spurt in HinduMuslim violence across large tracts of the country ‘led the jamiyat to invoke specifically Muslim themes of “solidarity”, “unity” and “identity”, and to organise Muslims in pursuit of religio-political goals’ (ibid.: 213–14). As for the Jamait-e-Islami, it was established in 1941 and has as its goal in India and elsewhere in South Asia, the one of seizing the commanding heights of the state and Islamising state and society. Mushirul Hasan describes it as a retrograde force, ‘steeped in religious conservatism and opposed to the “modernising” processes in education, social reforms and the emancipation of women’. Furthermore, he notes that ‘its world view militates against liberal, progressive and enlightened ideas because of an inflexible interpretation of Islamic doctrines and stout resistance to the eclectic Sufi and syncretic trends in Indian Islam. The few cosmetic changes have not changed the Jamaat into a reformist or modernist movement.’ Also, ‘as a militant expression of orthodox Sunni Islam, its ideology promotes sectarian consciousness, widens the


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Shia-Sunni rift and creates barriers between communities’. Indeed, ‘at the heart of the Jamaat’s campaign is the long cherished ideal of creating a pan-Indian Islamic/Muslim identity’ (ibid.: 209–10). Cutting across differences, the issue of upholding Muslim personal law formed the basis for mobilising Muslims on a fairly large scale, even as an organisation like Majlis-i-Mushawwarat had failed to form a united Muslim front in the country. Yet, in the normal course of things, for most Muslims, far removed from and indifferent to the quibbling in the Jamiyat-al-Ulama, Jamaat-I-Islami or the Majlis-i-Mushawwarat, the critical issue was not the fate of the Shariat, which was in any case accepted by the state as sacrosanct, or the validity of the Islamic state idea; it was to establish, for their own survival, and progress, enduring relationships with fellow citizens and with established political parties (ibid.: 215).

Thus, the nature of Muslim politics in the political field was one major strand in the unfolding of events. This prompts us to consider also the role of the state in the whole affair, for it has been pointed out that ‘what started as an expression of Muslim feelings and misgivings acquired the shape of significant sentiments only as a result of the intervention of specific political processes and developments in the political arena’ (Zoya Hasan 1989: 47). Bourdieu defines the state as the ensemble of fields that are the site of struggles in which what is at stake is the monopoly of legitimate symbolic violence, that is, the power to constitute and to impose as universal and universally applicable within a given ‘nation’, that is, within the boundaries of a given territory, a common set of coercive norms (Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992: 111–12). Since the state is an ensemble of fields in which different species of capital circulate (for example, economic, military, cultural, juridical, and, more generally, symbolic), the emergence of a specific capital, a properly statist capital, is the result of the process of the rise and consolidation of these fields and the concentration of their different species of capital. This statist capital allows the state to wield a power over the different fields and defines the specific power of the state. It follows, according to Bourdieu, that the construction of the state goes hand in hand with the constitution of the field of power understood as the space of play in which holders of various forms of capital struggle in particular for power over the state, that is, over the statist capital that grants power over the different species of capital and over their reproduction (ibid.).



In the case of the government’s response to the Supreme Court judgement in the Shah Bano case, statist capital was used to modify the balance of forces within the juridical field in a way that confirmed the supremacy of statist capital over other species of capital. That this, in turn, was the result of the play of forces and struggles within the field of power, for control over statist capital, is borne out by the fact that those who opposed the judgement appealed to the state to modify it, and the government that reversed it, was prompted to do so by considerations of retaining its power. Even when faced with resistance, as it was by the heterodox response to the judgement, and active demonstrations of protest, the balance of forces in the field of power was tilted in favour of an outcome that was in keeping with a process that had been shaping Indian politics for sometime now; a process described as the communalisation of the state. To consider this process briefly: it has been noted that, since the 1980s, a significant factor abetting communalism in India has been the role of the ruling party in supporting religious fundamentalist forces, especially Hindu fundamentalists. Thus, writing in 1989, Amrita Chhachhi observes that In sharp contrast to the positions in the late 1960s and 70s, the ruling Congress Party has now shifted from its earlier public condemnation of communalisms and of Hindu organisations and support to the victims of minority communities (in particular the Muslims) to a more generalised condemnation of communalism and the foreign hand in public pronouncements along with a series of concessions to communal demands, a refusal to indict individuals identified as being responsible for the violence, and a stifling of secular opinion, both, within and outside the ruling party (1989: 569).

She goes on to say that This shift in the stand of the ruling party on communalism was partly due to an electoral strategy to cash in on the ‘Hindu vote’, especially in north India. When this strategy did not result in large scale support in the 1986 byelections, there was a shift back to and a succumbing to Muslim fundamentalist demands by pushing through the Muslim Women’s Bill. The ruling party played one communalism off another in the electoral numbers game (ibid.).

