After reading this article you will learn about:- 1. Emergence of Modernization 2. The Theme of Modernization 3. Studying Modernization in India 4. An Overview of the Literature 5. Social Anthropological Perspectives 6. Tradition-Identified Perspectives 7. Synthetic Overviews 8. Social-PsychologicaI Perspectives 9. Other Disciplines and Perspectives 10. Anxiety and Ambivalence 11. Stakes and Prospects.
- Emergence of Modernization
- The Theme of Modernization
- Studying Modernization in India
- An Overview of the Literature
- Social Anthropological Perspectives
- Tradition-Identified Perspectives
- Synthetic Overviews
- Social-PsychologicaI Perspectives
- Other Disciplines and Perspectives
- Anxiety and Ambivalence
- Stakes and Prospects
1. Emergence of Modernization:
Despite our reservations concerning models of tradition and modernity, we find certain contrasts heuristically useful:
‘Modernity’ assumes that local ties and parochial perspectives give way to universal commitments and cosmopolitan attitudes; that the truths of utility, calculation, and science take precedence over those of the emotions, the sacred, and the non-rational; that the individual rather than the group be the primary unit of society and politics; that the associations in which men live and work be based on choice not birth; that mastery rather than fatalism orient their attitude toward the material and human environment; that identity be chosen and achieved, not ascribed and affirmed; that work be separated from family, residence, and community in bureaucratic organizations.
How can the sociologist be certain that a particular change is part of the process of modernization? Such a difficulty is not merely logic-philosophical, but is inescapable in the actual analysis of empirical processes of change.
Unhe bhi to pata chale ki ham bhi modern hain.
(They should also realize that we too are modern.)
Legend painted on the back of a Delhi bus (1996).
Modernization as an overarching theme has helped shape the horizons of Indian sociology and social anthropology. It will try to tackle questions such as: What has been at stake in the concept and the academic field of modernization?
What issues of theory, method, and standpoint has it raised? If our approach to these problems has changed, why has this happened? What is—and should be—the present status of this theme in Indian sociology?
The juxtaposed standpoints of the three epigraphs above provide a preliminary orientation to the terrain on which the vexed question of modernization has been negotiated in India. First, there is the viewpoint of the globally dominant mainstream of (western) social science, comprehensively confident, despite ‘reservations’, of the content and form of modernity, what it is and looks like.
However, even such an unequivocal and detailed description of modernity does not dispel the doubtful unease of the Indian sociologist who wonders whether ‘social change in modern India’ can be equated with ‘modernization’.
Yet another contrast is suggested by the voice emanating from everyday life in India at the turn of the twentieth century, a voice confidently affirming its own modernity, concerned only that ‘they’ also recognize it.
Though they are presented in simplistic terms overstating the contrasts, these standpoints nevertheless supply the major coordinates for mapping the field of modernization studies in India.
Alternatively, they can be seen as representing three broad phases in the evolution of research on the theme of modernization in India—a brief initial period of confidence and hope, followed by a long interregnum of ambivalence and anxiety, which shows signs of giving way at the turn of the century to renewed self-assurance and innovation.
In the following account, the first section provides a brief overview of the emergence of modernization studies as an academic phenomenon, the institutional—practical forms it took in India, and the major concerns of the dominant strands of research; the second section analyses the uneasy relationship between this theme and Indian sociology – the contextual specificities, the conceptual strategies that these prompted, and the ambivalences and aporias that they led to; and the third section outlines the reasons why the modernization paradigm is no longer viable and explores some of the alternative directions being taken by contemporary social theory.
2. The Theme of Modernization:
As the process of becoming or being made modern, the broad theme of modernization has been foremost among the originally concerns that shaped the emergent discipline of sociology in the nineteenth century.
In the contemporary social sciences, however, the most familiar meaning of modernization is closer to the one given in The Penguin Dictionary of Sociology:
‘A dominant analytical paradigm in American sociology for the explanation of the global process whereby traditional societies achieved modernity (Abercrombie et al. 1988: 158). While the theorists of classical sociology—Comte, Marx, Spencer, Durkheim, Tonnies, Weber, and Simmel—were primarily interested in the ‘modernization’ of the West, the more recent phenomenon of ‘modernization theory’ is concerned almost exclusively with the transformation of non-western societies.
Modernization theory is thus rooted in the confident belief that the new but non-modern nations of Asia and Africa (as well as the older nations of Latin America) can, will, and should become modern societies.
Such confidence does make modernization seem altogether too ‘triumphal’ a story by the mores of contemporary social science, a theory of ‘the true, the good, and the inevitable’ as Appadurai (1997: 11) puts it. But in seeming so, the theory was merely reflecting the spirit of its own age more clearly and intensely than most academic enterprises.
As is well known, modernization theory is the child of a marriage of coincidence between decolonization and the Cold War. The end of the Second World War quickened the process of decolonization and brought a host of new African and Asian nations on to the world stage between the late 1940s and the 1960s.
On the one hand, decolonization released new hopes and energies in the new nations and, indeed, across the globe, at a time when boundless faith was being invested in the idea of material progress based on rational-scientific technologies.
On the other hand, there was no fundamental change in the socio-political and especially the economic inequalities undergirding the world order. The new nations thus became both the repositories of millenarian agendas of change and progress fuelled by domestic aspirations, as well as potential client states where old and new world powers competed to establish spheres of influence.
Added momentum was provided by the fact that decolonization coincided with the most intense phase of the Cold War, and with the almost total hegemony of the United States over the western world. Seen against this background, the emergence and popularity of theories of growth, development, or modernization seems almost inevitable.
Modernization studies were launched in the early 1950s as part of a vast, (and largely United States-sponsored) multi-disciplinary academic project with the overall objective of winning the cold war—both negatively (by preventing the ‘slide into communism’ of poor Asian, African, and Latin American nations), and positively (by providing socially, economically, and politically viable routes to stable non-communist growth and development).
As part of this enterprise, various US federal government institutions (including the military), leading universities, and private philanthropic foundations (notably the Ford and Rockefeller foundations) financed a historically unprecedented volume of social scientific research on the new nations of the Third World.
Moreover, nationalism and independence also awakened in the middle class elite of the Third World an intense interest in the development and modernization of their own societies, often translated into state support for research, or at least into willing cooperation with externally sponsored research efforts.
Although it soon came to be dominated by development economics and allied fields, the thirty-year boom (1950s-1970s) in modernization studies affected several disciplines including sociology (especially rural sociology), area studies, political science, and social psychology.
Sociology played a particularly prominent role because it provided the most commonly invoked theoretical framework—namely the highly abstract (hence apparently context-free and cross- culturally portable) taxonomic syntheses of Talcott Parsons—and also because of the inevitable importance of rural sociology in studying predominantly rural Third World societies.
