Reservation and Social Mobility: Theoretical Construct

Abstract: Theory building occupies an important place in Social Science research. It helps one to grapple with social realities, to relate the seemingly unrelated and isolated social phenomena with each other and establish their causes and effects. The primary task here is to comprehend and put in a proper perspective the existing body of thought in the field of investigation and beat them into a desired shape to suit one’s enquiry. This paper seeks to relate reservation with social mobility and develop a theoretical framework to analyse their dialectical interaction.

Keywords: social mobility, social stratification system, Sakritisation, Westernisation, anticipatory socialization, political mobility, ethnic caste group, social acceptance

Theory building occupies an important place in Social Science research. For, it helps one to grapple with social realities, to relate the seemingly unrelated and isolated social phenomena with each other and establish their causes and effects. The primary task here is to comprehend and put in a proper perspective the existing body of thought in the field of investigation and beat them into a desired shape to suit one’s enquiry. In the process new theoretical insights emerge. This paper attempts at such an exercise. It seeks to relate reservation with social mobility and develop a theoretical framework to analyse their dialectical interaction.

Reservation is considered as the best tool in ameliorating the lot of the disadvantaged sections in a society. The disadvantaged are those who suffer multiple deprivations, economic, political and social. They have little or no means of subsistence, no representation in the power structure and hence lag behind in social esteem. Reservation targets at drastically altering this existential reality by improving their economic condition, giving them greater share in power and thereby enhancing their social status. In this way the social rejects are made social acceptables and are further encouraged to integrate progressively with the mainstream society. In this sense it promotes social cohesion.

Democratic justification for reservation lies in its majoritarian principle and concern for equality. It may be remembered that the bulwark of democratic governance is majority support. As such the State primarily directs its energy to cater to their needs and interests. Needless to say, in every society it is the disadvantaged who form the largest chunk of the population. Therefore, it is only in the fitness of things that democratic governance postulates special care strategies for the upliftment of such individuals

Reservation could also be justified in terms of equality, which is the very basis of democracy. In fact, as Sunitha Pathania had pointed out, reservation is a catalytic agent of social justice (“ Is Reservation the Solution?” The Hindu. 29th Dec. 1996). It is the modem refinement of the concept of equality, one based on the premise that strictly equal treatment meted out in inherently unequal situations can hardly be considered equitable 1. It thus conflates equity with justice and paves the way for equi-justice, a concept which denotes not equal justice but adequate justice determined on the basis of one’s existential conditions with the worst off being offered preferential treatment over the better off. Conceived in these two senses, reservation fosters the greatest good of the society and informs the principle of equality with a new dynamism, which enables it to winnow the most deserving from the non-deserving/least-deserving and accordingly hammer state policies into desired shapes. Viewed thus, the theoretical underpinnings of reservation could be traced to the principles of Utilitarianism and John Rawls’ Theory of Justice.

Reservation, Utilitarianism and Rawls’ Theory of Justice

It is a little noticed fact that the Utilitarian theory justifies the cause of reservation. Based as it is on pleasure-pain theory, it measures utility in terms of the greatest happiness of the greatest number. It believes in distributing the good things of life according to the above principle (Faundez 7). In relation to state policy this means that its intrinsic worth depends on the population size it seeks to serve or on whom it wants to confer its beneficial attributes. Accordingly if the social benefits brought about by reservation out-weigh the harm to which it gives rise, then under utilitarian approach such a measure would be justified. (Faundez 7).

In the specific context of India, it won’t be difficult to understand that reservation policy seeks to protect the interests of the Backward Classes who constitute a large majority of the country’s population. Apart from this, it also generates much good for the society as a whole. One could very well imagine the social turmoil it would have created had these people continued as social rejects. By providing them a share in state power, reservation tries to prevent such a contingency. In this sense it furthers social cohesion and integration by reducing socio-economic inequalities (Faundez 7). Thus reservation becomes the catalyst of the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

However, the best defence for reservation, it seems, comes from John Rawls. His Theory of Justice is moderately equalitarian, reformist in nature, progressive in outlook and social in consciousness (R. Sushila, “Rawls and his Critics” Unpublished Ph. D thesis, Delhi: Department of Political Science, University of Delhi, 1987, 467). It is true that he never argues for a non-stratified, non-hierarchical society. Neither does he envisage the abolition of inequality as such. All the same, it shouldn’t be overlooked that he also advocates the redressal of socio-economic inequalities by elevating the worst-off (R.Sushila 211). Here he is not merely rationalising the need for economic justice, but goes beyond and argues for the equal sense of worth of each and all; for after all man does not live on bread alone (Allan Bloom 650)

Rawls’ Justice stands on the tripod of equal liberty, fair equality of opportunity and the maximin or difference principle. According to him, in matters of liberty every individual has to be placed on an even keel, irrespective of his natural assets or initial position in society. Each is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all (Rawls 302). This could well be interpreted to mean that in a caste-based stratified system, the birth of an individual in a particular caste (in Rawlsean sense, natural asset or initial position in society) should not come in the way of computing his social status or economic and political positions in society. Constructed reversely, it means that a person who is subjected to discrimination on that very basis be treated equally and at the same time accorded certain preferential consideration as compensation for the ill-treatment suffered by him. In this perspective Rawls’ equal liberty principle is not a sterile one standing for same treatment under all circumstances. This would be clearer as one examines the other two legs of the tripod.