However, Chhachhi points out that it would be a mistake to see the consolidation of communalism today only as the backlash of a shortsighted electoral strategy. Among the deeper factors at work is the


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increasing crisis of the ideological legitimacy of the Indian state and its need for a new hegemonising ideology. For, while post-independent India did have in the early period an anti-colonial nationalism to bind together and give legitimacy to the newly created ‘nation-state’, now forty years later, given the results of development policies, the state can no longer claim legitimacy from past struggles. The centralising tendency of the state, moreover, requires some ideology of unity, and the emergence of fundamentalism amongst sections of civil society could provide a basis for such state ideology. In the attempt to explain this phenomenon further, Bourdieu’s conceptualisation of the state as an ensemble of fields, rather than as an autonomous apparatus is useful, as it allows us to see the continuity between the state and civil society (see Bourdieu and Wacquant 1992: 111–15). But drawing, as he does, mainly upon the experience of West European societies, Bourdieu emphasises the homogenising thrust of the state. To understand the playing up of differences by the state, as indeed, the creation of new differences by it, as in the case of a communalised state, requires a development of his concept in a different direction. For this purpose, the work by Katherine Verdery (1994) on ethnicity, nationalism, and state-making is particularly suggestive. Drawing on the anthropologist Brackette Williams’ work, Verdery points out that a homogenising policy creates the ‘nation’, as consisting of all those the state should administer, because they all ostensibly ‘have something in common’. ‘State subjects’, she writes, ‘are most frequently encouraged to have “in common” (besides their government) shared culture and/or “ethnic” origin’ (ibid.: 45). Significantly, though, she adds that ‘to institutionalise a notion of “commonality” however, is to render visible all those who fail to hold that something in common’. This means that ‘the relentless press toward homogeneity’ that underlies the totalising process of making modern nation-states is ‘simultaneously a press toward exclusion’. The state is ‘the frame for producing visibility through differences whose significance it creates’ (ibid.). Thus, By instituting homogeneity or commonality as normative, state building gives socio-political significance to the fact of difference—that is, it creates as significant pre-existing ‘differences’ that hitherto had not been organised as such. It groups them as differences of ethnicity, gender, locality, class, sexuality and



race, each of these defined as particular kinds of difference with respect to the state’s homogenising project (ibid.: 46).

Adapting Bourdieu’s language, she suggests that we may see state making as a process that raises ‘difference’ from the realm of notice, where disputes can occur between the orthodox and the heterodox, the normal and the strange– that is, between the values associated with what are now recognised as significantly different options but were not previously seen to be so (ibid.).

Attention to this dimension of the role of the state marks a significant development of Bourdieu’s notion of the state as an institution with a monopoly over symbolic violence. Verdery goes on to note that states vary in the intensity of their homogenising efforts for numerous reasons, such as the degree and nature of the power exercised by political elites and the resistance they encounter. From this it may be argued that the homogenising policy of the state in India has been subverted by sociopolitical processes into a policy that includes the homogenising of religious communities into different groups, and playing them off against each other, as a manoeuvre to manage the state’s crisis of legitimacy. The contest is now between the emerging orthodox bases of making differences, and other heterodox forces that may prove stronger. That, in the process of such state making, identities are created, is a fact which needs to be taken into account to see the link between subjective day to day experiences and macro processes. For conceptualising this, Bourdieu’s analytical framework of a dialectic between habitus and fields is powerful. With reference to the Shah Bano case, this means that the symbolic violence wielded by politicians subscribing to orthodox notions of Muslim identity, was compounded by that wielded by the state. However, as regards the crisis of legitimation of the state, Bourdieu does not have much to offer. He refers to it just in passing, noting that ‘what is problematic is the fact that the established order is not problematic; and that the question of the legitimacy of the state, and of the order it institutes, does not arise except in crisis situations’ (1998: 56). This, incidentally, is in striking contrast to the work of JÜrgen Habermas (1975), who has been centrally concerned with the legitimation crisis of the state, although with reference to advanced capitalist societies. This is so even as Bourdieu’s involvement with the phenomenon ‘neoliberalism’


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in his later work did lead him to engage with the changing role of the state in European societies.

Conclusion The analysis presented above is a tentative one, to explore the potential of Bourdieu’s theory of the symbolic in relation to the Shah Bano case in a preliminary way. What emerges from it is the heuristic value of several concepts, beginning with the concepts of doxa, orthodoxy and heterodoxy. They are found to be useful in mapping the terrain of the symbolic field in which the case is located, as well as in delineating the habitus of the actors involved. In terms of Bourdieu’s concept of history, the ‘ontological complicity’ between habitus and field, that characterises historical action, leading to social reproduction, is to be found in the case of the events composing the case (Bourdieu 1981: 306). However, as fields are also sites of struggle, we find, not surprisingly, elements of both conservation and subversion, as well as relations of domination and subordination, involving processes of symbolic violence and misrecognition. Thus, we have referred to the symbolic violence to which Muslim women are subject, ranging from that perpetrated by men in Shah Bano’s family, to that wielded by religious clerics, affecting both men and women, but women particularly. We have also referred to the violence of law, which brings into dispute the rights of women as equal citizens, and the violence of political groups and leaders that create the myth of the homogeneity of the Muslim community regardless of existential heterogeneity. Above all is the symbolic violence monopolised by the state, which in the case of the communalisation of the state as in India, creates differences between religious groups, reinforcing the violence of clerics and politicians. However, we did find certain limitations of Bourdieu’s theory of the symbolic in relation to analysing the case. For one, the positing of a single orthodoxy, as Bourdieu seems to do in his early work, makes an understanding of competing orthodoxies problematic. However, since in his later studies of the cultural field, Bourdieu does talk of competition for the status of orthodoxy, we seem to have a preliminary basis in his theory for analysing communal ideologies and practices. This, though, would constitute only a starting point, with the specifics of the Indian situation lending their own dimensions to his concepts.



