Practice Question – Analyse A R Desai’s views on India’s path of development. [UPSC 2018]

Approach – Introduction, A R Desai’s Marxist view, Development in colonial and post-colonial times, Criticism, Conclusion.


Though sociology does not have a long history but it does have a long past. Sociological research in India started long before the arrival of formal sociology by British administrators. The lack of a proper grasp and appreciation of Indian social realities, the inadequate, and often inaccurate, understanding of local customs and traditions, and misinterpretations about different institutional arrangements led the colonial administrators to make use of sociology and social anthropology to smoothly run the colonial administration.

A vast difference could be seen between the Western and Indian intellectual development. ‘Religion’ had a great impact on the mind-set of western and modern intellectuals, whereas in India, the thinkers paid more emphasis on ‘secularism’. Although, at the same time Indian sociologists were positively influenced by the Western traditions of the philosophy of
rationalism, positivism, and historical materialism. Moreover, the pioneers of Indian sociology drew their value premises and perspective on studying Indian society from the nationalist reformation leadership of the nineteenth century.



Indology is known as the science of Indian Society. The Indological perspective claims to understand Indian Society through the concepts, theories and frameworks that are closely
associated with Indian Civilization. It made a claim that Indian Society is unique in structure, function and dynamics and cannot be associated with the European Society. Indology relies on book view and culture and denounces rigorous empirical investigation. Indology is both an approach to study the Indian Society and also an independent discipline with Indian Society as subject matter. In both the form Indology consists of studying language, beliefs, ideas, customs, taboos, codes, institutions, rituals, ceremonies and other related components of culture.

The studies conducted during this period covers a wide range of subjects such as social structure and relationships, cultural values, kinship, ideology, cultural transactions and symbolism of life and the world etc. the studies based on text s have been conducted by many scholars, such as Bernettv, David, Fruzzetti and Oslor, Inden and Nicholas , Khare , Murray, Marriott, Pocock , Eck etc. Most of these studies are based on the textual materials either drawn from epics, legends, myths, or from the folk traditions and other symbolic forms of culture. Most of them have been published in “Contributing to Indian Sociology”, edited by T.N. Madan.

Focusing on the origin of the perspective , Indological Perspective owes its origin to the contribution of the Orientalists like William Jones, Henery Maine, Max Muller etc. They have
contributed tremendously for the development of the society and from their contribution there was the evolving of Indological Perspective. All of them have based their studies on rich cultural tradition of India and the principle that govern India and out laws of Hindu. Therefore they were also called as the Indologist. Many founding fathers of Indian Sociology are also influenced by Indology. The various scholars are like B.K. Sarkar, G.S. Ghurye, R.K. Mukherjee, K.M. Kapadia, Irawati Karve, P.H. Prabhu, Louis Dumont.



Structural-Functional approach in the study of society emerged from the writings of early thinkers like August Comte, Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim during the later part of 19th
century and became a predominant trend in sociology, social and cultural anthropology and other social sciences during the first half of 20th century. Functional approach to the study of phenomena emerged initially in biological sciences and later on adopted in other sciences and social sciences. The key points of the functionalist perspective may be summarized by a
comparison drawn from biology. A biologist carries out the study of an organism, say human body, by analyzing various parts, such as brain, lungs, heart and liver. However if each part is examined in isolation, it will not reveal the entire working and maintenance of the part unless studied in relation to other parts comprising the whole organism. Functionalism as an approach adopts a similar view. Functional approach to the study of society views society in terms of its constituent parts and their relationship with each other in order to maintain the society as a whole.

Radcliffe-Brown defines function of any social institution in terms of the contribution it makes to the maintenance of the whole society. Functionalism begins with the observation that behaviour in society is structured. Relationships between the members of society are organized in terms of rules or norms and hence patterned and recurrent. Values provide general guidelines for behaviour. The structure of the society may be seen as the sum total of normative behavior – sum total of social relationships, which are governed by norms. According to Radcliffe-Brown, social structure refers to ‘person to person relationship institutionally defined’. The main parts of society, its institutions such as the family, the economy, the educational and political systems are major aspects of social structure. These parts of the social structure have their contribution to make for the maintenance and survival of the society.

The Structural-functional approach has been a predominant approach in the study of Indian society since the 1940s till the end of the 20th century. Students of Indian society, both
sociologists and social anthropologists, have undertaken extensive analysis of the caste and village systems in order to understand the unique nature the Indian society. Among the Indian scholars, G. S. Ghurye, M. N. Srinivas and S. C. Dube may be considered to be in the forefront of structural-functional approach in the study of Indian society. The structural- functionalists view that the Indian society is made up of castes as significant parts that collectively constitute the social system.



Marxism aims at providing a scientific study of society from a class angle. The Marxist thinkers in India believe that the emergence of Indian society and its unique institutions could be best examined from the Marxian perspective than any other approach since the only reality is that of material phenomenon that determines everything else. The material mode of production forms the basic structure of any society and the socio-cultural domain of social relationships and institutions constitute the ‘superstructure’. D.D. Kosambi was one of the well known Marxist historians who tried to employ the Marxian dialectical method to analyze ‘materialism’ of Indian social system. He argued that human beings cannot live without ‘bread’ or food. An aggregate of human beings become society only when the people develop the most essential relations, viz., the relations developed through production and mutual exchange of commodities. Kinship is not as essential as production relations are. The nature of interaction of people with natural surroundings depends on the techniques of production. Surplus depends on the means of production and the distribution of surplus among various members is a matter for the relations of production. What matters is who owns the tools of production and controls the distribution of surplus. Marxists believe that society is held together by bonds of production. For Kosambi, history is the ‘presentation in chronological order of successive developments in the means and relations of production’.

The study of Indian Society from Marxian Perspective has been done by scholars like D.P. Mukherjee, M.N. Dutta, D. D. Kosambi, A. R. Desai, P.C. Joshi and others. Among all the
scholars of Marxist perspective the scholars whose work has been very significant are A.R. Desai, D.P. Mukherjee and Ramkrishna Mukherjee. They have adopted the dialectical- historical approach for studying Indian Society.



Sub Altern Studies began its impressive career in England at the end of the 1970s, when conversations on subaltern themes among a small group of English and Indian historians led to a
proposal to launch a new journal in India. But Subaltern Studies began in India, where writing about Subaltern Studies began in book reviews. The Subaltern Studies emerged in 1982 as a critique of two contending schools of the modern Indian history, namely that of the Cambridge and of the nationalist-Marxist historians. Both these schools, from a Subaltern perspective, constructed history of Indian nationalism as a story of achievement of a tiny elite group. Therefore, they “could not explain the contributions made by people on their own, that is, independent of the elite to the making and development of this nationalism”. This necessitated the Subaltern Studies to inaugurate an “anti-elitist approach to
history” in which “the subaltern groups were viewed as the subjects of history.” 

The word ‘subaltern’ refers to the general attribute of subordination, which is expressed in terms of a caste, class, age, gender etc. It also includes the characteristics of defiance and submission. Literally it conveys the meaning ‘view from below’ or understanding from the bottom of society or the flow of knowledge from below. The subaltern approach tries to make a balance by highlighting the role of politics of the ‘masses’ as against the elite politics. This approach is not only focusing on peasant or tribal insurgents as object of history but also treats them as makers of their own history- endowed with a transformative consciousness of their own. The major scholars of the perspectives in  India are David Hardiman, B.R. Ambedkar, Ranjit Guha and others. 

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