This book is a collection of research papers written by former graduate students and other close associates of Professor Zimmerman, an eminent sociologist who has done significant work in sociology, especially socio-cultural change in the rural-urban context, inter-group relations, minority groups and their attempt during the last two decades to acculturate with majority groups. The essays not only reflect the importance of comparative sociology but encompass ‘the liberalizing effect on higher education, professions in· terms of altruism, environmentalism and the study of change through the sociology of youth’. The area of rural sociology covers both national and international problems, indicating the variety of ways whereby former students and associates of Professor Zimmerman have investigated problems all over the world.
A large number of essays study the effect of urbanization and modernization in different countries, such as India, Canada, the United States, Japan, Latin America, the Soviet Union and Sri Lanka. The changes due to the education of youth by the introduction of liberal methods of teaching and programmes have also been examined. The effect of changes in traditional societies because of western industrialism and urban culture is a crucial research theme because it helps to understand the process of alienation, especially in developing nations, that has created serious amagonisms and conflicts. A major focus in these essays is on the United States where the lessening of tensions in inter-group relations is being consciously worked for.
Lynn Smith, who introduces the volume with the life and work of Carle C. Zimmerman, unfortunately passed away while this volume was in preparation. A major landmark in Zimmerman’s career was the writing of Principles of Rural-Urban Sociology, a work taken up together with Pitrim Sorokin. Despite major early handicaps, Zimmerman was fortunate in receiving instructions from some of the best scholars of his times.
The other editor, Man Singh Das, has written on ‘Change in Caste in India and the United States’. Surprisingly, he makes no reference to an earlier (1960) paper by Gerald Berreman on ‘Caste in India and the United States’. This would have been a useful comparison of two views at different times. It is debatable whether such a comparative study is at all possible, since the situation is totally different in the two areas. Therefore, to write on ‘Caste in India and the United States’ seems to be fortuitous. The ‘caste system’ is governed by religious values and rituals, and it has had a considerable ideological or moral backing since ancient times. In this sense there are no ‘castes’ in the United States, that is, when one speaks of the minority groups, especially the Blacks. Moreover, the problem of ‘castes’, not to mention many of its conceptual and definitional intricacies, is extremely complex. It is subject to several economic and political pressures.
Aside from this, Das suggests that there are inherent forces and properties in the ‘caste system’ which are allowing it to change. The argument for this is a very general one, such as that there are immanent principles of change—according to Sorokin who states that change is the law of life. This would be true of any aspect of society. Changes in the ‘caste system’ have been certainly going on over hundreds of years in India. He implies that ‘caste’ has remained a rigid social system since ancient times, except during the twentieth century or slightly earlier. Undoubtedly, industrialization, urbanization, secularization, and westernization are factors which are bringing about change in a rapid manner. But whether these external forces of today will bring about radical changes in the social system and totally transform traditional social and economic relations, remains to be seen. Untouchability and discrimination continue to be practised on a large scale all over India even today.
Social change in the structural sense has not really taken place in India though rearrangement of groups and individuals, the upward mobility of lower jatis or ‘caste groups’ has been taking place for centuries albeit within the broad framework of ‘caste’ categories. The basic notion of maintaining one’s ‘caste’ identity through rigid control of marriage arrangements, etc. has been, and continues to be, a widespread practice. Exceptions are there in the urban middle and upper groups, but not a great many as most of these groups also tend to conform to traditional socio-cultural patterns. Economic and political control, barring exceptions of notable individuals who belong to the lower or even untouchable groups, continues to be in the hands of the minority of upper groups. Thus, de facto—if not de jure—segregation and discrimination at the economic and political levels and therefore at the social level continue.
The fact is that as in America the disparity at the economic level between the minority of very rich groups and the mass of poor groups has yet to be lessened through drastic deliberate governmental action and voluntary action by the people. As long as this wide economic and political gap continues, the removal of untouchability, which goes with poverty and deprivation, the terrible plight of socially lower groups will continue. The recent agitations in Bihar and other areas against preferential treatment through reservation of jobs for the Backward Classes is an explicit example of the stiff resistance that exists to breaking down social barriers.
The paper on ‘Racial and Ethnic Changes since 1950’ by Joseph S. Vandiver summarizes the significant changes that have taken place in the status of minority groups in America. But it seems to suggest that considerable advance, due to the Civil Rights movements and the emergence of Black Power groups, has taken place. This will be disputed by many since in terms of American standards the Blacks continue to be discriminated against and live in poverty conditions in the ghettos. The picture is even more dismal for the American Indians who have lived in a state of utter deprivation and extreme neglect for a long time. It is as if there is a deliberate attempt at their extermination. A reference has also been made to some of the other ethnic groups like the Puerto-Ricans, and what are known as Americans of Oriental descent such as Japanese, Chinese, Filipino, Korean and others. It would have been useful to know about the Indians (from Asia) who have now gained the status of minority groups because of the large numbers that have migrated to America.
It will take too much space to comment on all the other papers, but the ones worth mentioning are the following: ‘Regional Difference in Japanese Suicide and its Change’ by Mamora Iga, ‘Intergroup Relations: Problems of Conflict and Accommodation’ by Robin M Williams, Jr., ‘The Emerging Mexican American Community’ by Charles P Loomis, ‘Environmentalism and the Rediscovery of Limits’ by Walter Firey, ‘Institutionalized Altruism: The Case of the Professions’ by Robert K. Merton and Thomas F. Gieryn, and ‘The Modernization of a Sinhalese Village—1250-1970’ by Bryce F. Ryax.
On the whole, a very instructive, analytical and useful volume, very well produced, barring some typographical errors, though it is very highly priced.
S.C. Malik is Fellow & Coordinator, Indian Institute of Advanced Studies, Simla.