Society and culture | UPSC Important Notes & Study Material

Notes By-
Sachin Gupta
Cleared UPSC 2017 with AIR-3



This Block is mainly devoted to generate a general understanding of the society,
in terms of broad structures and important social processes that constantly keep
operating in every society. It begins with the exposition of meaning and delineation
of various attributes and characteristics of the concepts of society and culture.
Since these two terms are freely used not only in other disciplines with different
meanings but also in general conversations, it is necessary to make it explicit the
sense in which these are used in anthropology. Culture being central concept in
anthropology, there is a greater need to differentiate it from the concept of society.

The first unit, will deal with what the society essentially refers to as complex
patterns of social relationships, and culture as designed for living. In the second
unit, the focus is on the important social groupings. The social groups are broadly
divided into primary and secondary. However, based on the spatial segregation,
interests of the members and the nature of the groups, there is further classification
as community, association and organisation. Thus, the social organisation can be
found at different levels. A social group manifests mainly due to its separate
identity with reference to other social groups. Therefore, the identity of a group
is important, and the third unit discusses the significance of social identity.


For social identity individual self exists a priory, and it is constructed in social and
cultural conditions and contexts. In this unit we attempt to examine the identity
construction through reasons and choice, and also the transformation of identity as
identity cannot be static. The identity is also subjected to hegemony, power and
changing nature of society, and as a result, different forms of identities can be
noted. The changing society, particularly the post-industrial one has such a far
fetching influence that the social identity has become very dynamic. The global
networks of various kinds generated social movements that spread across the
geographical boundaries and began to challenge the traditional institutional structures
and powers. In these social movements we find formation of new identities and
shaping up of the identities. Finally, the attention is drawn to the dynamic aspects
of the society, the conceptualisation of social change. In the last unit, we shall
focus on the various processes of social change in Indian context.
The tribes which remained outside the pale of Hindu society are gradually drawn close to Hindu
society adopting Hindu customs and practices, which is termed as Hinduisation.
The caste system has not been as rigid as it was thought of, and Indian society
has been changing and this process is explained as sanskritisation in which low
castes and tribes attempt to emulate the practices of higher castes. The impact of
British rule, and the western ideas and values have been conceptualised as
westernisation and modernisation. Globalisation is the recent trend.
This Block, thus, provides a comprehensive view on the concept of society,
various social groups, social identity, social movements and social change.


1.1 Introduction
1.2 The Concept of Society
1.2.1 Meaning and Definition of Society
1.2.2 Characteristics of Society
1.3 The Concept of Culture
1.3.1 Meaning and Definition of Culture
1.3.2 Elements of Culture
1.3.3 Characteristics or Attributes of Culture
1.3.4 Culture and Society
1.4 Summary

Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
At the end of this unit, you will be able to:
 explain the concept of society and culture in anthropological perspective;
 describe some major characteristics of society and culture; and
 understand the relationship that exists between culture, society and individual


Though the term society and culture is used today as a scientific concept by most
of the social sciences, its most comprehensive definition has been provided in
anthropology. Humans are social beings. That is why we live together in societies.
Day-to-day we interact with each other and develop social relationships. Every
society has a culture, no matter how simple that culture may be. Culture is shared.
The members of every society share a common culture which they have to learn.
Culture is not inherited it is transmitted from one generation to the other through
the vehicle of language. Like societies, cultures differ all over the world. The two
concepts society and culture are closely related and sometimes can be used
interchangeably. This unit discusses the meaning and definition of society and
culture in anthropological perspective. The unit also discusses some of the
characteristics and elements of society and culture.


In common parlance the word society is usually used to designate the members
of specific in-group, persons rather than the social relationships of those persons.
Sometimes the word society is used to designate institutions like Arya Samaj

Society and Culture

(society) or Brahmo Samaj. Society is a word used in routine life with a particular
meaning. Everyone often defines society as an aggregation or collection of
individuals. But in sociology and anthropology, the term is used in a different
sense. The term “society” refers not just to a group of people but to a complex
pattern of norms of interaction that exist among them. In terms of common sense,
society is understood as a tangible object, where as in sociology and anthropology
it refers to an intangible entity. It is a mental construct, which we realise in every
day life but cannot see it. The important aspect of society is the system of
relationships, the pattern of the norms of interaction by which the members of the
society maintain themselves. Some anthropologists say that society exists only
when the members know each other and possess common interests or objects.

1.2.1 Meaning and Definition of Society

The roots of the term society can be traced to the Latin word socius which means
companionship or friendship. George Simmel an eminent sociologists has stated
that it is the element of sociability or companionship which defines the true essence
of society. As Aristotle stated centuries ago man is a social animal, it brings into
focus that man always lives in the company of other people. Society has become
an essential condition for human life to continue. Herein, we will discuss some of
the views of the social thinkers who had on society and how they have perceived
the same.

August Comte viewed society as a social organism possessing a harmony of
structure and function. Emile Durkheim regarded society as a reality in its own
right. For Talcott Parson Society is a total complex of human relationships in so
far as they grow out of the action in terms of means-end relationship intrinsic or
symbolic. G.H Mead conceived society as an exchange of gestures which involves
the use of symbols. Morris Ginsberg defines society as a collection of individuals
united by certain relations or mode of behaviour which mark them off from others
who do not enter into these relations or who differ from them in behaviour.

Cole saw Society as the complex of organised associations and institutions with a
community. MacIver and Page found it was a system of usages and procedures
of authority and mutual aid of many groupings and divisions, of controls of human
behaviour and liberties; a web of social relationship. A society is generally conceived
of as a human group which is relatively large, relatively independent or selfperpetuating
in demographic terms, and which is relatively autonomous in its
organisation of social relations. But it is the relativity of each society’s autonomy,
independence and self-perpetuating nature which is the crucial factor, and the
distinction of one society from another is often arbitrary. It is important in
anthropology not to allow these arbitrary divisions to distort our vision of systems
of local, regional, national and international social relations.

We can sum up the definitions of society into two types – the functional definition
and the structural definition. From the functional point of view, society is defined
as a complex of groups in reciprocal relationships, interacting upon one another,
enabling human organisms to carry on their life-activities and helping each person
to fulfill his wishes and accomplish his interests in association with his fellows.
From the structural point of view, society is the total social heritage of folkways,
mores and institutions; of habits, sentiments and ideals. Ginsberg, Giddings, Cole
and Cuber take a structural view of society while McIver, Parsons, Lapiere,
Cooley and Leacock have given functional definition of society.

The definition of society has undergone little variation from the standpoint of
classical and modern scholars. For our understanding we can simply define society
as a group of people who share a common culture, occupy a particular territorial
area and feel themselves to constitute a unified and distinct entity. It is the mutual
interactions and interrelations of individuals and groups. Society is a group of
people related to each other through persistent relations in terms of social status,
roles and social networks. By extension, society denotes the people of a region
or country, sometimes even the world, taken as a whole. Used in the sense of an
association, a society is a body of individuals outlined by the bounds of functional
interdependence, possibly comprising characteristics such as national or cultural
identity, social solidarity, language or hierarchical organisation.

1.2.2 Characteristics of Society

According to McIver “society is a web of social relationships”, (McIver, 1931:
6) which may be of several types. To formulate a catalogue of social relationships
would be an uphill task. The family alone is said to have as many relationships
based on age, sex, gender, and generation. Outside the family there is no limit to
the number of possible relationships.

McIver says “society means likeness”. Therefore, likeness is an essential prerequisite
of society. The sense of likeness was focused in early society on kinship,
that is, real or supposed blood relationships. In modern societies the conditions
of social likeness have broadened out in the principle of nationality of one world.
“Comradeship, intimacy, association of any kind or degree would be impossible
without some understanding of each by the other, and that understanding depends
on the likeness which each apprehends in the other.

Society also implies difference but this sense of likeness does not exclude
diversity or variation. Society also implies difference and it depends on the latter
as much as on likeness. A society based exclusively on likeness and uniformity is
bound to be loose in socialites. All our social systems involve relationships in
which differences complement one another, for e.g., family rests upon the biological
difference between sexes. Besides the difference in sex there are other natural
differences of aptitude, of interest of capacity. While difference is necessary to
society, difference by itself does not create society, difference subordinate to
likeness. It has been argued that likeness is necessarily prior to the differentiation
of social organisation. As McIver observed, – primary likeness and secondary
difference create the greatest of all social institutions-the division of labour.

In addition to likeness, interdependence is another essential element to constitute
society. Family, one of the important units of society with which we all are closely
associated, is based on the biological inter-dependence of the sexes. None of the
two sexes is complete by itself and therefore each seeks fulfillment by the aid of
the other. The Social organisation diversifies the work of each, making each more
dependent on others, in order that by the surrender of self sufficiency he may
receive back thousand fold in fullness of life. This interdependence is both extensive
as well as intensive.

Lastly, cooperation is also essential to constitute society. Without cooperation no
society can exist. Unless people cooperate with each other, they cannot live a
happy life. All social institutions rest on cooperation. The members in social
institutions cooperate with one another to live happily and joyfully. Cooperation
avoids mutual destructiveness and results in economy. For want of cooperation the
entire fabric of society may collapse.

Thus likeness, interdependence and cooperation are the essential elements to
constitute society. Besides these elements, McIver has also mentioned some other
Concept of Society and Culture
Society and Culture

elements of society; it is a system of usages and procedures, authority and mutual
aid, of many groupings and divisions; it controls human behaviour and liberties.
This view brings in several other elements of society firstly, in every society there
are some usages concerned with marriage, education, religion, food, and speech
etc., which differ from society to society. Secondly, there are procedures i.e., the
modes of action in every society which maintain its unity and organisation. Thirdly,
the presence of an authority is necessary to maintain order in society. Fourthly, no
society can be stable unless there is a feeling of mutual aid among its members.
Fifthly, in a society there are several groupings and divisions such as family, city
and village etc. sixthly, liberty and control go together in a society. Without liberty
man cannot develop his personality. Control upon an individual’s behaviour is not
meant to destroy his liberty but to promote and protect it.

Society is not just a mere agency for the comfort of the beings but it is the whole
system of social relationships. The social relation of mother and child, for example,
is revealed in their attitude towards each other. It is this social fact and not the
biological fact which constitute society. The true nature of society consists not in
the external factors of interdependence of likeness or authority but in the state of
mind of the beings which compose society. It is the pattern, not the people, which
is termed society. It is not a group but a process of relationships. It is said society
is the extension of individuality, the transcendence of self-closedness, the vehicle
of personal identity, the means of the continuation of personality through the
generations, the nurse of youth, the arena of manhood and womanhood.

All societies, as is clear from the above discussion, involve a certain level of
association, a level closer and lesser complex than an organism. Like an organism,
a society also is a system of relations, but in the society this relation exists between
organisms rather than between “cells”. The constituent parts of society give to it
a continuity and structure of its own so that the study of society cannot be reduced
merely to a study of its individual members. Some social thinkers like Spencer,
Radcliffe-Brown and Durkheim have sought to compare society to an organism.
The analogy between organism and society is at best an analogy and not an

Sociologist Gerhard Lenski based on the level of technology, communication and
economy had differentiated societies into: a) hunters and gatherers, b) simple
agricultural, c) advanced agricultural d) industrial, and e) special (e.g. fishing societies
or maritime societies). This classification is more or less similar to the system
earlier developed by anthropologists like Fried and Service. They classified societies
as foraging or hunter gatherer, horticultural, agricultural, industrial, and then
information-age (post-industrial) societies. In order of increasing size and complexity,
there are bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and state societies. Societies may also be
organised according to their political structure. These structures may have varying
degrees of political power, depending on the cultural geographical, and historical
environments. The term society is currently used to cover a number of political
and scientific connotations as well as a variety of associations.

Reflection and Action
Use your learning material to write a brief definition of society and its characteristics
based on what you have just read.

Culture is a word, all of us use in our day to day parlance. In its daily usage, the
term culture refers to polished behaviour, personal refinements as classical music;
the fine arts and world of philosophy etc. But anthropologists define and use the
term in quite a different way. The term culture is used in a much broader sense
by anthropologists as culture includes much more than just the “finer things in life.”
There is no differentiation between “cultured” people and “uncultured” people,
since all people have culture from the anthropological point of view.

1.3.1 Meaning and Definition of Culture
In an anthropological perspective every society has a culture, it is universal, though
in some societies it may be simple, while complex in others. Likewise every
human being is cultured and culture is an attribute of the genus Homo. Culture is
design for living. It is the basis of human life. It rests on biology but is not
biological. It is human biology such as a developed brain, nimble hands, and freely
moving tongue which helped humans to acquire a design for living. What has been
acquired as a design for living is not biological. It is a totality of mental, rational
and material, technological processes and products. This totality is what
anthropologists call culture.

It is not possible for human beings to live without the minimum material objects
(tangible). Without a network of social relations among people, human life is
impossible. Human existence is impracticable without ideas, rules, ideals, symbols
and patterns of thinking (intangible). Symbols, ideas, rules, ideals, and patterns of
thinking, network of social relations and material objects together comprise the
mental, rational, and material, technological processes and products. They are
integrated into a whole, the design of living. This design of living is called culture.
It is the total way of life of the human being. Culture serves as a potential guide
for human living. As a guide, it aids the human being to know what is good and
bad, desirable, important and unimportant, rational and irrational.

Culture is a historically created design for living. Generation after generation
new things are added to it and this is accountable for the development and change
in culture. The culture we have at present combines what has been first created
by our ancestors with what has been added to it by subsequent generations. To
be brief, culture is dynamic in that, as time goes by, new items are added to those
already existing.

Culture is unique to the human species. No species has ability like human
beings in its complexity, i.e., to learn, to communicate and to store, process and
use information to the same extent. Culture has moral force which serves as a
guide for human action how to behave in a society. Neither monkeys nor apes
have moral force in their life. Morality is a part of culture. Therefore human culture
has moral foundation, but primate life has no moral basis.

