Development of Sociological Thought in India

Famous French philosopher Auguste Comte coined the term Sociology in the year 1839. The word “Sociology” has been derived from two words i. e. the Latin word “Socius “ or “Societus” meaning society, companion or associate and the Greek word “Logos” meaning “study” or “science” Hence, the etymological meaning of the term sociology is the science of society or the study of society. Society is a web of social relationships i.e. human inter-actions and interrelations.

Sociology as a discipline is a product of Western intellectual discourse. However, writings about society can be traced back to the ancient Indian mythological, religious and spiritual texts such as the Veda, Upanishads, Puranas, Smritis, writings of Kautilya. These writings talk volumes about rites, laws, customs, economy, polity, culture, morality, aesthetics and science. All these writings are replete with insights concerning social order and stability, mobility, human interrelationship and social governance.

Sociology emerged as a separate academic discipline in Indian universities in the 1st half of 20th century. At the beginning it was associated with Anthropology. However, the growth of sociology and anthropology passed through three phases such as.

  1. First phase – 1773-1900.
  2. Second phase – 1901-1950.
  3. Third phase – 1950 till date

First Phase (1773-1900)

Before 1900, Sociology developed as tool for British administrators to understand Indian Society and Culture. In 1774, William Jones founded the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, to study nature & man in India. Subsequently census was used to capture societal & cultural norms before undergoing changes, and help in controlling epidemics, famine etc.

Second Phase ( 1901-1950)

Beginning 20th century, professional sociologist like Herbert Risley (Tribe caste continuum), Browne (Andaman Islanders), & Rivers (Nilgiri-Todas) started working in India on different aspects of tribe.

Sociology as discipline made appearance in Bombay, Calutta & Lucknow University, due to contributions of B.N. Seal, G.S. Ghurye, B.K. Sarkar, Radhakamal Mukherjee, D.P. Mukerji and K.P.Chattopadhyay. However, 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 , 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 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.

Third phase: ( 1950 – till date) or 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 gave birth to new streams like Sociology of gender, Dalit studies, Sociology of tribe. Recent development in the Sociology is inclusion of Sociology of Development and 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.


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.

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