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A Complex Social Web

Valerian Rodrigues

By Gopa Sabharwal
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 307, Rs. 595.00


This book which threatens to inundate you with unending details eventually promises you something: ethnicity is something that we need to look for as an explanation for the social dynamics of our urban settings. Ethnicity transcends such frameworks as caste with which sociologists have honed their craft hitherto and remains the mutating presence amidst the creeping universality. The concept of class is resurrected to ensure that ethnicity does not collapse into the mundane localisms of caste, sect, religion and language. The study revolves around Belgaum City, presently located in Karnataka, but with an aging claim with the neighbouring state of Maharastra. For a number of reasons it seems to be the appropriate setting to mount the argument regarding the centrality of ethnicity in understanding social relations in India and how class, understood in terms of education, income and occupation, ensures that the social landscape does not become a dumping ground.   Much to be appreciated across the work are the meticulous accounts of the various influences that have come to mark the social space of Belgaum although when it comes to information with regard to the cleavages of Catholicism or the larger dynamics of Karnataka politics there are generalizations much wanting. The social divisions of the city, their interactions and intersections stand out as you plough through the work.   Belgaum is also the city which has been thrown into the cauldron of linguistic contentions, and many would say wanton destruction, following the recommendations of the State Reorganisation Commssion. Such contentions have created organized interests which defend the case of each one of the ethnic divide. However, the kind of linguistic walls that the protagonists of the respective camps have strenuously built do not seem to be effective enough, when one sees class related transactions that occur between the linguistic camps. Besides, there are also groups such as Muslims who cannot be easily taken for granted by either of the camps.   When it comes to education and occupation the location of social groups based upon birth and ascription seems to undergo significant changes. Education and occupation inject great deal of social mobility and such mobility profoundly qualifies the ascriptive locations of religion, sect, language and caste. Politics too seems to play a similar role as people are mobilized across different social locations and identities. The author thinks therefore that the concept of ethnicity can be a major tool of analysis and it ...

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