Secondly, in so far as his analysis of the state focuses on the homogenising role of the state, the phenomenon of a communalised state would seem to be beyond his purview. However, we have suggested that it is possible to develop his concept of the state in a different direction, drawing on the work of Verdery, so that the role of the state in creating differences is highlighted. Finally, there is an absence of a concern with the crisis of legitimation of the state in Bourdieu’s work, which, it seems, is needed to fully appreciate the political dimension of a case such as the Shah Bano case in India. It may be argued, however, that this is something Bourdieu would have taken into account, in his future work, given his concern with the global state of affairs in his later years. Sadly, with his passing away in January 2002, this work remained incomplete.

Note 1. While I have drawn upon several works by Bourdieu in this paper, the seminal sources for some of his conceptions are as follows: for his concepts of habitus and field, Bourdieu (1985); for his theory of the symbolic, Bourdieu (1979); and for his theory of practice, Bourdieu (1986, 1990).

References Bourdieu, Pierre. 1979. ‘Symbolic Power’, in Critique of anthropology, 13/14 (summer): 77–85. ———. 1981. ‘Men and machines’, in K. Knorr Cetina and A.V. Cicourel (eds.): Advances in social theory and methodology (304–17). London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ———. 1985. ‘The genesis of the concepts of “habitus” and “field”’, in Sociocriticism, 2 (2): 11–24. ———. 1986. Outline of a theory of practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ———. 1990. The logic of practice. Cambridge: Polity Press. ———. 1993. The field of cultural production: Essays on art and literature. Cambridge: Polity Press. ———. 1998. Practical reason: On the theory of action. Cambridge: Polity Press. Bourdieu, Pierre and Loic J. Wacquant. 1992. An invitation to reflexive sociology. Cambridge: Polity Press. Chhachhi, Amrita. 1989. ‘The state, religious fundamentalism and women: Trends in South Asia’, Economic and political weekly, 24 (11): 567–78. Das, Veena. 1995. Critical events: An anthropological perspective on contemporary India. Delhi: New Oxford University Press. Engineer, Asghar Ali. 1987. The Shah Bano controversy. Hyderabad: Sangam Books. Habermas, Jürgen. 1975. Legitimation crisis. Boston: Beacon Press.


Sheena Jain

Hasan, Mushirul. 1997. Legacy of a divided nation: India’s Muslims since independence. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Hasan, Zoya. 1989. ‘Minority identity, Muslim women bill campaign and the political process’, Economic and political weekly, 24 (1): 44–50. ———. 1998. ‘Uniformity vs. equality: Gender minority identity and debates on a uniform civil code’, in Reicha Tanwar (ed.): Women: Human rights, religion and violence (109–18). Kurukshetra: Nirmal Book Agency. Menon, Ritu. 1994. ‘The personal and the political: An interview-discussion’, in Kamla Bhasin, Ritu Menon and Nighat Said Khan (eds.): Against all odds (174–89). New Delhi: Isis International and Kali for Women. Verdery, Katherine. 1994. ‘Ethnicity, nationalism, and statemaking—ethnic groups and boundaries: Past and future’, in Hans Vermuelen and Cora Govers (eds.): The anthropology of ethnicity: Beyond ‘ethnic groups and boundaries’ (33–58). Amsterdam: Het Spinhuis.


absolute time and space, Newtonian views of, 18 absolutism, Newton’s, 20–21 academic institutions Marx’s condemn in, xlv academic sociology, 75 acquisition classes, 156–58 acquisition of scientific knowledge, 201 affective/affectual type suicide, 68–69 affectual action, 150. See also social action African—American feminist consciousness, 102 All India Muslim Personal Law Board (AIMPLB), 253, 255–56, 263 All India Shariah Day, 254 altruism, Durkheim’s conceptual framework, 60–63 elements of, 60–61 review of altruistic behaviour and fatalistic behaviour, 58–59 existence and extent of suicidal behaviour, 55–57 objective types and subjective meanings, 57–58 primitive society and eastern civilization, 59–60 altruistic behaviour, 58–59 American sociology, xxxviii

amorphic character of power, 162 anthropological studies protest in 20th century against, liii–liv anthropologists Indian, commitment to indigenisation, xviii types of, 8 anthropology contribution to analytical perspectives, 170 Indian, observations about, xix Malinowski’s views on, 190 as a science, 9 antinomian approach, to freedom, 184 apprenticeship, 10 The Archaeology of Knowledge (Michel Foucault), 21, 24, 34–35 Aristotelian-Thomist synthesis of Middle Ages, 20 Aristotle, xxvi arm-chair anthropology, 173 Asian Drama (Gunnar Myrdal), 209–11 Asian values, Myrdal’s of ascetism and renunciation of material pleasures, 216 definition of, 215 Indian decision making elites belief in, 215