For Rawls, Justice further means providing fair equality of opportunity. Under this, positions are to be not only open in a formal sense but all should have a fair chance to attain them (Rawls 73) Here one should take serious note of the fact that what Rawls emphasizes is not equal opportunities but fair equality of opportunities. The two propositions differ fundamentally. The former is a sterile and negative concept as it considers individuals as equals without any regard for their differential endowments. Fair equality principle, on the other hand, is dynamic and positive as its focus is on the individual with all his advantages and disadvantages and hence justifies providing differential opportunities depending on one’s needs. Thus fair equality of opportunity means adequate opportunity or as stated in the Indian Constitution ‘equal protection of the laws’. Opportunity provided to an individual is linked to his special circumstances, the disadvantaged being provided with preferential treatment while the same being denied to those placed in vantage positions. Only in this way the equality of opportunity provision be saved from usurpation by those who have an initial advantage over others by virtue of birth and social stratification (Rawls 75)

Here one comes across the much controversial issue of merit and talent. What is the position of these attributes in Rawls’ scheme of Justice? He cautions us in laying too much emphasis on these qualities. He says:

…merit and desert are social attributes [than individual and hence
are] to be harvested for society as a whole. It is just a matter of
chance or a natural lottery that these talents are so randomly
distributed in individuals. [As such] . . . individuals do not have
a prior right to use these talents to their own advantage. As society
has decided that certain attributes are important the fortunate
individuals who have these talents cannot claim them all for
themselves. (Rawls 72 – 74 )

Roland Dworkin succinctly presents Rawls’ contention in this regard and shows how it could be used as a justification for reservation. Like Rawls, Dworkin too believes that what counts for merit cannot be decided in the abstract but in terms of what society values and considers relevant 2. In other words:

It all depends upon what society thinks should be cherished and the kind of institutions that it would like to uphold. Therefore, nobody has a prior right to go to Medical College or become a lawyer. Society will decide which mix of attributes it considers suitable for admission into medicine and law. Admission may not be only on the basis of marks scored, but on the additional basis of, say, colour of skin or caste background. As one’s attributes do not belong to the individual but to society, it is up to [it] to decide which attribute, or bundle of attributes, it considers relevant. At a certain point in time society could decide that being black or belonging to an ex-untouchable caste is a socially useful colour in which case, then, academic Merit alone will not count. (Roland Dworkin, cited in Dipankar Gupta’s “Positive Discrimination and the Question of Fraternity: Contrasting Ambedkar and Mandal on Reservation” )

This, then, makes it clear that the quest for merit and deserts has to be kept in check. This, however, does not mean that Rawls rejects them altogether. He only pleads that the basic structure be arranged in such a manner that these contingencies work to the benefit of the least advantaged (Rawls 102) .This he terms as the difference principle. When applied to Government policies it means that they ought to be formulated keeping in mind the interests of the worst off. Utilitarians and Rawls thus become the best exponents of the policy of reservation, of course indirectly.

The aforesaid exposition of reservation and its theoretical underpinnings clearly establishes the organic linkages it has with the concept of social mobility. Reservation in the broadest sense is a process of social churning as it attempts at restructuring the existing system on an equalitarian basis. It shakes the privileged position of the dominant sections and offers the disadvantaged a helping hand to intrude into the hitherto denied social, economic and political slots in the system. The net result is intra-stratum movement or social mobility. Once this linkage is established, the next logical course is to develop a theoretical framework to comprehend the intricacies of the process of mobility.

Social Stratification and Mobility

In every society, ancient or modern, democratic or otherwise, the positions, which individuals come to occupy, vary very much in terms of power, privilege and status. This has its definite impact on the dialectical interaction among individuals, their social prestige, influence and importance. In Sorokin’s phraseology its essence consists of unequal distribution of rights and privileges, duties and responsibilities, social values and privations, social power and influences (Sorokin 11).The fundamental basis of this phenomenon inevitably lies in the manner in which societies are lacerated into layers and their hierarchical ordering. Thus social stratification becomes an important field of investigation in Social Science. More often than not, primary focus of attention here is on social formations with which various strata are composed and the manner and degree of movements among them.

