Sociology and Social Anthropology

Background

Research in the area of Sociology and Social Anthropology was initiated at NIAS in 1997 by Prof. M.N. Srinivas, when he held the J.R.D. Tata Chair. Prof. Srinivas sought to expand and reinforce ethnography and field-based social research as key methods for understanding contemporary India. In addition, he was keen that NIAS engage in sociological research that would lend itself to interdisciplinary endeavours

Prof. M.N. Srinivas - a profile

Prof. M.N. Srinivas (1916-1999) was a pioneering sociologist/social anthropologist who received his higher education at the Universities of Bombay and Oxford. Returning to India in 1951, he established the Department of Sociology at M.S. University, Baroda and later, in 1959, the Department of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University. He was also a co-founder of the Institute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore. He joined NIAS in 1992 and held the J.R.D. Tata Chair until his death in 1999.

Through his work, Prof. M.N. Srinivas not only legitimised the study of one’s own society by anthropologists (who traditionally studied ‘other’ societies), but also strongly advocated field-based research in Indian sociology. His work on religion, caste, village societies, politics, and social change led him to develop new perspectives on India, including the persistence (but also transformation) of caste as both a social system and as central to political processes in the newly independent nation. He coined several key terms that have not only gained currency in Indian sociology but have also become part of the common lexicon, such as ‘dominant caste’, ‘sanskritization’, and ‘vote bank’.  Through his significant contributions to the body of sociological knowledge, his key role in the establishment of several departments and programmes of sociology – where he insisted that sociology and social anthropology be combined – and through training many of the next generation of prominent Indian sociologists, Prof. M.N. Srinivas was the most influential leader of the sociological profession in India.

Key Publications

Books

  • Marriage and Family in Mysore (1942)
  • Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India (1952, 2003)
  • India's Villages (1960)
  • Caste in Modern India, And Other Essays (1962)
  • India: Social Structure (1969, 1980, 1986)
  • The Remembered Village (1976, 1978, 1988, 1991)
  • Dimensions of Social Change in India (1977)
  • The Dominant Caste and Other Essays (1987,1994)
  • The Cohesive Role of Sanskritization and Other Essays (1989)
  • Indian Society through Personal Writings (1996, 1998)
  • On Living in a Revolution and Other Essays (1992)
  • Social Change in Modern India (1966, 1972)
  • Some Reflections on Dowry (1984)
  • Village, Caste, Gender and Method: Essays in Indian Social Anthropology (1996, 1998, 2001)

Edited volumes

  • The Fieldworker and the Field: Problems and Challenges in Sociological Investigation, co-edited with A.M. Shah and E. A. Ramaswamy (1979, 2002, 2004)
  • Caste: Its Twentieth Century Avatar (1996)

Collected essays

  • Collected Essays (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2002)

  • The Oxford India Srinivas (Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2008)

In addition to his own work, several festschrifts and books and essays on the work and life of M.N. Srinivas have been published:

Festschrifts:
  • Social Structure and Change, edited by A.M. Shah, B.S. Baviskar, and E. A. Ramaswamy (Sage Publications, New Delhi, 1996, 1998). Five volumes: 
    Vol. I:   Theory and Method: Evaluation of the Work of M N Srinivas
    Vol II:   Women in Indian Society 
    Vol III:  Complex Organizations and Urban Communities 
    Vol IV: Development and Ethnicity 
    Vol V:  Religion and Kinship

Books on Prof Srinivas:

  • M. N. Srinivas::The Man and his Work, edited by P.K. Misra, K.K. Basa and H.K. Bhat (Rawat Publications, Jaipur, 2007)

M.N. Srinivas Memorial Lectures at NIAS

To honour Prof. M. N. Srinivas and his contributions to the understanding of India and to interdisciplinary endeavours at NIAS, the institute has initiated an annual lecture in his memory. The lectures are sponsored by NIAS and Syndicate Bank. 

