Thoughtful schools of thought

A R Venkatachalapathy's review, in today's The Hindu, of The Oxford India Srinivas begins: M. N. Srinivas (1916–1999) was undoubtedly India’s most distinguished and accomplished sociologist. His long and active intellectual life that started during the period immediately preceding Indian Independence extended up to the end of the millennium.

"Sanskritization, dominant caste, and vote bank describe important aspects of Indian politics, society and, social life in the new millennium. Interestingly, all three terms owe their genesis to one of India’s most distinguished sociologists, M.N. Srinivas. Apart from his path-breaking work, Srinivas was instrumental in setting up two pioneering centres of sociology and social anthropology in India—at M.S. University, Baroda and at the University of Delhi.

The Oxford India Srinivas brings together some of Srinivas’s best writings on a wide range of subjects, including village studies, caste and social structure, gender, religion, and cultural and social change in India.

In an Introduction written especially for this volume, eminent historian Ramachandra Guha highlights Srinivas’s relevance in academic research and contemporary thought in India. The Foreword, written by renowned sociologist A.M. Shah, discusses Srinivas’s legacy in examining the dynamics of social reality in India.

Beginning with essays on the village of Rampura, the subject of his fieldwork during the 1940s, the volume then discusses caste and social structure, including its form and place in modern India. It reflects on gender and its significance in Indian society before moving on to discuss social change, nation building, and changing institutions and values in contemporary India. Srinivas also examines the state of sociology and social anthropology in the Indian academia, including methods of study and research in these disciplines. Autobiographical essays complete the picture, leaving the reader with a sense of having known the eminent sociologist and his times."

In our Sociology and Collected Works sections, in hardcover, Rs 995. ISBN: 9780198060345

Another intellectual who thought deeply about caste issues was Rajni Kothari, "one of India's most remarkable intellectuals [who] radically changed the contours of the discipline of political science. Pushing political analysis beyond the traditional format, he has given his readers some path-breaking and seminal work-–work that has allowed Indian political science come of age. He pioneered a movement to move the discipline away from mere intellectual formulations to a live, active intervention in the politics of democracy and an understanding of its role in Indian society."

Orient Blackswan's The Writings of Rajni Kothari brings together three landmark books-–Politics in India, Caste in Indian Politics and Rethinking Democracy. Drawing upon contributions from various disciplines, Politics in India is the first comprehensive treatment of the Indian political system examined from different vantage points.

Caste in Indian Politics rejects the dichotomy between traditional society and modern polity and examines the interaction between the two. It shows how the India intelligentsia regrets the way caste has entered politics while completely ignoring how politics has turned caste into a unit of political mobilisation.

In Rethinking Democracy, Kothari reflects, interrogates and even contests some of his earlier formulations on democracy, state and civil society. He makes a powerful critique of democratic theory and practice and presents an alternative model for a decentralised and participatory democracy.

The foreword by Ashis Nandy is a fitting tribute by a distinguished political psychologist and sociologist of science. In his words, “...Rajni Kothari dared to be what he was-—an Indian political love with the idea and practice of democracy, who did not think democracy was an imported luxury but an indigenous cultural strand in continuity with an iniquitous, segmented but nonetheless highly plural society comfortable with radical diversity.”

In our Politics and Collected Works sections, Rs 995. In hardcover, 1048 pages, ISBN: 9788125037552