The major themes taken up by modernization studies included development, the transition from traditional to modern social forms, the aids and obstacles to the emergence of modern political institutions, and the inculcation of (or resistance to) modern values and norms in the individual personality
3. Studying Modernization in India:
While modernization studies, of course, have been strongly affected by this global background, its history in India is also rather distinctive. Unlike in most other Third World countries, American modernization theory did not dominate the study of social change in India, although it was a prominent and influential presence in the realm of state policy.
This difference is due to the combined effect of three factors: the prior involvement of other western scholarly traditions; the presence of a small but relatively well-developed indigenous research establishment; and the hegemonic influence exerted by a long-standing nationalist movement.
As an ancient civilization with a living Great Tradition (rather than a ‘decapitated’ one, to use Robert Redfield’s starkly evocative term),’ India was no tabula rasa for western scholars. The production of systematic knowledge on Indian society based on the pioneering work of orientalist Ideologists, colonial administrators and missionaries, and of a recognizably modern kind, developed very rapidly from 1760 onward.
By the early decades of the twentieth century these varied traditions had already produced a considerable body of works on the arts, sciences, and cultural-religious practices of classical Hinduism; the cultural coherence of Indian/Hindu or aboriginal communities; and regional inventories of castes and tribes detailing their ‘customs and manners’.
To this must be added the later work of western and Indian scholars trained mainly in the British tradition of a social anthropology, as well as some American anthropologists. The above work consisted largely of ethnographic monographs on village caste, or tribal communities.
However, this diverse body of largely anthropological work on India did not show deep sustained interest in social change except in the form of enquires into the decay of degeneration of traditional practices, institutions, and communities.
With Independence search for social change became an important item on the agenda of social anthropology in India-so much so, in fact, that some scholars worried that it would eclipse other issues. But even when it was taken up, this search was conducted largely independently of American modernization theory as such, keeping m, perhaps, with the relative indifference towards this them in anthropology.
The two other reasons for the Indian difference have to be viewed together: the hegemonic status of nationalism in the 1950s, and the existence of institutions that could give intellectual expression to this hegemony.
In India, as in most of the non-western world, the themes of modernization, development, growth, and progress were part of the much wider canvas of the colonial encounter, particularly since the latter half of the nineteenth century.
They were woven into colonialist narratives of the white man’s burden and the mission civilization and also into emergent nationalist narratives of the desire for development thwarted by colonial oppression and economic dram.
In the heady aftermath of Indian Independence the Idea of modernization took on the dimensions of a national mission it became an integral part of the Nehruvian ‘tryst with destiny’ that the nation had pledged to keep.
While Indian nationalism in itself was hardly an aberration (though older than most others in the Third World) India’s colonial inheritance of a viable nucleus of western-style academic institutions unusual, possibly even unique.
Like other social institutions of the time, Indian universities and research institutes were also eager to participate in the agendas of the nationalist state, and provided another site for the emergence of modernization studies in India, one Irked by an ambivalent attitude towards western scholars and institutions,’ and by a bias against basic research and towards policy-oriented studies.
4. An Overview of the Literature:
Given the peculiarities of its long pre-history, the study of societal change in India evolved into a much more diverse field of enquiry than that suggested by American modernization theory. The central fact here is the relativization of modernization studies as one paradigm among others speculating on the consequences of the interface between the West and India.
Some measure of the extent of this relativization is provided in the distinctive stance of orientalist Indology, the first western scholarly tradition to address Indian society and culture in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
While it was surely less than egalitarian, this stance still entertained the possibility of a reciprocal relationship, something unthinkable in later models of modernization.
However, by the latter half of the nineteenth century and certainly in the twentieth, the Ideologists’ perspective had been sidelined, and questions of societal change could only be framed within or against-a firmly Eurocentric intellectual horizon.
Nevertheless the larger question of India’s response to western modernity continued to be asked and answered In ways that could not simply be reduced to speculations about the manner in which (or the speed with which) tradition would be superseded.
TN. Madan has suggested that in Indian sociology and social anthropology, the question of modernity is posed in three major forms. It first appeared in the 1930s in opposition to the Weberian thesis of the other-worldly orientation of Hinduism and its consequent lack of affinity with modern materialist modes of thought.
It was then that scholars like Benoy Kumar Sarkar and Brajendranath Seal attempted to foreground the positivistic tendencies in Hindu thought by proposing a ‘Hindu sociology’. The second occasion was the public controversy over the policy to be adopted towards tribal communities—whether they ought to be modernized and ‘mainstreamed’ or protected and ‘preserved’.
This debate involved not only the well-known exchanges between Verrier Elwin and G.S. Ghurye, but also engagements with contemporary (1920s-1940s) notions of ‘progress’ by scholars like D.P. Mukerji and D.N. Majumdar.
The third recurrence of this question is, of course, in the post-Independence context of development—an ideology that has dominated world history for several decades.
While these three episodes offer a useful entry point into the history of scholarly engagement with modernity, they are not as helpful in ordering the literature on modernization because the hegemonic sway of the idea of development is such that it dwarfs or subsumes the other two instances.
Indeed, if we revert from the broader question of the India-West interface to the more conventional meaning attached to modernization, then the entire literature on the subject—certainly everything written after 1947—is directly or indirectly influenced by the notion of national development.
Given a strong and enduring (but not necessarily unchanging) traditional social system, the modernization question seems to allow for only three elementary outcomes: a) tradition prevails over modernity, absorbing or obstructing it successfully; b) modernity triumphs over tradition, undermining and eventually supplanting it; or c) tradition and modernity coexist in some fashion.
One can therefore categorize the literature in terms of these outcomes, and there have been attempts to do so. However, this categorization proves to be lopsided because the first two possibilities were very quickly marginalized in post-Independence India – the massive impact of modernity could not be ignored, nor could the continuing resilience of tradition.
Therefore, the bulk of the Indian literature on modernization is concerned with characterizing the nature of the interaction between tradition and modernity, and the long-term trend of this relationship. Since there is no obvious classificatory scheme available, the following survey of literature is based on an eclectic mix of criteria such as disciplinary location, theoretical perspective, and value orientation.
Even so, the field to be covered is vast, given the variety of disciplines (including social anthropology, sociology, social psychology, politics, political economy, and area studies) and theoretical perspectives (such as structural-functionalism, behaviourism, structuralism, Marxism, or evolutionism, not to speak of combinations of these) represented.
Moreover, modernization is such a broad theme that almost every author and every work on Indian society addresses it in some sense or the other. The present overview is therefore limited only to work in and around sociology and anthropology that has had a significant influence on the analysis of social change in post-Independence India. These are somewhat imprecise and arbitrary criteria, but unavoidably so.
5. Social Anthropological Perspectives:
Though he refuses the term ‘modernization’, M.N. Srinivas is among the first and easily the most influential scholar to have written extensively on the question. The locus classicus of Srinivas’s approach is his book Social Change in Modern India, published in 1966, although the major concepts in it had already found mention in his 1952 work on Coorg.
Acknowledging the enormity of the enterprise, Srinivas deliberately takes an ‘all-India’ view of social change, though he relies heavily on the insights garnered during his own fieldwork in Coorg (1940-2) and Mysore (1947-8).
