Practice Question: Analyse A R Desai’s views on India’s path of development. (20 Marks – UPSC 2018 Sociology Paper 2)

Approach: Introduction; A R Desai’s approach – Marxist perspective, Colonial past and post-colonial period, brief criticism; Conclusion


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’.

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 D D Kosambi, history is the ‘presentation in chronological order of successive developments in the means and relations of production’. He argued that materialistic analysis provides a systematic understanding of Indian culture and society. In the Marxian approach, the main task is to identify the successive developments in the means and relations of production that truly mirror the life of people at any stage in history.

A.R Desai was born on April 16, 1915 at Nadiad in Gujarat and died in 1994 at Baroda. He consistently advocated and applied dialectical-historical model in his sociological studies. He closely studied the works of Marx and Engels and the writings of Trotsky. He may be regarded as one of the pioneers in introducing the modern Marxist approach to empirical investigations involving bibliographical and field research. He rejects any interpretations of tradition with reference to religion, rituals and festivities.

Desai was also one among the students of Dr . Ghurye at the Bombay University who later got the privilege of serving it as the Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology. He was one of the founding members of the “Indian Sociological Society” and a life member. He had the opportunity of serving the society as its president between 1978 and 1980. He is known to the academic circle of India as one of the renowned rural and urban sociologists and also a political sociologist.

A.R.Desai is one among the Indian Sociologists who have constantly advocated and applied dialectical historical model in his sociological studies. Desai closely studied the works of Marx and Engel’s. He is regarded as one of the pioneers of the modern Marxist approach to empirical investigations involving bibliographical and field research.

Desai has consistently applied Marxist methods in his treatment of Indian social structure and its processes. He rejects any interpretations of tradition with reference to religion, rituals and festivities. He finds that the dominant sociological approaches in India are basically non-Marxist, and Marxist approach has been rejected on the pretext of being dogmatic, value-loaded and deterministic in nature. The relevant approach according to Desai, is the Marxist approach as it could help to study the government policies, the well his caste and class system into state apparatus and India’s political economy.

A. R Desai has applied his in Marxist perspective to understand the diverse aspects of Indian social reality. The main works are:

 The Social Background of Indian Nationalism
 Rural Sociology in India
 Slums and Urbanization in India
 State and Society in India
 Peasant Struggle in India
 Rural India in Transition
 India’s Path of development Development

Desai views that 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 to formulate adequate hypothesis, assists to evolve proper concepts, adopt and combine research techniques and can help one to locate central tendencies of transformation with its major implications.

The Marxist approach is to understand any society and change in it. According to Marx “Men can be distinguished from animals by consciousness, by religion, or by anything one likes”. Men begin to distinguish themselves when they produce the means of subsistence. Because in producing the means of subsistence they produce the material life.

It demands that a specific society should be studied as a changing system comprised of contradictory forces some of which sustain and others which change that society. In short, the Marxist approach gives central importance to property structure in analyzing any society. It provides historical location and specification of all social phenomenona. The Marxist approach, in contrast to other sociological approach exhibits one distinguishing feature i.e. the importance given to the “mode of production of material life”.

1. His approach is considered stereotypical.
2. His study about postcolonial India is not driven by empirical merit.
3. He did not mechanically apply Marxian model to understand economic history of Indian
Society. This gave his work enormous validity.

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