Conceived as a series of dialogues between Shah and his fellow social scientists, and indeed between the two disciplines of Sociology and History, essays in this collection nuance ethnographic fact with a historical dimension in ways that were path-breaking for their time.
The book includes Shah’s well-known study of the Vahivancha Barots—traditional record-keepers of genealogies and narrators and creators of myths. The focus on genealogical depth explains the vital role this group plays in legitimizing lineage, clan, and a suitable ancestry traced back to a glorious mythological past. M. N. Srinivas in a foreword provides the theoretical backdrop.
By examining historical records, Shah, along with M. N. Srinivas, questions the myth, till then accepted as a given, of the self-sufficiency of the Indian village. An essay on the political system in eighteenth-century Gujarat, shows the persistence over time of well-integrated structures of power, spanning the village, provincial and imperial levels.
Shah offers several essays on theory and method in sociology and history, anchored in review of literature, and empirical materials. A significant inclusion is the discussion between Shah and Romila Thapar on sociological understanding of ancient India, examining the relation between lineage, clan, caste, and the state. Three other essays deal with the history of sociology and anthropology in India as seen from the perspective of three early journals.
The book will be invaluable for scholars and students of sociology, anthropology and history.
A. M. Shah retired as Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Delhi, Delhi.