For Srinivas, change assumes two major forms: first, the various forms of mobility within the caste system (captured by the concepts of Sanskritization and dominant caste); and second, the wide-ranging process of westernization.
As is well known, Sanskritization refers to a process that ‘seems to have occurred throughout Indian history and still continues to occur’, by which ‘a “low” Hindu caste, or tribal or “other” group, changes its customs, ritual, ideology, and way of life in the direction of a high, and frequently, “twice-born” caste’ with a view of claiming a higher position in the caste hierarchy Such claims may, over ‘a generation or two’, result in some upward mobility, but mobility may also occur without Sanskritization and vice versa.
However, the mobility associated with Sanskritization results only in positional changes in the system and does not lead to any structural change. That is, a caste moves up, above its neighbours, and another comes down, but all this takes place in an essentially stable hierarchical order. The system itself does not change.
The concept of a dominant caste, on the other hand, is an attempt to capture the change in the status of some relatively high touchable (sudra) castes as a result of their numerical strength, predominant position in the agricultural economy (mainly landownership), and, over time, accumulation of ‘western’ criteria such as education and government jobs.
In other words, this concept points to the rise in the secular status, political power (following adult franchise), and economic power (following land reforms) of some caste groups, which have benefited from the social changes introduced since Independence.
Westernization refers to the ‘changes introduced into Indian society during British rule and which continue, in some cases with added momentum, in independent India’.
Despite being a relatively recent influence, westernization is recognized as ‘an inclusive, complex, and many-layered concept’ ranging ‘from Western technology at one end to the experimental method of modern science and modern historiography at the other’, and its different aspects ‘sometimes combine to strengthen a particular process, sometimes work at cross-purposes, and are occasionally mutually discrete’.
Though the upper castes have been particularly active in mediating it, all castes are affected by westernization, which brings about ‘radical and lasting changes in Indian society and culture’ based on a very wide range of causal factors, including ‘new technology, institutions, knowledge, beliefs and values’.
The changes it effects can often be counter-intuitive, as indicated by the fact that it ‘has given birth not only to nationalism but also to revivalism, communalism, “casteism”, heightened linguistic consciousness, and regionalism’ (ibid.: 55), or that it is linked to Sanskritization in a ‘complex and intricate interrelation’.
Srinivas’s early work on Coorg attracted considerable attention because it was the first social-anthropological study of a complex society with ‘high’ cultural traditions (as different from the ‘simple’ or ‘primitive’ societies that social anthropologists had studied until then).
His notion of Sanskritization, and his innovative spatial hierarchy of local, regional, and ‘all-India’ Hinduism, seemed to offer novel ways of theorizing the relationship between the ‘Great’ and ‘Little’ traditions posited by the scholar of the University of Chicago, Robert Redfield, and this is how his associate Milton Singer came to study India in the early 1950s.
Singer was preceded by another Chicago anthropologist, McKim Marriott who, having been posted in Delhi during the Second World War, decided to build on this experience by carrying out fieldwork in rural north India.
Singer’s main work on modernization is based on innovative fieldwork—done in three stints in 1954-5, 1960-1, and 1964, in middle and upper class urban settings in south India, mainly Madras (Chennai)—and helps complement rural- based perceptions on social change.
He focuses on the specific strategies used by urban Indians to manage the simultaneous presence of tradition and modernity in their everyday lives. Thus, compartmentalization refers to the strict spatial and temporal segregation of traditional and modern contexts/institutions; ritual neutralization is a prophylactic gesture to contain the threat of pollution or other forms of transgression of traditional values in modern contexts such as the workplace; and vicarious ritualization refers to a division of labour in which householders unable to perform religious rituals (because of conflicts with their modern occupations) get their wives or professional priests to perform them on their behalf.
The main contributions of Marriott relevant here are two concepts namely parochialization and universalization developed from fieldwork in a north Indian village.
The latter is a process whereby elements of the ‘little’ tradition (customs, deities, and rites) circulate upward to enter the ‘great’ tradition and thus acquire a more universal status, while the former refers to the opposite process of elements from the ‘great’ tradition becoming confined to particular local ‘little’ traditions.
The core of the social-anthropological work on the theme of modernization consists of the ‘Srinivas-Chicago’ body of work and its many critics, elaborators, and interlocutors. Sanskritization in particular has generated a large literature and is the most prominent (some would say the only) concept from the Indian literature to have made an impact on the larger discipline.
Numerous studies have appreciated, extended or criticized the concept, mooted the notions of re- or de-Sanskritizanon, or examined its regional spread.
Similarly, the notions of ‘great’ and ‘little’ traditions have also elicited further transformations on the basic model, the most important being the presence of multiple traditions (rather than just two) whose significance and modes of inter-articulation are context dependent.
6. Tradition-Identified Perspectives:
While the Srinivasian position has attempted to remain neutral regarding the valuation to be placed on the modernization process, a significant minority tendency has not only identified strongly with Indian tradition in a personal-existential sense, but has gone on to fashion a disciplinary agenda sharply critical of the process of modernization and especially the westernized modes of studying it.
The best known representatives of this tendency are D.P. Mukerji and A.K. Saran, both of the Lucknow ‘school’ of Indian sociology, who arrive at this position by very different routes—the former through long engagement with Marxist materialism and its inadequacies, and the latter by way of Hindu religion and metaphysics.
Mukerji’s priorities are stated forthrightly in his famous Presidential Address to the first meeting of the Indian Sociological Society in 1955:
‘the study of Indian traditions’ is the ‘first and immediate duty of the Indian sociologist’.
Indeed, he goes further- ‘It is not enough for the Indian sociologist to be a sociologist. He must be an Indian first, that is, he is to share in the folk-ways, mores, customs and traditions for the purpose of understanding his social system and what lies beneath it and beyond it’.
Mukerji argues for indigenous modes of analysis because western concepts fail to capture the complex particularity of Indian society, which ‘requires a different approach to sociology because of its special traditions its special symbols and its special pattern of culture and social actions’.
It is only thereafter that there can be a case for studying change, because ‘the thing changing is more real and objective than change per se’. According to T.N. Madan, Mukerji viewed modernization as ‘at once an expansion, an elevation, a deepening and a revitalization of traditional values and cultural patterns-that is as a kind of self-conscious synthesization of modernity by tradition.
However, this synthesis (and the derivation of indigenous concepts from Hindu philosophy and religion, and from the life of Mahatma Gandhi) is never pursued systematically, but remains at the level of suggestive claims and passing examples evidence perhaps of the ‘self-cancellation’ and ‘reluctance’ attributed to Mukerji A.K. Saran appears to have moved in the direction of Hindu religion and philosophy with a view to exploring their potential for Indian sociology But again there is a lack of substantial texts where this position is spelt out adequately, and even as sympathetic a commentator as Veena Das is constrained to note that Saran’s attitude towards tradition ultimately lapses into nostalgia.