One confronts different philosophical conceptions regarding the above problematic. Take for instance the issue of social formations. Here one usually comes across much of a juxtaposing of the uni-dimensional construct of Marx and Engels with the multi-dimensional analysis of Weber and others of his ilk, Runciman and Sorokin in particular. For Marx and Engels stratification rests on the pedigree of class i.e., place of individuals in the system of production and property relations. Weber while accepting the class conception of Marx and Engels brings in two additional categories – status groups and parties – and thereby provides a social and political dimension to an otherwise economic construct 3. Runciman more or less follows the Weberian typology with a slight modification. He introduces the concept of power instead of parties, though in 4 reality both stand for the same thing 4. To Sorokin, economic, political and occupational are the three principal dimensions of stratification (Sorokin 12)

A hindsight however reveals that there is a common thread that runs through and binds all these schools of thought. Nobody from Marx and Engels down to Sorokin, seems to be in doubt about the centrality of economic factors, or class formations to be more precise, in social stratification. Also it won’t be far-fetched to maintain that other factors, be they status, party or power, about which Weber or Runciman is specific are laced firmly with class. This, however, should not be construed to mean that one is denying the salience of other factors or the differential contributions of Weber et al to the study and analysis of social stratification. But the purpose is rather a restricted one, to point out the significance of economic interest in the formation of social collectivities.

Linked to the above, but much more important than it, is the effort at theorising the process of the movement of individuals from one stratum to the other or change in placement within the same stratum. A rich but variegated body of literature already exists in this realm, of course with the usual contradictions inherent in the analysis of such complex social phenomenon.

Literature on social mobility relates the phenomenon with social change and/or movements of individuals in social space. Theoretically the first proposition is valid as all social changes, violent or peaceful, induce structural changes in varying degrees resulting in greater inter-and intra-stratum traffic. However it has one important lacuna as it is couched in general terms ignoring the specificities of such changes. The second formulation sounds better, though it also has certain shortcomings on closer scrutiny. Sorokin, for instance, defines mobility as transmission of an individual or social object or value– anything that has been created or modified by human activity — from one social position, economic, political and occupational, to another (Sorokin 133). While this covers a lot of ground lost sight of by the first proposition, applying this in societies with caste-based stratification system becomes problematic. This is more so in the case of upward mobility. It may be noticed that mobility for an individual in the final analysis becomes meaningful only when his elevation to a higher slot and consequent status change is accepted by the larger society and his peers in the new stratum. For instance, in India an individual belonging to Scheduled Castes who is inducted to a higher position (profession-wise) may not be acknowledged by his official subordinates or his peers or even the clientele belonging to the upper or intermediate castes. Sorokin misses situations like this.

It would be appropriate here to introduce Lipset and Zetterberg who view social mobility to be the product of shift and ranking of occupations, consumptions, social power and social class composed of individuals who accept 6 each other as equals and qualified for intimate association . We could beneficially use this with some modifications to the latter part. For, qualifying for equal treatment and intimate association alone won’t suffice our need. It is also crucial that the mobile individuals are accepted and accorded due respect befitting their newly acquired positions by their subordinates in the official hierarchy and the larger public outside, irrespective of their caste status. This may be termed as social acceptance . Social Mobility, thus, means positional shift of individuals in the social, economic, occupational and political structures in such a manner that the new incumbents qualify for social acceptance irrespective of their caste or ascriptive ties.

The linkage between social and political mobility also assumes salience here. The two are inter-linked processes with social mobility leading to political mobility and this in turn leading back and inducing greater social mobility. For instance, Verba et al hypothesize that social mobility leads to political participation and activity (Verba et al. 69) and Barbara Joshi considers it (political mobility) as a means of greater social and economic mobility (Barbara R Joshi 25).

Political mobility is a broader concept, which stands for greater political power and role in the decision-making process, both at the party and governmental levels. It has also a social acceptance dimension when applied in a caste-linked stratification and status system. Like the socially mobile individual the politically mobile should also be accepted by the society. To be more specific, his authority and status should be accepted and respected by his subordinates and accorded due regard by his peers and superiors, both in the party as well as in the Government. And this should come irrespective of his ascriptive identity.

Further, social mobility also influences political preference. This has been accepted by both Instrumental and Expressive Theories. According to Lipset, intergenerational mobility affects the relation between social class and political preference. Hence it is held that the political preference of a mobile person will be more or less the same as the class of his destinations (Newbeerta and Graaf 30, 48). As his class position changes upward, his political preference oscillates between left-wing radicalism to right-wing conservatism. By implication this means that a person in a lower position has a higher chance of having a left-wing political preference than someone in a high-class position whose leniency will be towards right of centre political formations. Abrams and Rose have proved this point while investigating the reasons behind the Labour Party’s defeat in three successive General Elections (1949, 1954 and 1959) in England. Their conclusion is that the Labour voters failed to identify with the party because of their relative affluence (M.Abrams and R.Rose 484). The theory is that as a community experiences material prosperity, it develops a vested interest in maintaining the status quo in property relations and this in turn leads to its opposing activities, adversely affecting its material interests (T.K. Oommen 166) Consequences of social mobility on political mobility and preference thus become a focal point of attention in mobility studies.

