Practice Question: Write short note on the ‘book-view’ and ‘field-view’ in the Indian Sociology. (2011 Socio Paper 2)

Approach: Introduction; About book view in detail, its significance followed by field view and how it is different from text view; Summary as conclusion.


Sociology emerged in the West and therefore, the sociological approaches of the West expanded to other parts of the globe. However, many Indian scholars began to realise that there are various social aspects that are peculiar to Indian society which need to be studied through Indian perspectives as against the Western approaches that had been universally applied to. This led to the emergence of Indian sociology. Text or Book view and Field is integral to Indian Sociology.

This is one important approach to study Indian society. Textview or book view refers to the study of the Indian society by interpretation of ancient texts such as Vedas, Puranas, Manusmriti, Ramayana, Mahabharata etc. This text-based approach is also known as Indology. Indology assumes that historically, Indian society and culture are unique. This uniqueness or specificity of Indian social realities could be understood only with the help of ancient ‘texts’. Therefore, Indologists use the literature of ancient Indian society such as ancient history, epics, religious manuscripts and texts etc. to study the social institutions of India.

Apart from Sanskrit scholars and Indologists, many sociologists have extensively used traditional texts to study Indian society. Therefore, it is known as “textual view” or “textual perspective” of social phenomenon.

Louis Dumont and Pocock has discussed about the importance of studying classical texts for a sociologist to understand the Indian society. They viewed that Sociology of India lies at the point of confluence of sociology and Indology. In Indian sociology and social anthropology, G.S. Ghurye and many other scholars have extensively contributed to the Indological studies by interpreting ancient Indian texts.

Indological approach has also been the hallmark of several sociologists. They have raised their voice against the acceptance and use of theoretical and methodological orientation of the Western countries. These scholars have emphasized the role of traditions and groups rather than individual as the basis of social relations, and religion, ethics and philosophy as the basis of social organization.

The use and popularity of Indological approach during the early formative years of Indian Sociology and Social Anthropology is evident from the works of S.K.Ketkar, B.N. Seal and B.K.Sarkar. Louis Dumont and G.S Ghurye, Iravati Karve, K.M. Kapadia, P.H. Prabhu have tried to explore Hindu Social institutions with the help of religious texts or through the analysis of contemporary practices.

Field view in common parlance refers to the study of any phenomenon with the help of collecting data from the concerned field with the help of intensive field work, Beteille viewed that field view is actually an orientation to the experiences of people, with their inner tensions and contradictions which one seeks to understand and interpret.

This approach has become very popular in India during 1950-1960 when Social Anthropology took up the study of Indian villages with the help of field work. It has replaced the dominant book view developed by Indologists from classical Hindu texts.

Srinivas, Beteille and many of the founders of the Department of Sociology of the University of Delhi pleaded for fieldwork as an integral part of sociological and anthropological engagement. In the words of Beteille,”Sociology and social anthropology are empirical disciplines which will languish in the absence of a deep respect for facts and close attention to their observation and description”.

During British rule India was portrayed as a land of village republics. Writer like James Mill, Charles Metcalfe, etc. viewed Indian villages as little republics and self-sufficient. But the fieldwork tradition which became popular during 1970 has helped to know that Indian villages were not self-sufficient, and it is difficult to consider them as little republics.

M.N. Srinivas, Andre Beteille, Iravati Karve, carried their first-hand fieldwork in a single village and focused on the structure of social relationships, institutional patterns, beliefs and value systems of rural India. The publication of these studies marked a new chapter in the history of Indian social science. These studies for the first time showed the relevance of fieldwork-based understanding of Indian society which came to be known as the field view of Indian society which is dissimilar to the then dominant book view of Indian society.

Book view is the study of Indian society with the help of interpretation of ancient texts. It was one dominant perspective during the time of colonial and post-colonial era. However, the book view is not free of criticisms. Proponents of field view believe book view always gives a distorted picture of Indian society. Therefore, scholars like M.N Srinivas have popularised the field view tradition in India. One of his books The Field Worker and the Field gives us a comprehensive understanding of filed view and its applicability in studying social phenomenon.

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