This broad position-defined by the triad of tradition identification, anti-modernism, and theoretical indigenism-has exerted disproportionate influence despite its lack of dominance. Though its intellectual reach has always exceeded its scholarly grasp, this tendency continues to attract adherents to its general vicinity, albeit with differing emphases on its three planks.
Early exponents include the controversial figure of Verrier Elwin, famous as the anthropologist gone native, while more contemporary versions of different sorts are to be found in the works of Tariq Banuri, T.N. Madan, McKim Marriott, J.P.S Uberoi, Shiv Visvanathan, or (outside sociology and social anthropology proper) Claude Alvares, and especially Ashis Nandy.
7. Synthetic Overviews:
Among the various attempts to synthesize the different perspectives on modernization in India, the most comprehensive and best known is Yogendra Singh’s Modernization of Indian Tradition.
Singh’s ambitious theoretical project is to overcome the ‘partial focus on social processes and the ‘limitations of the analytical categories used’ in previous treatments of change in India, which have rendered them ‘narrow and inadequate’.
He identifies commonalities in the earlier perspectives and uses them to fashion his own overarching taxonomic synthesis based on ‘unilinear evolutionism in the long run’ the micro and macro contexts in which change-producing processes begin and materialize; b) the internal (orthogenetic) and external (heterogenetic) sources of change; and c) the structural and cultural substantive domains within which phenomena are undergoing change.
This is said to yield a ‘comprehensive as well as theoretically consistent’ synthetic theory into which social change in India from the Vedic times to the present can be fitted, including such major epochal changes as the advent of Muslim rule, British colonialism, or Independence.
S C Dube’s general survey is notable for bringing together the literatures on modernization and development, and also for the fact that it was written well after disillusionment with modernization had set in. Dube’s emphasis is on ‘the search for alternative paradigms (the subtitle of his book), among which he includes ‘conscientization’, ‘affirmative action, and ‘institution building’.
His survey is oriented towards the practical issues of social policy, as were his two earlier works relevant here, namely the famous book Indian Village although it does not explicitly address modernization, and the later edited collection India’s Changing Villages, are both significant studies of social change in rural India.
Gunnar Myrdal’s well-known ‘institutional approach’ to the problem of development in South Asia bases itself on the premise that Easily the largest single work on the subject, Asian Drama (Myrdal 1968) was based on a decade-long pioneering effort to collect, evaluate, and synthesize secondary material, from a vast variety of sources, on the political economy of India.
Myrdal’s overall conclusions were pessimistic because he saw resilient traditional institutions and values as insurmountable obstacles to modernization. By contrast, the institutions of modernity in India—most notably the state—tended to be ‘soft’, and would therefore, be unable to pursue a modern agenda effectively unless traditional blockages were comprehensively destroyed.
However, a contemporary review by a social anthropologist notes that Myrdal’s social institutions remain underspecified, caste being the only one discussed at some length, though even here the treatment ignores literature offering contrary evidence.
David Mandelbaum’s vast and copiously referenced survey of scholarship on Indian society provides a compendium of early work on the theme of change, especially in terms of caste mobility, and religious and tribal movements. Also well known is a two-volume collection on the theme of modernization of underdeveloped societies edited by A.R. Desai (1971).
8. Social-PsychologicaI Perspectives:
The most typical example of American modernization studies in India is perhaps the study by Alex Inkeles and David Smith that examines how ‘people move from being traditional to becoming more modern personalities’ in six developing countries: Argentina, Chile, India, Israel, Nigeria, and East Pakistan (now Bangladesh).
Distinctive in looking for attributes of modernity among individuals, the study was based on intensive interviews with a stratified sample of 1000 males in each country, whose responses were measured for their degree of modernization on a composite attitudinal scale developed by the authors.
The main findings confirmed the existence of a ‘psycho-social syndrome’ of modernity as internalized values and attitudes, and manifested in behaviour demonstrating a feeling of personal efficacy, autonomy from ‘traditional sources of influence’, and openness towards ‘new experiences and ideas’.
The most important causal factor was education, followed by occupation and exposure to mass media; urbanization was found to be unimportant.
David McClelland and David Winter’s study (1964—7) took the form of a training programme (conducted by the Small Industries Extension Training Institute, Hyderabad) for small businessmen from the south Indian towns of Kakinada and Vellore.
Based on McClelland’s earlier research on the psychology of motivation, the study sought to identify the determinants of the ‘need to achieve’ with a view to (in the words of their subtitle) ‘accelerating economic development through psychological training’.
9. Other Disciplines and Perspectives:
Political science along with rural sociology has perhaps been the most active discipline in modernization theory and has produced numerous studies on ‘political development’ around the world, largely in response to the intense interest in the politics of the Third World countries during the Cold War.
In India, the best-known examples (from the perspective of sociology and social anthropology) would be the works of Rajni Kothari, and Lloyd and Susanne Rudolph. Kothari’s classic work (1970) adopts a functional approach towards modernization and focuses on the mutual interaction of tradition and modernity, the specifics of their relationship, the process that it is part of, and their functionality for each other.
The Rudolphs’ study (1967) attempts to show how modernization in Indian politics changes traditional institutions such that they begin to take on modern roles, the most prominent case being that of caste.
Political economy and Marxism would be next in importance from a sociological perspective. Bui the work here is very diverse, ranging from (for example) the historical emphasis of Daniel Thorner (1980), through the economics-oriented overview by Pranab Bardhan (1984), to the political theory of Sudipta Kaviraj’s (1988) essay on the ‘passive revolution’.
But the most important Marxist work on the theme of modernization—theorized, however, in terms of the transition from a pre-capitalist to a capitalist mode of production—is that stimulated by the ‘mode of production’ debate, which tried to ascertain whether and to what extent Indian agrarian relations were capitalist in nature.
The decade-long debate produced very sophisticated discussions on the conceptual categorization of ‘aberrant’ social formations such as India— neither capitalist nor feudal, but with the strong presence of elements of both.
Some of the theoretical options advocated included semi-feudalism, semi- capitalism, a ‘colonial mode of production’ and characterizations based on the distinction between formal and real subsumption of labour by capital.
Given the valuable contributions that Marxist scholars have made to Indian historiography and political economy, it is a pity that they have, by and large, not ventured very far into the sociological terrain of modernization.
Finally, surveying the institutions sponsoring research, the theme of modernization gives us another perspective to this field. Different kinds of institutional and financial support have been provided to researchers by Indian (Bombay, Lucknow, and Osmania) and foreign universities- Harvard, Chicago, Berkeley, Cornell, and Stanford have been particularly important, while Oxford, the London School of Economics, Stockholm, and McGill have also been involved in facilitating fieldwork or publications.
American private foundations have been very active, led by the Ford Foundation, which has invested heavily in research on change, development, and planning in India.
The Rockefeller Foundation has also been involved in the early stages, as have the Twentieth Century Fund (Myrdal) and the Carnegie Corporation. Government sources in India have included the Small Industries Extension Training Institute, the National Service Extension Programme, the Community Development Programme, and the Planning Commission.
