Lesson 3, Topic 2
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b. Structural functionalism (M N Srinivas).

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Structural-Functional approach in the study of society emerged from the writings of early thinkers like August Comte, Herbert Spencer and Emile Durkheim during the later part of 19th century and became a predominant trend in sociology.

Functional approach to the study of phenomena emerged initially in biological sciences and later on adopted in other sciences and social sciences.  

The key points of the functionalist perspective may be summarized by a comparison drawn from biology. A biologist carries out the study of an organism, say human body, by analysing various parts, such as brain, lungs, heart and liver. However, if each part is examined in isolation, it will not reveal the entire working and maintenance of the part unless studied in relation to other parts comprising the whole organism. Functionalism as an approach adopts a similar view. 

“Functional approach to the study of society views society in terms of its constituent parts and their relationship with each other in order to maintain the society as a whole”. 

Radcliffe-Brown defines function of any social institution in terms of the contribution it makes to the maintenance of the whole society

Functionalism begins with the observation that behaviour in society is structured. Relationships between the members of society are organized in terms of rules or norms and hence patterned and recurrent.  Values provide general guidelines for behaviour. The structure of the society may be seen as the sum total of normative behaviour – sum total of social relationships, which are governed by norms.

According to Radcliffe -Brown, “social structure refers to person to person relationship institutionally defined”. 

The main parts of society, its institutions such as the family, the economy, the educational and political systems are major aspects of social structure. These parts of the social structure have their contribution to make for the maintenance and survival of the society. In other words, each part of social structure has a specific function to perform towards maintenance of the society. 

From a functional perspective, society is regarded as a system. A system is an entity made up of interrelated parts which are interdependent. Changes in the functioning of any part will in some way,  affect every other part and the system as  a  whole. These parts are integrated and collectively contribute towards the maintenance of the order and stability of the system. 

Functionalists believe in consensus, order and stability of the system. Unlike the evolutionists, the functionalists search for the origin of institutions in terms of the essential functions they perform.

M N Srinivas: –

He is mostly known for his work on caste and caste system, social stratification and Sanskritization in southern India. He is also famous for his ideas on the concept of “Dominant Caste”.

According to Srinivas there are basically two ways of understanding our society. Those are: 
? Book view and
? Field view. 

Book view is to understand the society from the books and literature available and is otherwise known as Indological approach. 

But Srinivas has emphasized more on field view, where understanding society from field work is considered as important. So he made an intensive study on the Coorgs.

The various scholarly writings of Srinivas include:

A.  Social change in Modern India (1966)
B.  Religion and Society among Coorgs of South India (1952)
C.  Caste in Modern India and Other Essays (1966)
D.  The Dominant Caste and Other Essays (1987)
E.  India’s Villages (1955)
F.  India: Social Structure (1980)

Sanskritization and Srinivas: –

Srinivas coined the term Sanskritization to reflect the social mobility present in Indian Society. 

According to M.N. Srinivas “Sanskritization is a process by which a “low” Hindu caste, or tribal or other group, changes its customs, ritual, ideology, and way of life in the direction of a high, and frequently, a “twice” born caste. It is followed by a claim to a higher position in the caste hierarchy than traditionally concealed to the claimant caste by the local community. Such claims are made over a period of time, sometimes a generation or two before they are conceded.” 

In his study of Mysore Village, Srinivas finds that at some time or the other, every caste tries to change its rank in the hierarchy by giving up its attributes and trying to adopt those of castes above them. 

This process of attempting to change one’s rank by giving up attributes that define a caste as low and adopting attributes that are indicative of higher status is called ‘Sanskritization’. 

This process essentially involves a change in one’s dietary habits from non- vegetarianism to vegetarianism, and change in one’s occupation habits from unclean to clean occupation. 

The attributes of a caste become the basis of interaction between castes.

Dominant Caste and Srinivas: –

The concept of dominant caste has been used for the first item in sociological literature by an eminent Indian Sociologist M.N. Srinivas in his essay Social System of a Mysore Village, which was written after his study of village Rampura. The concept occupies a key position in the process of ‘Sanskritisation’. 

The term dominant caste is used to refer to a caste which “wields economic or political power and occupies a fairly high position in the hierarchy.” These castes are accorded high status and position in all the fields of social life. The people of other lower castes look at them as their ‘reference group’ and try to imitate their behaviour, ritual pattern, custom and ideology. In this way, the dominant caste of a particular locality plays an important role in the ‘process of cultural transmission’ in that area. The members of a dominant caste have an upper hand in all the affairs of the locality and enjoy many special opportunities as well as privileges. 

