Professor M N Srinivas Annual Memorial Lecture
at King's India Institute
Professor M.N. Srinivas (1919-1999) was one of India’s pioneering and most distinguished social anthropologists, and a leading figure in India’s twentieth century intellectual life. A graduate of the University of Bombay, where he studied with G.S. Ghurye, he went on to complete his Doctoral research at Oxford with A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, whose approach and ideas had a lasting influence on his work. Srinivas returned to India in 1951 and taught at a number of institutions including the University of Baroda and the Instiute for Social and Economic Change, Bangalore. For several years, he taught at the Department of Sociology at the Delhi School of Economics; in his later years he was based at the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore.
Trained in the British tradition of social anthropology, M.N. Srinivas was a fierce advocate of empirical fieldwork as a critical method for the study of Indian society. He has come to be best remembered perhaps for his introduction of the concept of ‘sanskritisation’ – a concept he used to question the received understanding of an inherently static, pan-Indian caste system. Sanskritisation, he argued, was a process by which social groups challenged the hierarchical order and over time successfully changed their locations within it. Through this concept – based upon years of fieldwork in different parts of India – Srinivas developed a subtle and sweeping account of social change in India, indeed the first sociological theory of change in Indian society and of the mutability of caste hierarchy.
Much of the power and insight of Srinivas’s work drew from a tension in his own outlook: Srinivas was in many respects a traditionalist, even a conservative; yet he was fascinated by the extraordinary process of social and political change that India had embarked on at the time of its Independence. This made him in some respects a Tocquevillian figure, tracing the changes that democracy and a spreading rejection of hierarchy brought, even as he remained at times undecided about the actual consequences and benefits of such change.
The King’s India Institute, in partnership with the Royal Anthropological Institute, has established an Annual M.N. Srinivas Memorial Lecture in homage to his intellectual legacy. Our aim is to invite scholars who, in the spirit of Srinivas, have made us think about social change and stability in India in new ways, based on new research and scholarship.
The inaugural lecture -- 'An Anthropologists's View of India After Liberalisation' -- was delivered by Professor Akhil Gupta from the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Los Angeles, on 26 March 2012.
The second M.N. Srinivas Annual Memorial Lecture entitled 'Finding an Address: Reflections on an Urban Neighbourhood', was delivered by Professor Veena Das, Department of Anthropology at Johns Hopkins University on 21 March 2013.
The third M.N. Srinivas Annual Memorial Lecture entitled 'The Ecology of Failure: Reflections on Democracy, Participation and Development', was delivered by Professor Arjun Appadurai, Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Development, New York University on 27 March 2014. Please click here to listen to the audio.
The fourth M. N. Srinivas Annual Memorial Lecture entitled "Destroying the Negatives: M.N. Srinivas, "India's Villages", and Photography" was delivered by Christopher Pinney, Professor of Anthropology and Visual Culture at the University College London, on 19 March 2015. Please click here to listen to the audio recording of the event.
The fifth M.N. Srinivas Annual Memorial Lecture entitled "Outside caste? The enclosure of caste and claims to castelessness in India and the UK" was delivered by David Mosse, Professor of Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies on 29 Novermber 2016. Please click here to watch a video of the event.