272 association, 149 associative relationship, 155. See also class relationship authority charismatic, 163 rational-legal type of, 163 traditional, 163 Babri Masjid-Ram Janam Bhoomi temple in Ayodhya, Hindu organisations demand for reopening of, 255 bad science, 104–5 Banatwala Bill, 254 because motive, 62 behaviour altruistic, 58–59 fatalistic, 58–59 of scientists’, deviant patterns, 239–43 best bees, poorest architect and, distinction between, xxii bias in social sciences, Myrdal’s approaches to, 210–11 bio-cultural functionalism, xl bi-partite model of stratification, 147 Bishop baiting, 21 book-view of society, and field-view, distinction between, 6 Bourdieu, Pierre, 249–69 British social anthropology, devotion to theoretical concerns, xxxviii Buddhist religion, 216 capitalism, 90, 94, 96 anatomy of, 45 Marx’s studies on, 47 superseding feudal system, 29 capitalist society, xlv carceral society, xlix Cartesian ontology, 86 caste Hindus, xx castes, dynamics of, 7

Contributions to Sociological Theory casual explanation, 199 causal priority of economic factors, Marx’s assumption of, 159 41st Chair phenomenon, 243 chance finding in research, role of, xxiv charismatic authority, 163 chaste woman died, in panic, 68 claims, validity of, 163 class action, 156 class, concept of, 142 vs. status, 160 Weber’s views on, 144, 152–59 classical evolutionism, xxix, xxxiii class interest, 154 class relationship, 155 class situation, 157 definition of, 152, 154 class struggle, 157 climate, Myrdal’s view on, 222–24 collective consciousness, 186 colonial framework, 43 commonality, notion of, 266 common-sense interpretation, of motives, 61–62 communalism, 237 community living, realities of, 206 comparative sociology, xxxvii Comte, Auguste, 127–38 conflict-coercion theory, xlv conflicts between different parts of social structure, 119 between individual self-interest, 119 conflict theory, xliv Confucianism, 65 Congress party, 253–54, 256 conjunction dimensions of stratification, 147–48 conscience collective study, xxxiv conservative thinking, xxvii Constitution of independent India outlines for economic, political, social and cultural norms, 49

INDEX contemporary primitive societies, xxxii corporations aggregate, 115–16 legal mechanism of, 116 role, 115–16 universal succession of, 116 corruption, Myrdal’s approach to problem of, 221–22 Critique of Pure Reason (Immanuel Kant), 34 cultural particularism, li cultural relativism, l, 181, 186 cultural substratum, 181 cultural system, xxxix cultural transformation, in Indian society, 37–38 culture, xxxvii characteristics of, l–li definition of, l dialectics of, 179 function of, 179 task of, 180 culture-bound concept, 178. See also freedom, concept of cybernetic hierarchy, xli Dalit women and men, 100 Darwin, Charles, xxix–xxx Darwinism, 21 Das Kapital, 52 death, 65 deliver the goods, social pressure to, 235 demands from every one, Marxist’s approach, 47 democracy, 170, 188–89, 211, 218, 220, 224, 263 democratic secrecy, 235 Department of Anthropology, Calcutta, 5 description process, xlvi–xlvii developing country, 218 dialectical materialism, xlii

273 dialetics of evolutionary, 49 differentiated societies, notion of, 249–50 diffusionism, 172 disarmament of everyone, 191–92 discipline parentage issue, xxvi discourse, 26 delimited by certain authorities, 28 of psychopathology, 28 discovery of facts process, xxiv discursive formation, 24, 27–32 Foucault’s views on, 33 discursive formation, individualisation of, 27 disinterestedness, 237 disjunction dimensions of stratification, 147–48 displacement, concept of, 25 drowning method of suicide, 69 dual line of filiation, xl Durkheim, Émile, xxvi, xxxiv, xxxv Durkheimian sociology, xlii dyadic relations, between relatives, 115 dysfunctional consequences, of science and technology, 236 dysfunction, concept of, xl eastern civilization, 59–60 economic determinism, 141 economic interests, Weber’s views on, 153–54 educated Hindus, 122 egotism, 60, 239 electro-chemistry, 136 electro- physics, 136 embodied history, 250 emic approach, l emotional isolation, 66 empiricism, 232 encultured beings, 186 Enlightenment (post–Middle Ages) period, xxv–xxvi, xxx equality, 181

274 erroneous deductions, 213 ethnocentrism, 189, 216–17, 227 evolutionary progress, Marxian assumption of, 102 evolution/evolutionism process, xxix criticism against school of, xxxiii evolutionism, 172 “Experiences and Encounters,” 39 explanation process, xlvi–xlvii explanatory ideal, Popper’s, 201 falsification principle, of Karl Popper, xxiii family values, 90 fatalistic suicidal behaviour, 58–59, 62 female suicide, in Ch’ing China, 63–69 feminism/feminist alternative, liii critical approaches on, lii essentialism, 91–95 evokes Western stereotypes, 83 liberalism assumption of Newtonian cosmos, 86 feminisation of poverty, 89 Indian women’s rights as individuals, 87 legitimacy of personal authority is against individuals conception, 87 linkage of Cartesian ontology with dominant theologies, 86 natural rights argument power, 86 political programme by NOW in US, 88–89 prevalent in India and US, 85–86 slavery abolishment, 88 solution to improve access to public realm, 88 US schools teaching to students, 86 postmodernism, 103–7