Various organs of the US government have also supported modernization research, including the State Department (which controlled the PL 480 counterpart funds in India and other countries receiving US aid), the US Agency for International Development, and, in at least one instance, the US Air Force.
10. Anxiety and Ambivalence:
‘We may have become weary of the concept of modernization,’ writes T.N. Madan, ‘but the important question is, have we carefully formulated the reasons for this weariness?’.
Indian sociology does seem to be weary of modernization, not only in the sense of being disenchanted with this theme, but also in the sense of having been exhausted by it— one of the reasons, perhaps, why sociology in India has sometimes looked like a tired discipline.
Why has the conceptual pursuit of modernization been so debilitating? Among the better-known answers is the conceptual dead-end of dualism; less well-known are the peculiar disciplinary location of Indian sociology and the problems posed by the abstract generality of the term ‘modernization’.
1. A Discrepant Dualism and its Discontents:
The dominant view among students of modern India was that neither tradition nor modernity would be strong enough (at least in the foreseeable future) to completely erase the other. This meant that the search for an adequate summary description of Indian society was transposed into the problem of defining dualism—or characterizing the nature of the relationship between tradition and modernity.
There is, of course, nothing exceptional in this, for dualism is the presiding deity in the conceptual pantheon of modernization not just in India but everywhere in the ‘non-West’. Consider, for example, one of the most famous vignettes in modernization studies—the story of the ‘The Grocer and the Chief—with which David Lerner begins his classic work on The Passing of Traditional Society.
Presented as ‘the parable of modern Turkey’, this story contrasts two main characters who stand for modernity and tradition. The chief is a ‘virtuoso of the traditional style’.
A prosperous farmer and an imposing personality, he has no unfulfilled ambitions, loves to expound on the values of ‘obedience, courage, loyalty’, and responds to persistent enquiries about where else he would like to live with a firm ‘nowhere’.
Balgat’s only grocer is described by his interviewer (a Turkish student identified only by the abbreviated name Tosun B.) as an ‘unimpressive type’ giving ‘the impression of a fat shadow’, whom the villagers consider to be ‘even less than the least farmer’.
But the grocer visits Ankara frequently, is fascinated by Hollywood movies, would like to own ‘a real grocery store’ with floor-to-ceiling shelves, and is eager to live in America because it offers ‘possibilities to be rich even for the simplest persons’.
As if to underline the centrality of this dichotomous model for modernization theory, Alex Inkeles and David Smith present an identical contrast between Ahmadullah, a ‘traditional’ illiterate farmer from Comilla, and Nuril, a ‘modern’ metal worker in a Dacca factory, who enact Lerner’s Turkish parable all over again—sixteen years later, in Bangladesh!.
The point of recalling these emblematic figures is not to claim that they are absent in India—how could they be?—but to highlight the fact that the dominant descriptions of dualism in the Indian literature are different. Simply put, Indian descriptions of dualism seem discrepant because they are relatively more sophisticated than those elsewhere, at least in the early period of modernization studies.
The precociously complex analyses of influential scholars like M.N. Srinivas minimize the impact of the cruder models of dualism, even though they are as common in India as elsewhere in the Third World.
On the other hand, this means that the aporias of dualism are reached sooner in India, and that more time is wasted in conceptual wheel-spinning because the tradition-modernity dichotomy fails to get a grip on Indian social reality.
The most obvious differences in Indian accounts of dualism have to do with the social units in which tradition and modernity are located, and in their reciprocal articulation. Thus tradition and modernity are not only segregated into two separate personalities as in the Bangladeshi or Turkish tales, but are also apt to occur, in comparable Indian accounts, as integral parts of the same personality.
For example, M.N. Srinivas mentions meeting the ‘driver of a government bulldozer’ in his field village of Rampura in 1952, barely two years after Tosun B. met the Turkish grocer and chief on Daniel Lerner’s behalf.
The bulldozer driver, a Tamil-speaker from Bangalore, was skilled enough to operate his machine and also to ‘do minor repairs; but he was not only traditional in his religious beliefs, he had even picked up some black magic, a knowledge usually confined to small groups’.
Srinivas reports that ‘he saw no inconsistency between driving a bulldozer for his livelihood and indulging in displays of black magic for his pleasure’, the ‘two sectors being kept completely “discrete”.
But if such descriptions are more believable and complex than the caricatures of crude dualism, they also place the Indian personality under permanent suspicion of schizophrenia. Here is Srnivas again, speaking this time of the first generation of his own community.
South Indian Brahmins, who took to English education in considerable numbers and entered the professions and government service at all levels. In the first phase of their Westernization, their professional life was lived in the Western world while their home life continued to be largely traditional. (The term ‘cultural schizophrenia’ comes to mind, but a caution must be uttered against viewing it as pathological).
The theme of the coexistence of ‘discrete’ sectors in a single person, family or other social group is a common one in the literature on modernization in India, and, indeed, in the conversational anecdotes of everyday life.
The dualistic-but-unified personality may be described in a wide range of registers—from pathos through pathology to pride. But whatever the tenor of the description, and regardless of the attitude of the person being described, the describer—especially the professional social scientist—is unable to shake off a sense of incongruity which invariably inflects the description.
Nevertheless, in the Indian literature, the choice between tradition and modernity is rarely presented as a mutually exclusive ‘either/ or’, though it is often seen as a morally charged one.
In Lerner’s description, tradition has no value for the grocer, who wishes only to escape from its parochial constraints; and the chief, though forced to acknowledge the impact of modernity, remains thoroughly immune to it morally In this parable, ‘modern Turkey’ is the only transcendent entity capable of subsuming these contrary worldviews, while in the Indian literature the burden of subsumption is felt by social units all along the scale from the national to the individual.
But too much must not be made of such differences. After all, they hold only for the early stage of modernization studies up to the 1960s; there is every reason to presume that anthropological accounts of Third World modernization grew in sophistication over time.
Moreover, comparisons of this sort need to consider carefully further questions of detail – Are the lerner or Inkeles-Smith type of multi-country survey-based studies comparable with Srinivas’s solo ethnography? Is each really representative of the sociological or anthropological work done on the respective field areas?
However, there is another difference that does seem important: the prominence of Indian scholars in the social anthropology of India. In India, the western anthropologist encountered not only natives and ‘local counterparts’ but also his/her own ‘double’, the native anthropologist with comparable western training.
Such an early and sizeable presence of local scholars is quite unusual among Third World countries, and may well be unique.
Whatever the reasons responsible, the crucial question is whether the presence of Indian researchers made any difference to the descriptions produced. Returning to the comparisons between modernization in Lerner’s Turkey and Srinivas’s India, a striking difference is now visible. Tosun B., the Turkish graduate student whose field notes caught Lerner’s attention and helped produce the parable, is himself outside the frame of reference, or, at best, at its edges.
By contrast, Srinivas, the anthropologist with an Oxford degree, is never allowed to forget his Indianness, and is constantly being pulled into the frame of the picture he is painting.