Types, Directions and Mechanisms of Mobility

Viewing mobility as positional shift brings to the fore two crucial aspects of the phenomenon, types and directions of the shift, and the process through which individuals seek elevation to higher strata.

Four types of mobility are commonly identified; Ritual and Secular, and Contest and Sponsored. Ritual Mobility is often initiated through group efforts aiming at a higher ritual position or rank in a society where ritual status forms one of the important criterion of social stratification (Chandrashekhar Bhat 124) Secular Mobility, on the other, is movement in public sphere– particularly educational, occupational and political– and deals with the exercise of state power. Owen Lynch points out political participation as an important channel of this type of mobility (Owen M..Lynch 8 )

The second typology — Contest and Sponsored Mobility is a distinct contribution of Ralph Turner. When mobility is the product of open competition between individuals it becomes Contest Mobility. The contest is judged to be fair only if all players compete on an equal footing and victory here is solely by one’s own effort. Under Sponsored Mobility, however competitiveness as well as own effort are at a discount. Here the mobiles are chosen by the established elite or their agents and is like entry into a private club where each candidate must be sponsored by one or more of the members. In other words here, for mobility to take place, sponsorship or sympathetic disposition of the establishment becomes a sine qua non. Turner points out the recruitment to the Catholic priesthood in US as a typical example of this type of mobility. Recruitment of Scheduled Castes and other Backward Classes to the Government service under the Indian Constitution also, in a sense, belongs to this category as they enjoy the sponsorship of the State in the form of reservation.

From typologies of mobility as one moves on to its directions, one comes across two principal dimensions with the possibility of each getting further fragmented into a series of sub-divisions. Sorokin analyses it in terms of Horizontal and Vertical forms. Horizontal Mobility means hopping of individuals along the surface i.e., movement within the same stratum and level with hardly any ups and downs in status. Contrariwise in Vertical Mobility status shifts stand out in bold relief. Vertical Mobility thus is the relations involved in a transition of an individual from one social stratum to another (Sorokin op.cit) Theodore Caplow’s description seems to be more crisp — movement of individuals upward or downward with a gain or loss in social rank.(Theodore Caplow 59)

Turning back to Sorokin, it could be discerned that he divides Vertical Mobility into ascending and descending currents. While the former denotes social climbing or ‘Upward Mobility’, the latter points towards social sinking or Downward Mobility. Each of these, in turn, is divided into two categories depending on the individual or collective nature of the mobiles (Figure 1) (Sorokin 133— 34). In both currents there is the possibility of stray individual or whole groups being catapulted to a higher plane or ejected out of it to a lower one.
Source: Pitrim A.sorokin, social and cultural mobility, Illinois: the free press of Glencoe, 1959, p. 136.

Two other classifications that could be progressively adopted in analysing the direction of Social Mobility are the ones presented by Melvin Tumin and Ray Collins, and K.L. Sharma. Tumin and Collins identify four types of mobility situations by co-relating the status of parents and their progeny: High Stationaries (high status children of high status parents) – horizontal. Upwardly Mobile (high status children of low status parents— vertical; Downwardly Mobile (low status children of high status parents)— vertical; and Low Stationaries (low status children of low status parents)— horizontal.1 (Melvin M. Tumin and Ray C. Collins, “Status Mobility and Anomie: A Study in Readiness for Desegregation”, British Journal of sociology, Vol. 10, No. 3, 1965, p. 161.)Sharma concentrates on Downward Mobility (Decline) and in the first instance, classifies it into two (Figure2).
Source: K L Sharma, Social Stratification and Mobility, Jaipur: Rawat Publications, 1994, p. 216

General Decline (Total decline of a unit of society-individual, family etc.) and Domain Specific (Downward mobility of the above units in a particular aspect-occupation, economic etc.). Generalised Decline in turn comes for a two-fold classification-Structural Decline (Changes in the organisational principle of the society) and Positional Decline (Movement of persons within a continuing structure of society). The classification finally ends with the division of Structural Decline into Primary Structural Decline (radical change which may be due to pressure from above, for example, from the threat of war by a big power and/or from elites and reformative policies or pressure from below, for instance, a Maoist revolution) and Secondary Structural Decline (indirect and immediately less effective changes to which individuals and groups are exposed) (K.L. Sharma 211— 25). Sharma considers Domain Specific Decline as the one to affect the depressed classes very much since all their attempts at mobility in caste hierarchy are frustrated by the forward castes consequent to which they lose their traditional occupation and find themselves in a state of unemployment (Sharma 225). Parenthetically speaking, it may be noted that it is Vertical Mobility and its various forms which are more important than Horizontal Mobility.