Contributions to Sociological Theory scholars test to diversity of feminist theories, 84 socialists, 95–103 feminist empiricism, 104 feminist socialism, 108 feminist standpoint, 105 feminized occupations, 90 feudalism, 149 field-view of society, 6 “Field Workers and the Field,” 39 Fifteenth All India Sociological Conference, 37 fixism, Linneus’s, 18 formal structure, 117–18 foundational belief, xxv freedom, concept of celebrated as a virtue, 182 as culture-bound concept, 178 definition of, 179, 183–84 dialectical, 179 diminution of, 181 Malinowski’s contribution to, 177–78, 181 freedom from law, 184 semantic analysis, 183 natural, 182 freedom of action, 192–93 freedom of expression, 192–93 freedom of survival, 192–93 freedom of thought, 192–93 free-floating freedom, 184 free inquiry, 232 French Revolution (1789), 172 French Revolution (1830–42/1855), xxv–xxvi. See also Enlightenment (post–Middle Ages) period function, definition by Durkheim, xxxvi, 172 functional interdependence, Merton’s analysis of, 231 functionalism, Malinowski’s, xxxvi– xxxvii, 173, 177

INDEX Geisteswissenschaft, 49 The Grammar of Science (Karl Pearson), 134 grand theory, Parson’s, xxxix grids of specification, 28. See also discourse gynocriticism, liii habitus, concept of, 257 hanging method of suicide, 69 hermeneutics proponents of, xlviii values separation from facts, xlvii Herrschaft, definition of, 163 heterodoxy, Bourdieu’s opposition to, 262 heterosexuality, Hartmann’s assumption of, 99 high energy and information, among encultured beings, 186 Hinduism, 215 historian’s analysis, of situation, 202 history, 47 Bourdieu’s concept of, 250 refusal to participate in recalling founder, 25 turned attention away from vast unities, 25 History of Western Philosophy (Bertrand Russell), 137 Hobbesian problem of order, xxxix human(s) activity, xxii behaviour, 49, 52, 144, 170, 179, 234 beings, xxi cognitive capacity, 86 freedom, 187 knowledge, 205 rational argumentative enterprises of, 204 slavery, 187

275 human life, Weber’s conception of, 151 human society, conceptualisation through organic analogy, xxxvii hypothetico-deductive model, Popper’s, 200, 204 iddat period, 252 ideal-types, 151–52 of legitimation, types, 163 The Idea of Social Science (Peter Winch), 77 ideas adventures of, 128 Hegel’s primacy to, xlii history of progress of, 131 indigenisation process, xviii Industrial Policy Resolutions, 37 industrial class, xxvii informal structure, 117–18 in-order-to motive, 62 insiders observer, Myrdal’s approach to, 212 institutions concern directly or indirectly with human freedom or slavery, 187 Malinowski’s perspective on, 186 institutional enterprises, 42 institutional imperatives of science, 246 interdependence, between science and social structure, 231–37 internalised history, 250 internal tension, 19 interpretation/interpretative approach, xlviii, xlvi interpretative approach, Collingwood’s, 202 intitutive approach, to freedom, 184 intrinsic contradiction, 35 irrational motivation, 142 Jamait-e-Islami, 263 Jamait-ul-Ulema-Hind, 263 Janta Dal party, 253

276 jatis, 6–7 journeymen anthropologists, 8–9 kinship structure, of society, 114–15 knowledge assessment by sociologists and social anthropologists on, 40–42 as false, liv generators, 38 importance in society, 39–40 transmitters, 38 view in terms of location, 18 lacking Indianness, 43 lack of social concern, 43 latency, xxxix, lvii law-like propositions, criticisms in positivism, l Law of the Three Stages, Comte’s, 127–28, 130–33 legitimate claims, of nationhood, 189 life-chances, notion of, 153, 158 linguistic anthropology, 182 linguistic discourses, 106 linguistic third world, 205 logical hierarchy, 136 lower societies, 59 loyalty, 60–61 Macht, power of, 162–63 Mahalanobis, P. C., 11 mahants (creative geniuses), 9 Majlis-i-Mushawwarat, 264 Malinowski, Bronislaw Kasper, 169–93 man born free, Malinowski’s views on, 178–79 man–nature contradiction, xlv man, Weber’s opinion on, 148 market situation, concept of, 153–54 Marxian sociology, xliii Marxism/Marxist approach, xli, lii, 13, 45, 47