Perhaps it is this sustained incitement to self-reflexivity that makes Indian accounts of dualism precociously complex. Indian anthropologists are acutely aware that modernization is happening not just ‘elsewhere’ but in the ‘here and now’ that they themselves inhabit.
Whatever the truth of their claim to greater sophistication, Indian accounts of dualism cannot escape the limitations of this mode of theorizing. Modernization—even in its minimalist version of an ongoing interaction of some sort between tradition and modernity—proves to be a conceptual dead end because there is, literally, no exit.
A modernizing society is always only a modernizing society- it can no longer call itself traditional, and its modernity is never quite the real thing. In a strange twist on the ‘allochronism’ that anthropology is accused of, the modernization paradigm evacuates the contemporaneity of such societies, robbing the present of its immediacy and constricting its relations with the past and the future into narratives of loss or inadequacy It is truly remarkable how this motif of a society, a culture, a history, a politics, or even a personality permanently in a state of in-betweenness—a double- edged failure—recurs across disciplinary contexts.
For example, in anthropology, the ‘developing societies’ become ‘deceived societies as they have had their present transformed into a permanent transition’, ‘an endless pause’. In Marxist political economy, ‘Indian agrarian relations are perhaps destined forever to remaining semi-capitalist’.
And Ranajit Guha inaugurates the ‘Subaltern Studies’ initiative with the announcement that the ‘central problematic’ of historiography is the ‘failure of the nation to come into its own’. All the various avatars of this theme—whether in the garb of a search for modernity, democracy, capitalism, or development— are marked by the anxiety of striving for a norm that is, so to speak, unattainable ab initio.
2. The Ambiguous Inheritance of Indian Sociology:
Apart from its difficulties with the barrenness of dualism (which it shared with its siblings in other disciplines), the social-anthropological search for modernization suffered from certain other disabilities peculiarly its own.
These had to do with the public image and perceived concerns of social anthropology before and after Independence, and how its disciplinary location differed from that of its neighbours in the social sciences.
The reputation of Indian social anthropology before Independence was an ambiguous one. On the one hand, sections of the nationalist elite approved of orientalist Indology and enthusiastically participated in its celebration of classical Indian/Hindu achievements in literature, philosophy, and the arts.
Indeed, Indian-Hindu religion-spiritual traditions and culture were the crucial fulcrum on which nationalist ideology leveraged itself: asserting that India’s cultural-spiritual superiority enabled the acceptance of undeniable western economic-material superiority and paved the way for the forging of a nationalist agenda in order to fuse the best of both worlds.
But on the other hand, colonialist anthropology met with hostility and resentment because it was perceived as deliberately highlighting the ‘barbarity’ of Indian culture and its ‘customs and manners’.
What this means from the specific standpoint of modernization studies is that the ‘passing of traditional society’ was apt to be viewed with mixed feelings, unlike, say, the transformation of the economy or polity, where the past could in principle be left behind without much soul-searching because there was nothing much there worth salvaging.
‘Tradition’ was an area of considerable ambivalence because, on the one hand, it contained the well-springs of nationalist ideology, social solidarity, and cultural distinctiveness; but, on the other hand, it was also the source of embarrassing ‘social evils’, ‘superstitions’, and other signs of backwardness.
Finally, another aspect of disciplinary location, namely the internal composition of Indian social anthropology, was also relevant. In Indian social anthropology the distinction between sociology and anthropology has been refused at least since Srinivas.
This is an unexceptionable refusal in so far as the convention of the former studying ‘complex’ and the latter ‘simple’ societies could not really be followed in India and is no longer the rule elsewhere either.
However, the well-established Indian practice of referring interchangeably to sociology and anthropology hides the fact that the latter is much better developed here than the former. Because the social anthropology of India was heavily oriented towards ‘tradition’—that is towards institutions like caste, tribe, kinship and religion, and towards rural rather than urban society—modernization studies here were also biased in this direction.
Had urban sociology, economic sociology, social history, or political sociology been better developed, the content of modernization studies may have been more balanced, with the new and emergent getting as much attention as the old and traditional.
As it happened, most studies of modernization in India located themselves in the world of tradition and looked out upon modernity from that vantage point, with its attendant strengths and weaknesses.
Indian social anthropology failed to cultivate intensively those methods (such as survey research or quantitative techniques) and research areas (such as industry, the media, or the class structure) of sociology proper which fell outside its usual zone of intersection with anthropology.
This in turn affected the manner in which the discipline dealt with the question of modernization, particularly since this question privileges generalization from a macro perspective, something which anthropology is neither theoretically inclined towards nor methodologically equipped for.
3. The Catholicity of the Concept:
Finally, at least part of the difficulty that Indian sociology has had with the theme of modernization has to do with the nature of the term itself, and uncertainties as to what was or was not included within its ambit.
It is pertinent to recall here that modernization was introduced into social theory as a very broad, catch-all concept that was considered ‘useful despite its vagueness because it tends to evoke similar associations in contemporary readers’.
As Dean Tipps has written in an important critique already twenty-five years old:
The popularity of the notion of modernization must be sought not in its clarity and precision as a vehicle of scholarly communication, but rather in its ability to evoke vague and generalized images which serve to summarize all the various transformations of social life attendant upon the rise of industrialization and the nation-state in the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
These images have proved so powerful, indeed, that the existence of some phenomenon usefully termed ‘modernization’ has gone virtually unchallenged.
This may sound somewhat excessive in the Indian context—the momentous and swift transformations taking place here clearly amounted to more than just ‘some phenomenon’. But the question of whether ‘modernization’ was a useful conceptual basket into which all these varied changes could be thrown did bother Indian scholars sensitive to the ‘messiness’ of the process.
The fact that in modernization theory, this process is ‘defined in terms of the goals towards which it is moving’ is particularly problematic not only because the directionality of change is difficult to gauge in unilinear terms, but also because this telos is intertwined with conflicting ethical-moral values and claims.
The sensitive scholar’s instinctive distrust of such treacherous terrain is seen in Srinivas’s doubts and queries- Is all social change to be called modernization? Is modernization the same as westernization? Similar instances can be found in the work of most scholars, and the very existence of many different viewpoints shows that these doubts are not easily settled.
11. Stakes and Prospects:
Looking back at the literature on modernization at the turn of the century, we cannot but be impressed by the central contradiction that frames it—the remarkable longevity of the theme and its conceptual paraphernalia, despite the very early onset of doubts and disillusionment.
What needs did it fulfill, what core concerns did it address that allowed it to live so much of its life on borrowed time? What was at stake in the question of modernization? To answer these questions we must return to the beginning, the word.
a. Etymological History:
The English word ‘modernization’ inherits the semantic legacy of its ancient Latin root word, moderns which has been used in two conceptually distinct but commonly conflated senses: as a generic term that characterizes the distinctiveness of any contemporary era; and as an abbreviation for a specific period in the history of western civilization and the values and institutions associated with it.
