ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Sociology of Institutions, Practices and the Discipline

Ideas, Institutions, Processes: Essays in Memory of Satish Saberwal edited by N Jayaram; Hyderabad: Orient BlackSwan, 2014; pp x+294, Rs 795.

A versatile thinker and an imaginative interdisciplinary scholar, Satish Saberwal (1933–2010)made important contributions in various fields, which include sociology, anthropology, political and historical sociology and comparative studies. Located at the Centre for Historical Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, he was considered a sociologist among historians and a historian among sociologists. This collection of essays in his memory contains reflections and studies by scholars who had known him in different capacities and for varying periods. Saberwal was himself interested in varied subjects like the shaping of modern institutions, norms and rules in social functioning, communalism and communal conflict, inequality and social mobility, comparative and historical studies. The essays in this volume reflect his diverse interests and concerns and the collection is divided into four sections: the first describes the scholar and his work, the second deals with the disciplinary ruminations, the third is devoted to historical studies and the fourth section focuses on studies on institutions and processes.

The editor N Jayaram in his lucid and informative essay presents an intellectual portrait of Saberwal and succinctly draws attention to the main ideas that guided his intellectual journey. Saberwal was influenced by Max Weber, Clifford Geertz and Victor Turner and his location at the Centre for Historical Studies (CHS) enabled him to both recognise and pursue the historical dimensions in the shaping of Indian society. T N Madan points out the problematic nature of his professional location and writes: “His scepticism about the overall Marxian theoretical stance of most of the scholars at the History Centre precluded his integration into the intellectual milieu of the place. It was a peculiar situation. He never felt completely at home with the historians at JNU as a group and the sociologists there kept him at a distance....Satish never was asked to teach a course at the Centre for the Study of Social Systems” (p 24). Free-floating and unconnected, Saberwal developed his own sociological insights, which would not have been possible if he was associated with an academic group or school. Saberwal himself provides his experience of the CHS in his interview with Nandini Sundar and Amita Baviskar. He says that the CHS was conflict-ridden and ruled by one dominant faction. According to him: “Half the faculty were in modern and contemporary history. Bipan [Chandra] would sit on all their selection committees. The strong impression outside the faction was that Bipan’s protégés would meet at his home before faculty meetings and decide what position to take....Bipan’s faction disintegrated once merit promotion started. He lost control because people became professors and did not need his help anymore” (pp 44–45). It seems this was perhaps the only redeeming feature of the merit promotion scheme introduced by University Grants Commission.

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