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Structural Functionalism of MN Srinivas


M N Srinivas pioneered structural functionalism in India through his path breaking work on Coorgs of Mysore in 1940s.He analyzed how different cultural elements contribute to solidarity of Coorg society. His major contribution was to challenge the then prevailing dominant paradigm that focused on understanding Indian society from a purely textual point of view and in the process, he ushered in newer frameworks for understanding Hindu society in particular and Indian society in general. 

MN Srinivas’s structural functionalism was a blend of approaches used by Radcliffe Brown and Evans Pritchard under whom, he had received his sociological training in Britain. He used structural functionalism of Brown and anthropological field view of Pritchard. At the same time, he was critical of the American influence on Indian sociology through the institutions like Ford Foundation as the American social scientists were viewed as promoting American values in the garb of making sociology a scientific discipline. He blended theoretical structural functionalism with empirical work and as a result he studied the smaller constituents of society like villages as functional wholes. He used the method of direct observation to study Coorg society and introduced elements of ethnography. His approach also took into account Indological views, influence of which cannot be ignored in his works. Srinivas had a system view of Indian society which was derived from his own micro studies of small community-based organizations. He studied Indian society in terms of patterns of relations, social institutions and their working in society in a holistic manner. He interpretated particular social phenomenon like caste, family and religion in functional terms within a larger context of Indian society. In his study of Coorgs he described the concept of functional unity and established interpretation in the context of various rituals followed by Coorgs. MN Srinivas also studied the process of change in detail in his book Social Change in Modern India 1962 through his twin concepts of Westernization and Sanskritization. His work The Remembered Village,1976 is an outcome of sociological field studies. His understanding of caste is primarily driven from his numerous field studies. His combines theory with practice. He viewed Indian village as a prototype of Indian society or a microcosm of Indian society and rejected the colonial notions of self-sufficiency of Indian village. Village exogamy is one of the prime examples that underscore that villages were interdependent. He considered village to be integrated with the wider society. He saw marriage, family and jajmani system also as central to the understanding of village and caste. According to MN Srinivas villages were the focal points of understanding Indian society. He refuted the logic of cultural theorists like Dumont that only caste should be focused upon to understand Indian society. He took two types of approach in studying the Indian villages – field studies and historical analysis. The ethnographic account of villages was necessary to study the village dynamics and the process of change. At the same time, he found the use of historical analysis to counter the argument of British administrators that village was an unchanging unit of self-sufficiency. According to him, villages served as a unifying identity and that village unity was quite significant in rural social life. Village studies according to him provided an opportunity to illustrate the importance of ethnographic research methods.