[Link]


Current and past activities in Sociology/ Social Anthropology

Endorsing Prof. M. N. Srinivas’ emphasis on field-based methods and integrating the NIAS mandate of interdisciplinarity, the Sociology and Social Anthropology faculty, Carol Upadhya and A.R. Vasavi have conducted research on a wide array of topics and themes. In addition to research and teaching, an attempt is being made to develop a comparative perspective that will better integrate new ethnographies of India into the corpus of international literature on social anthropology. 

Research

Following are the key research activities within sociology and social anthropology at NIAS:

1. Sociology and Social Anthropology of India

Work at NIAS has contributed to debates on the inter-linkages between political economy and culture in India, shifts in agrarian cultures, and more recently on globalisation, the growth of the new middle class and the impact of the ‘new economy’. In future, a stronger focus on inter-regional variations and the social effects of globalisation and economic restructuring will be developed along with an emphasis on developing new research methodologies and tools to study and understand a range of issues.

Research themes:

  • Theories in the sociology and social anthropology of India
  • Vernacular writing and representations of Indian society
  • New methodologies (combining ethnography, survey methods and innovative methods)
  • Globalisation, transnationalism and social-cultural change in India
  • Anthropology / sociology of work and labour
  • Sociology of organizations
  • Skills, mobility, and livelihoods

Completed and ongoing work:

1. ‘Indian IT Professionals in India and the Netherlands: Work, Culture, and Transnationalism’ (Carol Upadhya and A.R. Vasavi), 2003 - 2006, funded by IDPAD. The study resulted in two project reports, [view report 1report 2] an edited volume entitled In an Outpost of the Global Economy: Work and Workers in India’s Information Technology Industry (edited by Carol Upadhya and AR Vasavi, New Delhi: Routledge, 2008), and a series of articles.

2. The Inner Mirror: Translations of Kannada Writings on Society and Culture edited by A.R. Vasavi. The Book Review Press, New Delhi. 2009

On-going work includes articles on ‘Pluralising the sociology of India’ and a book manuscript entitled, ‘Four Emblematic Figures and the Making of a “New India”’, and an ethnographic monograph on IT/ ITES workers in Bangalore

3. Society and Education

Drawing on concerns for equal access and quality related to the problems faced by the education system in India, sociological studies of various educational programmes and institutions have been undertaken. Several projects, reviews of programmes, and studies have been completed, linked to the development of new pedagogies. For details on education programmes and projects at NIAS, visit VIDYANKURA and to the ongoing activities under the EDUCATION PORTFOLIO

4.  Rural and Agrarian Societies

At a time of diminishing academic interest in rural and agrarian studies, NIAS is committed to pursuing in-depth studies on issues pertaining to rural India. Completed works include studies on land contestations in Jharkhand, emerging trends in rurality, work on agrarian distress, and a review of data to identify new configurations in the formation of rural areas.  

5. Institutions, Work and Society

Given the rapid pace of change in India over the last few years, with growing urbanisation, economic restructuring, institutional reforms, and globalisation, there is an urgent need to develop new methods for the study of organisations and institutions, new and old, in both the private and public sector, as well as the new forms of work and changing work cultures that are emerging within them.

Research has been carried out to develop a sociological/ anthropological approach to these questions that recognises the imbrication of local cultures in formal organisations (both government and private) and highlights the complex interface between individual action, organisational structure, and cultures of work. These include in-depth studies of organisations such as high-technology industries and government bureaucracies, which will also contribute to our understanding of the linkages between economic development, policy reforms, and social transformations.

Apart from contributing to the development of a sociology of organisations and producing significant policy inputs in this area, another aim of this programme in the future will be to document, through ethnographic studies and films, work regimes and work cultures within formal institutions and organisations, and the impact of these on the larger society. The programme will develop novel perspectives and theories that reflect the specificity of the Indian experience and culture and capture the forms of change taking place. It will build on studies already conducted at NIAS, utilising primarily ethnographic methods, on the Indian bureaucracy (focusing on the Department of Education), the IT/ITES industries, news media organizations, and changing urban retail markets.