Culture is a product of social learning rather than biological heredity which means
Culture is non-genetic. It cannot be inherited by offspring from parents, but it
can be transmitted socially from parents to children. Like animals, human cannot
inherit behaviour. Animal behaviour is inborn. Animals inherit behaviour or at most,
proto-culture, but humans acquire culture.
All people have culture, though not similar. Different groups of humans or societies
have different cultures. This shows cultural diversity that means Culture has unity
as well as diversity. All humans have culture, but all cultures are not alike. In this
context, it is necessary to draw a distinction between “a culture” and “culture”.
The term culture signifies the way of life of human societies as a whole and the
Concept of Society
and Culture
Society and Culture
term “a culture” signifies the way of life of specific part of human society which
is technically called a society.
Culture is the basic concept of anthropology and is central to all the sub-branches
of anthropology. Anthropologists have been discussing and debating definitions of
culture since the origin of the discipline in the 19th century. The classic definition
of culture is given by E.B.Tylor in his book Primitive Culture in 1871. He stated
‘Culture or Civilization, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief,
art, morals, law, customs, and any capabilities and habits acquired by man as a
member of society’ (p.1). This is a very broad definition of culture, encompassing
almost everything about a person’s overall way of life, from “knowledge” to
“habits”. Herein, emphasis is on the fact that culture is something individuals
acquire as “a member of society,” meaning that people obtain their culture from
growing up with and living among a particular group. The major contribution of
Tylor’s definition is that he was able to establish the differences between biologically
determined characteristics and those attributes which are socially learned. The
phrase “acquired by man as a member of society” in his definition is very important.
It is not any habit or capability of man as a biological being, but man as a member
of a social group. The acquisition of culture is not through biological heredity but
through socialisation which is called enculturation. Enculturation is specifically defined
as the process by which an individual learns the rules and values of one’s culture
which begins at the family level right from the moment a child is born.
From the beginning of the discipline hundreds of definitions have been proposed,
and their number continues to grow steadily. Today there are more than 200
definitions of culture. Different definitions of “culture” reflect different theoretical
bases for understanding, or criteria for evaluating, human activity. Below a few
definitions of culture are given for your understanding.
Definitions of culture given by Anthropologists
Malinowski defined culture as an “instrumental reality, and apparatus for the satisfaction
of the biological and derived need”. It is the integral whole consisting of implements
in consumers’ goods, of constitutional characters for the various social groupings, of
human ideas and crafts, beliefs and customs” (Malinowski, 1944:1)
“…Culture in general as a descriptive concept means the accumulated treasury of
human creation: books, paintings, buildings, and the like; the knowledge of ways of
adjusting to our surroundings, both human and physical; language, customs, and
systems of etiquette, ethics, religion and morals that have been built up through the
ages” (Kluckhohn and Kelly, 1945: 78)
“Culture…refers to that part of the total setting [of human existence] which includes
the material objects of human manufacture, techniques, social orientations, points of
view, and sanctioned ends that are the immediate conditioning factors underlying
behaviour” or in simple terms he says culture is the “Man made part of the environment”
(Herskovits, 1948:17).
A culture is the total socially acquired life-way or life-style of a group of people. It
consists of the patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting that are
characteristic of the members of a particular society or segment of a society (Harris
1975: 144).
“The concept of culture as everything that people have, thinks, and does as members
of a society. This definition can be instructive because the three verbs correspond to
the three major components of culture. That is, everything that people have refers to
material possessions; everything that people think refers to those things they carry
around in their heads, such as ideas, values, and attitudes; and everything that people
do refers to behaviour patterns. Thus all cultures comprise (a) material objects, (b)
ideas, values, and attitudes, and (c) patterned ways of behaving” (Gary Ferraro,
Irrespective of the various definitions, conceptions and approaches to the
understanding of the concept of culture, it is however agreed that culture is a way
of life and morality is a part of culture. Practically all modern definitions share key
features. Anthropologists say that culture is –
 Learned, as each person must learn how to “be” a member of that
  Shared,  as it  offers  all  people ideas  about  behaviour
  Symbolic,  as it is  based  on the  manipulation  of  symbols
  Systemic  and  integrated,  as  the  parts  of  culture  work  together  in  an
integrated whole
While summarizing the definition Bodley (1994) says culture is made up of at least
three elements or components: what people think, what they do, and the material
products they produce. The problem with defining culture as shared values and
beliefs, as some anthropologists do, is that there can be a vast difference between
what people think they ought to do (value) and what they actually do (behaviour).
Moreover, we get much of our evidence for what people do from what people
make – that is, from material things (what archaeologists study). Besides these
components, culture has several properties or characteristics. So there are many
elements and characteristics in a definition of culture. We shall discuss these
elements and characteristics of culture in the next section.
Reflection and Action
Define culture based on the definitions that you have just read in the discussion above.
1.3.2 Elements of Culture
A culture is more than the sum of its parts. A mere listing of customs and norms
and the material objects associated with them would by no means give a true
picture of the culture. For the sake of anthropological analysis, culture may be
broken down into the following main elements. These elements or components
are: types of norms, sanctions, values, culture trait, culture complex and culture
What is considered as good, proper and desirable, or bad, improper or undesirable,
in a culture can be called as values. It influence people’s behaviour and serve as
a benchmark for evaluating the actions of others. There is often a direct relationship
between the values, norms, and sanctions of a culture.
Norms refers to a standard pattern of behaviour that is accepted by a society.
Norms may differ from society to society. Generally there are two types of norms
formal norms and informal norms. Norms that are written down and violation of
which can lead to punishment is referred to as formal norms. By contrast, informal
norms are generally understood and followed by a society though not recorded in
black and white.
Concept of Society
and Culture
Society and Culture
Sanctions consist of both rewards and penalties. It includes rewards for conducting
the norms of the society as prescribed or penalties for defying the concerned
social norms. Adherence to a norm can lead to positive sanctions such as a medal,
a word of gratitude, or a pat on the back. Negative sanctions include fines,
threats, imprisonment, and even unpleasant stares for contempt. The most cherished
values of a culture will be most heavily sanctioned, whereas matters regarded as
less critical will carry light and informal sanctions.
Culture Traits
Culture traits are the smallest (simplest) units of a particular culture. They are the
building blocks of culture. Each trait can be material or non-material and it is
analogous to the unit of the human body, the cell. Each cultural trait has a form,
use, function and meaning. As several cells form a tissue, several traits form a
complex culture.
1.3.3 Characteristics or Attributes of Culture
The classical definition of culture by Tylor was a turning point in the theoretical
interpretation of culture, which attracted the attentions of various scholars from all
over the world. Tylor postulated the theory of unilinear development of human
culture ranging from savagery, barbarism to civilization, this sense of unilinear
development attracted the attention of the like-minded scholars, who formed a big
school of evolutionists, which will be discussed in detail in Block 3 unit I.
The study of Culture took a significant turn after Malinowski’s fieldwork among
the Trobriand Islanders. Malinowski’s definition of culture (as discussed above in
definition paragraph) emphasised on the biological aspect of culture and explained
the biological characteristics of human behaviour. He made distinction between
“need” and “impulse” and emphasised on the satisfaction of need, which leads to
a number of functions, Malinowski’s interpretation of culture was not accepted by
some of his contemporaries. Radcliffe-Brown for instance totally disagreed with
Malinowski in the biological interpretation of culture. Radcliffe-Brown did not
agree with the use of the word “culture” in studying social institution, but his
analysis of “social structure” amounts to the wider perspective of culture, as it
appears from the contents and themes of the subject dealt with on the social
structure. Again, while discussing the social system in social structure he emphasised
more on the arrangement of persons, who are the ultimate components of the
study, rather than on the arrangement of activities (discussed in detail in Block 3
unit 2).
While the above British anthropologists were making different interpretations of
culture and social systems, their counterparts in America emphasised more on the
integral and psychological aspects of culture, which helped them develop various
meanings and interpretations of culture, which led to the development of “pattern”
and “culture and personality” school of thought (discussed in detail in Block 4
unit 1).
In the interpretations and study of culture in anthropology, anthropologists have
identified several characteristics or attributes of culture which imply the qualities
of culture and convey different meanings, which have further enriched the theories
of culture. Some of these important concepts are given below for the benefit of
Culture is socially learned
Culture is a natural outgrowth of the social interactions that constitute human
groups whether in societies or organisations. Whenever and wherever people
come together over time, culture develops. Culture is learned from our parents,
surroundings, and friends and others through enculturation. And the learned
behaviour is communicated in the group through forms of socialisation such as
observation, instruction, reward, punishment and experience. The learning takes
place in individual situation of experiences, social situation of imitating others and
cultural situation of symbolic communication.
Culture is symbolic
Symbolic thought is unique and crucial to humans and to culture. It is human ability
to give a thing or event an arbitrary meaning and grasp and appreciate that
meaning. Symbols are the central components of culture. Symbols refer to anything
to which people attach meaning and which one uses to communicate with others.
More specifically, symbols are words, objects, gestures, sounds or images that
represent something else rather than themselves. There is no obvious natural or
necessary connection between a symbol and what it symbolizes. Culture thus
works in the symbolic domain emphasising meaning, rather than the technical/
practical rational side of human behaviour.
Culture is integrated
Elements or traits that make up a culture are not just a random assortment of
customs but are mostly adjusted to or consistent with one another. Traits of a
culture are attitudes, values, ideals, and rules for behaviour. All aspects of culture
function as an inter-related whole. If one part of a culture changes it tends to affect
another part.
Culture is adaptive and maladaptive
People adapt themselves to the environment using culture. The ability to adapt
themselves to practically any ecological condition, unlike other animals, makes
humans unique. This ability is attributed to human’s capacity for creating and using
culture. Culture has also maladaptive dimensions. That is, the very cultural creations
and achievements of people may turn out to threaten their survival. When we see
the contemporary problems of the environments, the side effects of rapid growth
and in science and technology, etc, we see that culture is also maladaptive.
Culture is all-encompassing
Culture encompasses all aspects, which affect people in their everyday lives.
Culture comprises countless material and non-material aspects of human lives;
thus, it includes man- made objects, ideas, activities whether those of traditional,
of the past or those created lately. Culture is the sum total of human creation:
intellectual, technical, artistic, physical, and moral.
Culture is inculcated
All animals are capable of learning but humans alone seem to have considerable
measure to pass on their acquired habits to their children. The process known as
enculturation has been discussed earlier.
Culture is gratifying
Culture always and necessarily satisfies the basic biological and social needs of
human beings. Cultural elements continue so long as they satisfy the needs of
humans. If they fail to fulfill the wants of humans, they may be changed or replaced
Concept of Society
and Culture
Society and Culture
by new ones to secure the satisfaction of human wants. Gratification of needs
reinforces, strengthens and perpetuates cultural elements.
Culture is structured
Culture has a definite and proper structure. This implies that there is definite
arrangement of its components and units. The structural components of culture are
called traits and complexes. A given culture has many traits and these traits form
into complexes, and each one acts as a unit. These traits and complexes are
arranged in a systematic manner. This arrangement is the plan or structure of a
Culture is patterned
According to Ruth Benedict cultures are not haphazard collection of customs and
beliefs, but are integrated, patterned systems. The parts are interrelated. Culture
is an integrated whole, that is the parts of culture are interrelated to one another.
No one single cultural trait has its meaning outside of its integrated context.
People use culture creatively
There is difference between ideal culture and real culture. What culture-rules say
and what people do may be different; cultural rules tell us what to do and how
to do it, but we don’t always do what the rules dictate. We use culture creatively.
Culture is stable and yet it changes
Culture is stable when we consider what people hold valuable and are handing
over to the next generation in order to maintain their norms and values. Cultures
are dynamic they are ever-changing. The change in a society can be of two types:
internal changes (invention) and external changes (cultural diffusion).
Culture in Region
Socio-cultural anthropologists talk about culture region which is the geographical
territory in which a particular culture prevails. It is marked by all the characteristics
of a culture, including modes of dress, building styles, farms and field and other
material manifestation. That is there are sub-cultures, regional cultures, national
cultures, and international cultures.
Cultural Universals, specialties and alternatives
Cultural universals are features that are found in every culture, those that distinguish
Homo sapiens from other species. Anthropology assumes that all human beings
are fundamentally alike and they share the same basic biological, psychological,
social and other characteristics. People all over the world have certain common
obligations towards one another. All people are members of a single community;
they all have the same root and destiny. This belief is either explicit or implicit in
most of the great world religions. Certain biological, psychological, social and
cultural features of human beings are universal; others are merely generalities,
common to several but not to all human groups. Still other cultural features are
particularities unique to certain cultural traditions (for details see Hammond, 1971).
Culture Shock
All of us, to some extent or other, take for granted the cultural practices of our
society. As a result, it can be surprising and disturbing to realise that other cultures
do not follow the same way of life. Culture shock can be set off either by the
physical items of an unfamiliar culture or by the ways that people act. Yet we can
experience culture shock even in our own society. Culture shock is the psychological
and social maladjustment at micro or macro level that is experienced for the first
time when people encounter new cultural elements such as new things, new ideas,
new concepts, seemingly strange beliefs and practices. No person is protected
from culture shock. However, individuals vary in their capacity to adapt and
overcome the influence of culture shock (Ibid, Angeloni, 1998; Howrad and DunaifHattis,
Overtness and covertness
Overtness and covertness refer to the qualities of culture as detected by an observer.
The observer may be an anthropologist, or a member of a society who is unfamiliar
with certain parts of the culture. Overt means easily detectable qualities of a
culture. These include artifacts, actions, utterances, which can be perceived directly.
Artifacts include houses, clothes, books, tools etc. actions imply postures in various
situations, curing practices, sports, externally manifested signs of respect etc.
utterances include speech, songs, proverbs etc. An observer can easily detect
these qualities because one has plenty of opportunities to see them, experience
them and record them. On the other hand covert implies those qualities of culture
which are not easily detected by an outsider. Sentiments, beliefs, fears and values
are some of the cultural items which cannot be easily detectable i.e., they are
covert. They are not amenable to direct observation and moreover people cannot
always explain what they feel. It is generally difficult to express these abstract
Explicit and implicit
According to Kluckhohn explicit means the people’s awareness of existence of the
cultural items. Implicit implies the people’s dim awareness or unawareness of
certain cultural items. Explicitness and implicitness concern the experience of people
possessing the culture, while overtness and covertness refer to the view of the
observer. Explicit cultural items can be verbalised or criticized readily by the
persons who possess them. But there are certain items of culture about which
people are only dimly aware or unaware of. Hence they cannot give any clear
accounts on such cultural items. These are implicit items of the culture.
Ideality and reality
Ideality of culture refers to how people say they should behave, or the way they
would like to live. Reality is the actual way people behave. There is generally a
discrepancy between ideality and reality.
Ethos and Eidos
Kroeber has drawn attention to these two aspects of culture. Ethos refers to the
effective or emotional quality of a culture expressed in series of beliefs, thoughts
and behaviour. It acts as a central force, interest theme or pattern and colors
every item of culture. As it determines what people should have, do, think, and
feel, prepares all the people in a culture to express the same emotional tone in all
acts, thoughts and feelings. Whereas Eidos is the formal appearance of a culture
derived from its constituents. Through cognitive processes operating within, a
culture acquires its formal appearance or eidos. Eidos is the totality of items of
culture. On the contrary ethos is the emotional quality coloring this totality. Ethos
is affective but eidos is cognitive.
Organic and Superorganic
Culture is organic in the sense that it is ultimately rooted in the biological nature
of human organism. Without humans to act, to think, to feel, or to make and use
things, there would be no culture. Thus culture is organic. Culture is superorganic
Concept of Society
and Culture
Society and Culture
while it is organic. Once created, culture acquires a superorganic quality or the
quality by virtue of which culture exists on a level above that of the individuals who
create and carry it. According to Kroeber, culture becomes a phenomenon in its
own right, with its own laws and processed apart from the human carriers who
sustain it. Culture is superorganic to the extent that it outlines the particular
generation of people who carry it and so persists from one generation to another.
This does not mean that its origin is other than biological. Culture is created by
humans and it is dependent on human choice for its continuity. Culture can be
altered through the decisions of human beings. But this does not mean it is easy
to change culture. The superorganic may be injurious to the organic. Some cultural
traits for instance, are definitely harmful to the organic life of the humans. The
superorgannic is an order of phenomenon different from the organic and goes its
way with a certain amount of independence from the organic.
Universal and unique
Culture is universal in the sense that every man experiences it and uniqueness of
culture implies its regional variations. Some cultural traits are necessary to all
members of the society. These cultural traits are called cultural universals like for
e.g. Incest taboo.
Civilization and Culture
The civilization represents a particular type of culture. The term “civilization” has
been used almost synonymously with culture. This is because civilization and culture
are different aspects of a single entity. Civilization can be viewed as the external
manifestation, and culture as the internal character of a society. Thus, civilization
is expressed in physical attributes, such as tool making, agriculture, buildings,
technology, urban planning, social structure, social institutions, and so forth. Culture,
on the other hand, refers to the social standards and norms of behaviour, the
traditions, values, ethics, morality, and religious beliefs and practices that are held
in common by members of the society. Both culture and civilization have been
developed by the same human processes. Both are complimentary to each other.
Culture needs a civilization for further growth. Civilization needs culture even for
its vital force and survival. The two are therefore interdependent. Civilization
cannot survive without strong stimulus and motive, however high may be its
achievements in science.
Ethnocentrism and cultural relativism
The two concepts ethnocentrism and cultural relativism occupy key positions in
socio-cultural anthropology. They are the most sensitive and controversial issues
in sociology and socio-cultural anthropology. The general pattern is to judge the
behaviour of other people in other groups by the standards of our own culture.
In his book “Folkways” Sociologist William Graham Sumner coined the term
ethnocentrism to refer to the tendency to assume that one’s culture and way of
life are superior to all others. (Sumner 1906).
The ethnocentric person sees his or her own group as the center or defining point
of culture and views all other cultures as deviations from what is “normal.”
Anthropologists endeavor as far as possible to avoid ethnocentrism. Cultural
Relativism/ Cultural determinism approach was first formulated by Franz Boas
in North America in 19th century. He says no culture should be judged by the
standards of another. Cultural relativism views people’s behaviour from the
perspective of their own culture. It places a priority on understanding other
cultures, rather than dismissing them as “strange” or “exotic.” Any part of a culture
must be viewed from within its cultural context-not that of the observer or the
notion that there are no universal standards by which all cultures may be evaluated.
Cultures must be analyzed with reference to their own histories and culture traits
understood in terms of the cultural whole.
Reflection and Action
Do you think some cultures are ‘superior’ while others are ‘inferior’? Discuss.
1.3.4 Culture and Society
Culture is the sum total of learned, shared and socially transmitted behaviour that
includes ideas, values, and customs of groups of people. A fairly large number of
people living in the same territory constitute a society. Members of a society
share a common language, which facilitates day-to-day exchanges with others and
participate in a common culture. Nadel in his work says it is necessary to make
a distinction between “Culture” from its companion term “society.” According to
him culture is the way of life of the people; while a society is an organised,
interacting aggregate of individuals who follow a given way of life. In simple terms
a society is composed of people; the way they behave is their culture. (Nadel,
S.F. 2006)
Since the time of Boas, culture became a tool for understanding and describing the
exotic society. Anthropological study on cultural relativism allows a comparison of
culture without assuming evolutionary hierarchies. It means that every culture has
in its own rights to be different and does not stand for the purpose of other
culture. In other words, all cultures express validity in their perspective of the
world. Thus, it could be in-appropriate to judge cannibalism activity among society
even if we use universal notion on violence. What we can do is try to understand
the reason and rationalise such activity.
Early notion of culture was popularised among Anthropologist in order to understand
homogeneous societies. In the modern world the relationship between culture and
society is a complex one. Culture is produced and reproduced within the society
and society acts in certain way in a culture. But how does culture work in the
complex societies? Early Anthropologists used culture as the set of practical and
contingent significations, while postmodernists use it to mark the domain of signifying
According to Pertierra, (2004) society can be seen as the collection of individual
members pursuing their interest in the context of formal rules administered by
specialists and implemented by the state. It was also a constant state of selfconstitution,
whose members are engaged in individual life projects marked by
purposive and value rationality. Society consists of individuals mostly unknown to
one another but nevertheless linked through abstract categories such as class,
nation, or gender. In this case society assumed as the real place or arena, an
institution in which individuals play their roles in order to achieve their different
objectives. When we see the relation between society and culture, society and
culture are two elements that are complementing each other. Society expresses
itself through culture. We can associate the group of people or society from the
culture they practice, such as Asian society is characterised by Asian culture, or
Javanese society with its Javanese culture.
Furthermore, culture is manifested in the socio economic structures as frames for
the organisation of social relationship, it is embedded both in the material setting
Concept of Society
and Culture
Society and Culture
and the social institutions of society. Material experiences are organised and group
relations are structured through culture. But culture has also the medium through
which the social world is experienced, interpreted and understood. In this sense,
culture is something more basic than ideological superstructure. Culture is produced
in a given society within the framework set by the socio-economic structure. The
cultural process perpetually occurs among the different groups and classes in a
society, and also affects social structure (Erna Herawati 2006).
In this unit we have studied the anthropological meaning of the concept society
and culture. It is derived from the Latin word socius which means companionship
or friendship. We have come to know that a society comprises of a group of
people who share a common culture, live in a particular area and feel themselves
to constitute a unified and distinct entity. Society or human society is a group of
people related to each other through persistent relations such as kinship, marriage,
social status, roles and social networks. By extension, society denotes the people
of a region or country, sometimes even the world, taken as a whole.
Culture is one of the basic concepts of anthropology. Anthropologists have been
discussing and debating definitions of culture since the origin of the discipline in the
19th century. To review, we may say that culture is— Learned, as each person
must learn how to “be” a member of that culture, Shared, as it offers all people
ideas about behaviour, Symbolic, as it is based on the manipulation of symbols,
and Systemic and integrated, as the parts of culture work together in an integrated
Angelloni, Elvio. 1998. ‘Anthropology’. Annual Additions. Slvice Dock: Dushkin/
Bodley, J.H. 1994. Cultural Anthropology: Tribes, States and the Global
System. New York: McGraw-Hill Higher Education.
Ferraro, Gary P. 1992. Cultural Anthropology: An Applied Perspective. St.
Paul, New York: West Publishing Company.
Harris, M. 1975. Culture, People, Nature: An Introduction to General
Anthropology. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell.
Herawati, Erna. 2006. Sociology, Anthropology, and Modernity. Paper Submitted
to Department of Sociology and Anthropology. Ateneo De Manila University
Herskovits, M. 1948. Man and His Works. New York: Knopf.
Howard, Michael C and Janet D.H. 1992. Anthropology:Understanding Human
Adaptation. New York: Harper Collins.
Kluckhohn and Kelly. 1945. ‘The Concept of Culture’. In The Science of Man
in the World Crisis, Ralph Linton ed. New York: Columbia University Press.
Maclver, R. M. 1931. Society – Its Structure and Changes. New York: Hay
Long and Richard Smith Inc.
Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1944. The Scientific Theory of Culture. Oxford: Oxford
University Press.
Nadel S.F. 2006. ‘The Typological Approach to Culture’. Journal of Personality.
Vol. 5. Issue 4, April
Pertierra, Rahul. 2004. Introductory Lecture: Course Overview.
Sumner, W. G. 1906. Folkways. New York: Ginn.
Tylor, E.B. 1871. Primitive culture. London: J. Murray.
Suggested Reading
Hammond, Peter. 1971. An Introduction to Cultural and Social Anthropology.
New York: The McMillan Company.
Keesing, Roger M. 1981. Cultural Anthropology. New York: Holt, Rinehart and
Kottak, Conrad P. 2002. Anthropology: The Exploration of Human Diversity.
9th ed. Boston: McGraw-Hill.
Sample Questions
1) Define anthropological meaning of the concept of culture.
2) Discuss the key characteristics or attributes of culture.
3) Discuss the relationship between society and culture.
Concept of Society
and Culture
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Primary Group
2.2.1 Characteristics of Primary Group
2.2.2 Importance of a Primary Group
2.3 Secondary Group
2.3.1 Characteristics of Secondary Group
2.4 Community
2.5 Association
2.6 Organisations: Formal and Informal
2.7 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
After studying the unit, you will be able to:
 understand what a group is, its formation and types;
 know about primary and secondary group and their characteristics;
 define a community;
 identify an association; and
 differentiate between formal and informal organisations.
Humans are social beings. They live together and form a society. Although they
make society, neither they can see it nor can they touch it. But what all they can
do is that they can perceive the society, they can feel the presence of society all
around them. It is the basic reason behind calling society as an abstract entity. But
if society is abstract, how can we study that abstract article?
Now, let us think of these aspects from different point of view.
When a human being takes birth, he or she has certain needs to fulfill for which
he/she depends on other individuals. In this process, he/she interacts with other
individuals of society and establishes social relationships. These social interactions
take place between two or more individuals. The whole collection of individuals
in which social interaction takes place is called as ‘Social Group’. It is the group
in a form or the other which fulfills various needs of an individual. It provides a
medium for social interaction.
A person can easily identify those groups with which he makes relations in order
to fulfill his needs. It means we can see the individuals that form a group. In other 20