Contributions to Sociological Theory adopts mode of production of material life, 49 believe in social science in comprehensive manner, 48 central importance to property structure, 49 considers focusing on property relations types, 52 to under post-independent Indian society, 48 recognizes dialectics of evolutionary, 49 to under society, 46 understands rural, urban, educational and other developments dynamics, 53 Marxist paradigm, 45–46 Marx, Karl, xlii–xliii, xlv, xxii, xxvi, 45 masses characteristics of, 213 revolution of rising expectations from, 213 Mathew effect, 244 mental activity products, Hegel’s primacy to, xlii Merton, Robert, 229–47 metatheoretical stand, Weber’s, 148–52 methodological growth of science, 245 methodological monism, 199–200 militant secularism, 261 misrepresentation, Myrdal’s study of, 218 modern competitive states, 235 Modern Science and Modern Man (James B. Conant), 137 modern society, concept of, xlix mono-dimensional approach, Marx’s, 141 moral development, of women, 91–92 motivation, irrational and non-logical, 142 mullahs, 254

INDEX multi-structural Indian economy, concept of, 100 Muslim League, 253, 263 Muslim Majlis Mushawarat, 263 Muslim politics, nature of, 264 Muslim Women Bill, 256 Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Bill, 1985, 255 mutedness of women, lii Myrdal, Gunnar, 209–27 mythology, lii myths, lii national integration, notion of, 261 nationalism, concept of, xix, 13, 181, 189–91, 226 National Organization for Women (NOW), US, 88–89 national socialism, 169, 189 nationhood, 189–90 natural freedom, 182 Naturwissenschaft, 49 Nazi Germany, 190, 234–35 negatively privileged property classes, 156 neo-Confucian ideology, 64 neo-functionalism, xl neo-Weberian scholarship, division of, 143 nervous inferiority, among Indian scholars, xvii newness in sociological enquiry, 3–15 non-human activity, xxii non-human relatives, xxii non-logical motivation, 142 non-survivality of man, 180 normal growth of science, 245–46 normal science, 172 normal science period, 23 normative complex of science, 237–44 objectified history, 250

277 objective class membership, Marx’s, 159 observational sciences, xx On the Origin of Species (Charles Darwin), xxix opportunistic ethnocentricity, Myrdal’s study of, 218 opportunity structure of science, 243–44 organic analogy, xxxvii organized scepticism, 238 Orientalism (Edward Said), 21 originality, 238–39 orthodox Sunni Islam, militant expression of, 263–64 otherness, concept of, xix outside observer, Myrdal’s approach to, 212 Panchayati Raj, 10 paradigmatic break, notion of, 18 parentage of discipline, issue of, xxvi participating individuals, notion of, 144 participatory research, liii patriarchal oppression, Indian women resistance to, 83 Ph. D programme, 10 philosophical questions in research, dubbing of, xx–xxi philosophy of consciousness, 251 physical isolation, 66 Planning Commission, 10 pluralistic conception of classes, Weber’s adopted, 156 politicians, pressure on Indian state, 262–63 politics of soul, 151 pontiffs anthropologists, 8 Popper, Karl, 199–207, xxiii positive hierarchy, of sciences, 136 positive sciences, 127, 138 positivism, xlvi–xlvii, l

278 positivism/positive philosophy, xxv–xxvi, xxx argument for methodological unity of both natural and social sciences, xxxi tenets of, 199 post-capitalism, xlv, 47 post-modernism, liv–lv postmodernism, feminism, 103–7 post-modernity, liv post-structuralism, 106 power birth and development of, 185 concept in Weber’s, 162–64 Foucault’s views on, 106 Malinowski’s analysis of, 185 practitioners of science, 45 of social science, 54 primitive communism, xliii Primitive Culture (Edward Taylor), xxxi–xxxii primitive society, 59–60 production mode, 47 proletaire class, xxvii property classes, 156, 158 holdings, 156 Protestant ethic, 232 Protestantism, 233, 245 psychological functionalism, xxxviii psychological processes of creative work, 247 psychological traits of scientists, 247 psychopathology discourse, 28 Puritanism, 232–33 purpose-rational type suicide, 67–68 purposive-rational action, 76, 80 quagmire of empiricism, xxxviii quantum theory, 18 quickie business, research as, xxiii–xxiv racialism, 181, 190

Contributions to Sociological Theory racial superiority, 189 racial violence phenomenon, 207 racism, Hartmann’s attack on, 99 Ram Janam Bhoomi Mukti Samiti, 255 Ratchet effect, 243–44 rationalisation process, 232 Weber’s work on, 148, xlix rationality modernising ideals of, 224–26 and sociological relativism, 77–80 in sociological theory, 73–76 universal, 80–82 Weber’s views on, 76–77 rationality in sociological theory, 73–76 rational-legal type of authority, 163 rational social act, 76 raw material, Foucault’s view on, 26–27 real motive, for suicide, 61 relational thinking, 17 relativism, 18 Foucault’s views on, 33 influences on analysis of historic institution, 188 in sociology, 19 relativity theory, 18, 22 Renaissance, 23, 182 research centres, 42 revolutionary science, 172 reward system of science, 237–43 rules of formation, Foucault’s, 34 samsonic suicides, 63 scepticism, 232, 235 Scheduled Tribes, xx science(s) aim of, 200 classification and hierarchy of, 127 growth reveals empirical diversities, 245–47 normative complex and opportunity structure, 243–44