6. Provincial Globalisation: The Impact of Reverse Transnational Flows in India’s Regional Towns (NIAS-AISSR collaboration)

This new international collaborative research programme, initiated in January 2010 and completed in September 2015, was carried out in collaboration with the Amsterdam Institute for Social Science Research, University of Amsterdam, funded by WOTRO (the Netherlands). The programme, consisting of five PhD and Post-doc projects, extended our earlier work on globalisation and transnationalism, and combine research interests among the faculty in changing rural societies and urbanisation processes. [ProGlo website]

 

Sociology and Social Anthropology Courses at NIAS

The following courses in the broad areas of Sociology and Social Anthropology have been taught at NIAS for doctoral students:

  • Anthropological Theories and Methods
  • Anthropology of Development
  • Social Theory, Classical and Contemporary
  • Anthropological Perspectives on the Economy
  • Anthropological Theories and Methods
  • Rural and Agrarian Studies
  • Seminar on the Anthropology of Capitalism
  • Seminar on the Anthropology of Circulation and Value
  • Seminar in Social-Cultural Anthropology       
  • Sociology of Education
  • Sociology of India 
  • South Asia:  Regions, Mobilities, Connections

Sociology/ social anthropology faculty members have also contributed to the annual NIAS Foundation Course, the Research Methodology course, and the Core Course in Social Sciences.

In addition, a course entitled, ‘Social Transformations in India’ was developed and taught at the Indian Institute of Management, Kozhikode (Kerala) between the years 1999-2003.

Master Classes in Sociology/Social Anthropology

An occasional series where senior and visiting scholars share their work with students and faculty has been a forum to engage with current scholarship in the field. Speakers who have participated in the series include Prof. Purnima Mankekar (UCLA), Prof. Trent Schroyer, Prof. K. Sivaramakrishan (Yale University), Prof. Akhil Gupta (UCLA), Prof. Vinay Gidwani (University of Minnesota), and Prof. Supriya Roy-Chowdhury (ISEC).

Doctoral Students

The following doctoral students have completed their dissertations at NIAS in the broad area of sociology and social anthropology:

  • Rahul Mukhopadhyay: A Sociological Study of the Education Bureaucracy
  • Sahana Udupa: Informing News: Information Revolution and the Transformation of the News Media in Bangalore

The following students are working on their doctoral projects in the broad area of sociology and social anthropology:

  • Sanam Roohi: Donating for ‘Development’: Transnationalising Caste through Diaspora Philanthropy in Andhra Pradesh, India
  • Sulagna Mustafi: Transnationalism and Beary Identity in Dakshina Kannada, India
  • Rashmi M.: Mobile Phones and Changing Media Consumption Practices in Bangalore
  • Keya Bardalai: Northeast Women Migrants in Delhi: Aesthetic Labour in the New Consumer Economy

In addition, several students from universities in the US, UK, Germany, France, Norway, Denmark, Columbia, and the Netherlands have been affiliated to NIAS while carrying out their fieldwork in India. 

Advocacy and Outreach

Most of the research projects undertaken by the sociology and social anthropology team have integrated advocacy and outreach within them. Discussions with participants and /or subjects have been held at the district and state levels. Consultations with representatives of government agencies, policy makers and private sector have been held. Several policy-oriented documents have also been developed.

Documentation

Apart from building up a specialised library in the fields of sociology and social anthropology and related areas, including a collection of Prof. M.N. Srinivas’ published papers, we have a small but select collection of documents on contemporary issues. Files on trends and debates in agriculture, popular culture, and media discussions on the information technology industry have been compiled.

Video Archives

Documentary and audio-visual material collected as part of various research projects (including on the IT industry, education, rural societies) are archived and available for use by other researchers. 

Completed documentary films include:

  • Coding Culture: Bangalore’s Software Industry (a series of three films): http://codingculture.wordpress.com/
  • Snapshots of Schools:  Two ten-minute films on schools in Chamrajnagar district, KarnatakaVIDYANKURA
  • Which School, Whose School? (examines the challenges faced by tribal children in attending a government school)
  • Mary Teacher (traces the everyday work and social life of a dalit teacher)