Social Scientist. v 15, no. 171-72 (Aug-Sept 1987) p. 118.


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Book Review

Feudal Formations

D.N. JHA (ED.) : Feudal Formations in Early India, Chanakya Publications, Delhi, 1987.

MODERN INDIAN historians have too long been obsessed with the view that the "timelessness" of the Indian mind has created a historiographical situation wherein the historical processes of ancient and medieval India can be understood only to a limited extent. Therefore, unconsciously is nurtured the assumption that to write about modern history, there is hardly any need to look into the historical structures of ancient and medieval times. The book under review, on the contrary, indicates how crucial areas of historical analysis, particularly those related to the elements and nature of social change can be scientifically understood within the br6ad theoretical framework of historical materialism.

Our understanding of the pre-modern society has both ideological and structural dimensions. In order to place the context in which the collection of articles are compiled together in this book, it is pertinent to underline briefly the parameters within which earlier writings on the subject were oriented. During the early part of the nineteenth century began the land revenue surveys of India by the British. They wrote about their conception of the past, collected data relevant to their policy analysis and came to conclusions about either the 'admirable' or 'stagnant' Indian village communities. However, many conceptions about land relations were embedded in earlier social formations, and with regard to these clarity was far from achieved. In the light of the nineteenth century (and this was also the time when writing of history in general gained ground) misconceptions about the character of village communities in early India, as well as as the theories of 'Oriental Despotism9 advocated at the same time, the historiographical limitations of these writings cannot be overemphasized.

That it became crucial to generate a new set of questions about the relationship of the State and the peasantry and other related issues for various stages of early Indian history, is reflected in the recent historiography of India wherein there is the general concern to write about social and economic history at the micro-level. The more conventional approach



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