Merton’s Reference Group Theory and Srinivas’ Concept of Sanskritisation
Another important problem in the study of social mobility is the identification of the process or mechanism through which individuals/groups seek upward mobility and theorizing it. Merton’s and Srinivas’ are two valiant attempts at this.

Merton tries to weave his theory of mobility with the help of three conceptual categories-Relative Deprivation, Reference Group and Anticipatory Socialisation. It aims at systematizing the determinants and consequences of those process of evaluation and self-appraisal in which individuals take the value or standards of other individuals and groups as comparative frame of reference (Robert K. Merton 234). The theory is premised on: a feeling of deprivation by mobility aspirants relative to some dominant groups (Relative Deprivation); an endeavour to identify a group/groups whose behaviour is considered worthy of emulation (Reference Group); and finally the adoption of its/their norms and values in anticipation of its acceptance by the referent group/ groups (Anticipatory Socialisation). In his framework Merton develops four types of Reference Groups: Normative-group/groups providing a frame of reference; Comparative-group/groups providing a comparison relative to which one’s deprivation is evaluated; Positive-group/ groups involving the ‘motivated assimilation of norms or standards of the group as a basis of self-appraisal; and finally the Negative Reference Group – one involving motivated rejection and the formation of counter norms (Merton 300) He also acknowledges the possibility of plurality of Reference Groups, more so in the case of Normative and Comparative Groups.

Two conditions, however, are stipulated for the theory, particularly anticipatory socialisation, to become functional stratification system should be under dispute, and the society should be open. In Merton’s own words:

If the structure of a rigid system of stratification is generally
defined as legitimate, if the rights, perquisites and obligations of
each situation are generally held to be morally right, then the
individuals within each stratum will be less likely to take the
situation of the strata as a context for appraisal for their own lot.
They will, presumably, tend to confine their comparison to other
members of their own or neighbouring social stratum. If however,
the system of stratification is under wide dispute then members
of some strata are more likely to contrast their own situation with
that of others and shape their self-appraisal accordingly. It appears
further that anticipatory socialisation [and therefore of the
Reference Group Theory] is functional for the individual only
within a relatively open social structure providing for mobility.
For, only in such a structure would such attitudinal and
behavioural preparations for status shifts be followed by actual
changes of status in a substantial proportion of cases. By the
same token, the same pattern of anticipatory socialisation would
be dysfunctional for the individual in a relatively closed social
structure where he would not find acceptance by the group to
which he aspires . . .. (Merton 267— 68)

But it seems that Merton is over-stating his case. For, in the first instance, openness or closeness of a society is relative than absolute. Therefore, anticipatory socialisation rather than becoming dysfunctional would be functional relatively. Further even in the so-called ‘closed societies’ reference group theory has its relevance. Speaking about the rigid caste-based stratification system in India, Damle clearly states this:

The paradox of caste lies in the fact that although lower caste
persons cannot expect to be included in a higher caste (Jati) and
also because higher caste persons need not fear their exclusion,
positive orientation for reference and imitation is permitted and
even encouraged. Anticipatory socialisation can thus occur and
even if it does not ensure ultimate absorption or inclusion … it
can be functional for the persons concerned … where a higher
varna is used as a reference model.

Many studies have also shown the utility of this theory even in relatively closed societies. K.C. Alexander’s study of the Pulayas of Kerala, Owen M. Lynch’s study of the Jatavas of Agra, Chandrasekhar Bhat’s study of Waddars of Kamataka, all stand testimony to this. More than all these, Srinivas’ concept of Sanskritisation clinches the issue in favour of this argument. This is exactly what he does by establishing the possibility of the lower castes emulating the behavioural pattern of the twice born castes and thereby trying to move up, though the conceptual framework he uses and the social reality he seeks to encapsulate are distinct.

Srinivas endeavours to analyse the mobility of ascriptive categories in the specific context of India. He finds the middle castes moving along the ritual axis and attributes this to their propensity to imitate Brahmanical values. He calls this process Sanskritisation. To quote him:

The caste system is far from a rigid system in which the position
of each component caste is fixed for all time. Movement has
always been possible and especially so in the middle region of
the hierarchy. A low caste was able, in a generation or two, to
raise to a higher position in the hierarchy by adopting
vegetarianism and teetotalism, and by sanskritising its ritual and
pantheon. In short, it took over as far as possible the customs,
rules and beliefs of the Brahmans and the adoption of the
Brahmanic way of life by a low caste seems to have been frequent,
though theoretically forbidden. (Srinivas. The Cohesive Role of
Sankritisation and other Essays. Delhi : Oxford University Press,

Later he has amended the ‘Brahmanical model’ of emulation and stated that any superior caste could be taken up for the purpose.