words, through these groups, we can experience the society which is considered
as abstract in itself. So we can say that even though group is small, still it is the
true representative of society, reflection of society.
Till now three things are very clear regarding the group:
One, group is the basic element of society and is a concrete phenomenon; second,
a group requires more than one individual; and third, there is a compulsory
interaction between the individuals forming a group i.e. social relationships.
The elaboration of idea of social relations within a group of individuals can be seen
in the writings of German Sociologist Max Weber. He opines that it is the mutual
awareness or mutual recognition that establishes the relations among the group
members. And it is the system of social relations that serves as a mean to fulfill
the common interests of all the members. Talcott Parsons (1951) considers culture
as a basic element behind social relationships. It is the culture which defines the
patterns of behaviour in a group which are shared by all the members of the
group. These shared norms or patterns define the roles of the members and
differentiate them from non-members.
Anderson and Parker (1966: 102) give a comprehensive definition of group,
“Groups are units of two or more people meeting in the same environment, or
overcoming distance by some means of communication, who are influencing each
other psychologically. The distinctive bond of the group is reciprocal interaction.
Friends in conversation, a committee in action and children playing together are
This definition of group implies that the relations among group members are not
temporary, they are recurrent and influence the other members of the group i.e.
members are conscious about the presence of other members. This consciousness
of membership influences their behaviour and also differentiates a group.
Hence, Group is not only a physical collection of people or an aggregation; while
it is a collection of people who shares common characteristics and organised
pattern of persistent interaction and are aware of each other’s presence.
Recurrent nature of interaction among the group members makes the group one
of the most stable social units of the society. They endure for a longer period and
make the society sustained. They are important for both to their members and for
the society at large. As we have already discussed, groups fulfill the needs of its
members. They also perform a number of functions like socialisation necessary for
the maintenance of the society.
To sum up, we can say that social group is a social unit which has the following
basic elements: a) an aggregation of two or more individuals, b) definite relations
among the members comprising it, c) mutual awareness or consciousness.
Since, group is a collection of interacting individuals, the level of interaction can
be of many types and group membership can be acquired in a number of ways.
So social groups can be classified in a variety of ways. Different scholars have
seen group from different point of views and classified groups in different ways.
There is broad range of facts on whose basis groups have been classified. Some
of the chief basis include functions, size, stability, status, rule of membership,
degree of interaction and many more.
A very important classification of groups was made by C.H. Cooley (1909). On
Social Group
Society and Culture
the basis of his works two types of groups were identified i.e. PRIMARY and
SECONDARY groups. Although, Cooley has never mentioned the term ‘secondary
group’ in his writings but other scholars have popularised the term secondary
group to those groups which do not fall in the category of primary groups.
Now, we would deal with these two types of groups in detail and would see their
importance in social life.
Primary group are those groups in which a small number of persons come into
direct contact with one another. There is sense of mutual co-operation,
companionship and sharing of personal feelings. They are small groups and every
person necessarily belongs to any of the primary groups. Due to their important
nature, they form the nucleus of the social organisation.
We have already mentioned that primary groups, for the very first time, were
recognised by C.H. Cooley (1909) in his very famous book ‘Social Organisation:
Human Nature and Social Order’. He has observed intimate and close social
relations among the members of certain small groups and termed those groups as
Primary groups. In his analysis of primary group he defined it in term of face-toface
interaction, co-operation and association, emotional involvement, identification
and sentiments of loyalty. In primary groups emotions and sentiments carry more
importance than the size of the group. Primary group is considered to be a
product of long and intimate informal interactions. The relations among the members
of primary groups are as in themselves not a mean to those ends.
For Cooley primary groups mean those characterised by intimate face-to-face
association and co-operation. They are primary in several senses, but chiefly in
that they are fundamental in forming the social order and ideas of the individual.
He further adds that the result of intimate association psychologically, is a certain
fusion of individualities in a common whole, so that one’s very self, for many
purposes at least, is the common life and purpose of the group. Perhaps the
simplest way of describing this wholeness is by saying that it is a ‘we’, it involves
the sort of sympathy and mutual identification for which ‘we’ is the natural expression.
One lives in the feeling of the whole and finds the chief aim of his will in that
Cooley considers family, playmates of children, neighbourhood and community
groups and groups of elders as primary groups. He believes in the universal
presence of these primary groups in all the times and all the stages of development.
He argues upon the presence of some degree of primary relations in all sorts of
groups. This primary association create consensus which further adds a ‘we’
feeling among the group members. Thus primary association is seen in all the
groups and cannot therefore be used as the bases of differentiation between
primary and secondary groups.
A large number of people cannot interact in highly personal and face-to-face
manner and they tend to break down into small, more intense cliques. So a
primary group consists of a small number of people who interact in intense, direct
and personal manner. The relationships between the members carry an emotional
depth and the group is likely to endure for a longer time. The members know each
other at personal level and share their experiences, gossip agreeably and fill the
need for intimate human companionship.
Three essential conditions have been identified for a primary group formation:
 Close face-to-face proximity
 Smallness of the group
 Durability of the bond
For intimacy to develop, physical proximity is a necessity that is provided best by
face-to-face association. Talking and seeking each other makes easy the exchange
of ideas, feelings, opinions and sentiments. Physical proximity provides opportunity
and conducive conditions for the development of primary groups.
Group size is also important. Sensory contact is not possible with many people at
the same time. Small group tends individuals to come closer and facilitates personal
interaction. The smaller the group the more intimate it will be. As the group
becomes larger, it dilutes its intensity of relations among members and individuals
also lose their individuality.
Intimacy is determined largely by the frequency and intensity of association. The
longer people are together, the deeper the contacts between them. Gradual and
regular interchanges of habits and ideas deepen the social ties.
Physical proximity, smaller size and long duration are the conditions that facilitate
the development of close relationships. All the three conditions are not mandatory
for the origin of a primary group rather they define the most favourable conditions
for the development of high level of primary relations.
2.2.1 Characteristics of Primary Group
Characteristics of primary groups can be divided into two broad categories i.e.
external characters and internal characters
External characters include following aspects:
 Physical proximity among group members
 Small size of the group
 Stability and durability
 Continuity in the relations
Internal characters include:
 Common objectives of the group
 The relations are ends in themselves
 Relationships are spontaneous
 Personal relationships
 Inclusive relations among members
 Control over the members
Primary groups are essential for social life. They play a very important role in an
individual’s life. They are significant at both individual and social level. They provide
the medium through which we learn our culture and patterns of behaviour. Some
of the main points regarding the importance of a primary group are given below.
Social Group
Society and Culture
2.2.2 Importance of a Primary Group
At the level of individual, a primary group
 Helps in development of personality
 Increases the efficiency of an individual
 Fulfills the psychological needs.
At the level of society, a primary group
 Transfers the culture from one generation to another
 Carries cultural norms of the society within the society
 Provides means of social control and helps maintaining the social order
 Ensures the performance of social roles in accordance with society norms.
Though primary relations and primary groups seem to be very important for the
society, it would be over imperative to consider them as ideal for social interactions.
At times primary groups interfere with other elements of the society. At the time
of making objective decisions, primary relations create hurdle. For example, if a
teacher shows leniency towards a student and gives him high marks which he does
not deserve, it would be considered as dysfunctional.
Many situations arise in modern society where primary relationships are
inappropriate at best and harmful at worst. In large bureaucratic structure, so
necessary to contemporary organisations, impersonality is more appropriate than
intimacy, routine is more important than spontaneity, and division of labour more
necessary than versatility. Societies and sub-societies composed of tight network
of primary relationships are often more tolerant of differences, more resistant to
change, and less receptive to freedom than societies where relationships are more
casual (Merill, 1969).
Moreover, primary group asserts its control over its members in the form of
restrictions, conformity and reactions. For example, a family provides liberties to
its members and at the same time imposes restrictions on them; a peer group
fosters the conformity in the group. Primary group also resists the intellectual,
industrial and educational changes in order to maintain its hereditary ties.
Typical examples of primary group
 The Army Group: Soldiers form primary groups with their commandants and form
informal relationships within formal settings in order to defend its members against
the arbitrary authority of officers.
 The Peer Group: Boys and girls of the same age group and approximately same
social background, as in a class, form a primary group and have personal social
interaction which also helps in their personality development.
 The Clique: It is a form of friendship developed between two or more persons which
bring them into joint activity. It satisfies the emotional needs of a person to be loved
and respected by his peers. example, clique of Indian students in Australian
In this discussion, we learnt that primary groups are the basic groups of the
society. A human being starts life from the primary group, develops personality in
primary group and throughout life one remains a part of one or another primary
group. But there are other groups which are important equally if not more in an
individual’s life. They are distinguished from primary groups and are called as
secondary groups.
Now, let us read some more about secondary groups and the reason behind their
Primary groups play a vital role in a person’s life; however, there are secondary
groups which fulfill their maximum needs in life. Cooley did not provide any
terminology for the groups other than primary groups and many writers came to
speak of ‘secondary groups’ the tendency has been to consider secondary groups
as those which depend for communication on indirect media, such as newspapers
(Faris, 1937).
In secondary groups, the relations are formal, impersonal, segmental and utilitarian.
These groups are less intimate as the level of interaction is restricted at a formal
level. They do not give close identity to its members as primary groups do. In
secondary group, we very often interact with people of diverse background because
we need their services and we have certain obligations to fulfill. In case of utilitarian
or contractual obligations, there is no need to develop personal relations. These
relations remain based on reciprocal needs. Hence, members of these groups
regard each other as means not an end in themselves.
MacIver and Page (1952) has pointed out that primary group relations are
characteristics of simple or primitive societies. As the population and territory of
a society increases, interests would have become diversified and so the needs. It
gave rise to the need of indirect, impersonal and utilitarian relations. He called
these newly emerged impersonal relations as ‘great associations”. They are result
of expansion of population and perhaps primarily, of growing cultural complexity.
He considers secondary group a character of industrialised and urbanised complex
societies. In these societies due to complexity in the nature of work, more
complicated relations develop which provides a very limited scope for intimate
Ogburn and Nimkoff (1966) say that the “groups which provide experience lacking
in intimacy, can be called as secondary group.” Here by experience he means the
interaction with the varied kind of people in day to day life. At one hand secondary
groups fulfill majority of the needs of an individual, on the other hand they also
separate individuals’ activities from the rest of the activities because in secondary
group context every individual is supposed to play his own part. It also segments
individuals’ personality in contrast to primary groups where his whole personality
Typical examples of secondary group
 A group of co-workers: A group of people working together in the same organisation
form a secondary group as they have impersonal relations but spends most of the
time together in the organisation.
 Clubs: Clubs are formed in order to fulfill some of the requirements of social life as
fun clubs or sport clubs for entertainment, charity clubs for contributions or donations,
hobby clubs for leisure pursuits and many more. These clubs are utilitarian in nature
and form a secondary group as members of the group are less intimate.
Social Group
Society and Culture
 University or college: University or a college also form secondary group as they are
segmental in nature. People are dependent on colleges for educational requirements
but it reflects just a part of their personality and people form formal contacts.
In order to understand secondary group in more appropriate manner, let us look
into their characteristics.
2.3.1 Characteristics of Secondary Group
 Dominance of secondary relations: Secondary group relations can be
seen in reference to primary relations. Secondary group relations are
impersonal, indirect, non-inclusive and utilitarian. Members are connected to
each other through contractual obligations or interests. Due to self-interest,
individuality develops among the members.
 Voluntary membership: Individuals are free to join or leave the group at
any point of time i.e. membership of these groups are predominantly voluntary.
But in case of secondary groups like ‘state’, membership becomes compulsory.
 Large in Size: Unlike a primary group, physical proximity is not the condition
for secondary group and so size of secondary group becomes large. They
might spread all over the world. For example, members of PETA (People for
the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are scattered all over the world.
 Goal Oriented: Secondary groups are formed in order to fulfill the needs of
the individuals. They serve the special functions in the society. Every secondary
group emerges in response to specific purpose and joins the people having
same type of need.
 Indirect communication: Mode of communication among the members of
secondary group is indirect. In many of the cases, group members seldom or
rarely or never come into direct contact to each other. They rely on different
forms of mass media communication which include radio, telephone, television,
newspaper, movies, magazines, post and telegraph etc.
 Role decides a person’s position: In secondary groups, position of a
person depends upon his role. Socially achieved status and its corresponding
role remains the key factor behind the position of a person in the secondary
group. His position is not being decided by his ascribed status neither he is
treated on the basis of his birth.
However, an individual fulfills its majority of the needs through the secondary
group, yet these groups are not exclusive and cannot replace the importance of
primary groups.
In modern society, many of the former functions of the primary groups have been
assumed by large, impersonal, goal-oriented groups. Each of these secondary
groups creates a new network of primary groups that provide intimacy and personal
response in many impersonal situations also. So we should not see both of them
mutually exclusive.
The inflexible classification of groups into primary and secondary is not preferable
as there is much overlapping of the two. Kingsley Davis (1957: 289) writes that
“Cooley’s emphasis on ‘we’ feeling cannot be taken as the distinctive element in
the primary group as such feeling to some extent is necessary for any enduring
community.” In between primary group like the family and a formal and rigid group
like army there are hundreds of groups, some of which are more primary than
others. Even in modern organisations, efforts are made to create a friendly
atmosphere among the employees.
Hence, we can say that in modern societies both primary and secondary groups
are important and it is not easy to substitute one for the other.
1) Identify the various people with which you interact often and try to categorise them
into primary and secondary group members in your reference.
2) Classify the following groups into primary and secondary groups
Nuclear Family Co-Workers
Sports Team Church Congregation
FCCI Mafia Brothers
Alcoholic Anonymous Democratic Party
Unmarried Partners Polo Club
Fraternal Groups College Clique
Army Battalion Boy Scout Troop
Neighbourhood Watch Rotary Club
Cancer Support Club Senior Citizen Club
We have understood the concept of group in the above discussion. The elementary
point of a social group is the presence of social relations. Now, just think of a
