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The Remembered Village by M. N. Srinivas
The Remembered Village by M. N. Srinivas
Review by: Barbara Celarent
American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 117, No. 6 (May 2012), pp. 1870-1878
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/666522.
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http://www.jstor.org American Journal of Sociology doctrine and planning. They are expensive to train and their roles are not relevant to many operations, including counterinsurgency, stabilization, and nation building. Some European nations have rarely or never used their amphibious and airborne forces. Yet elite forces have received institutional patronage that has allowed them to monopolize resources and dominate operations. As Clausewitz recognized, an army becomes an army when purpose, honor, and loyalty turn individual soldiers into a collective force willing to endure the hardships and horrors of war. Elitism does this for the modern, specialized, and smaller forces of Europe. Special insignia in the form of badges and berets reﬂect this sense of exceptionalism.
Here King may be on to something that constitutes a major problem for modern military-civilian relationships within democracies where civilian control is considered paramount, though he never develops this idea. In the United States recently there has been increasing concern by analysts of the growing gap between the military and civilian societies and culture. With the disappearance of a selective service system, civilians no longer feel involved or touched by faraway wars. The mass armies of the past experienced an important part of their duty, commitment, and will to ﬁght for the modern state as representative of the people. As modern military establishments feel the need to develop their own sense of exceptionalism and civilian societies lose any sense of involvement in contemporary wars, what kind of relationship will these two aspects of nations have with one another?
The Remembered Village. By M. N. Srinivas. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Pp. 340.
Barbara Celarent* University of Atlantis Until recently, social thought beyond the metropolis was born in storm and strife. Its authors were pamphleteers urging revolution, feminists lobbying for their gender, liberation ﬁghters on their way to presidencies or dictatorships. But as academic life spread, nonmetropolitan social science drifted into the quieter waters of university life. Even the identity studies of the turn of the century were sometimes more dutiful than passionate. In such a world, the best writing often emerged from disruption.
To one such disruption we owe The Remembered Village. While visiting an American university, the Indian sociologist M. N. Srinivas saw the codings and analyses of 20 years reduced to ashes in an hour, sacriﬁced by an antiwar arsonist to political gods unknown in the Hindu pantheon.
Only the ﬁeld diaries remained, two continents away. On the advice of *Another review from 2050 to share with AJS readers.—Ed.
Book Reviews a colleague, Srinivas simply wrote from memory. He checked a few facts against the surviving diaries, but most of what we read today is quite literally “the remembered village,” harvested after two decades of reﬂection that would have been much approved by the careful farmers of
Rampura. Like Srinivas, they too knew catastrophe:
Considering their proneness to disasters of all kinds, their poverty and their ignorance, and the fact that planting each crop was really an act of faith, it was indeed astonishing that they were activists. Withdrawal from all activity made more sense in their situation. (P. 318) But they soldiered on, and Srinivas followed their lead. Indeed, it was to himself that he was speaking in this remark: social science is an act of faith in the face of disaster.
M. N. Srinivas was born November 16, 1916, in Mysore, then the capital of a princely state within the British empire of India. Ill health and undiagnosed myopia made him an indifferent student, but he moved steadily ahead under the guidance (and occasional funding) of a schoolteacher elder brother (EB, as Srinivas calls him). Such mentoring permeated Srinivas’s life. His short autobiography follows a sequence of such advisors, beginning with EB and continuing through A. R. Wadia to G.
S. Ghurye, A. R. Radcliffe-Brown, and E. E. Evans-Pritchard. One is not surprised to ﬁnd The Remembered Village beginning with brilliant portraits of three dominant elder informants.
Nor is one surprised, ultimately, at the ﬁery origins of the book. For Srinivas recounted his life not only in terms of elders, but also in terms of accidents. Sociology was chosen for him by a friend of EB’s who had little actual acquaintance of the ﬁeld. Through that arbitrary choice he came under the inﬂuence of Wadia, who in turn gave him the bad grade that prevented a ﬁrst-class degree and therefore disbarred him from the Civil Service examination that might have resulted in a local teaching job and a boring, limited career. Wadia in turn sent Srinivas off to Ghurye at Bombay, who, rather than mentoring Srinivas, soon fast-tracked him into ﬁeld study. To hear Srinivas tell it, his life was one long series of accidents.
From Ghurye, Srinivas imbibed the diffusionism of Ghurye’s teacher— the British anthropologist W. H. R. Rivers. But jobs in India were scarce, and, moreover, Ghurye for some reason soured on Srinivas. That souring, however, resulted in Ghurye’s sending Srinivas to England for study.
Although various things (such as a bizarre accident to Srinivas’s glasses) got him off to a bad start with Oxford’s Radcliffe-Brown, he learned much from the latter, exchanging diffusionism for functionalism. But Radcliffe-Brown soon retired—another accident, but with the silver lining that Srinivas became the ﬁrst student of Radcliffe-Brown’s successor Evans-Pritchard, already famous for his studies of the Azande and the Nuer. Srinivas was again redirected, for Evans-Pritchard was skeptical of functionalism and believed that social anthropology was “a moral and not natural science, and that its methods approximated those of history.” American Journal of Sociology (At least, this is Srinivas’s view in his personal essay, “Itineraries of an Indian Social Anthropologist”; others thought differently.) In his turn, Evans-Pritchard recruited Srinivas for the Oxford department and arranged to fund the ﬁeldwork that became The Remembered Village. Again, a series of accidents.