Srinivas further identifies three fundamental traits of the process: it is a group process not strictly applicable to individuals; it is a long and protracted one, some times taking generations to meet the target; and finally it is unhelpful for the untouchable groups below the ritual barrier of pollution.17 Besides, a minimum of economic and political power is also needed for the caste to move up (Andre Beteille 120) By implication this means that Sanskritisation as a concept is not applicable to movement in the secular status hierarchy. It becomes operational only when an intermediate caste after gaining economic and political mobility attempts at corresponding change in the ritual hierarchy. In other words it is only useful for a caste whose economic or social rank has improved and is therefore out of place with its low ritual rank and through Sanskritisation that is also raised (Lynch 11). Here it is also worthwhile to remember that Sanskritisation accepts the legitimacy of the caste system. Social mobility takes place only within its parameters and not outside it. Viewed thus, it does not lead to any structural change.

In retrospect, it could be seen that though Reference Group Theory and Sanskritisation help a great deal in analysing the process of social mobility, still both leave a lot of ground uncovered. The consequence of a failed attempt at mobility— for instance a person who lacks social acceptance— best illustrates this point. In this case there is no congruence between the achieved status and accorded status. This may create disillusionment in him. Neither of the theories is equipped to meet such contingencies with the result that one is forced to seek the support of other theories. Homans’ Theory Of Status Congruence, Oscar Lewis’ Culture of Poverty, Milton Gordon’s Ethclass and Paranjpe’s Ethnocentric and Contra-identification are some useful theoretical and conceptual categories in this regard.

A person who feels status discrepancy is an aggrieved person. He is anxious about his slot in the society. Homans seeks to explain this in terms of status congruence/incongruence and status anxiety (Homans 98). He has developed his theory in the specific context of acquired statuses in a work organisation (Nandu Ram 27) Congruence (inness) between statuses creates satisfaction whereas incongruence (outness) between them breeds anxiety. To Homans, for the person concerned inness is the symbol of distributive justice and the contra position that of injustice (Homans 168 ).

The consequence of status incongruity for a person also needs investigation. Any one of the following situations unfolds in such an eventuality: one may resign to one’s fate and progressively get alienated. Oscar Lewis terms this as culture of poverty. He uses it in the context of a class stratified and highly individuated capitalist society and considers it as ‘an effort to cope with the feeling of hopelessness and despair which develop from the realisation of the improbability of achieving success in terms of the values and goals of the larger society. 18 The second situation is a little bit complex. Needless to repeat, a person lacking in social acceptance is the one who attains mobility in the achieved status but wanting in mobility in the accorded status. This means he had already moved away from his primary membership group (in-group) but denied access to the group of destiny (out-group). He thus remains suspended between the two. In such a contingency he might be forced to interact with his ethnic-class group i.e., those members of his ethnic/caste group belonging to the same class status as his. Here one finds a new group emerging at the confluence of class and ethnicity/caste. Milton Gordan calls this Ethclass. According to him:

With a person of the same social class but of a different ethnic
group one shares behavioural similarities but not a sense of
peoplehood. With those of the same ethnic group but of different
social class one shares the sense of peoplehood but not behavioural
similarities. The only group which meets both these criteria are
people of the same ethnic group and same social class.

In the above group one feels at home and can interact with greater ease. The last situation is one in which one identifies with his own ethnic/caste group. The issue raised above could be analysed with the help of Paranjpe’s Theory of Ethnocentric and Contra-identification as modified by Nandu Ram. Paranjpe visualises two situations of identification-one in which the individuals identify with their ethnic/caste group (ethnocentric identification) and the other in which they identify at the class level (contra-identification) (Paranjpe 106— 14). Nandu Ram adds a third dimension of identification: non-caste class level. This situation arises as they may not believe in any identification whatsoever in the stratification system and may have a frame of reference of non-stratificational identification (Nandu Ram 15). This he considers as another dimension of Paranjpe’s Contraidentification.

Integration of the Theoretical Framework

Social Mobility of Scheduled Castes is analysed in this study by lacing together the following theoretical formulations: Lipsets’ and Zetterberg’s theory of Social Mobility, Srinivas’ Theory of Sanskritisation, Homan’s Theory of Status Congruence, Gordon’s Theory of Ethclass and Paranjpe’s Theory of Ethnocentric and Contra-identification.