group in which an individual spends most of the time of his life and what if this
group is restricted to a particular locality or place or geographical area? It becomes
a community in which people spend most of their time and keep a feeling of
belongingness with it.
A community is called as a collection of people with residential ties to particular
locality. It is the territorial boundary which differentiates a community with other
groups because the concept of group is not restricted to a particular locality. It
may be considered as a permanent local aggregation of people having diversified
as well as common interests.
Word ‘Community’ is comprised of two Latin words namely ‘com’ and ‘munis’.
In English ‘com’ means together and ‘munis’ means to serve. Thus, community
means to serve together. In implies that the purpose of a community is to serve.
According to MacIver and Page (1952: 9) “Community is a group of people who
live together, who belong together, so that they share, not ties or that particular
interest, but as a whole set of interests, wide enough and complete enough to
include their lives.” Kingsley Davis (1957) has defined community as the smallest
territorial group that can embrace all the aspects of social life. These definitions
give emphasis on the structural and functional aspects of the community. While we
should keep in mind that community is not an exclusive entity, it should not be seen
as a separate part of society. They are within the society and form their integral
An individual cannot live his whole life within an organisation or an association
while he can live his life in a village or in a city. So we can say that community
provides the individual a conducive environment to live wholly within it and also
summarize his social relationships within it.
Social Group
Society and Culture
In the simple societies, communities are considered as self-sufficient but in modern
time character of community has become very complex. Moreover, community is
a relative term. People live within a greater community such as a village within a
district, a district within a region, a region within a state and a state within a
Sometimes, it becomes difficult to differentiate a community from other social form
like society and groups. But, there are some basic characteristic features of the
Characteristics of a Community
 Definitive geographical area: Community is a spatial entity. A community
is always considered in relation to a physical geographical area or territory.
It is a compulsory condition for a community. But it should not be confused
with those groups who live together without any separate physical boundary.
As four friends living in a room do not form a community. Community is a
broader term.
 We feeling or community feeling: It is home instinct which lays the foundation
of people’s attachment to their house, community or nation. It’s the ‘we’
feeling through which people recognises their community and themselves.
Community sentiments develop during a period of time within community.
 Common culture and common life: Life of the people in a community is
more or less same. Due to their common ecological conditions, they develop
same type of culture, habits and behavioural patterns. Cultural uniformity and
uniformity in their mode of life can be observed.
 Close relationships: As a person mostly lives in a community, proximate
relations develop. Collective participation becomes a common affair which
brings people together and gives a chance to primary relations to develop.
Thus, the psychological feelings of a community become more important.
 Completeness of life: Community covers all the aspects of life. Community
helps in the socialisation and also helps in developing the community sentiments
in a person as well.
 Permanent nature: Communities are never formed with any particular aim
or objective. It grows itself spontaneously and so it is durable.
 Not a legal body: A community is not a legal body i.e. it cannot sue, nor
it can be sued. In the eyes of law, community has no rights and duties.
Apart from these basic elements, community shares feeling of one-ness and has
a particular name. Though a community does not form with a particular aim, its
ends remain wider and natural.
MacIver and Page (1952) has considered village and tribal societies as the best
examples of community. Apart from it, they have also kept asylum and prison into
the category of community.
In our day to day life, we come across a number of associations like trader’s
association and urban development association etc. but we hardly pay any attention
to what an association is? In anthropology, association represents a group created
for fulfillment of common needs.
Human beings can fulfill their needs through three ways. One, independently;
second, through conflict with one another and third, on co-operative basis i.e. in
company. This co-operative pursuit may be determined by customs of the community.
So when a group organises itself especially for the purpose of pursuing certain
interests, an association is born.
As MacIver and Page (1952: 209) says that “an association is an organisation
deliberately formed for the collective pursuit of same interest or set of interests,
which its members share.” This definition clearly indicates the nature of association,
its structure and functions.
Hence, it can be said that an association is a group of people organised for a
particular purpose. It implies that there are certain conditions to constitute an
Firstly, there must be a group of people; Secondly, the group of people should be
organised i.e. there must be certain rules for conduct; Thirdly, there must be
common purpose of the specific nature to follow.
Since, men have several interests and several purposes to pursue; they establish
many associations to fulfill them. For example: political associations to serve the
political motives, student associations to give out student welfare, professional
associations like ICMR (Indian Council of Medical Research), FICCI (Federation
of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry) to serve the interests of concerned
people and international associations like Rotary Club, Y.M.C.A. (Young Men’s
Christian Association) etc.
As society moves towards complexity, needs of the human beings also become
diversified and this finally lead to more and more number of associations. In
contemporary times, associations perform more than their conventional functions.
Now people use associations to discharge their social obligations. Society is
considered as a combination of associations and healthy associations represents
a healthy society.
Characteristics of association
 Association requires at least two individuals. It is considered as a concrete
form of group.
 Association has its own aims and objectives. No association can be formed
without any aim. Aim can be broad or particular.
 Association is always a result of deliberate action. Like communities, they do
not grow spontaneously. They are deliberately created by men in order to
fulfill certain aims.
 In an association, membership remains voluntary. Members can join the
association or establish an association as per their needs.
 There are certain rules to get membership of an association. Every association
establishes on the ground of certain rules and regulations. It also contains
code of conduct for the members. On any contradictory action or disobeying
the regulations, a member may be expelled from the membership.
Social Group
Society and Culture
 Associations are subjected to be terminated. The life of an association is upto
the achievement of the aim for which it has been created. The existence of
the association after the achievement of the objectives becomes meaningless
and immaterial.
In simple societies, where there is less division of labour, there are a few
associations and they are more inclusive. Thus, they lack specific limited functional
character. They take such forms as age groups, kin groups and sex-groups etc.
while in modern societies; associations are tend to be specialised so that each
stands for a particular type of interest.
So we see that associations are formed to achieve certain general goals and in
order to attain these goals, certain rules and regulations are developed. Formation
of an association can be understood from the following example:
In a society, everybody needs a house to live. It is everybody’s aim but can we
achieve it by our own exclusive efforts and resources? The answer is ‘No’ and
for that purpose Housing and Urban Development Corporation (HUDCO) was
established. Associations are formed in this manner only. As needs increased,
people kept on making associations to meet those needs.
Hence, we can say that associations are those functional units of society through
which a man fulfills his basic social needs. They are deliberately formed in order
to attain certain purposes.
Reflection and Action
Are family, school and hospital associations?
If we observe them carefully, we find that all of these three have following characteristics:
i) More than one member
ii) A definite structure
iii) Have specific aims and objectives
iv) Voluntary membership (after certain period of time, one can decide that whether he/
she wants to stay in the family or not)
On the basis of above features, family, school and hospital can be considered as
1) Differentiate between community, association and society.
2) Make a list of all those associations to which you belong.
Now, we know about social groups, communities and associations. We learnt in
association that they are organised groups with a specific purpose. While
organisations are those associations of individuals through which certain value
oriented interests are satisfied. They are systematically arranged units of individuals
in which each person has a formal status and role, (Anderson and Parker, 1966).
Organisations are principally formed in order to attain certain goals. They emerge
‘when explicit procedures are established to coordinate the activities of a group
in the interest of achieving specific objectives. The collective effort of the members
of the group may become formally organised either because all of them have some
common interests or because a sub-group has furnished inducements to the rest
to work on behalf of its interests. Trade unions, government bureaus and army are
few examples of organisations.
In modern society, needs of human being are diversified and so a number of
organisations exist. Organisations provide a medium for expressing the interests
like education, architecture, music, sports, cultural activities, etc. Parsons (1960:
9) says that “organisations are social units that are deliberately constructed and
reconstructed to pursue specific goals.” The government, trade unions, sports
authorities and clubs are social structures formed to achieve certain objectives
with special purposes. These all are counted as organisations.
Generally, organisations can be divided into formal and informal organisations.
An organisation is developed when there is collectivity of people associated with
one another. But, mere collection of individuals does not form a formal organisation.
The defining criteria of a formal organisation is the existence of procedures for
mobilising and coordinating the efforts of various, usually specialised, sub-groups
in the pursuit of joint objectives.
Formal organisations are further divided into four types on the basis who benefits
from the organisation. One type is mutual benefit organisations where the members
are beneficiaries, for example a labour union. Another type is represented by
business concerns where the main beneficiaries are owners. Third type is clientcentered
as in case of service organisations. The fourth type is the common-wealth
organisations which are meant for the benefit of the public. Formal organisation
has fixed set of rules of intra-organisation procedures and structures. These rules
are set out in writing leaving a little scope for interpretations. In some societies or
in some organisations, such rules may be strictly followed; in others, they remain
at the level of formalisation only. The informal organisations are informally organised
by the participants themselves, and they compliment those formally organised for
them by the management. It is the interlocking social structure that governs how
people work together in practice. It is the aggregate of behaviours, interactions,
norms, personal and professional connections through which work gets done and
relationships are built among people who share a common organisational affiliation.
It consists of a dynamic set of personal relationships, social networks, communities
of common interest and emotional sources of motivation. Informal organisation
originates or evolves spontaneously in response to changes in the work environment.
Characteristics of formal organisation
 Enduring unless deliberately altered
 Static
 Very specified written rules
 Equates person with roles
 Hierarchical
 People are bounded together with formal rules and procedures
While informal organisations have following characteristics:
 Evolve or emerge spontaneously
 Dynamic and responsive
Social Group
Society and Culture
 Rules are not specified if written
 Treat people as individuals
 No hierarchical relations
Membership of an organisation along with its privileges entails duties and
responsibilities. It is just like availing a new status in order to make the individual
aware of his new responsibilities and status; many organisations go through the
initiation ceremony along with oath taking process. Some organisations maintain
secrecy which builds a kind of social distance between members and outsiders for
example Mau Mau, a secret organisation of West Africa (Verghese, 1992).
In a large organisation, many smaller organisations exist. These smaller organisations,
which are themselves formal organisations, work as sub units of larger network.
This whole network of organisations and its sub units is known as ‘complex
organisations’. Etzioni (1961: 464) opines, “Complex organisation constitutes one
of the most important elements which make up social web of modern societies.
Most citizens of modern societies are born in a hospital, educated in school, work
in one organisation or another; and to the degree to that they participate in religious
and political activities, these two, frequently take place in complex organisation.
In short member of modern societies obtain a large part of their material, social
and cultural satisfaction from large scale organisations”.
1) Name five formal and informal organisations found in your society
2) Find out the characteristics of bureaucratic organisation of your society
Modern organisations differ in three ways with social groups (i) division of labour;
(ii) power centers; and (iii) substitution of personnel. Contemporary organisations
are specialised and are likely to be formed when there is a complimentary or
common interest which may bring the members together for activities of mutual
In this unit you have learnt about social groups including primary and secondary
groups, communities, associations and formal and informal organisations. Social
groups are based on social interaction and the degree of interaction decides the
nature of the group. While community is a spatial phenomenon having ‘we’ feeling,
on the other hand associations and organisations are formed in order to fulfill
certain purpose with specific objectives. These concepts would help you in
understanding the society and its structure in a better way.
Anderson, W. A. and F. B. Parker. 1966. Society. Princeton: Van Nostrand Co.
Cooley. C. H. 1909. Social Organisation: Human Nature and Social Order.
New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
Davis, Kingsley. 1957. Human Society. New York: Macmillan.
Encyclopedia of Social Sciences Vol. XI, 1972. New York: Macmillan.
Etzioni, A. 1961. Complex Organisations: A Sociological Reader. New York:
Holt, Rinehart and Winston
Faris, Ellsworht. 1937. The Nature of human nature: and their essays in social
psychology. York, P.A: Mc Graw-Hill Book Company Inc.
MacIver, R. M. and C.H. Page. 1952. Society: An Introductory Analysis. New
York: Macmillan.
Merill, Francis E. 1969. Society and Culture-an introduction to Sociology. N.J:
Prentice Hall Inc, Englewood Cliffs.
Ogburn, W.F. and M. F. Nimkoff. 1966. A Handbook of Sociology. New Delhi:
Eurasia Publications house.
Parsons, Talcott. 1951. The Social System. Glencoe: IL, Free Press.
Parsons, Talcott.1960. Structure and Process in Modern Societies. Glencoe:
The Free Press.
Verghese, K.E. 1992. General Sociology. Chennai: Macmillan India Ltd.
Weber, Max. 1920. The theory of social and economic organisation. New
York: Simon & Schuster
Suggested Reading
MacIver, R. M. and C.H. Page. 1952. Society: An Introductory Analysis. New
York: Macmillan.
Parsons, Talcott.1960. Structure and Process in Modern Societies. Glencoe:
The Free Press.
Sample Questions
1) Primary Groups play a pivotal role in a person’s life. Explain.
2) Primary Groups can be formed within the secondary groups. Comment.
3) How is a community different from an association?
4) Organisations form a network of roles and duties. Elucidate.
Social Group
3.1 Introduction: Identity
3.1.1 Society, Self and Identity
3.1.2 Culture and Identity
3.1.3 Identity, Self Recognition and Meaning
3.1.4 Identity: Reasons and Choice
3.2 Transformation of Identity
3.2.1 Identity and Domination
3.2.2 Identity, Power and Changing Society
3.2.3 Identity in Networked Society
3.3 Collective Actions, New Identity and Social Movements
3.4 Resurgence of Multiple Collective Identities in India
3.5 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
After reading this unit, you will be able to:
 elaborate the concept of identity;
 discuss the process of transformation of identity;
 analyse the process of rejuvenation of identity in the context of social
movement and its transformation; and
 delineate the resurgence of multiple collective identities as taking shape in
grassroots movements in India.
In general sense of the term, it is widely stated that an identity is what “I am” or
“we are”, “he is” or “they are”. The “I” and “we” similarly “he” and “they” is
neither independent/autonomous social product nor remain fixed forever. One’s
identity is constructed through the processes of interaction, and daily engagement
both with the local and global society. These processes of construction get widely
influenced by the social and cultural institutional arrangements of the society like
the caste, religion and ethnicity, class, political party, state and the like. Thus the
process of identity construction get negotiated both with the localised
conditionalities, historical experiences and inter connections with the wider society.
It is a complex and dynamic process through which individual collective self gets
constructed, reformed and rejuvenated. Hence the summations of identity represent
the collective self. Generally speaking human beings are born in society and
34 societal conditions widely shape the identity.