In pre-nineteenth century usage, ‘modern’ appears to have been a pejorative term with strong negative connotations, and we are told that ‘Shakespeare invariably used the term in this sense’.
However, as Raymond Williams points out, ‘through the nineteenth century and very markedly in the twentieth century there was a strong movement the other way, until modern became virtually equivalent to improved or satisfactory or efficient’.
Although ‘modern’ still retains its comparative temporal sense of something close to or part of the present, it is interesting to note that, in the last decades of the twentieth century, this sense has been yielding ground to words like ‘contemporary’ or to neologisms prefixed by ‘post’, and that the word is no longer unequivocally positive in its connotations.
These recent developments in the career of the word point to a complicated and unequal relationship between its two meanings: the generic one has generally been subordinated, whether surreptitiously or openly, to the specific meaning.
The consequences of the ascendancy of the sense connoting western European modernity are acutely felt when we shift from the relatively static noun form to the more dynamic and processual verb form. ‘Modernization’ entered the English lexicon during the eighteenth century (mainly in references to ‘buildings and spelling’) when the reversal of the pejorative connotations of the noun form had already begun.
By the twentieth century the word had become increasingly common and was ‘normally used to indicate something unquestionably favourable or desirable’.
This general connotation of a process of positive change or improvement (particularly with reference to machinery or technology) was inflected—especially when speaking at the macro level about institutions or societies—by the suggestion of a more closed-ended teleological movement towards the European Enlightenment model of modernity It is in this latter sense that the word enters the discipline of sociology—and vice versa.
b. The Shadow of the West:
The social sciences (especially sociology) are themselves products of and responses to ‘modernity’ in the specific sense of ‘modern’ that invokes the era inaugurated by the Enlightenment in seventeenth-century western Europe.
Unlike other attempts to distinguish a modern present from its pasts, modernity is not content with establishing a merely relativistic difference but also claims fundamental superiority. Once claimed, such normative privileges preposition modernity in a profoundly asymmetrical relationship to all other epochs and cultures.
These claims have, of course, been much more than abstract assertions, having had the status of self-evident truths for most of mainstream social science.
Whether in terms of a contrast with the world of ‘tradition’ (another critical keyword of modern times), or in terms of the coherence of its own multifaceted achievements, there is a formidable array of evidence proclaiming the uniqueness of post-Enlightenment Western European modernity.
Some of this evidence is eloquently recounted by the Rudolphs as evident and forms a long list including the transformation of the human relationship to the natural world; the supremacy of universalistic, utilitarian, scientific-technological rationality; the rise of the individual as the normative agent of social action; the subordination of ascriptive, affect-based communities to impersonal, voluntary associations; the emergence of urban, industrial society and the bureaucratization of social institutions; the revolutionizing of modes of governance with the emergence of democracy, the modern nation state, and its institutional apparatus; and the onset of new and intensified forms of temporality.
Also relevant, at a somewhat different level, are the supplanting of God and Nature by Man and Reason as foundational categories, and the consequent predilection for meta-narratives of various kinds, most notably that of Progress. It hardly needs emphasizing that the ideas and institutions of modernity have wielded enormous material and moral power.
Like all other social systems, modernity too has been historically and culturally specific; but it is perhaps the only social system in human history that has had the technological capability, the social organization, and the systemic will-to- power to make so comprehensive an attempt to reshape the entire world in its own image.
Colonization is only the starkest form taken by this attempt, beginning with pre-modern Europe itself, through the depopulation and re-settlement of the New World, to the direct or indirect colonial subjugation of the rest of the globe.
The mental-moral forms of colonization have been even more profound in their effects: whatever be our attitude towards it, modernity has shaped to an extraordinary degree the ideological frameworks we inhabit, the intellectual tool we use, and the values that we hold dear.
This over-general sketch must be immediately qualified and complicated in a number of (sometimes mutually contradictory) ways. Despite the remarkably convergent forces and processes it has unleashed across the globe, modernity has hardly been a single unified entity. Indeed, it is only at the highest level of abstraction that one can speak of something simply called ‘modernity’.
Not only have disparate, even incompatible, perspectives been produced within its ambit, but modernity itself has spawned oppositional philosophies of various kinds (such as the romanticism of a Rousseau or the nihilism of a Nietzsche).
And though it is true that modernity’s attempts to colonize the world have been largely successful, this has usually meant not the simple erasure of other cultures or social systems but rather their subjection to sustained pressure.
At the same time, modernity has legitimized itself well enough to have transcended to a significant degree its early image of an alien imposition and has acquired, in a wide variety of social contexts, the status of a freely chosen material and moral goal.
It is only against this ‘deep background’ that one can appreciate the full significance of the idea of modernity outside the West, especially after the birth of modernization theory in the 1950s context of decolonization.
c. Non-Western Predicaments:
The stakes in modernization are raised enormously in non-western countries where it is seen as a sort of secular ‘theory of salvation’. The defining condition of non-western engagements with the idea of modernity is, of course, the fact that it is an idea which ‘always-already’ bears the signs of a prior western presence.
Given that even the most amicable routes to decolonization involved some sort of adversarial relationship with the West, this immediately sets up a tension, a predicament.
Modernity is the object of intense desire, at the very least because it promises resources with which the marks of colonial subjugation may be erased and equality claimed with the erstwhile masters. It is also the source of extreme anxiety because it seems to threaten any distinctive (non-western) identity—which alone would be proof of true equality rather than mere mimicry.
Matters are made worse by two further factors: first, the sense of urgency associated with modernization and change both as a response to late-comer status and because of the release of nationalist energies and aspirations after Independence; second, the realization that most of the intellectual resources with which questions of this sort may be tackled are themselves inseparable from western modernity.
It is this combination of circumstances that produces the long interregnum of scholarly ambivalence and anxiety around the question of modernization. But the transformations initiated by the process of modernization outflank the scholarly mode of posing the question- social history overtakes social philosophy.
As already noted in the preceding pages, modernization has been an omnibus concept, a sort of summary description of epochal dimensions based on an underlying dichotomy between tradition and modernity. If there ever was a time when such an abstract, generalized dichotomy was conceptually useful, it is surely gone now.
All the common uses to which it was put— to indicate a division of global society into different spheres, to refer to a similar division within a given society, or to distinguish between past and present—are no longer viable because, today, there are as many similarities as differences across the divide.
‘Most societies today possess the means for the local production of modernity’, as Appadurai and Breckenridge point out, ‘thus making even the paradigmatic modernity of the United States and western Europe (itself not an unproblematic assumption) no more pristine’. To continue to refer to non-western or Third World societies as simply ‘traditional’ is therefore seriously misleading.
Similarly, if one were to believe, with Robert Redfield, that ‘[t]he word “tradition” connotes the act of handing down and what is handed down from one generation to another’ and that it therefore ‘means both process and product’, then it is clear that no sharp division can be made between tradition and modernity in the long term.
