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Between the Heart and the Mind


Tulsi Patel

ANTINOMIES OF SOCIETY: ESSAYS ON IDEOLOGIES AND INSTITUTIONS
By Andre Beteille
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2002, pp. 297, Rs. 295.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 1 January 2004

Dedicated to Dharma Kumar, this book by Beteille is a collection of 12 papers published elsewhere between 1978 and 1999. These are reflective pieces on Indian society’s uneven experiences in the course of transition from a traditional to a modernizing one. Antinomies are not the same as binary opposites, though they are a sort of contradiction in norms and values (rather than the socioeconomic features of the roles and relationships) deployed by the society as it regulates itself. They are both the surface and the undercurrents prevailing in the thoughts and behaviour of individuals and societies, an idea one encounters more in religious and philosophical literature than in the sociological one. But these are present in society all the time. My doctoral examiner’s comment that my thesis showed a great deal of tension (rather than an absence of it) as respondents encountered the family planning programme, comes to mind as one reads Antinomies. Beteille prefers Durkheim’s concept of ‘collective representations’ to the all-encompassing ‘collective conscience’ in dealing with antinomies. The disjunctions between freedom and equality, norms and values, and law and custom observed in institutional conduct are Beteille’s focus of attention. He is intrigued by the analytical separation between the proverbial tussling fronts of cherished values and corrupting powers between people, communities and nations as they occupy differential positions of power and interest. What makes the running theme fascinating is the preoccupation of ideology that seeks to connect the universe of values with the realm of power.   The first three essays deal with contradictions of ideology in Marxism, pluralism and secularism. Intellectuals figure with the ideology of secularism in the second section of the book that carries one into the university as a centre of learning and an institution of the civil society. The norms and values of the civil society and the communities of birth in India in particular, and efforts at governance and empowerment constitute the last section of the book. One section overflows into another. Thus these are not separated into sections by the author.   The shift in the shade of ideology as perceived and defined today as against the height of the Cold War is an interesting lead into antinomies. In neither of the cases is the use of ideology as an engine for change or an instrument for status quo a mystification. With reference to works by Engels and Bankim Chandra, the difference as ...


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