IIAS Newsletter 10, Autumn 1996, South Asia 06

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South Asia



Sociology at the University of Bombay


The first chair in sociology in the Asian continent was set up in Tokyo University in 1883. The University of Bombay has the honour to have the second oldest Department of Sociology in Asia and the oldest in India. In 1919, Professor Sir Patrick Geddes (1854-1932) was appointed the first Head of the Department.

Sir Patrick was an eminent British sociologist and town planner. He was a polymath and a visionary in the Renaissance tradition. Already far ahead of his time, he held the view that all living things, including man, should be seen in relation to their environment.

Professor Geddes was succeeded by Professor G.S. Ghurye (1893-1983). After an initial training in Sanskrit and Indology in the Department of Sociology at Bombay University, Ghurye worked on his PhD with W.H.R. Rivers and A.C. Haddon in London and Cambridge respectively. On his return to Bombay in 1924, he was appointed Head of the Department of Sociology. After a long and distinguished career in the University, Ghurye retired in 1959.

Ghurye's attempt to synthesize the Indological and anthropologico-sociological perspectives constitutes his most important contribution to the Department. He made a sustained effort to move away from the colonial legacy in order to focus on the general issues and problems of Indian society. Ghurye wrote over 30 books and manuscripts covering the whole spectrum of sociology. In 1952, he established the Indian Sociological Society and launched its journal Sociological Bulletin.

The eminent scholars who succeeded Ghurye as Head of the Department are, in chronological order: K.M. Kapadia (1908-1967), A.R. Desai (1914-1994), J.V. Ferreira (born 1922) and Dhirendra Narain (born 1931).

Pioneering Work

The Department of Sociology in Bombay has broken new ground in the field of sociology and cultural/social anthropology in India. It has undertaken an ambitious project, independently and without any official support, in which the vast and varied ethnographic landscape of India is mapped through systematic field studies. It has trained a large number of talented South Asian students who, in turn, advanced to the frontiers of sociological and anthropological research. The Department also initiated a number of interdisciplinary studies relating to the various dimensions of Indian society long before interdisciplinary research became fashionable in academia.

During the last 75 years, more than 200 PhD, MPhil, and MA dissertations have been completed in the Department. These dissertations relate to a very wide variety of themes. They are based on field studies as well as on historical and literacy sources.

Since early times, the sociological and anthropological approaches are well integrated in the Department, which is reflected in the composition of the teaching faculty, research orientations and the teaching programme. A fruitful integration of sociology and cultural/social anthropology, an eclectic and inter-disciplinary orientation and a blend of the macro and micro perspectives comprise the strengths of the Department.

75th Anniversary

In celebration of its 75th anniversary, the Department organized a seminar which symbolized and reaffirmed the Department's commitment to the pursuit of socially relevant scholarship. This international seminar was entitled 'Cultural Pluralism, Ethnicity and Nation-Building in South Asia' and was held December 27-29, 1995. Nowadays, the world has become aware of the importance of culture and cultural pluralism in modern nation-states. In most multi-ethnic societies the issues of pluralism and multiculturalism are invariably linked with the issue of national identity. Plural and multi-ethnic societies (such as India) are increasingly faced with tensions and conflicts between the national identity and the regional and local identities. This complicates the process of nation-building within a democratic framework. The seminar sought to focus on these vexed issues in South Asia within the post-colonial context.

An array of distinguished scholars from India, the USA, the UK, the Netherlands, Australia and Nepal participated in the seminar. The papers presented at the seminar will published in one volume entitled 'Pluralism, Ethnicity and Nationalism in South Asia'.

is Professor and Head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Bombay, Kalina, Bombay 400 098, India.

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