On the one hand, what is modern for one generation will perforce become part of tradition for the next; on the other hand, the product that is passed on cannot possibly exclude the modern.
Analytically, it seems futile to think of ‘tradition’ and ‘modernity’ as though they were the names of distinct pre-existing objects or fields of some kind; it is more fruitful to think of them as value-laden labels which people wish to attach to particular portions of what they inherit or bequeath.
Descriptively, no purpose is served by this contrast after the thorough diffusion and domestication of modernity across every conceivable area of tradition.
However, it would seem that this very ubiquity of modernity has created a new use for ‘tradition’—not as a descriptive term, but rather as a ‘space-clearing’ or ‘distinction-creating gesture’.
Tradition of this sort—that is invoked as a sort of claim to difference—is itself a product of modernity and forms part of the reservoir of resources with which modern adversaries fight each other. Thus, in a very general sense, everything and everyone is modern today, the Taliban as much as Microsoft, velcro and vibhuti as much as dowry and debentures.
This does not mean, of course, that everyone and everything is the same—just that the traditional-modern axis is unable to tell us anything useful about the very important differences that distinguish contexts, institutions, processes, or relationships.
The non-viability of the high level of abstraction at which terms like tradition, modernity, and modernization have been pitched is underlined by recent attempts to re-examine the self- evident unitary status of most objects to which these terms used to be applied.
The nation state is an obvious example: ‘fragmentary’ perspectives may have their own problems, but it cannot be denied that the taken-for-granted status of entities like ‘India’ or ‘the nation’ has suffered serious damage. This breakdown of its objects of reference also serves to evict the concept of modernization from its high perch.
d. Current Trends:
If ‘modernization’ has lost its analytical-heuristic value as a summary-description of epochal sweep, this is as much due to the internal collapse of the tradition-modernity dichotomy as to the external attacks by dependency theory and world systems theory But there are as yet no obvious successors, though terms like ‘post-colonial’, ‘post-modern’, and lately ‘globalization’ have been hovering in the wings.
However, the most noticeable change in Indian social theory today is the marked increase in confidence vis-a-vis the West. (In this, theory seems to have followed social life rather than the other way around, but that is another story).
While such self-assurance was not exactly unknown before, it is probably more widespread and sophisticated, and certainly more ambitious now. Contemporary responses to the demise of the modernization paradigm can take four broad routes.
e. Downsizing and Avoidance:
The most common response has been to avoid the term—modernization is no longer invoked in the grand theory mode. If it is used at all, the scope of the term has been scaled down, and it seems to be returning to the specific technical sense in which it first entered the English language (for example, for buildings, machinery, and spelling).
Since it is only at very high levels of abstraction and generalization that the term has proved extravagant, it may still be serviceable in restricted contexts with clear referents, as for example in the modernization of libraries or irrigation systems. However, this does amount to banishing the term from social theory.
f. Reclaiming the Present:
The previous response simply rejects one of the main functions of modernization as a summary- description—a name—for an epoch in which societies previously described as ‘traditional’ begin to experience rapid change.
What gets obscured, however, is that this epoch is a contemporary one, that it constitutes the present of the societies undergoing modernization: the teleological orientation is so strong that descriptions of the journey are overwritten by descriptions of the destination.
If modernization studies in general tend to ‘evacuate’ the present, those within social anthropology are doubly affected because of the discipline’s old habit of constructing an ‘ethnographic present’ in which other cultures are ‘distanced in special, almost always past and passing, times’.
It is not surprising, therefore, that some recent initiatives in this discipline (and elsewhere in the human sciences) have concentrated precisely on the recovery and reconceptualization of contemporaneity.
Thus, for example, Veena Das undertakes an anthropology of ‘critical events’ explicitly in order ‘to reflect on the nature of contemporaneity’ and Its implications for the writing of ethnography’; Geeta Kapur confronts the problem of identifying the ‘founding equation between history and subject’ that might help define the contemporary moment in cultural practice; Madhav Prasad seeks to go ‘back to the present’ to signal not ‘the nation’s arrival at some pre-determined telos, but arrival as such, arrival in the present as the place from which to find our way forward’; and Vivek Dhareshwar asks what it means to be modern if ‘our time’ is one where the conditions of intelligibility of ‘the key words of our cultural and political self-understanding’ no longer hold.
More generally, these and other such attempts are part of an effort to pay rigorous attention to the historicity of the present without allowing this historicity to be hijacked by the teleology of notions like modernization. As D.P. Mukerji reminds us, it is more important to understand ‘the thing changing’ rather than ‘change per se’.
g. Exploring Emergent locations:
Indian social anthropology has until recently been concerned mainly with tradition and how it copes with modernity. This has meant that modernity has been viewed through the frameworks of tradition and has been looked for in its ‘traditional’ sites, so to speak.
These, of course, are not the only or necessarily the most important ones where it is to be found—indeed it is one of the hallmarks of the contemporary era that eruptions (or claims) of modernity may take place in the most unexpected locations.
The slogan painted on a bus—’They should realize that we too are modern’—is also the punch line of a mid-1980s television advertisement for sanitary napkins. It is spoken by a mother as she hands a package of napkins to her daughter (who is returning to her in-laws), the connotation being that the napkins will prove to the ‘boy’s side’ that the girl comes from a ‘modern’ family.
That a television advertisement would self-reflexively foreground menstruation in this manner can hardly be anticipated by conventional notions of the ‘inner/outer’ and ‘private/public’ domains.
Examples of scholarly attempts to systematically explore such unconventional sites where the peculiarities of Indian modernity find expression include recent studies on social aspects of the film form in India, and new work on the domain of sexuality and its linkages to such varied institutions as the state, the media, the law, and academic disciplines such as demography or anthropology.
h. Comparisons across Third World Contexts:
For both obvious and less obvious reasons, the lateral contacts among sociologists of non- western countries have been few and largely under the auspices of western institutions.
Unfortunately, what Srinivas and Panini said a quarter of a century ago still remains true, including especially their concluding observation:
Paradoxical as it may seem, the very need to understand Indian society requires from Indian sociologists a commitment to a comparative approach in which the problems, processes and institutions of their society are systematically compared with those of neighbouring countries in the first instance, and later with other developing countries. So far such a comparative approach has been conspicuous by its absence.
Though some Indian sociologists have indeed worked on other Third World countries, the impact on the discipline at large has been negligible.
Third World countries have so far only provided the non-western empirical grist for western theoretical mills, as the Brazilian sociologist Mariza Peirano points out; ‘The moment we leave behind the frontiers of the country, what here was a theoretical discussion, almost immediately becomes merely regional ethnography’.
It is only through this kind of cross-cultural comparative work in Third World contexts that we can move beyond tiresome lamentations of western intellectual hegemony to a situation where the specificities of Indian, Turkish, Indonesian, or Brazilian society can finally refuse to be merely ‘local colour’ and aspire to be part of ‘global theory’.
Theory in this sense has long evaded us. Perhaps the story of our long struggle with the theme of modernization will manage to interrupt this evasion.