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Structure and Change in Indian Society

ISBN 13: 9780202361383

Structure and Change in Indian Society

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Recent theoretical and methodological innovations in the anthropological analysis of South Asian societies have introduced distinctive modifications in the study of Indian social structure and social change. This book, reporting on twenty empirical studies of Indian society conducted by outstanding scholars, reflects these trends not only with reference to Indian society itself, but also in terms of the relevance of such trends to an understanding of social change more generally.

The contributors demonstrate the adaptive changes experienced by the studied groups in particular villages, towns, cities, and regions. The authors view the basic social units of joint family, caste, and village not as structural isolates, but as intimately connected with one another and with other social units through social and cultural networks of various kinds that incorporate the social units into the complex structure of Indian civilization. Within this broadened conception of social structure, these studies trace the changing relations of politics, economics, law, and language to the caste system.

Showing that the caste system is dynamic, with upward and downward mobility characterizing it from pre-British times to the present, the studies suggest that the modernizing forces which entered the system since independence--parliamentary democracy, universal suffrage, land reforms, modern education, urbanization, and industrial technology--provided new opportunities and paths to upward mobility, but did not radically alter the system. The chapters in this book show that the study of Indian society reveals novel forms of social structure change. They introduce methods and theories that may well encourage social scientists to extend the study of change in Indian society to the study of change in other areas.

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About the Author:

Milton Singer (1912-1994) was Paul Klapper Professor of Social Sciences and professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago. He was a fellow of the Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also chosen as a distinguished lecturer by the American Anthropological Association and was the recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award of the Association for Asian Studies.



Bernard S. Cohn (1918-2003) was Professor Emeritus of Anthropology at the University of Chicago. He was widely known for his work on India during the British colonial period and wrote many books on the subject of India including India: The Social Anthropology of a Civilization (1971), An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays (1987), and Colonialism and its Forms of Knowledge (1996).

Review:

“This volume... is an outstanding contribution to contemporary research on Indian society and culture... [T]he papers are impressive for their precise formulation of problem, rigorous analysis of data, and imaginative, stimulating insights into the nature of both change and persistence in Indian social structure. The reader comes away from this volume eager to read more, or better yet to design his own research project following the leads suggested here... [T]here are no “weak” papers in this volume. Each contributor has added significantly to a growing body of information and theory which is bound to advance our understanding of Indian society in particular and human society in general.”

—Edward J. Jay, Journal of the American Oriental Society

“[A] comprehensive and excellent presentation of anthropological research in progress... Twenty papers of very high quality make up the volume. They reflect the maturity and capability of South Asian anthropologists in the United States and help to explain why studies of Indian society have been so instrumental in shaping Indian studies in this country and abroad.”

—Burton Stein, Philosophy East and West

“[T]his is an excellent collection of articles which most India specialists will want to own.”

—Alan R. Beals, American Anthropologist

“This book, a collection of papers presented at a conference in 1965, indicates some of the present strengths and emphases of anthropological studies on India in the United States... For the Indianist, this book will be a necessity; but others will also find it a good book from which to form an idea of some of the problems which at present concern Indianists, and of the methods and concepts which they are using in their studies.”

—Adrian C. Mayer, Man

“Bernard S. Cohn opens the volume by considering in his article, “Notes on the History of the Study of Indian Society and Culture,” some of the stereotypes through which observers of Indian society have tried to understand it. He looks briefly at early travelers and then outlines the view-point of orientalists, missionaries, and administrators... Cohn’s article sets the pattern for this review. A collection of essays of this kind is interesting not only because of what it tells us about India, but also because we can see how those who are studying India define the task.”

—F. G. Bailey, Pacific Affairs

“This book presents a series of papers originally given at a conference held at the University of Chicago in June 1965. It is an eminent addition to a distinguished line of essay collections... Although the occasional geographer, jurist, or linguist is heard, this is essentially a gathering (with a few notable foreign exceptions) of America’s dominant caste of social anthropologists writing on South Asia. As such, the book makes evident the high quality of analysis being brought to bear on South Asian—especially Indian—social systems.”

—Lionel Caplan, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London

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