The organic linkage between the reservation policy adopted in India and Utilitarianism and Rawis’Theory of Justice is transparent. True to Utilitarianism, it also facilitates the greatest happiness of the majority of the populace. Similarly like Rawlsean justice it is also one of the fairest ways to uplift the worst off. Further, as is already made clear, the leitmotif of reservation is social mobility of depressed classes. It is believed that once their stigmatised identity is removed by changing for the better their social, economic and political lot, these people would get progressively integrated with the rest of the society qualifying for intimate association and social acceptance. Lipset’s and Zetterberg’s theory of social mobility with some modification as already stated will suit our purpose here. However, social power and consumption dimensions of their theory have been dropped as both are beyond the purview of this study. At the same time, the concept of social acceptance is brought in to see whether their assimilation with the rest of the society and thereby their mobility has been complete. Thus social mobility here is considered as a multi-dimensional concept involving changes in education, occupation, political power and income and social acceptance of the mobile (both social and political) persons. Sanskritisation will help to grapple with this dynamic process.

However the Scheduled Castes who may attain mobility in terms of education, occupation and income or political mobility may not be accorded social acceptance by the rest of the society because of their low caste status. Such people, at least a section among them, may find themselves suspended between the two worlds, neither in the primary group nor in the fold of the upper caste/ class. Harold Issacs calls the situation as one of ‘semi-limbo. With whom does such a person identify himself in Caste? Class? Caste-Class level or non-Caste-Class level? Will he become resigned to his fate and get alienated from the system? Paranjpe’s ethnocentric and contra-identification theory, and Gordon’s Ethclass concept become crucial in analysing the situation.

1.G. Patel, ‘Equity in a Modem Society’, Mainstream, Vol. XXII, No. 11, 29 January 1994, p. 53. Also see Charles Valentine, Culture and poverty:- Critique and Counter Proposals, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1969.

2.Dipankar Gupta, “Positive Discrimination and the Question of Fraternity: Contrasting Ambedkar and Mandal on  Reservation”, Economic and Political Weekly Vol. XXXII, No. 31, 2-8 August 1997, p. 1972.

3.Though Weber is in considerable agreement with Marx in this regard— for example he accepts the latter’s proposition that social stratification is a phenomenon closely linked to the distribution of and struggle for power – he also differs from him in several respects such as the conception of power, assessment of the course of European history and the conception of        what constitutes a satisfactory explanation in Sociology to this phenomenon. For details see Max Weber, The Theory of  social and Economic Organisation, (Trans. A. M. Henderson and Talcot Parsons) New York: Oxford University Press, 1967 and H. H. Gerth and C. Right Mills, From Max Weber, Essays in Sociology, New York: Oxford University Press, 1959. Also see James Little John, Social Stratification, London: George Allen and Unwin, 1972.

4.For details see W. G. Runciman, “Class, Status and Power” in J. A. Jackson.(ed.), Social Stratification, London: University Press, 1968.

5.S.M. Miller, “Comparative Social Mobility: A Trend Report and Bibliography”, Current Sociology, Vol.1X, No. 1, 1969, n. pag. in Dr. Leela Viswanathan, Social Mobility Among Scheduled Caste Women in India (A Study of Kerala), New Delhi: Uppal Publishing House, 1993, p. 36.

6.S.M. Lipset and Hans L. Zetterberg, “A Theory of Social Mobility” in R. Bendix and S. M. Lipset (eds.). Class, Status,  and Power, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966, p. 563

7.This differs fundamentally from Earl Hoppers concept of Legitimisation. For, it consists only of adjusting one’s status position to a level that approximates one’s new economic position and realizing the potential prestige to which one become ‘entitled’ through having changed one’s occupation by becoming a member of the relevant core status group. This is primarily because he focused his attention only on class-stratified societies where social acceptance of one’s position is not a problematic. However the two concepts are also related in a way. For, to get social acceptance of one’s status and authority one should oneself realize it. In this sense status legitimisation precedes social acceptance. For details see his Mobility. A Study of Social Control and Instability, Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981, p. 1508.The basic idea here is that voting behaviour is rational and has an economic purpose. People within a certain class are in the same economic and social position and have the same interests. Consequently people within a certain class will vote for the same party that serves their interests best. For details see Paul Nieuwbeerta and Nan Dirk de Graaf, “Intergenerational Class Mobility and Political Preferences Between 1970 and 1986 in the Netherlands”, Netherlands Journal of Social Sciences, Vol 29, No. 3, June 1993.

9.The theory perceives voting as a social rather than an economic act. The assumption is that one’s political attitudes and preferences are influenced by the people one associates with. For details see Ibid.

10.For details see S. M. Lipset, Political Man, New Delhi: Arnold Heinemann India, 1973

11.Ralph H. Turner, “Sponsored and Contest Mobility and the School System” in Celia S. Heller (ed.), Structural Social Inequality: A Reader in Comparative Social Stratification, New York: Macmillan Co., 1969, p. 354.


13.Ibid. p. 362.

14.Y. B. Damle, “Reference Group Theory with Regard to Mobility in Caste” in James Silverberg (ed.), Social Mobility in the Caste System in India, The Hague: Mouton, 1968, p. 98.

