Social Scientist. v 15, no. 171-72 (Aug-Sept 1987) p. 67.

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Urbanisation in South India : The Role of Ideology and Polity

URBAN HISTORY is an area of comparatively recent interest among historians, particularly historians of India. The central concern in historical reasearch in India has more often been wiLh agrarian systems, peasant history, and the general pattern of socio-economic change rather than urbanisation per se, Growth of urban centres is of marginal interest even to the studies on trade patterns, and merchant and craft organisations and the role of the State in the promotion of such activities. For the early historical and early medieval period in India, even the few available works on urban centres suffer from a woeful lack of clear orientation and a meaningful framework. There is a tendency to follow the notion that "a town is a town, wherever it is" and that being a visual phenomenon the town/city should be made an object of study in its own right. As a result these works are nothing more than compilations of lists of towns under various categories such as market, trade and commercial centres, political and administrative centres, and religious centres.1 Any attempt to explain the causal factors in the emergence of towns is incidental to this approach. Historians have often succumbed, it would seem, to the tendency of studying the Torm9 at the expense of the 'substance' of the urban characteristics of a place.

In the more recent attempts2 to understand the range of issues involved in the urbanisation of early medieval India, the major concern has understandably been with the processes of urban growth. While their emphasis has been on the need for overall perspectives and analytical frameworks as against typologies, they also highlight the problems in such exercises due to the inadequacy of empirical reasearch.

The concern with processes rather than typologies also brings us to the central issue in urban history, namely, whether the visual presence of towns is a justification for treating what is "essentially a physical object" as a "social object" to be "turned into a focus of analysis in its own right'9, i.e., a reified concept of the city as a decisive agency or independent variable in the process of social change,3 or whether urban history should be pursued as "part of the analysis of those broad socio-economic changes with which

*Ccntre For Historical Studies. Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

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