Development of Sociology in India 
Vinayak Subhash Lashkar (Research Fellow at YC- National Center of International Security & Defense Analysis, University of Pune) And Dhananjay B. Paigude (M. Phil. scholar in Sociology, University of Pune)

01 February 2013 


Today, Indian Sociology is facing many challenges. It is still dominated by the changing paradigms of Western Sociology and inspired by their Methodologies. It has not yet succeeded in making its contributions to Social Theory and Conceptual development. Reasons for such a state of affairs are too far wide and deep and to understand its reasons it is necessary to analyze the socio-historical and political conditions in which Sociology in India emerged as a formal discipline. The Contribution of the British administrators-cum-sociologists was reasonably important. Related to studies of the various aspects of Indian social structure, customs and traditions it was not without ideological biases in the selection of themes and sociological paradigms. The Conceptual problems of caste, tribe and village community, reflected in their observations served consciously or unconsciously to amplify the elements of segmentary cleavages in Indian society to the exclusion of the principles of organic association and societal harmony. This bias was rooted in a range of ideological positions that Western sociologists and scholars held while analyzing Indian social reality. The ‘Missionaries’ derived their paradigm from their own version of the normative principles of Christianity and judged most Indian social and cultural institutions negatively. Their solution to India’s problem was, therefore, its Christianization. The view of social reality that it offered was mechanistic, segmentary and instrumental in nature. It constituted a typical ‘colonial paradigm’ for social analysis and offered a deeply fractured picture of Indian society and as such of Indian reality. In the context of globalization diversify the Indian society that change also notice by contemporary Indian Sociologist.



Both Indian and Western face with several critical phases of history. The scars of the First World War (1914-17) were still so unforgettable the mankind. Post-war reconstruction events were underway everywhere. This societal condition indirectly inspired the pioneering sociologist to study Indian society from the structural functional paradigm. “Sociological researches in India had already been initiated much before the initiation of formal Sociology by British administrators. Absence of proper grasp and positive reception of Indian social realities as also the inadequate, and often inaccurate, understanding of local customs and traditions and misjudgments about different institutional arrangements led the colonial administrators to make use of Sociology and social anthropology to run the colonial administration efficiently” (Dhanagre, 1993:33) In this paper, we argue that development of sociology would be in three phases. First is Impact of colonial ruler and administrators, Second is Early Indian Thinkers and third one is Post Independence Indian Scholars.


Impact of colonial ruler and administrators

Sociology, as a discipline, came much after the contributions made by social thinkers, philosophers, administrators who worked at understanding the Indian society, in general, as well as studying some specific aspects of Indian society, such as law, family, religion, caste system. It is the contributions made by the Ideologists, such as, Henry Maine, Alfred Lyell give contribution to the development of Sociology in India. They emphasized the need to preserve the indigenous social institutions found in Indian society rather than destroying them and imposing an alien way of life on her people. They recognized the past beauty of Indian cultural and literary tradition. Besides ideologists, there were British administrators who made wide-ranging study of Indian people, their races and cultures. Most of these studies helped generate a body of knowledge, preserved in such as Census Reports, Imperial Gazetteers, and District Gazetteers and as well as in books and monographs, which are referred by social anthropologists and sociologists even today. Sociology was better established on the continent such as European countries like France, Germany and England.


When Sociology was established in Indian Universities in the developing phase of discipline it was dominated by the Structural Functional perspective, which is based on Positivistic ideology of the discipline in the Indian context. Generally, Sociology has studied urban-industrial groups. Now an account of academic language is developed in the discipline of Sociology, which covers the study area of Anthropology, which is partially related to tribes, castes and communities from the emancipator view point. Thus, in the Indian academic studies, we find that tribe, caste and region have been linked with each other in a variety of ways. Both Sociology and anthropology in India have one thing in common: they are mainly based on empirical data, but now a day’s sociologist develop the methodology for using qualitative data in research and use it on large scale.


Development of Sociology in early Indian thinkers

The Early Indian Thinkers phase was essentially a phase of multi-level fusion. It is not without significance that the twin disciplines of Sociology and social Anthropology had their beginnings in the two cities of Bombay and Calcutta, which typically represented colonialism. These beginnings were more or less simultaneous in the second decade of the last century. Initially, more established and ‘grown-up’ social science partners treated Sociology and social anthropology as a ‘left behind category’ and as such these disciplines were relegated to a subordinate position in the organizational structure of Indian Universities. Most departments of Sociology in their premature phases began their journey with economics. Contributions of B.N. Seal, G.S. Ghurye, B.K. Sarkar, Radhakamal Mukherjee, D.P. Mukerji and K.P.Chattopadhyay during the pre-Independence period are particularly remarkable. Their intellectual interests, methods of data collection, and their interpretations of the Indian social system and social institutions were strongly influenced by the ethnographic works produced by scholar-administrators throughout the colonial period. Studies on caste, family, marriage and kinship, social stratification, tribal communities, rural and urban society figured prominently in this period.