15.Today there is a proliferation of terms arising on the Sanskritisation analogue such as Kulanisation, Kshatriyaisation, Desanskritisation, Palianisation etc. depending on the particular caste chosen for emulation. In regard to Kshatriyaisation a different interpretation is also presented by Hermann Kulke. According to him, in its functional sense the concept denotes social change from above, ie., a process initiated in tribal areas by Kshatriyas, Zamindars, Chiefs or Rajas to strengthen their claim to legitimacy in the society and to broaden the basis of economic and political power. For a discussion in this regard see his work “Kshatriyaisation and Social Change: A Study in Orissa Setting” in S. Devadas Pillai (ed.), Aspects of changing India: Studies in Honour of Prof. G. S. Ghurye, Bombay: Popular Prakashan,1976. For Sanskritisation analogue refer Narmadeshwar Prasad, The Myth of the Caste System, Patna: Samjna Prakashan, 1957; S. K. Srivasthava, “The Process of Desanskritisation in Village India” in Bala Ratnam (ed.),  Anthropology on the March, Madras: The Book Centre, 1963; and Eleanor Zelliot, “Buddhism and Politics in Maharashtra” in Donald E. Smith(ed.), Religion and Politics in South Asia, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1966.

16.Srinivas used the term Sanskritisation instead of Brahmanisation, as the customs and habits of Brahmans were different. Had that term been used, it would have been necessary to specify which particular Brahman group was meant and at which period of its recorded history. For details see his “A Note on Sanskritisation and Westernisation” in Bendix and Lipset, op. cit.

17.Srinivas, “A Note on Sanskritisation and Westernisation” in Bendix and Lipset, op. cit., p. 58.

18.Here it may be remembered that Lewis differentiates between Poverty and Culture of Poverty and observes that ‘While the lower castes in India may be desperately poor, they are not certainly afflicted by the disease of the culture of poverty. [This is because] … most of them are integrated into the larger society and have their own Panchayat organs which cut across village lives and give them a considerable amount of power. In addition to the caste system, which gives the individuals a sense of identity, and belonging there is still another factor, the class system. Wherever there are unilateral kinship system or class, one would not expect to find the culture of poverty because a class system gives people a sense of belonging to a corporate body with a history and a life of its own thereby providing a sense of  continuity, a sense of past and of a future. Ramashray Roy and V. B. Singh fault Lewis on several counts: First the sense of continuity in respect of the Scheduled Castes is also a sense of degradation. Their history and their life are nothing but an unending series of misery, woe and frustration. They do not represent anything to be proud of unless the way of life thrust upon them by the larger society is felt by them to be not only proper but also edifying. This, however, is not the case. Secondly, it is true that the class system gives a sense of belonging to a corporate body. However, this corporate body along with the Caste Panchayats Lewis talks of, have usually been the instruments for safeguarding traditional caste norms. Even in recent times when their functioning might be said to be influenced by a new consciousness, they have neither been able to wield political leverage nor offer a reliable base for political mobilisation and action. For a detailed discussion see Oscar Lewis, La rida: Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of poverty San Juan and New York, New York: Random House, 1966; Ramashray Roy and V. B. Singh, Between the Two Worlds: A Study of Harijan Elites, Delhi: Discovery Publishing House, 1987.

19.Milton M. Gordon, Assimilation in American Life, New York: Oxford University Press, 1964, pp. 46-54. Also see Celia S. Heller, “Ethnicity, Race and Class” in Heller, op. cit.

20.The theory was originally propounded by W. G. Sumner. Social Psychologists like Adorno T. Wetal, G. W. Allport, Robert A. Levine, Donald T. Campbell et al. have also made notable contributions in this field. According to the theory, an individual or a group identifies with an ethnic group and claim ethnic superiority in comparison to other ethnic groups.In some cases, one hates and takes revenge on them. If in certain cases an individual or a group does not identify at the ethnocentric level, then identification may be at a level other than ethnocentric. For details see W. G. Sumner, Folkways,New York: Mentor, 1965; Adorno T. Wetal, The Authoritarian Personality, New York: Harper -Collins, 1950; G. W.Allport (ed.), The Nature of Prejudice, New York: Doubleday, 1955; Robert A. Levine and Donald T. Campbell, Ethnocentrism.. Theory of Conflict, Ethnic Attitudes and Group Behaviour, New York: John Wiley, 1971; Paranjpe Caste Prejudice and the Individual, New Delhi: Lalwani, 1970; and Nandu Ram, op. cit.

21.Harold R. Isaacs, India’s Ex-Untouchables, Bombay: Asia Publishing House, 1965. pp. 128-42; Marc Glen, Johnson and Sipra Bose, “Social Mobility Among Untouchables” in Giri Raj Gupta (ed.), Main Currents in Indian Sociology-III: Cohesion and Conflict in Modern India, New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1978, p. 10.

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