In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Contemporary Indian Society

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Data Sources
  • Outsourcing and Other Globalized Industries
  • Urban India
  • Artistic and Cultural Production

Sociology Contemporary Indian Society
Smitha Radhakrishnan
  • LAST REVIEWED: 03 December 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756384-0149


The study of Indian society has expanded rapidly since the late 20th century, reflecting India’s heightened visibility in a globally interconnected cultural, economic, and political landscape. This article focuses on literature on contemporary India, beginning with independence in 1947 but emphasizing the most recent period of economic liberalization, beginning in the late 1980s. Priority has been granted to theoretically sophisticated empirical work that informs sociological thinking about India. Because of the vast scope of existing scholarship on India, many relevant bodies of literature, especially with regard to the colonial period, have been excluded here because of the exclusive focus on contemporary India. Still, readers will notice frequent references to postcolonial theory, a perspective that closely examines the continuities and links among colonialism, anticolonial nationalism, and current political identities, debates, and divisions. Scholarship on contemporary India in almost all areas of study has been profoundly informed by postcolonial theory and thus pushes the list here to be more interdisciplinary than it might otherwise be. Sociologists of India are increasingly attentive to the ways in which postcolonial theory has transformed the practice of history and anthropology, and this attention is evident in the list provided here. The various institutions and settings examined in this article—which include the state, the economy, and the international and national projects of development but also class, caste, gender, and religion—reflect the range of contexts that sociological scholarship on India is expected to consider. The many ethnographic studies included here in particular provide examples of the kind of multilayered analysis expected of sociological work on contemporary India.

General Overviews

Because scholarship on contemporary India is so well developed and far reaching, good general overviews are relatively difficult to come by. In contrast, travelogues and personal reflections on India have proliferated in the early 21st century, many of which are ostensibly based on research. Such works have been excluded here because they seldom have influence on scholarly work. In contrast, the works in this section, by noted scholars who are specialists in specific subfields apart from their introductory volumes, provide judicious introductions to contemporary Indian society. While Deshpande 2003 and Menon and Nigam 2007 demystify the ways in which Hindu nationalism and economic liberalization have interacted, Guha 2007 provides a detailed historical view of the nation, ending around the time that liberalization took root.

  • Deshpande, Satish. 2003. Contemporary India: A sociological view. New Delhi: Viking.

    Focuses on demystifying and contextualizing three key trends that have powerfully shaped India, especially in the last generation: the rise of Hindutva, or Hindu nationalist ideology, the uneven impact of globalization, and the simultaneous invisibility and prominence of caste issues in politics and everyday life.

  • Guha, Ramachandra. 2007. India after Gandhi: The history of the world’s largest democracy. New York: HarperCollins.

    A massive but well-crafted account of India since its independence, ending with the advent of the postliberalization order. Considers the tumultuous events that comprised India’s founding and challenged its continuity, as well as the factors that continued to hold the nation together, in vivid historical detail. Suitable for undergraduate or graduate students.

  • Menon, Nivedita, and Aditya Nigam. 2007. Power and contestation: India since 1989. New York: Zed.

    Focuses on 1989 as a key conjuncture in Indian history because of the collapse of the Nehruvian state, the implementation of the Mandal Commission in 1990, and the beginning of India’s integration into the global economy. Keeps a critical grasp of gendered power running throughout the content of the book. Suitable for graduate students.

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