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Sociology in India

CONTEMPORARY INDIA — A Sociological View: Satish Deshpande; Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11, Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110017. Rs. 350.

AT LAST a book that provides the much-needed evaluation and re-orientation of the public's and the professional sociology community's "commonsense" or "uncritically adopted conceptions" of Indian society and also directs our attention to the gaps in the sociology of India. Focussing on key ideas and issues such as that of modernity, the nation, class, caste, globalisation and caste inequalities, the author culls out the simplistic and often misinformed ways in which the larger public construes and relates to such issues. Chastising Indian sociologists for failing to engage with key issues such as poverty, class, and caste-based reservations, and to respond to the multiple crises that beset the nation, he notes how these issues are complicated by the processes of identity formations, the functioning of institutions and globalisation.

While the author's observations about the embrication of sociology and social anthropology and the subsequent marginalisation of sociology and the oversight of the survey methods in India are largely relevant, he does not give due recognition to the contributions made by the detailed, ethnographic studies of India. Yet, in many ways his mixed academic background enables him to subject several received sociological perspectives to both a logical and critical scrutiny and provide fresh and innovative ways with which Indian society can be understood and studied. As he observes, studies and representations of modernity in India suffer from defining modernity teleologically and the result is that the nation has missed out on being understood in its present and existing conditions.

As he astutely notes, it is important that the nation and its cultures of "Velcro and vibhuti and dowry and debentures" be understood in their hybridity. Ruing the neglect of the nation as a subject of study, Deshpande provides a summative assessment of the economic thinking that went into making the development agenda of the nation. Similarly, he interrogates the easy and popular way of identifying the "middle class" in India and elucidates the problems in identifying the new emerging middle class.

In two essays that contextualise the spatial strategies used by Hindutva and the impact of globalisation, the author calls for understanding the spatial aspects of identity formation and its deployment. Though supposedly re-written (all the essays have been published earlier) for a broader audience and addressing issues that the larger public should know, the book may not be accessible as it retains its academic orientation and is more suited for engaged academics.

Yet, as the author has indicated the terrain and contours that sociology of India needs to chart, this book can be read as a "sociology of Indian sociology". And if he were to take his own advice and also conduct his own studies and surveys, and not rely on other secondary data and sources and anecdotal evidence (including the eavesdropping that provides the bases of his observations of public life), his work may emerge as the frontrunner in the development of a new and relevant sociology of India.

A. R. VASAVI

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