3.1.1 Society, Self and Identity
The issues of ‘self’ and ‘identity’ are frequently used in the symbolic-interactionist
theories. To them ‘self reflects society’, i.e., ‘society shapes self which shapes
social behaviours’ (Mead 1934; Cooley 1902; Blumer 1969). Society however is
not a homogenous undifferentiated identity. It is having eclectic dimension. Hence
the structural symbolic–interactionist visualises societies as ‘highly differentiated
yet organised systems of interactions and relationships encompassing a wide variety
of crosscutting lines based on social class, age, gender, ethnicity, religion and
more’. Here ‘self’ must be seen as ‘multifaceted, as comprised of a variety of
parts that are sometimes interdependent and sometimes independent of other
parts, sometimes mutually reinforcing and sometimes conflicting and that are
organised in multiple ways. Self is conceptualised as sets of discrete identities or
internalised role designations. It is also argued that identity varies in their salience.
That a given identity can be invoked in a variety of situations or it ‘can be defined
as differential probability’. Thus choice between or among behaviours expressive
of particular roles will reflect the relative location of the identities associated with
those roles (Stryker 1990: 873–74).
3.1.2 Culture and Identity
Philosophically identity is not a universal but a culture-specific discursive
construction. Hall (1990) talks about cultural identity that is formed continuously:
‘Cultural identity is not an essence but a continually shifting description of us’.
Hall’s (1996) argues that there is no automatic connection between various
discourses of identity, namely, class, gender, race, age, etc. as they can be articulated
in different ways. In this connection, the issue of multiple identities as propagated
by several social scientists is highly relevant. To Barker and Galasinski (2001) ‘we
may reflect on the multiple identities of the contemporary subject, that is the
weaving of the patterns of identity from the discourses of class, race, gender, etc.
We can thus conceive of people as operating across and within multiple subject
positions constituted by the intersections of discourses of race, gender, age, nation,
class, etc. Thus there is an element of plasticity in the formation of identity. Here
to Hall (1996), it is the very plasticity of identity that makes its cultural and
political significance, for the shifting and changing character of identities chronicles
the way that get transformed over time and as a result, they tend to be subjective
construction of mainly their objectively fixed phenomena (Hall 1996).
3.1.3 Identity, Self Recognition and Meaning
Furio Cerutti (2001) is of the view that the change in self-perception of the actor
plays a crucial role both in the formation and transformation of identity. To him
‘there is a symbolic interaction (before and above any calculations and sometimes
against the same calculations) that explains the development of the actor’s self, his
actions, his transformations and his undoing’. The resurgence of identity also signifies
a shift in attention ‘from structure to agency’.
Cerutti (2001) emphasised two important dimensions related to the process of establishment
and transmission of identity: (a) it creates a source of meaning to provide legitimacy to
the decisions, action and unity of the group’s existence, and (b) it also defines the outer
limits of group solidarity.
Identity in question thus, should be considered as an evolving identity and not a
static one. Thus collective identity is a dynamic process and is a social construction.
Social Identity and
Society and Culture
Such a construction also involves the social production of boundaries reflecting the
process of inclusion and exclusion. Self-recognition is an essential aspect of identity
formation, which is produced by collectively operated individualisation of value,
norms, life forms, etc. (Furio Cerutti 2001).
To Castells (1997) identities are sources of meaning for actors themselves, and by
themselves constructed through a process of individuation. Identity refers to the
process of construction of meaning on the basis of cultural attributes, or related
sets of cultural attributes that is/are given priority over sources of meaning by set
of social actors. Although identities can also be originated from dominant institutions,
they can only become identities only when and if social actor internalises them and
construct their meaning around their individuation. He distinguishes identities from
roles. To him identities are stronger source of meaning than roles because of the
process of self construction and individuation that they involve. In simple terms,
identities recognise the meaning while roles recognise the functions. He again
defines meaning as the symbolic identification of the purpose of action by a social
actor (Castells, 1997:7).
3.1.4 Identity, Reasons and Choice
While examining the problematic aspects of identity, Amartya Sen (1999) underlines
that the sense of community and fellowship relates closely to the idea of social
identity. According to Sen, ‘There are strong influences of the community, and of
the people with whom we identify and associate, in sharpening our knowledge and
comprehension as well as our ethics and norms. In this sense, social identity
cannot but be central to human life’ (Sen, 1999: 4). The centrality of human life
is conditioned by inherited socio cultural processes on the one hand and by
reasons and alternative choices on the other. Identity also shapes through societal
recognition. In the interactive world individuals are posted with varieties of choices.
This provides the opportunity to associate and to form and reform identities either
based on reason, tradition or else. Sen extensively examines the question as to
whether our identities emerge by choice or by reasoning or by passive recognition.
He mentions that the choice to be identified is not permanent in the society and
that there are limits to what we choose to identify with. He also mentions that one
can discover his or her identity. However, to him choices have to be made even
when discoveries occur. ‘Choices do exist, and any denial to this fact leads to the
uncritical and unquestioning acceptance of conformist behaviour with several
conservative implications. To him, ‘the unquestioned presumptions are merely
unquestioned not unquestionable’. The unquestioning acceptance of social identity
may also involve a radical shift in the identity having accepted as discovery rather
than reasoned choice. For example a shift from the holistic to sectarian identities
may be a product of unquestioning acceptance of coercive arrangement. This
unreasoned identity shift may lead to devastating effects, like in Rwanda or
Yugoslavia. Here he explains the phenomena of ‘new tyrannies’ in the form of
newly asserted identity that tyrannizes by eliminating other identities. These identities
may have a political role. However these may be oppressive if no room is given
to other claims. To Sen, ‘to deny plurality, choice and reasoning in identity can be
a source of repression; choice is possible and important in individual conduct and
social decisions even if we remain oblivious of it’ (Sen 1999: 22).
Social movements not only help generate new collective identity or common identity,
but also provide a broad field for the transformation of social identity [this lead
to the formation of a unified group out of scattered individuals e.g., transforming
serie into groups en fusion (Sartre 1960), or this may lead to the transformation
of a collectively into a self conscious groups for collective ‘class-in-itself’ to
‘class-for-itself’ (Marx 1974), etc.]. Sartre calls serie the normal state of crowds,
that is, a series of atomized individuals, each one seen as isolated in his or her
inner world and going his or her own way without caring about others’ ways.
What Sartre is pointing out is that whenever and wherever this figure is actually
doing something or even just walking in the street, it has a silent companion:
‘social control’. The public space is wholly under the control of the established
power. Every individual, whatever she or he thinks of the manifest public discourse
“All is well” and its latent content “Noting can be changed” (cf. Bertaux 1990:
150) whether he or she accepts the rule of this power or rejects it, does so
secretly, thus behaving as if accepting it. Therefore each one, looking at all the
others who work, comply and keep quiet, thinks they are alone in secretly rejecting
this social order. When, however, frustration mounts in each person individually,
it takes only a small event to trigger an instantaneous and massive change of state,
from serie to groupe en fusion. As soon as each person in a serialised mass
realises that some others contest the established power, as he or she takes one
step forward to openly express support, a chain reaction spreads through the
atomized series and transforms it into a fluid group (groupe en fusion) which
instantly moves from the status of subordinated passive object to that of subject
capable of action’ (cf. Bertaux 1990: 155–56). Indeed, social movements provide
the required platform for such transformation.
In the Marxian analysis transformation in the collective identity has been viewed
as transformation of class identities from that of ‘class-in-itself’ to ‘class-foritself’.
An identity is constructed not only through objective economic conditions
but through a subjective consciousness about economic conditions that transform
the social collectivity into a self conscious entity to bring transform in the preexisting
social order. The social collectivity with common economic position and
conflicting economic interest vis-a vis the other form objective basis of a class-initself.
This is social class without identity and it is incapable of collective action as
it lacks subjective consciousness. The class-in-itself acquires collective identity of
class-for-itself getting mediated through class-consciousness. In this analysis of
transformation of identity all pre-existing identities like caste, gender, race, ethnicity
etc are subsumed under the class identity.
3.2.1 Identity and Domination
To Longman (2010) in face of the structural crises, contradictions and dislocations
due to globalisation, there is often a migration from the political economic to
cultural/collective identity and emotional realms. Customary identities regarding
work, gender, gender orientation, religion etc. face economic and/or cultural
challenges and crises that in turn impact identities and cause emotional distress to
For Foucault, power and domination work through the inscription and control of
identity through various disciplinary/discursive practices. (cf. Buechler, 2000).
Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony depends on mediation though identity to
naturalise the historical (Langman, 2000). Thus a crucial aspect for certain
contemporary social movements is rejection or refashioning of identities/values, to
influence the future directions of a society. From what has been said, collective
identity can be seen as a contested terrain in struggles for hegemony. The historic
Social Identity and
Society and Culture
blocs in power defend their power and privilege by fostering identities in which
subjugation is cloaked and most people accept their domination (ruling block
interests) as “normal”, “common sense” and “in their best interests”. In other
words, the production of identities is a part of hegemonic processes that sustain
structures of domination at the level of the person. And the acceptance and
performances of those identities is not without certain emotional gratifications for
most people most of the time. The extent to which such identities are embraced
without question, and reproduced in performance over time, sustains the continuity
of the society. This has been the essential nature of the structuration process for
Giddens and the nature of the habitus for Bourdieu. Most notions of identity
locate the person/group within certain structures of hierarchy and domination. This
may be racial or ethnic. Colonisers impose subaltern identities upon on the colonisedthe
acceptance of which empowers the coloniser-even if the colonised turns violence
on his/her self (Fanon, 1986). Women have been socialised to be subordinate to
men-but as Simone de Beauvior noted the suffering of women as Other, what
Freudian called the illness without a name. Gays have long suppressed their identities.
3.2.2 Identity, Power and the Changing Society
Identity is also linked to broad societal arrangement. Each of the societies—
primitive, agrarian, industrial and post-industrial is represented by their own variety
of identities. In recent years the process of construction of collective identity has
taken a complex shape in the wake of the initiation of new economic orders,
introduction of new technologies and unprecedented flow of new technology and
increasing flow of human and material objects across the globe. Manuel Castells
(1997) in his famous work The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture:
The Power of Identity elaborates the process of emergence of identity that
challenges the processes of globalisation and cosmopolitanism. To him:
“Along with the technological revolution, transformation of capitalism, and the
demise of the statism, we have experienced the wide spread surge of powerful
expression of collective identity that challenges globalisation and cosmopolitanism
on behalf of the singularity and people’s control over their lives and environment.
These expressions are multiple, highly diversified following the contours of each
culture, and the historical sources of formation of each identity. They include
practice of movements, aiming at the transforming human relationship at their most
fundamental level” (Castells, 1997:10).
Though it is easy to accept that identities are constructed, to him the real questions
are how and for what. He is of the opinion that the identities are constructed in
the context of power relationship and he proposes three forms of the origins of
identity building.
Legitimising identity: Introduced by the dominant institutions of the society to
extend and rationalise their domination vis-a vis social actors. Legitimising
identities sustaining the social order—typically these include patriotic, religious or
consumerist orientations. Such identities, the most typical in any society, maintain
the status quo.
Resistance Identity: Generated by those actors that are in positions/ conditions
devaluated and/or stigmatized by the logic of domination, thus building trenches of
resistance and survival on the basis of principles different from or opposed to
those permeating the institutions of society (Castells 1997) Resistance identities
attempts to retain or restore waning identities that oppose globalisation and its
impacts. For example, the fragmentation of community, often tied to economic
decline, leads some people to turn away from the global and embrace reactionary
movements from nationalisms to fundamentalisms that would restore a [mythical]
lost world or “Golden Age” of strong communities of the past and defend a
particular cultural framework that would secure heretofore privileged, traditional
identities. In some cases, there may be progressive forms of resistance albeit
romantic and anarchic, and so individualistic; they are unlikely to foster mobilisations
(Longman 2010).
Project Identity: When social actors on the basis of whatever cultural materials
available to them build a new identity that redefines their positioning in society, by
so doing, seek the transformation of the whole structure (Castells, 1997:8). For
our purposes, the most important, if often least frequent pattern are the project
identities that challenge the hegemony of the dominant class at several levels, not
the least of which are proposing alternative identities that typically resist
rationalisation and/or commodification and consumerism. These project identities
pose fundamental challenges to late capitalist modernity in which rational
technologies, as forms of domination, colonise the life world as well as collective
identity, child rearing, family life, work, organisational spheres and even the pursuit
of pleasure (Giddens 1991, Habermas 1975, Hochschild 1997). The attempts to
re-negotiate and/or fashion new forms of tolerant democratic identities that embrace
alternative futures, in turn act to impel progressive social transformations. Such
people seek to transform people and society in terms greater equality, freedom
and democracy. But these project identities are emergent in the interaction of
struggle, they are neither a priori nor clearly envisioned as goals.
He again maintains that “identities that start as resistance, may reduce project and
may also along with the course of history, become dominant in the institution of
the society, thus becoming a legitimising identities to rationalise their domination.
Thus to him there is per se no progressive or regressive identities except its
historical context. However in his each type of identity process leads to a different
outcome in constituting society. Legitimising identity generates a civil society, i.e.
a set of organisation and institutions as well as a series of structured and organised
social actors, which produce albeit sometimes in a conflict manner the identity that
rationalises the source of structural domination” (Castells, 1997:2). This is indeed
the original concept of civil society as formulated by Gramsci. The Gramscian
sense of civil society is formed by a series of apparatuses such as the church,
unions, parties etc on which on the one hand prolonged the dynamics of the state,
on the other hand deeply rooted among the people.
The identity for resistance leads to the formation of communes or communities. It
constructs forms of collective resistance against other unbearable oppression, usually
on the basis of the identities that were apparently defined by history, geography
or biology making it easier to essentialise the boundaries of resistance”. Here the
examples of are religious fundamentalism, nationalist self affirmation, etc the
expressions being exclusion of the excluded by the excluders.
The project identity according to him produces subjects. They are collective actors
through which individuals reach holistic meaning of their experience. In this case
the building of identity is a project of different life… expanding towards the
transformation of the society (Castells, 1997:10).
3.2.3 Identity in Networked Society
To him, the dynamics of identity is central to the network society and herein he
accepts the tenets of Gidden’s characterisation of identity in the late modernity.
Social Identity and
Society and Culture
Locating self-identity within the interplay of local and global he accepts Giddens
view that “self identity is not a distinctive trait possessed by the individual. It is the
self as reflexively understood by the person in terms of his/her biography… To be
a human being is to know both what is one doing and why one is doing it… In
the context of the post industrial order, the self becomes a reflexive project…
Reflexively organised self planning…becomes a central feature of the structuring of
the self identity” Giddens (1991).
To Castells, however the raise of network society calls into question the process
of construction of self identify. It is because the network society is based on the
systemic disjunction between local and global for most individuals and social
groups. Therefore, reflexive self planning becomes impossible, except for the elite
inhabiting in the timeless space of flows of global network and their ancillary
Under such new conditions, civil societies shrink and disarticulate because there
is no longer continuity between the logic of power making in the global network…
The search for meaning takes place then in the reconstruction of defense identified
around communal principles. Most of the social actions becomes organised in the
opposition between unidentified flows and secluded identities… (and) that the
condition of the subject at the heart of the process of social change takes a
different route to one we knew during modernity and late modernity: namely
subjects if and when constructed, are not built any longer on the basis of civil
societies, that are in the process of disintegration, but as prolongation of communal
resistance… This is the actual meaning of the new primacy of identity politics in
the network society (Castells, 1997:11).
Castells while explaining the process of emergence and transformation of social
movements in the context of the network society states that information technology
is transforming the world and it is causing disintegration of existing mechanism of
social control and political representation. All over the world, there is perceived
loss of control over lives, environment, jobs, economies, governments, countries
and ultimately over the fate of the earth. There is an emerging new global order,
and alternative projects challenge the logic embedded in the new global order.
Now there are unexpected ways of reactions and mobilisations. In his view social
movements can be categorised by three principles: the movements identity, the
movements adversary and the movements goal which was originally propagated
by Touraine (1966). The identity refers to the self definition of the movement of
what it is, adversary refers to the principle enemy, as explicitly defined by the
movement; and the social goals refers to the vision of the social order the movement
would wish to attain.
To him in the information age, bypassed by global network of wealth, power and
information, the modern nation state has lost much of its sovereignty. In this age
the legitimising identities are drained away. He however has visualised the emergence
of a powerful resistance identities both retrench in the communal heavens and built
around proactive social movements’ which choose to establish their autonomy in
their communal resistance’ for example the women’s and the environmental
movements. In the network society together with the state apparatuses, global net
works, and self centred individuals, there are also communes formed around
resistance identity. However their logic excludes each other.
In this backdrop he visualises the emergence of project identities from the
development of the resistance identities that arise from a commune. The commune
of resistance defends their space, and their places against the placeless logic of the
space of flows characterising social dominations in the information age. In the
network society power is diffused in the global network of wealth, power and
information, and images. The social movements according to Castell are emerging
from the communal resistance to globalisation, capitalist restructuring, organisational
networking, uncontrolled informationalism and patriarchalism. Such of them are of
ecologist, feminists, religious fundamentalists, nationalists, and localists.
Among the new social movement scholars the issue of collective identity formation
has got a place of prominence whereby issues such as collective participation,
group solidarity, and cultural integration and so on have been widely emphasised.
How are these identities formed? What are their implications for a social movement?
To Pizzorno the direct participation in collective action is an essential component
of collective identity formation. This participation in the collective action, to him,
need not be seen in terms of gain or loss, but in terms of production of solidarity.
These kinds of action are ‘connecting a process of formation for an identity’
(Pizzorno, 1978: 293).
It is now imperative for us to look into the nuances of identity perspective that has
been widely used in West European countries to study social movements since
early 20th century. This intellectual tradition has emerged backdrop of proliferation
of preponderant labour movements, development industrial democracies, Fabian
socialism and welfare state in the UK and other countries on the one hand, and
mobilisations of nationalist feelings in the countries like Germany on the other.