INDEX and reward system of, 237–43 and social structure, interdependence between functional interdependence, 231–37 science of culture, l scientific activity, 151 scientific genius, concept of, 231 scientific knowledge, social origin of, 229–31 scientific socialism, 53 scientists’ behavior, deviant patterns of, 239–43 Second World War (1939–45), 43, 169–70, 190 secularism, 232 self-destruction, 62 Seminar magazine, 13 serene conviction, 58 Shah Bano case, 249, 252–68 shame, 60–61 shared meaning, 61 Shariah week (1985), 253–54 Shariat law, 252–53, 258 situational analysis, 202 slavery of human, 187 Smith, Adam, xxvi social action idee fixe of, 145 instrumental-rational action as, 76 Marx’s social-structural analysis by, 142 perspective of stratification, 143–46 rationality of, 75, 81–82 sociology of, 146 as voluntary, purposive and goal oriented, 76 Weber’s views on, 76–77 classification of, 150 social anthropologists, xvii, 120 social anthropology, xxxviii, xxx, xxxvii, lv, 113, 118, 120, 123 social change, meaning of, 123

279 social classes, 158 social control problem, 57, 149 social Darwinism, xxix social dimension, of economic activity, 155–56 social dynamism, xxviii social explanation, 207 social facts, xxxv social fossils, xxxii social honour, 160, 162 social interaction, 81 social intercourse, 159 socialist-revolutionary thinking, xxvii social living, realities of, 206 social morphology, 113 social order, 53 social organisation, concept of, 118 social pathology, xliv social physics, 127, 199 social problem, in current age, 133 social quality, 150 social relationship, concept of, 150, 158 social sciences freedom to researchers, xxv impossibility of thesis, 74 Myrdal’s approaches to bias in, 210–11 practitioners, 54 utility of, debate on, xxiii social scientific knowledge, 205 social sickness, xl social statics, xxviii social-structural perspective of stratification, 143–46 social structure, concept of, 121 in Australian tribe, 115 conflict between different parts of, 119 consisting of innumerable corporations, 115 corporations (see corporations) definition of, 114

280 differentiation of individuals and of classes by social role, 115 evolution by Montesquieu, 113 formal and informal, 117 implies to all society, 118 interdependence between science and, 231–37 mark off special area of social anthropology and sociology, 123 relevance of ideas or images, 122 social system, sociology of, xxxvii, 146 social theory, xxi society changes as per its own evolution laws, xxviii Comte’s rejection for adoption of mechanical approach towards study of, xxxi criteria for specificity of, 47–48 division into classes by Saint-Simon, xxvii Indian cultural transformation, 37–38 Marxist approach to understand, 46 natural science of, xxviii problem between individual and, 145 Sociological Bulletin, xx, lv sociological enquiry, 12 sociological explanation, xxxiv sociological relativism, 77–80 sociological studies protest in 20th century against, liii–liv sociological theory, 73–76 sociologistic positivism, xxxiv sociologists, Indian, xvii agonized over mismatch between concepts and methods, 12 basic tasks facing by our, 44 commitment to indigenisation, xvii problems faced by, 10 sociology, Weber’s definition of, 149–50

Contributions to Sociological Theory sociology departments, 42 sociology, Indian as a discipline in India today, 53 need for renewal of, 4 observations about, xix sociology of knowledge, 16 as discipline allows sociology term, 20 problems with, 17 sociology of science, Merton’s, 229 soft state, 219–21 soul, Plato’s concept of, 151 specialization, 236 starvation method of suicide, 69 state, 149 Bourdieu’s definition of, 264, 267 crisis of legitimation of, 267 Malinowski’s understanding of, 187–88 state of knowledge theory, xxiii status, Weber’s treatment to, 144 status concept, Weber’s, 159–62 status groups, 159 sterile intellection, 43 stratification theory, Weber’s conflicting interpretations of, 142–43 bi-partite vs. tri-partite model of stratification, 147 disjunction vs. conjunction between different dimensions, 147–48 social-structural vs. action perspective of stratification, 143–46 nature and content of class concept, 152–59 power concept, 162–64 status concept, 159–62 structural–functional approach, xxxvi struggle, Marx’s views on, xliv “Studying Our Society” Seminar, 40 style-of-life, 159 style of sociology, 43 subjectivistic approach, Collingwood’s, 202

INDEX substantive growth of science, 245 suicidal behaviour, 55–57 suicides cases by subjective types, 68 by female in Ch’ing China, 63–69 study by Durkheim, xxxv, 55 types of, 66–69 super-scienticism, 43 Survey Reports of Indian Council of Social Science Research, 38 symbolic theory, Bourdieu’s, 249, 268–69 system of positive polity, 135 table of tables, Foucault’s construction of, 33 talaq, 252 Taoism, 21, 65 techno-economic division of labour, 47 tensions, 174 conflict as source of, 235 existence in society, 119 internal, 19 release of, 76 text-sexuality, 106 theoretical social anthropology, xix theoretical sociology, xix theorisation process, xxii theory, concept of, xxiv–xxv Third World countries, 38, 45 Popper’s concept of, 205 threshold of epistemologization, 33 of formalisation, 33 of positivity, 32–33 scientificity, 33 totalitarianism, 170, 188, 191–92 totalitarian secrecy, 235 traditional action, 151. See also social action traditional authority, 163 traditional type suicide, 66–68 traditions, features of, 11 trained human power, in social sciences, 38