Srinivas has defined the following six major characteristics of Dominant caste:-

i) Land Ownership:
Land is the most precious possession in rural area since it is the principal source of income. Uneven distribution of locally available cultivable field is a regular phenomenon of Indian Society. A vast area of land is concentrated in the hands of rich minority.  Generally, the big landowners come from higher castes. These land owners employ the people of other castes as their laborers. They also give land on rent to the people. As a result, the entire population of the locality remains obliged to the few land owners of a particular caste. These few landlords of a caste exercise considerable amount of power over all other castes and become the dominant caste of that locality. Srinivas cites the examples of landowning jats treating Brahmins as their servants in Punjab. Thakur landlords also deny cooked food from all Brahmins accept their gurus and religious teachers.

ii) Numerical Strength:
The numerical strength of a caste also contributes towards its dominance. The more the number the greater the power. In many areas, the Kshyatriyas due to their large population are able to exercise their control and power even over the few rich Brahmins of a locality and are able to dominate the socio-political situation. 

iii) High place in local hierarchy:
Indian Society has been stratified into various groups on the basis of caste system organised  according to the beliefs and ideas of purity and pollution. In every locality certain caste is accorded high status owing to its ritual purity. They always enjoy social superiority to all other castes in every aspects of social life. All the factors described above contributed towards the dominance of a caste in traditional society. With the onset of modernization and change in the attitude and belief of people the following new factors have come up overshadowing the old ones, 

iv) Education: 
The caste, member of which are highly educated, is naturally looked up by the members of others castes. Due to their high education, they win the morale of others. The illiterate people have to take their help in many occasions owing  to the complexities of modern social life. The educated people, due to their  adequate  information and knowledge about various developmental activities, plans and programmes, are also in a better position to utilise them which aids to their prosperity making them dominant in a particular area.

v) Job in administration and urban sources of income:
The caste, the majority members of which is in government bureaucracy or has sound economic strength, always finds itself in an advantageous position. Its members hold legal and administrative powers by virtue of their being government officials. They help their other caste fellows to have different sources of urban income like supplying of food grains to urban dwellers, doing various types of business.  In this way they strengthen their economic position and become comparatively rich then, the members of caste who are engaged only in agricultural activities. All these aid to the higher position of that caste in a locality and make it dominant.

vi) Political involvement:
The dominant place of politics in contemporary Indian Society can hardly be undermined. The caste being more involved in political affairs of the state or locality, automatically raises its position and exercises control in all fields of social life. Till now we have been emphasizing on the point that a caste becomes dominant in a locality due to its attributes as discussed above. But dominance is no longer a purely local phenomenon. The caste may or may not have attributes of dominance in a particular locality or village; nevertheless, it can contribute to be a dominant caste, if the same caste occupies a dominant position in that wider region. In such a case, the network or relationship and friendship ties of the members of locally unimportant caste with the dominant relatives of that region, makes them dominant.

Religion, Society and Srinivas:-

Srinivas’ work Religion and Society among the Coorgs of South India (1952) led him to formulate the concept of Brahminization to represent the process of the imitation of life-ways and ritual practices of Brahmins by the lower-caste Hindus. 

The concept was used as an explanatory device to interpret changes observed in the ritual practices and life-ways of the lower castes through intensive and careful field study. The notion of Brahminization, however, had implicit possibilities of further abstraction into a higher-level concept, ‘Sanskritization”. 

In Religion and Society, Srinivas was concerned with the spread of Hinduism. He talked about “Sanskrit Hinduism’ and its values. Related to this was the notion of ‘Sanskritization’ which Srinivas employed “to describe the process of the penetration of sanskritic values into the remote parts in India. Imitation of the way of life of the topmost, twice-born castes was said to be the principle mechanism by which the lower castes sought to raise their own social status”. 

Critics of Srinivas: –
? Although Srinivas has talked about the economic and technological development, he has not focused of the lower segment of society.
? His ideas on Sanskritization and Dominant caste has made him closer to Hindutva ideology of cultural nationalism.
? The two processes of social change, Sanskritization and Westernization are regarded as “limited processes in modern India and it is not possible to understand one without reference to the other.”