Indeed institutionalisation of reformist and social democratic labour movement in
Western Europe affected the way social movements were conceived by social
scientists in these countries (Eyerman and Jamison, 1991:17-18).
However since 1960s, going away from the economic determinism and newness
were the major thrusts to study social movements. Touraine (2006) makes it very
explicit: “After the World War II and even very recently—especially in the 1960s—
many people, including myself tried to discover new forms of collective actions in
a so called, at that time, post-industrial, society and what we call now an information
society …I was convinced at the end of the twentieth century and beginning of the
twenty- first century, the social and the political scene would be dominated by the
growing role of these new and the cultural movements… Many people were
convinced that priority should be given to the formation of what I had myself
called ‘new social movements” (Tourine, 2006: 89-92).
It was widely realised that not merely the empirical and the economic class position,
but rather the issue of values, culture, subjectivity, morality, empowerment etc.
have also played crucial roles towards the formation of new collective identities
in these movements. Touraine (1981, 1983) observed ‘new social movements as
potential bearers of new social interests’ and that social movements are characterised
by the realisation of historicity, by self-conscious awareness and collective identity.
Bertaux (1990) has added the view that “subjectivity” and “idealism” are essential
elements of social movement and that “subjectivity refers to the subject in its
totality…it concerns with the drastic change in the fabric of social life that takes
place when a new movement is born.” (Bertaux, 1990:153). Social movements
help generate sense of collective identity and new ideas that recognises the reality
Social Identity and
Society and Culture
from new perspective. Collective identities are formed as an achieved definition of
a situation, constructed and negotiated through the constitution of social networks
which then connect the members of a group or movement through collective action
to provide distinctive meaning to collective action. Thus social movements grow
around relationship of new social identity that are voluntarily conceived “to
empower” members in defense of this identity (Melucci 1992, 1996). To Melucci
‘newness of the new social movements is a relative concept and it had a temporary
function to indicate the comparative difference between the historical forms of
class conflict and today’s emergent form of collective action. ‘The reality in which
we live has in entirety become a cultural construct and our representations of it
serve as filters for our relationship with the whole world… Social movements too
seem to shift their focus from class, race, and other more traditional issues towards
the cultural ground……’ (Melucci, 1996:8-9).
In the world of cultural interactivity and co-construction social movement provides
public spaces for generating new thoughts, activating new actors, generating new
ideas. ‘Thus by producing new knowledge, by reflecting on their own cognitive
identity, by saying what they stand for, by challenging the dominant assumptions
of the social order, social movements develop new ideas those are fundamental to
the process of human creativity. Thus social movements develop worldviews that
restructure cognition, that re-cognize reality itself. The cognitive praxis of social
movements is an important source of new social images and transformation of
societal identities’ (Eyerman and Jamison 1991: 161-166). Thus social movements
involve actions for ‘doing’. ‘The involvement in an action is a matter of conscience
and emotion, of responsibility and intention, of reflection and (com) passion, it is
basically moral, global and individual (Hegedus, 1990: 266).
Social movements are also linked however not only to the understanding of common
social identity but also of common interest (Scott 1991: 6) With the growing space
for globalism and informationalism while the notion of identity has emerged to be
idealistic and hegemonic at one end, it is also tending to be diluted, fragmented
and self oriented on the other. In view of the changes in the contemporary society
critiquing the domination of the identity theory has also been a possibility and
necessity. It is widely delineated that, with the technological revolution, transformation
of capitalism, and the demise of the statism, informationalism is disintegrating the
existing mechanism of social control and political representation. With the exception
of a small elite of global politics (half beings, half flows), people all over the world
recent loss of control over their lives. In the network society, “thus on the one
hand the dominant global elites inhabiting in the space of flows tend to consist of
the identity less individuals (citizens of the worlds); while on the other hand,
people insisting economic, cultural, and political disfranchisement trend to be
attracted to communal identity” (Castells, 1997).
Hence the concept of collective identity has also become an obstacle to explore
the forms of mobilisations increasingly taking place in the networks, scapes and
flows. The fluid like characteristics of emerging society with increasing unequal
flows of people, information, money, images risks, practices and emotions with no
clear beginning or the end points. Within these emerging complexities social systems
increasingly manifest fluid-like characteristics and become increasingly subject to
shockwaves fluidarity rather than solidarity, public experience of self rather than
collective identity are the emerging paradigm of contemporary social movements
(Urry 2000 cf. McDonald, 2002).
These emerging phenomena have induced a good deal of complexities in
comprehending social movement theoretically, and in understanding the nature of
collectivities on which the very foundation of social movement is laid. Social
movement group is understood as a variant of social collectivities and is usually
understood within the conceptual formulation of ‘community’. Now it has also
been understood as collectivity of informal networks which mobilise about conflictual
issues through the frequent use of various forms of protest” (della Porta and Diani
1999:16). Moreover, there are diverse types of adherent in social movements i.e.
activists, participants, sympathisers (Neidhardt and Rucht. 2002). Social movement
collectivities are loosely formed many a times independent of geographical boundary.
Their collective identity is formed based on temporarily perceived articulated ideals
and common interests, and that many participants tends to be members of more
than one collectivities simultaneously Significantly many of these collectivities do
have contradictory interests and goals. Hence, it is inevitable that membership is
fluid and are of varying strength. Thus the fluid and the fuzzy membership and the
emerging fluderity of identity make the social order of social movement in
communities very weak. The emergence of net work society adds more odds with
the concept of community.
Though the identity theorists locate identity within the broad interactive social
processes, they also simultaneously advocate the notion of autonomy of identity.
Their focus has been on the theme of political autonomy against ideological
determinism, personal autonomy, and autonomy from localised formulation. Away
from the perspectives of these theorists, autonomy is also understood as process
of formulation from below. E.P Thompson (1963) in his seminal history from
below underlined the autonomous discourse by popular strata. To him, two
processes are to be integrated to define popular movements; integration in the
collective action of the popular strata, definition of an autonomous and independent
discourse. ‘If such a definition is general, encompassing different historical realities,
it might be useful as a methodological suggestion to attempt the interpretation of
the actual, located in the time and space…’ Indeed the issue of autonomy has
emerged to be an integral part of social movement analysis in the context of
emerging fluderity of identity, emergence of resistance from below and formation
multiple identities both at the global and the local levels.
Notwithstanding their contradictory theoretical positions from those of the political
process and the new social movements theorists, the dependency theorists now
recognise that in the world system there have existed multiple identities and varieties
of social movements- the socialist, labour, women, nationalist liberation, peasant,
ecology even some religious movements- within the capitalist world economy.
Since late 1960s these have been “primarily triggered by the sense that the old
movements – the social democrat, the communist and the nationalists had failed
in many of their objectives… and that there has been a major crisis in the anti
systemic social movements” (Wallenstein 2002). It is again pointed that the anti
systemic movements “overshadowed the ever present other social movements
who are now gaining significance while the performances and promise of other
social movements are declining. ….. The increasing failure of the state/ political
parties labour movements/ parties, socialism/Marxist parties as well as people’s
increasing refusal to be manipulated by these, now also increasingly draws the new
other social movements” (Gunder Frank and Matra Fuentes 2002:177). “In the
present moment of the society is ‘marked by the appearance new problems and
new social movements which can no longer be explained by invoking another
order of the phenomena- the laws of the capitalist development or the consequences
of modernisation..’ It is also a different intellectual moment ‘causing to the inability
Social Identity and
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to the ‘traditional left’ to understand social and the political events’ of this era. Our
most urgent need is to learn how to name and analyze the new social practices
and the new forms of collective action which are shaping the societies of today
and tomorrow” (Tourine (2005)11-12, 25).
In the changing society while most of the social movements have remained
institutionalised, working class movements are also on a decline and have emerged
to be incapable of rising to the level of historicity to challenge the over all control
of the major orientations of collective life, new forms of social movements are also
in the making to articulate new forms of identity and interests Significantly enough
the end of cold war and emergence of new phase of economy with globalisation
has marked the proliferation of ‘global movements’ involving numerous struggles
on the question of environment, human rights, vision of ‘another world’ demand
of recognition of cultural identities and so on [Wieviorka(2005)]. In the changing
world conflict is now getting institutionalised and social movements becoming
permanent component of political interest mediation, and legitimate factors in
contemporary societies. All these are leading to the conspicuous formation of the
‘movement society’. All these indicate the trends of potential emergence and
sustenance of plurality of social movements taking up long term and permanent
positions in society on diverse issues and interests (Rucht and Neidhardt 2002).
With the emergence of multiplicity of social movements in the movement society,
social movements are to encounter its inverted image— “the social anti movements
which instead of promoting a social or a cultural identity, champion of some
abstract entity, essence or symbol, and speak in the name of a purity or
homogeneity. Again instead of building relationships with other actors, agreeing on
the principles of debates and negotiations, they champion absolutes, and adopt do
or die attitudes. And if they appear in an arena where social movements also exist,
they try to destroy these movements, and fight against them” (Wieviorka 2005:18).
In the wake of globalisation and the emerging interplay of several new forces a
large part of the society is undergoing a profound process of socio-cultural decontextualisation.
These have generated new varieties of social change and mobility
and have led to the articulation of diverse interests and identities; and expression
of diverse varieties of protests, conflict, collective mobilisation and social movements.
Significantly many of the processes are intertwined with each other. Societies in
India are experiencing fast processes of transformation in response to global forces
and internal fluid situations which has resulted in emerge of various new movements.
In recent years societies in India have borne witness to the proliferation and
resurgence of varieties of identities. These are widely caused by increasing quantum
of interconnectivity, social mobility and interpenetration of new technologies on the
one, and persisting poverty, unemployment, ill-health, livelihood insecurity, social
subordination and coercion of the dominant section of the population on the other.
Hence many of the pre-existing identities have got redefined and rejuvenated in the
changing context to become protest identities in the contemporary society.
Societies in India now widely experience the proliferation of fluidity of collective
identity. The conventional and the pre-existing patterns of vertical social mobility
have been diluted in the wake of decline in the land man ratio, and the increase
in the occupational diversification and rural to urban migration. Vast segment of the
population are now horizontally mobilised from agriculture to non agricultural activities
and a good number of them from rural to the urban areas. It has widely contributed
to the increasing informalisation of Indian economy to accommodate 92% of the
work force who can’t spend Rs 20 per day towards consumption. Indeed in spite
of occupational mobility, the economic vulnerability of the marginalised segment of
the population has not been altered. The vast segments of the population, due to
the lack of proper education, training and social capital, look for alternative avenues
of employment not by choice but by compulsion. This has lead to the emergence
of multiple employer-employee relationship even in rural areas. The pre-dominant
and stable forms of agrarian employer employee relationships (landlord-tenant or
land lord-agricultural labourer etc) are now being replaced by unstable, infrequent
relationship with multiple employers or the service users. The traditional structure
of authority and the primordial form of domination has been widely questioned
with the emergence of NGOs activities and the functioning of Panchayat Raj
institutions at the grass roots. Now gender, caste and ethnic identities are articulated
to frame collective mobilisations against the hostile forces of patriarchy, feudalism
and caste and ethnic hegemony. The struggles of the Dalits and the tribes for
economic emancipation have been extended to the areas of struggles for political
empowerment and to the struggles for their caste and ethnic identity. The practice
of democracy at the grass-roots has generated a space for self-assertion among
the marginalized groups on diverse issues and have contributed to the continuity
of the culture of collective mobilisations and re-articulation of regional, ethnic,
gender etc identities. For example the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh which
has visualised the proliferation of peasant movements (viz. the Telangana 1948-52,
Naxalite movements 1972 onwards) has now seen the proliferation of numerous
collective mobilisations at the grass roots through the resurgence of multiple identities.
For example the resurgent separate Telangana statehood movements based on
the ethnic identity of the Telangana people, mobilisation of the agrarian poor and
sustained agrarian conflict spear headed by the CPI(ML), (Peoples’ War Group)
and various other Naxalite outfits, mobilisation for the protection of civil rights of
citizen by Andhra Pradesh Civil Liberties Committee (APCLC), Organisation for
the Protection of Democratic Rights, Citizens Forum etc, mobilisation of scheduled
Tribes by Thudum Debba (a militant organisation of the scheduled tribes),
mobilisation of Madiga (a scheduled caste) by Madiga Reservation Porata Samithi
(MRPS) for re-categorisation of the scheduled castes into four groups based on
their contemporary educational and economic status for the purpose of reservations
in jobs, education, etc.), moblisation of cultivators by Roytu Seva Samithi, Jala
Sandhana Samithi (demanding irrigation facilities for the peasants), anti arrack
movement to mobilise women against production and consumption of liquor and
also for women’s liberty, political participation and social development and so on
are the contemporary realities of collective mobilisations in rural Andhra Pradesh.
Similarly, West Bengal which has experienced the proliferations peasant and class
identities through the Tebhaga (1946-47) Naxalite ( 1967-71) Operation Barga
movement (1977 onward) has been experiencing the rejuvenation of Gurkhaland
Movements 1980s of the Gurkha hill tribes for a separate statehood, Kamtapur
movement of the Rajbanshi (Scheduled Castes) since 1980s for the recognition
separate statehood, movements against acquisition of agricultural lands by the
Krishi Jami Suraksha Committee (Committee to Protect Agricultural lands) in
Singur and the Bhumi Ucced Pratorodhi in Nandigram, Tribal villagers resistance
against police oppression in the Midnapore District and several other grass roots
mobilisations. Indeed all these movements have constructed distinctive protest
identities against domination of various forms.
Social Identity and
Society and Culture
It is again that the state now has provided the liberal democratic space to articulate
issues, interests, and identities for collective mobilisations. Within this available
space many of the radical mobilisations have got transformed to be institutionalised,
co-opted, and have sustained them being partially reformative. Evidences from
West Bengal and Andhra Pradesh show that sustained mobilisations have opened
up the possibility of articulation of new issues, identities and mobilisations of the
marginalised sections of the population.
The society now sees the cropping up of several new issues, new patterns of
conflict, mobility and mobilisation, while many of the old ones have taken a new
shape in the present context. In the emerging scenario the relationship between
social mobility, conflict, mobilisation and social movements have been extensive
and implicit. Within the emerging dynamics the pre-existing forms of social
collectivities got a significant place not only to protect their identity, but also their
social, economic and political interests. These identities have also been encapsulated
as a project to attain specific political goals. Hence they not only question the
bases of legitimacy of pre-existing arrangements but also assert for a share in the
social, economic and political spheres in the established order. These identities
and conflicts however are not fixed. Even as the tribal and the Dalit identities are
constructed in the Telangan region of Andhra Pradesh for getting better share of
protective discrimination, they are simultaneously linked with the whole of Telangana
regional identity. Similarly gender identity also cut across the caste and the ethnic
identity. Thus collective identities are in a state of flux. They get articulated and
rejuvenated both synchronically and diachronically on diverse issues in diverse
context. They move like a pendulum in these mobilisations getting fixed at one end
and liberated at the other (Singharoy 2004).
Collective identity is constructed through the process of interaction and engagement
with contemporary social processes on the one hand and historical experiences on
the other. As, this engagement and experiences are historically circumscribed there
have been diverse processes of construction and transformation of social identity.
Though at times identities operate in silence, it also becomes idiom of public
projections of collective solidarity becoming parts of organised and spontaneous
social movements. As social collectivity, human beings respond to varieties
situations, articulate multiple identities and get associated with multiple networks
cross cutting the predefined boundaries of given social groups. Herein, the process
formation and transformation of social identity is complex and fluid. This unit
besides providing you conceptual clarification on identity, its formation and
transformation has also discussed the location of identity within the local and wide
social processes. We have learnt the intertwining between society, self and identity,
relation between culture and identity, the interface of identity with reasoning and
available social choices. As identity gets transformed its gets interlinked with process
of formation, rejuvenation and reconstruction of identity. This unit has also discussed
the emerging facets of fluidity in identity in the wake of the fast transformation of
societies caused globalisation and emergence of network societies. Besides
discussing the theoretical issues, this unit has also provided you a glimpse of the
emergence of multiple identities as reflected in the grass roots collective action in
rural India.
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Movements’. Annual Review of Sociology. 9, 527-53.
Marris, A and C. McClurg Mueller. 1992. ‘Master Frames and Cycles of Protests’,
in A. Marris and C. McClurg Mueller (eds.) Frontiers of Social Movement
theory. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
Sample Questions
1) What is Identity?
2) Describe the relation between Society, Self and Identity.
3) State the causes leading to transformation of Identity.
4) Delineate the Collective Actions New identity and Social Movements.
5) Discuss the resurgence of Multiple Collective Identities in India.
Social Identity and
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Colonial Rule and its Impact
4.3 Hinduisation and Sanskritisation
4.3.1 Sanskritisation
4.4 Westernisation and Modernisation
4.4.4 Modernisation
4.5 Multiculturalism and Globalisation
4.5.1 Globalisation
4.6 Summary
Suggested Reading
Sample Questions
Learning Objectives
Once you have studied this unit, you should be able to:
 understand the nature of social change in Indian society;
 describe Hinduisation, Sanskritisation, Westernisation, Modernisation,
Globalisation and Multiculturalism; and
 understand how these processes are responsible for social change in India.
Like any other society Indian society, too, has been changing. However, the pace
of change increased rapidly since the advent of British rule in India. British colonial
rule had a profound impact on Indian society. This change took place both in its
structure and functioning. Then came independence and what makes the social
change in the contemporary Indian society specially significant and noteworthy is
the fact that, to a great extent, it is planned, sponsored, directed and controlled
by the state. Since the last decade or so Globalisation has entered into the economic,
social-cultural, and political spheres of Indian society adding yet another dimension
to social change in Indian society.
In any discussion or discourse on social change in Indian society the impact of the
British colonial rule occupies an important place. British rule, Christian missionary
and English education played very important role in changing the face of Indian
society. At this juncture, it is prudent to understand and distinguish the impacts of
pre-capitalism colonialism/imperialism and colonialism during the age of capitalism.
Pre-capitalism colonial rulers though derived all the benefits and advantages through
exploitation of their colonies, but could never intervene effectively in the economic
base of the societies they ruled. They simply dominated and subordinated the
traditional economies and sustained their rule. The British colonial rule was based
50 on the capitalist system and hence was in a position to make radical interventions