It would be no overstatement to mention that Ghurye introduced the down-to-earth empiricism in Indian Sociology. His diversified interests are also reflected in his works e.g. family, kinship structures, marriage, religious sects, and ethnic groups – castes. Whereas Seal and Sarkar were products of the Bangali renaissance and were inspired by the Indian National Movement, and had pioneered studies on ethnicity, religion and culture (Mukherjee, 1977b: 31-41), Chattopadhyay (social Anthropologist) conducted large scale social surveys which exposed the conditions of the peasantry and the working class as well as of the tribals in Bengal and away. The only other major centre, which contributed considerably to the growth of Sociology in the country during the pre-Independence period, was Lucknow. As in case of Calcutta, the pioneers of Sociology in Lucknow particularly Radhakamal Mukherjee focused on the issues of rural economy and land problems (1926, 1927), deteriorating agrarian relations and conditions of the peasantry in Oudh (1929), population problems (1938), and problems of the Indian working class (1945), being initially trained in economics.


Development of Sociology in post independence Indian scholars

The phase of expansion of Sociology began in 1952, with several factors account in its growth. The policy makers of independent India pursued objectives of economic regeneration and social development, and they recognized the role of the social sciences in attaining the objectives of national reconstruction and development (Dhanagre, 1993:45). They defined the new task of Sociology as social engineering and social policy science. It meant increased participation by social scientists, particularly economists and sociologists, in research and social and economic development (Singh 1986:8-9).


At the same time heavy funding from Ford Foundation to save India from sliding into the revolutionary communist path of development led many sociologists in India to undertake researches in the field of community development also in the process of strengthening the policy relevant researches. A major reason that contributed to the growth of Sociology in the post-independence period can also be attributed to the policy of administration followed by Indian state declared the practice of untouchability in any form an offence, and with the introduction of reservation for Scheduled Castes and Tribes (SCs and STs) in the legislatures and jobs in the government and the public sector, a new field was opened up for study to sociologists, though very few were aware of this fact (Srinivas, 1994:12). Indian society has a mosaic structure of agriculture and industries. This kind of complex structure raises economical and social inequalities. These inequalities are based on the ground of caste, class, and gender. The Indian society if facing change from agriculture to market based capitalism.


The contradictions in society emerge new subjects like Sociology of gender, Dalit studies, Sociology of tribe such as. In this period India have nearly half of the total population illiterate and poor. This situation help to growth of urban slums point up this process. The larger the city, the larger is the problem of urban poverty and its ghettoization. Urban slum dwellers face with miserable condition. The dissatisfaction in the urban life is enlarged leading to continued conflicts between urban middle classes and the slum dwelling poor. The liberalization and opening of the economy have now added a new class of the ‘super-rich’ to the urban social circumstances. This creates among urban middle classes as well as the urban poor very complex forms of cultural and social tensions. Indian sociologists are yet to devote their serious consideration to these issues if they have to follow the goal of equality and to justify their relevance to the society at large. The result of social forces operating in our society since independence, have led us to face with many unforeseen question. These influence both our society as well as the profession of Sociology. As such there is need to reflect extremely on these problems and to organize us to meet with these challenges since challenge is inbuilt in the process of change. It influences both individuals and societies.


We have to examine as to how far the forces of transformation that are global, and also bring about beneficial cost to society. A serious assessment of this situation is yet to be made. Recent development in the Sociology is inclusion of Sociology of Development and then the Sociology of Globalization, some scholars also develop the new academic branches of Sociology e.g. Sexuality and Reproductive health, Social Theory, Collective actions in Urban Arena. After the independence period threw was improvement in the theoretical understanding of the discipline. Before independence the views of Indian thinkers such as Dr.B.R.Ambedkar and Mahatma Phule; did not understand as a socio thinkers, now in this days these thinkers known as social thinkers in Dalit Studies which is body of understanding developed by Indian Sociologists. They understand the society from the viewpoints of Indian thinkers like Dr.B.R.Ambedkar, Mahatma Phule such as. The Indian Sociological works have often drawn upon these early books and documents written by British officials or observers



Today, Indian sociologists are becoming more aware of the ruthless inequalities operating at national and international levels. Contemporary young sociologists are working to understand the new trends like social exclusion, Ethnicity, culture in the broader context of social justice. The problems of language, publication and funding continue to continue. Sociologists are either working in regional languages and suffer from scantiness of vernacular journals or even if they are writing their reports in English there is very little chance of getting them published, particularly in limited English language journals. As a result what is being done hardly ever comes to the knowledge of the international community and good works may never see the light of day. To rescue from this situation the Indian Sociological Society has taken concrete steps to support regional associations by organizing special symposia on regional issues and in this way encourage sociologies from below.


Many challenges that Sociology is facing in India, like pertaining to the quality of students, concerned to the paucity of faculties and Funding because of neglect and failure on the part of state governments. Indian Sociological Society is making every possible effort to make stronger the reach and extent of Sociology in India. The fast growing NGO sector is also contributing significantly to the growth and development of applied and action Sociology in India. This sector is also trying hard to grapple with and bringing to light the problems of the backward and the marginalized groups in the country. While academic Sociology in India is losing ground in terms of providing jobs, the NGO sector has emerged in a big way to help the young Sociology entrants since they are considered well equipped and trained in field research and research methodologies.



Dhanagre, D.N. 1993. Themes and Perspectives in Indian Sociology. Jaipur: Rawat Publications.

Mukherjee, Ramakrishna. 1977b. Trends in Indian Sociology, Current Sociology, 25(3).

Mukherjee, Partha Nath. 2006. Rethinking Sociology in an Era of Transformatory Changes, Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 55, No.2.

Singh, Yogendra. 2000. Culture Change in India: Identity and Globalization. Jaipur: Rawat Publications.

Srinivas, M.N. 1994. Sociology in India and its Future, Sociological Bulletin, Vol. 43, No.1.

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