281 transformation, concept of, 25 tri-partite model of stratification, 147 Trobriand culture, 174 two-fold distinct schemas, for class categories structuration, 156 ubiquity of power, 185 ulema (Muslim clerics), 252–53 uniform civil code, demand by Hindu communalists, 261 universal generalisations, xxx universal human mind, li universalism, 237 universal man, li upper-class state alternative model, Myrdal’s, 220 US Family Leave Law of 1993, 89 utilitarianism, 232 utility of social sciences, debate on, xxiii value-rational type suicide, 66, 68 varnas, 6, 122 verstehen sociology, 1, 143–44 Victorian evolutionism, xxix village studies importance of, 6 new domain of research, 6 Vinaya Pitaka (Buddhist monks’ code of conduct), 224 Vishwa Hindu Parishad, 255 war, 181 Weber’s sociology, xlviii Wertrational (value-rational) action, 150. See also social action Western civilization, condemns corruption, 216 western models, 43 women’s sexuality, 95, 101 Zweckrational (instrumentally rational) action, 150. See also social action

About the Editor and Contributors

The Editor Vinay Kumar Srivastava is Professor of Social Anthropology, Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi, Delhi, and Editor, The Eastern Anthropologist. Earlier he has taught sociology at Hindu College, University of Delhi, where he was also the Principal.

The Contributors André Béteille is Professor Emeritus, Department of Sociology, The Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, and Chancellor, North-Eastern Hill University, Shillong, Meghalaya. Dipankar Gupta is former Professor, Centre for the Study of Social Systems, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. A.R. Desai was former Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Bombay, Mumbai. Lung-Chang Young was with Hobart and William Smith College, New York, USA.



Prakash N. Pimpley is former Professor, Department of Sociology, Punjab University, Chandigarh. Beatrice Kachuck is a feminist scholar. M.N. Srinivas was Professor, Department of Sociology, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, and a former President of the Indian Sociological Society. G.S. Ghurye was Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Bombay, and a former President of the Indian Sociological Society. Rajendra Pandey was former Professor, Department of Humanities, IIT, Kanpur. Goutam Biswas is Professor, Department of Philosophy, University of North Bengal, Darjeeling. Susantha Goonatillake was with People’s Bank, Sri Lanka. Pravin J. Patel was former Professor, Department of Sociology, M.S. University, Baroda. Sheena Jain is Professor, Department of Sociology, Jamia Milia Islamia, New Delhi.

Appendix of Sources

All articles and chapters have been reproduced exactly as they were first published. All cross-references can be found in the original source of publication. Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources for permission to reproduce material for this volume: 1. “Newness in Sociological Enquiry,” André Béteille Vol. 46, No. 1 (March), 1997: 97–110. 2. “Paradigms and Discourses: New Frontiers in the Sociology of Knowledge,” Dipankar Gupta Vol. 31, No. 1 (March), 1982: 1–23. 3. “Relevance of the Marxist Approach to the Study of Indian Society,” A.R. Desai Vol. 30, No. 1 (March), 1981: 1–20. 4. “Altruistic Suicide: A Subjective Approach,” Lung-Chang Young Vol. 21, No. 2 (September), 1972: 103–121. 5. “Rational Social Action as a Basis for Creative Comparisons,” Prakash N. Pimpley Vol. 36, No. 2 (September), 1987: 99–108. 6. “Feminist Social Theories: Theme and Variations,” Beatrice Kachuk Vol. 44, No. 2 (September), 1995: 169–193. 7. “Social Structure,” M.N. Srinivas Vol. 13, No. 1 (March), 1964: 12–21.



8. “Vidyas: A Homage to Auguste Comte,” G.S. Ghurye Vol. 6, No. 2 (September), 1957: 16–28. 9. “Max Weber’s Theory of Social Stratification: Controversies, Contexts and Correctives,” Rajendra Pandey Vol. 32, No. 2 (September), 1983: 171–203. 10. “Malinowski on Freedom and Civilization,” Vinay Kumar Srivastava Vol. 34, No. 1&2 (March–September), 1985: 148–182. 11. “Some Reflections on Karl Popper’s Theory of Social Explanation,” Goutam Biswas Vol. 38, No. 2 (September), 1989: 251–260. 12. “Outsider Bias and Ethnocentricity: The Case of Gunnar Myrdal,” Susantha Goonatillake Vol. 27, No. 1 (March), 1978: 1–19. 13. “Robert Merton’s Formulations in Sociology of Science,” Pravin J. Patel Vol. 24, No. 1 (March), 1975: 55–75. 14. “Bourdieu’s Theory of the Symbolic and the Shah Bano Case,” Sheena Jain Vol. 56, No. 1 (January–April), 2007: 3–22.