in the economic systems of their colonies which facilitated its expansion. They not
only changed the land tenure systems changing the nature of land ownership, they
also intervened effectively in the selection of crops, production system and their
The British colonial rulers, in order to bring about desired changes in the points
of view of the people, brought out a new system of education. In the initial stages
the British rule influenced the port and coastal cities. They brought out changes in
the legal, cultural and even in the field of architecture. A new system of education
was introduced to achieve the goal of nurturing a class in India which would
sustain the British rule. But significantly, the same western education became
instrumental in the development of national consciousness and anti-colonial
movement. As K.M Pannikkar (1966) points out, the most important achievement
of British colonial rule was the unification of India for a better administrative
system to serve the colonial interests but it served the purpose for uniting India for
the future freedom movement. To serve their own interests the British rule introduced
a new western education, new means of transport and communication, new
technology and a new system of judiciary. These, in turn released new forces of
change and the Indian society could never be the same again. Thus, in a way, the
British colonial rule may be seen as the agent of cultural and technological
modernisation of India. Since there is a lot of overlapping between the impact of
colonial rule and impact of westernisation and modernisation on Indian society
several issues not covered under the present heading shall be covered under
Westernisation and Modernisation.
The process of Hinduisation has been all pervasive within the domain of Indian
civilization. However, in the context of tribal populations, it has been studied most
and most of the debate has been with reference to the Hinduisation of tribes. G.
S Ghurye (1963), by describing the tribal population as Backward Hindus, initiated
intense debate among the anthropologists and sociologists. Perhaps, his description
was in response or reaction against the missionary activities in some tribal areas
and he wanted the Indians to beware of religious conversion into Christianity.
However, his apprehensions did not come true as even today the Christian tribals
may not be more than 5% of the total tribal population in the country.
N K Bose and Surajit Sinha looked into the phenomenon of Hinduisation with
more academic rigour. N K Bose (1975), in his landmark paper on Hindu method
of Tribal Absorption, based his thesis on the role of ‘Culture Contact’ or
‘acculturation’. He says that the Hindu method of tribal absorption is entirely
different from that of Islam, which involves complete conversion. Bose is of the
view that the Hindus generally exercised a policy of laissez-faire with regard to the
social, and religious practices of tribal people and moved on subtly.
Bose’s observed three distinct features in the absorption of the tribal into the Hindu fold.
a) Although the policy was not to displace the original culture of the tribes, something
had to be done ‘to bring the tribal cultures in line with Brahmanism’.
b) Once the tribe comes under the influence of the Brahmanical people a strong
tendency was set up with it to remodel its culture more and more closely in conformity
with the Brahmanical way of life.
c) However, the tribes could not be allowed to come very close to their superiors; the
Brahmins very often step in to check such progress. Thus, many forms of culture
come into existence.
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However, Surajit Sinha took a different view. He opposed the existing idea that
tribes were an isolated people. On the basis of his study of Bhumij, Munda, Gond
and other tribes of Central India (1959, 1962, 1982), Sinha identified the urge of
Bhumij to move away from tribal base to acquire a Kshatriya status. In 1951,
when the Bhumij were labeled as one of the scheduled tribes of this region, they
were shocked and protested against this. Sinha realised that to understand tribes
in India, one has to put them in a proper perspective. He says that it was the
British scholars who felt that tribes were outside the frame of Varna-Jati system.
He further talked of ‘mutually adaptive strategies of Indian civilization’ vis a vis
tribal cultures. The civilization absorbed the tribes but maintained their identity and
also determined their isolation. The modern nation- state is trying to ensure full
participation of tribes as equals.
In contemporary India, tribal regions have become an arena for competitive faiths
to the detriment of tribal societies. Though the tribes, except those of northeastern
region, have been moving towards a loose form of Hinduism which most
of them found compatible with their religious systems, the country in recent years
has witnessed “the most aggressive form of proselytization and communal
mobilisation of the tribals by Hindutva forces directed against the Christian missions
and the converts to Christianity in parts of Orissa, Gujarat and Chattisgarh leading
to loss of lives, arson, destruction of homes, and displacement of terrorised and
traumatised affected population” (Dharmendra Kumar and Yemuna Sunny, 2009).
This is a cleverly crafted campaign to not only reconvert the Christian tribal but
also to Hinduise the tribes which still practice their own animistic religions
4.3.1 Sanskritisation
Contrary to the ‘book view’ the Indian caste system has never been absolutely
rigid and static. This observation has led progressively to various attempts to
explain, in systematic terms, the manner in which change or more precisely mobility
occurs within it. The process of hypogamy may be the earliest attempt in this
direction. Broadly speaking, four approaches could be delineated in the study of
social mobility in India. These are (i) individual or family mobility approach, (ii)
corporate or group mobility approach, (iii) comparative approach and (iv) reference
group approach. M. N. Srinivas is the main protagonist of the corporate mobility
approach in India.
Although some stray attempts have been made to develop theoretical postulations
and methodological exercises during the pre-independence period, the first systematic
attempt to define, analyse and understand the process of social change in Indian
society was made by M. N. Srinivas in his significant and path breaking study,
Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India (1952).
The term Sanskritisation used by Srinivas in his study of Coorgs was primarily
meant to describe the process of cultural mobility in the traditional rural India.
Srinivas holds the view that Hindu caste system has never been so rigid that
individuals or castes cannot alter or raise their status. He defines Sanskritisation
as the “process by which a low caste or tribe or other groups takes over the
customs, rituals, beliefs , ideology and life style of a higher caste and in particular
‘twice born’ (dwija) caste” Srinivas, (1952). For instance, a low caste or tribe
or any other group may give up non-vegetarianism, consumption of liquor, animal
sacrifice, etc. and imitate the Brahmin’s life style in matter of food, dress, and
rituals. By following such a process, within a generation or two, they may claim
a higher position in local caste hierarchy. Originally, Srinivas used the term
“Brahminization” to denote this process, however, when he was confronted with
other models of emulation he gave up the term ‘Brahminization’ in preference to
the term ‘Sanskritisation’. Moreover, Sanskritisation is much broader a concept
than ‘Brahminization’ because not only it encompasses non-Brahmin models like
Kshatriya model, Jat model, Vaishya model and models of other ‘twice born’
castes but also denotes a wide spectrum of values and life styles.
The talk of cultural imitation should be in concrete terms so that one could visualise
the scenario as it exists. Sanskritisation may result in the erosion of cultural autonomy
of the womenfolk which includes erosion in the freedom to choose life partner and
adoption of a rigid sexual morality. Changes in family structure include a movement
towards the orthodox Hindu joint family and the concomitant stronger authority of
father, monogamy, a stronger caste organisation with increased tendency of
outcasting/ostracism. Also, a rigid commensality prevails along with changed food
habits- outlawing beef and pork eating, and consumption of liquor, more emphasis
is placed on the acquisition of higher education, adoption of dowry practices
instead of the token bride price etc. In the realm of religion and religious practices,
it frequently results in the donning of sacred thread, giving up sacrifice of pigs at
the time of wedding and increased emphasis on pilgrimage etc.
Srinivas has further explained that political and economic factors have also affected
the process of Sanskritisation. With the establishment of British rule in India the
lower castes got more opportunities to sanskritise themselves and subsequently
raise their social status because the new rulers and a new political order were not
socially involved in the dynamics of caste hierarchy.
Sometimes, a lower caste aspiring to climb upward in caste hierarchy through the
process of Sanskritisation may have to face hostility from the higher castes especially
of middle strata. Sanskritisation refers to a cultural process but it is essential to
realise that it is usually a concomitant of the acquisition of political or economic
power by a caste. Both are parts of the processes of social mobility.
Talking of new agents of Sanskritisation, Srinivas, (1992) talks of the festivals of
the village deities and the calenderical festivals being increasingly sanskritised. Hari
Kathas, Yagna, Jagran etc. are being celebrated with much more ostentation in
Indian towns and cities. Religious figures, in ochre robes promising salvation or
more concrete things to the people, continue to appear on the Indian scene. In
fact, they enjoy audience which they could not have dreamt of before the
newspapers, the microphone and the radio/television became popular. Everyone
of them can be regarded as a Sanskritising agent. Indian films frequently make use
of religious themes taken from the epics and Puranas. The availability of low
priced books has enabled people to become acquainted with Hindu religious
literature in a way not possible ever before.
Sanskritisation as a process of social mobility may be observed empirically even
among the non-Hindu communities especially those with well defined social hierarchy
such as Muslims and Sikhs and in lesser degrees among other communities too.
Cultural emulation for the sake of status elevation has been the prime motive force
among the non-Hindu communities too.
When we talk of cultural imitation of the higher castes/dominant castes by an
aspiring lower caste we must not forget that in several cases the motive force is
not always cultural imitation per se but an expression of challenge and revolt
against socio-economic deprivation and frustration like in the case of a lower
caste insisting to carry his bride in a palanquin or the bridegroom riding a horse.
Social Change in
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Society and Culture
Because of erosion in the importance of the ritual component of our lifestyle,
especially in towns and cities, some observers make the comment that the process
has lost its’ relevance in determining social status. While it is true that power and
wealth are the main components of secular status, any status achieved by such
means is still sought to be legitimised through acceptance into a higher born social
group or by burying one’s community identity or birth origins. Thus, these new
principles of status operate contingently together with the caste principle of social
stratification and only rarely do they operate autonomously.
Westernisation seems to be a much simpler concept when compared with its’ twin
concept of Sanskritisation. It refers to all cultural changes and institutional
innovations in India as this country came into political and cultural contact with the
western nations specially Britain. More precisely, it is “the changes brought about
in Indian society and culture as a result of over 150 years of British rule. The term
subsuming changes occurring at different levels- technology, institutions, ideology
and values” Srinivas, (1972). He prefers to call this process westernisation and
not modernisation. On a wider plane westernisation includes a scientific approach,
emphasis on materialism rather on spiritualism, individualism, liberal approach
towards various problems of the society, humanism, equality, egalitarianism and
rationalism. Establishment of scientific technology and educational institutions, rise
of nationalism, new political culture and leadership in the country are all by products
of westernisation.
The impact of Westernisation on Indian society may clearly be observed in a
number of spheres. It has influenced caste system and the lessening rigidity may
be assigned, to a great extent, to the impact of Westernisation; it has promoted
the disintegration of joint family and it has induced a number of social reforms
movements. In the economic and political sphere it has disintegrated cottage
industries, promoted variety in cultivation, introduced new measures in land
management; it has promoted democratic values and ideals, national consciousness,
social justice, and a uniform administrative system in the whole length and breadth
of the country. To be more precise, emphasis on humanitarianism and rationalism,
as a part of Westernisation, led to a series of institutional and social reforms in
Srinivas expresses the view that increase in Westernisation does not retard the
process of Sanskritisation; both go on simultaneously. Interestingly, in some cases,
increase in Westernisation accelerates the process of Sanskritisation. For instance,
the expanding means of communication like postal facilities, railways, newspaper,
western technology etc. have given fillip to pilgrimages, religious propaganda, and
caste and communal congregations. Moreover, a significant by product of
Westernisation is that under its impact many higher castes (who are more exposed
to Westernisation through English education) give up their traditional life style.
It is observed that usually the westernised ones live minimally in the universe of
caste and maximally within the universe of class; they may practice non-traditional
occupations, ignore rules of ritual pollution, dietary restrictions and may marry
outside the caste/region/religion; they may give up the practice of maintaining
gotra or caste names, adopt non-vegetarianism, give up the practice of eating in
the kitchen or chauka and may give up sacred thread. In other words, the
westernised ones tend to adopt western models and lifestyle. The lower castes
aspiring to attain higher status in the caste hierarchy try to fill this vacuum by
adopting the sanskritic models given up by the higher castes under the impact of
westernisation. This is yet another instance of westernisation and sanskritisation
going together.
It may be observed that the lower castes spend a lot of energy on sanskritisation
while several higher castes turn to westernisation as a means of maintaining the
social distance between themselves and the lower castes which is no longer possible
within the old order in the face of the later’s current ability to sanskritise themselves.
Supplementing this line of argument further, Harold Gould (1988) comments that
if one is already sanskritised, as the Brahmins and the Rajputs are, then one
cannot go any higher up further in the traditional stratification system. If one cannot
maintain things as they are through the application of political and economic power,
then one can only go down or accept the notion of equality which means accepting
the nullity of caste system itself and hierarchical relationship in general. This is
patently impossible for the higher castes with the deeply embedded conception of
their inherent superiority and so they must ironically move outside the caste system
which spawned them in order to preserve their pretensions to paramount status in
Indian society. Meanwhile, “the lower castes keep chasing the mirage of equality
with the higher castes. But by the time they reach their destination, they discover
that the Brahman has himself vacated the spot and moved on to the higher hill of
westernisation where he still gazes contemptuously down upon them from an
elevated perch.” (Gould, 1988. ibid). Perhaps that is why in a number of cases
the well off and aspiring sections of the lower castes in towns and cities may be
going straight to westernisation. But for the majority of the lower caste population
the idiom of westernisation may be too complex, incomprehensible and difficult to
understand and adopt. Thus we find an important and dynamic interplay between
the processes of sanskritisation and westernisation.
However, the term westernisation itself is not free from controversy and
complications. Some scholars have advocated the term ‘de-sanskritisation’ for
westernisation. Moreover, Srinivas equates westernisation with the British impact
on India. This may not be a correct assessment when viewed in totality. The postindependence
period has witnessed a lot of Russian and American influence on
India. The Russian and American versions of modernisation in our economic
measures of far reaching importance have also influenced the Indian society to a
large extent. The continuing five year plans, emphasis on public sector and
nationalisation or socialisation (till recent years) in our economic planning are the
instances of distinct socialist impact. Of late, some Chinese impact is also
discernible in our health care measures especially in rural areas. To some other
scholars the term westernisation sounds value loaded because of its colonial
connotation. Hence, they advocate the term modernisation.
4.4.1 Modernisation
Modernisation has been a dominant theme after the second world war specially
in nineteen fifties and sixties and a central concept in the ‘sociology of development,’
referring to the interactive process of economic growth and social change.
Modernisation studies typically deal with the effects of economic development on
traditional social structures and values. The process of modernisation is related to
the industrialisation, urbanisation, high standard of living, development of civilization
and broadness of view point. Defining modernisation Eisenstadt (1966) says that
“from a historical viewpoint modernisation is the process of change towards those
types of social, economic, and political systems which were developed in Western
Europe and North America from the 17th to 19th century and after that spread
Social Change in
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over to South America. Asia, and Africa during the 19th and 20th centuries”. In the
context of contemporary times the concept of modernisation is the response of