But once the ﬁeldwork was done, Srinivas chose to return to India, called by his old teacher Wadia, who had now become pro-vice chancellor at the new university in Baroda. Srinivas’s retrospective judgment of this choice captures brilliantly the problem of crossing the boundary between
empire and metropolis:
But looking back over the years I have no doubt whatever that I did the right thing in leaving Oxford and returning to a university in my own country.
I am only too keenly aware that had I continued at Oxford I could have been a much more rigorous scholar and written more books and papers, but I am also certain that I would have experienced an emotional and spiritual dessication which would have affected my work as well as my relations with those with whom I came in contact. Human social relations are the stuff of an anthropologist’s analysis, and alienation from one’s society and culture cannot but have consequences on his perceptions and interpretations. This is not to ignore the great contributions made to the social sciences made by exiles and expatriates, and “marginal” members of societies. Sociology is in a sense the offspring of collective as well as personal misery. (From “Itineraries”) Srinivas spent eight years at Baroda building a department and a concept of Indian sociology. He was then called to Delhi in 1959 to start the department of sociology there. Twelve years later, the very man who had brought him to Delhi—Dr. V. K. R. V. Rao—enticed him to return south, to Bangalore, to head Rao’s new Institute for Social and Economic Change. In later years, Srinivas was visiting professor at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, working on an autobiography left unﬁnished at his death in 1999.
The Remembered Village is part ethnography and part bildungsroman.
Such works became common after the 1980s, when the subjectivist reaction against midcentury scientism produced a generation of self-absorption. But the mix was new in 1976. Fieldworkers were then still recovering from the recent publication of Bronislaw Malinowski’s personal diaries. The hard-won perfections of Malinowski’s writing and the objectiﬁcation inevitable in any disciplinary historiography had led his successors to imagine him as a disembodied, scientiﬁc ethnographer. But the trailblazing hero of modern ﬁeldwork proved to have been a tortured young man. The labor of intercultural translation had often overloaded Malinowski’s tolerance. Ambition and passion drove him awry. Loneliness undermined his discipline. That this was the actual experience of ﬁeldwork had become widely known by 1967. But it had never been made so plain as it was in Malinowski’s private writings.
Yet while Srinivas combined analysis and memoir in The Remembered Village, his memoir lacked the storms of Malinowski’s, in part because Book Reviews the two were very different men, in part because Srinivas wrote for publication and in long retrospect. The Srinivas who remembered Rampura was almost the age of the three key men who had dominated his original research there: the nameless headman, strong and silent; Kulle Gowda, the hustler/trickster research assistant; and Nadu Gowda, head of the village’s largest lineage and Srinivas’s friend and mentor. By contrast, the Srinivas who researched Rampura in 1948 had been just an Oxford graduate student undertaking ﬁeldwork.
The Remembered Village has three parts. First, three opening chapters set the stage. Srinivas tells us how he found Rampura, partly through a sentimental desire to discover his own origins—his urbanized family owned paddy land only a few miles away—but also because it ﬁt most of the requirements he sought: multicaste, rice-growing, nonprogressive, and small. But in the last analysis, he tells us, he chose Rampura because he went there on a beautiful morning, the waters danced in the town’s little reservoir, and the smell of jaggery making seduced his senses.
I feel self-conscious to mention that my decision to choose Rampura was based on aesthetic rather than rational considerations. However it was in line with my earlier decision to select the southern Mysore region on sentimental grounds. But the alternative of mentioning only the “rational” criteria while ignoring the “non-rational” ones would be dishonest. (P. 8) This passage sets the tone of the entire book, which is ﬁlled with straightforward, unironical self-judgment. We learn for example that Srinivas is quite fastidious. He resents the villagers’ constant discussion of his bowel habits and their staring at him while he bathes. He becomes inured to the cow-dung smells of the house in which he lives but cannot abide the children defecating calmly by the roadside. We learn that he is an atheist, a factor that causes his only differences with his mentor Nadu Gowda (pp. 97, 323). We become accustomed to his merciless self-criticism. There is a whole section on failures in chapter 2, where he calls himself a coward,
decries his excessive caution, and wonders whether he is not a hypocrite:
“I was not a ruthless enough anthropologist to sacriﬁce good relations for better ﬁeld work” (p. 49). At times, he ﬁnds himself quite unaccountable.
He is puzzled, for example, that while he was unable to watch the slaughter of animals, “cruelty which did not involve killing did not affect me much” (p. 50), going on to describe a castration that was “barbarous in the extreme.” Of a bhang-smoking session, he remarks laconically “it did not occur to me to take a puff” (p. 51). And he notes disapprovingly his
escapes to Mysore:
It was pleasant to get back to electric lights, piped water, good food, and, above all, privacy. It was delightful to walk around without having to be asking questions and making notes. It was equally if not more delightful that I did not have to answer questions all the time. (P. 33) As this last remark makes clear, the villagers studied Srinivas in their own way. Many of the questions involved Srinivas’s status as an Iyengar American Journal of Sociology (a Vaishnavite Brahmin subcaste from further south). Srinivas had become quite secular himself, but the villagers (most of them from the Peasant caste—there were only one or two other Brahmins resident in Rampura) expected him to behave in proper Brahmin style. The headman insisted that, as ritual required, he shave before rather than after his bath: a Brahmin should set a good example.
Srinivas’s technical virtuosity as a writer allows him to show the reader this village reaction to himself with a minimum of explicit statement.
There is no need for quotes giving voice to those studied, such as later writers would include. At the same time, Srinivas is quite explicit about his Brahmin position and its effects on all aspects of his work. By presenting himself not only explicitly, but also through the reactions of three major and many minor ﬁgures, he creates a multidimensionality sometimes lacking in the literal egalitarianism of many of his successors.