western social science to the many challenges faced by the third World in the
decades immediately following the second world war. Therefore some scholars
considered modernisation to be the child of westernisation. In a brilliant analysis
of the ethical aspect of modernisation, S.C Dube (1988) says that “an attractive
feature of the concept was that it showed an apparent concern for the cultural
sensitivities of both the elites and the masses of the third world. The term
modernisation was much less value loaded than it’s predecessor westernisation”.
Most countries in the Third World were proud of their cultural heritage and deeply
attached to it. While desiring western standards of plenty they had no desire to
abandon their own life styles and values. The concept of modernisation recognised
the strength of roots; it did not pose any overt threat to the cultural identity of the
people aspiring for rapid change. To the elite of the third world the ideal of
westernisation was difficult to swallow; they accepted modernisation readily because
it did not appear to offend their cultural dignity. According to Lerner (1958), three
features constitute the core of modernised personality – empathy, mobility, and
high participation. Empathy is the capacity to see thing as others see them. All
societies possess this capacity in some measure but to sharpen and strengthen, it
can make a qualitative change in human interaction. Such a change is desired in
modernised societies. The second attribute, mobility, does not refer only to
geographical mobility- it is used in a more comprehensive sense. The imperatives
of change demand a capacity to assume, as occasions demand, new statuses and
learn to play associated roles. Unlike the traditional society, which had ascribed
statuses and roles, the modernised society has an open status system. The third
attribute-high participation- refers to the increased role of individuals in realising
social goals and objectives in more active ways; high participation requires the
capacity in individuals to visualise new goals or alter objectives and modify their
roles accordingly. In traditional societies social objectives are not open to question;
the core of modernisation is, of course, rationality.
One of the most significant features of modernisation is that modernised societies
operate through institutional structures that are capable of continuously absorbing
the change that are inherent in the process of modernisation. Let us see very
briefly as to how the contemporary Indian society is striving to adopt modernisation
for economic growth and social change. On the agricultural and industrial fronts
the country’s performance is not as poor as some of its critics make it out. Our
record in these fields is better than that of many Third World countries. But the
development has been lopsided and full of regional imbalances. The distributive
aspects of economic growth and the diffusion of the benefits of modernisation
appear to have received little serious thought. The growth of elitism is alarming
and it should be curbed. Rampant corruption and nepotism are the product of the
prevailing state of moral decay. All possible political and administrative steps
should be taken to arrest this trend. The cohesive bonds of society should be
As very rightly observed by S. C. Dube (ibid), “there is no standard model of
modernisation and no fixed path for its attainment. Developing societies can adopt
a model of their choice and can chalk out their own path for it’s realisation.” We
have chosen democracy and secularism as the basis of the aspired for modernised
Indian society. Adoption of modern science and technology alongwith a scientific
temper shall go a long way in the achievement of India’s cultural and technological
‘Multicultural’ and ‘Multiculturalism’ are terms frequently used to describe the
ethnic diversity that exists everywhere in the world today. However, there is some
confusion about what precisely they signify. Terms like ‘plural’ and ‘diverse’ have
also been present in the discourse on multiculturalism. These terms are commonly
used to describe societies having different religions, ethnic groups languages and
cultures. Interestingly these words are used interchangeably; plurality suggests the
presence of ‘many’ but does not stipulate anything about the nature of ‘many’.
Does this simply describe diversity? We must be very clear as to why multiculturalism
has overtaken pluralism as the dominant concept. It was common in social science
before the rise of the word ‘multiculturalism’. Multiculturalism as a coherent theory
with its district conception of democracy and citizenship, has emerged only in
recent past. As Gurpreet Mahajan (2002) points out, “the simultaneous presence
of many cultures and communities within the same social space points to a plural
social fabric, but it should not be taken as the presence of multiculturalism. The
latter entails something more than the mere presence of different communities or
the attitude of tolerance in society. Multiculturalism is concerned with the issues of
equality; it asks whether the different communities living peacefully together, coexist
as equals in the public areas”? Thus it is the emphasis on equality that
distinguishes multiculturalism from pluralism; pluralism remains silent about the
status of different groups or communities.
Extending the debate to more serious analysis David Theo Goldberg (1994) in his
seminal work writes “that multiculturalism stands for a wide range of social
articulation… The systematic sectoral division of the world into discrete spheres
of control and management of human population creates a severe challenge to
creating a truly democratic, equal, diverse, but coherent world.”
The term ‘multiculturalism has not been much used in India, except in the recent
times by the left-liberal intellectuals. When we look at the contemporary situation
in India we find that the Indian constitution is the main source of multicultural state
policies. It may be seen as the basic multicultural document in the sense that it
provides political and institutional measures for the recognition and accomodation
of the country’s diversity in the post- independence period. Right to equality, in
all respects, is the cornerstone of multiculturalism in India and it has unleashed
forces of social change, changing the fabric of hierarchical Indian society in which
all the groups never enjoyed equal share in the power structure. Creation of tribal
states and sub-states such as Tribal District Councils may be seen as the acceptance
of multiculturalism as state policy.
As Gurpreet Mahajan (1999) rightly points out, this concern for equality and nondiscrimination
of people of minority communities links multiculturalism to democracy
in a fundamental way. The single most important value of democracy is nondiscrimination.
Thus, the concept of multiculturalism contributes to the agenda of
democratisation and non-discrimination. It also provides safeguards against
‘majoritarianism’ coming in the garb of democracy. Till the time Indian democracy
becomes mature, the threat of majoritarianism shall always be there. Thus we can
say that how much flawed and immature Indian democracy may be, if the state
continues to follow multiculturalism, society in India will continue to change.
4.5.1 Globalisation
Globalisation is as fascinating a term these days as modernisation, development,
and change have been in the 20th century. Globalisation has emerged as one of the
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Society and Culture
most important and talked about phenomena of the present age with its social,
economic, and political dimensions. The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology (1985)
described globalisation as “a process in which social life within societies is being
increasingly affected by international influences based on everything from political
and trade ties to shared music, clothing styles and mass media”. Perhaps, the most
powerful form of globalisation is economic in which planning and control expand
from a relatively narrow focus such as a single firm doing business on a regional
or national basis to a broad global focus in which the entire world serves as a
source of labour, raw materials and markets.
Analysing the necessity of international economic and socio-political management
in the face of globalisation, Samir Amin (1997), a renowned and strong voice on
the issue of globalisation and its implications for the third world countries, says that
the globalisation of the capitalist system is certainly nothing new, but it has undeniably
taken a qualitative step forward during the most recent period. Rise of ethnicity
as a political response to economic globalisation is yet another important dimension
of globalisation. The rise of Hindutva forces in India pretending to be nationalist
but, in reality, opposed to pluralism and consequently anti-minority in character,
the emergence of Muslim fundamentalism in Pakistan, Bangladesh, and some other
nation-states exhibiting similar trends has been strengthened by the process of
globalisation; ethnic violence of the worst type is an alarming trend in the face of
When we analyse the impact of globalisation on Indian society in the sphere of
economy, the ‘new economic policy’, liberalization’, its consequences are accepted
as the direct fallout of globalisation. But, if we wish to see it in concrete sociological
terms, we find that it has impacted various social groups in a variety of ways.
Women in India have been badly affected by globalisation-economically and socially.
Because of scarcity of food and other necessities of life the poor, for sheer
economic reasons, feed their girl children less than their boys, as boys are perceived
as major bread earners. This also contributes to the widening gap in sex ratio.
With decreasing subsidy on food, the food security has been shrinking rapidly and
the poor women have to spend more hours on unproductive and meaningless
labour. With growing retrenchment of their men folk, women previously working
as agricultural labour are mostly consigned to the organised sector in urban areas
at starvation or less than starvation wages. Hiring women workers seems to be
more convenient for the employers because women workers face more difficulties
in getting organised than the male workers and hence more susceptible to
exploitation. On the other hand, upward climbing middle classes and elite are
getting more opportunities to take up diverse roles. Women entraprenuers are far
more visible now than at any point of time in the past.
While globalisation is making people more materialistic and money minded, the
greed for dowry is also increasing rapidly and the poor parents are being further
pushed into difficult and humiliating conditions. With increasing globalisation, a
frenzy has been created over the so called beauty contests. As Arvind (2002)
rightly point out, “while the benefits of this frenzy are reaped by the multinational
corporations who advertise their products via these phenomenon, the entire display
has had its impact on the minds of urban women particularly middle class and
lower middle class young women”. The vast proliferation of beauty parlours and
rapidly increasing cosmetics industry are the natural corollary of this phenomenon.
Equally, by the logic of the ‘market economy’ prostitution is a perfectly legitimate
activity – one more industry of the ‘service sector’. In this age of globalisation,
girls from even well to do families are going into prostitution and call girl profession
either directly or through the so called beauty parlours, massage parlours and
‘make a friend industry’ through telephonic and internet communication. Market of
pornography has also expanded astronomically. Commoditization of women has
increased many folds. Consumerism and consumer culture has taken under its
shadow, first the urban India, and now the rural society is trapped in it.
Globalisation, no doubt, has impacted adversely the socially and economically
weaker sections of Indian society. The dalits and tribals are the worst sufferers.
Dalits belong to a large section of the society, which has been subjected to human
indignities on account of the caste differentiations perpetrated for centuries and
millennia. They still bear the burden of acute poverty and social degradation. The
increasingly lower allocations for social sector, in the wake of ‘new economic
policy’ and ‘liberalization’ adversely affect the poor – mainly dalits and the tribal
communities. It is the poor who depend largely on public services and any reduction
in budget allocations contribute to the reduction and availability of social services
and their consequent higher costs. In social-economic terms the small gains made
by the dalits through reservation are being reversed. More than 75% of the dalit
workers are still connected with land; only 25% of which are marginal and small
farmers. In urban areas, they mostly work in the unorganised sector. Under the
impact of the new economic policy, the direct fallout of globalisation, land reforms,
the key question for their development, are being pushed out of agenda and are
being substituted with corporatization of farming for the global agricultural market.
Tribal population of the country shares a number of features of the impact of
globalisation with the dalits. As with the dalits, the systematic cuts in welfare
expenditure, dismantling of the public distribution system etc. have also hit the
tribals hard. In the name of ‘development’ the tribal people are being driven off
their lands, their forests are being snatched, their sources of income are being
sapped, and they are, thus, being virtually pushed to death. The entry of multinational
companies into industrial mining and commercialisation of forest products are
likely to increase inequalities of income and consumption between regions and
peoples. The new agricultural policy enunciated by the government is capital
intensive; improved seeds, pesticides, and fertilizers are costly and subsidies are
being withdrawn. There is also encouragement to mechanized farming. This is
harmful to the tribal interests. Globalisation is also promoting over-consumption of
industrial and consumer goods, thus changing the life style of the tribal and other
deprived people, to their disadvantage. Disruption of their traditional crafts and
theft of their indigenous knowledge system by foreign companies is making their
life miserable. The tribal population has always been known for their strong
community life and collective spirit, and they have been using it as part of their
‘survival strategy’. This is rapidly being eroded through the promotion of private
rights at the cost of community rights. Thus, the tribal people are going to be the
worst sufferers and the most coveted sacrificial goat for globalisation.
In this unit you studied various aspects of social change in India from colonial rule
to the advent of globalisation as an important factor of social change. It is true
that, like any other society, Indian society, too, has been changing even before the
advent of British rule. Yet, the British rule released such new forces of change that
contributed to much faster pace than ever before. It can be said that the British
rule contributed immensely to the cultural and technological modernisation of India.
Social Change in
Indian Context
Society and Culture
The process of social mobility in Indian society cannot be understood without a
fairly good understanding of Sanskritisation as it has deeply affected the caste
system and its dynamics. Needless to say, caste system is one of the most important
social institutions in India and any change in it would affect the entire Indian
Globalisation and Multiculturalism are comparatively new actors but they have
started impacting the Indian society in a variety of ways. Just to make it clear, the
impact of globalisation on various segments of Indian society such as tribal
communities, dalits, and women has been explained with the help of suitable
examples scattered all around us.
Amin, Samir. 1997. Capitalism in the Age of Globalisation: The Management
of Contemporary Society. London: Zed Books.
Arvind. 2002. Globalisation: An Attack on India’s Sovereignty. New Delhi:
New Vistas Publications.
Bose, N. K. 1975. The Structure of Hindu Society. New Delhi: Orient Longman
Dube, S.C. 1974. Contemporary India and it’s Modernisation. New Delhi:
Vikas Publication.
Eisentadt, S. N. 1996. Modernisation, Protest, and Change. Englewood Cliffs:
Prentice Hall.
Ghurye, G.S. 1963. The Scheduled Tribes of India. Bombay: Popular Prakashan.
Goldberg, D.T. 1994. Multiculturalism: A Critical Reader. Oxford: Blackwell.
Gould, Harold. A. 1988. Caste Adaptation in Modernising Indian Society.
New Delhi: Chanakya Publication.
Hasnain, Nadeem. 2006. Indian Society and Culture: Continuity and Change.
New Delhi: Jawahar Publishers and Distributors.
_________________2009. Indian Anthropology. New Delhi: Palaka Prakashan.
Johnson, Allan. A. 1995. The Blackwell Dictionary of Sociology. Cambridge,
Massachusetts: Basil Blackwell.
Kumar, Dharmendra & Yemuna Sunny (ed.). 2009. Proselytization in India: The
Process of Hinduisation in Tribal Societies. New Delhi: Aakar.
Lerner, Daniel. 1958. The Passing of Traditional Society. Glencoe: The Free
Mahajan, Gurpreet. 1988. Identities and Rights: Aspects of Liberal Democracy
in India. New York: Oxford University Press.
_________________2002. The Multicultural Path. New Delhi: Sage Publication.
Panikkar, K. N. 1966. A Survey of Indian History. Bombay: Asia Publishing
Sinha, Surajit. 1959. ‘Kshatriya Social Movement in south Manbhum’. Bulletin
of the Department of Anthropology. Calcutta: Government of India.
_________________ 1962. ‘State Formation and Rajpur Myth in Tribal Central
India’; Ranchi: Man in India. 42. (pp-1).
_________________ 1982. Tribes and Indian Civilization: structures and
transformation. Varanasi: N.K Bose Memorial Foundation.
Singh, Yogendra. 1996. Modernisation of Indian Tradition. Jaipur: Rawat
Srinivas, M. N. 1952. Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India.
Bombay: Asia Publishing House.
_________________ 1972. Social Change in Modern India. New Delhi. Orient
Longman Limited. First published in 1966.
_________________ 1992. On Living in a Revolution and Other Essays.
New Delhi: Oxford.
Suggested Reading
Singh, Yogendra. 1996. Modernisation of Indian Tradition. Jaipur: Rawat
Hasnain, Nadeem. 2006. Indian Society and Culture: Continuity and Change.
New Delhi: Jawahar Publishers and Distributors.
Hasnain, Nadeem. 2009. Indian Anthropology. New Delhi: Palaka Prakashan.
Sample Questions
1) In what way the British rule contributed to social change in India?
2) How does Sanskritisation explain mobility in the caste system?
3) Distinguish between Westernisation and Modernisation.
4) Distinguish between Pluralism and Multiculturalism.
5) Deliniate how the process of Globalisation is affecting various segments of
Indian society?
Social Change in
Indian Context