Caste system is a distinctive feature of the Indian social system. The interest of the scholars was generally confined to the various features of the institution of caste, such as segmental division of society, restriction on inter–caste relations, commensality, inter-caste marriage rights and disabilities of different castes, etc. The problem of change and mobility that would be possible within the caste system was comparatively neglected. However, with Srinivas’s work on Coorgs, attention of the scholars was turned to the dynamic aspect of the caste system also, and it is now recognized that changes are possible within the caste system. Bailey’s study of a Orissa village further confirmed how a caste occupying a low status in the caste hierarchy could move up by manipulating appropriate mechanisms. Even though Srinivas’s concepts of “Sanskritization” and “Westernization” generalized to some extent these dynamic processes, he views the two (Sanskritization and Westernization) as two paradoxical processes, presenting a “dilemma” to the social scientists. Damle’s paper “Reference Group Theory with regard to mobility within the Caste System” analytically distinguished the various forces exerting their influence over the various strata of the Indian society, and thus solved the dilemma. Either for the lower castes or for the higher castes, it is not a question of Sanskritization versus Westernization or traditionalization versus modernization, but is a new synthesis of traditional as well as modern values. Damle’s paper showed how fruitfully the reference group theory could be applied for comprehending the underlying similarity in the various paradoxical processes taking place in the Indian society. If the theory can thus be applied for explaining a process or processes, the same situation can be used for testing the theory also. This is how I was prompted to test the reference group theory in a field situation, and how I studied the changing pattern of behaviour of the Pulaya untouchables of Kerala.
This study was done under the guidance of Dr. Y. B. Damle, who, in spite of his manifold commitments, was kind to spare considerable time in guiding the work. But for such active interest on his part, it would not have been possible for me to complete this study in its present form and within such a short time. I am extremely grateful to him for his guidance and sustained interest.
In the conduct of the field work, I received the assistance of innumerable persons. In the preparation of the list of sample. The Panchayat officials were extremely helpful. The villagers everywhere had been helpful in locating persons in the sample, providing boarding and lodging facilities, etc. The Pulaya informants were very co-operative and were thrilled on knowing that somebody was doing such a study about them, and most of them gave the required information without any hesitation. I am extremely grateful to all these persons for their co-operation, hospitality, and assistance. Even though it is not possible to name all such persons, mention must be made of Sri V.V. Abraham, Keezhillam; Sri K. M. Ninan, Niranam; and Sri Balakrishnan, Punnapra. Dr. P. H. Peddu and Mrs. A. Ramanamma have helped me in getting this book ready for publication, for which I want to thank them sincerely.
Finally, I should express my gratitude to the authorities of the Deccan College Postgraduate and Research Institute and the University of Poona for giving me financial assistance for undertaking the field work as well as the institutional facilities at the Deccan College. Dr. H. D. Sankalia, Joint Director of the Deccan College, under whom I was employed most of the time during which I conducted this work, had been kind and considerable to me and I thank him for all the help he had given me. I am also grateful to Dr. S. M. Katre, Director, Deccan College, for kindly undertaking the publication of this work.
The Reference Group Theory has a distinctive status in sociological theory with its focus on the structure and function of social environment in which individuals are located. It is concerned with the “determinants and consequences of those processes of evaluation and self-appraisal in which the individual takes the values or standards of other individuals and groups (reference groups) as comparative frame of reference.
Reference groups may be classified into positive and negative types. “The positive type involves motivated assimilation of norms of the groups or the standards of the group as a basis of self-appraisal; the negative type involves the motivated rejection. i.e., not merely non-acceptance of norms, but the formation of counter norms.”
Reference groups may also be classified into “normative” and “comparative” types. The former sets and maintains standards for the individual, who takes these norms or standards as a frame of reference. Depending upon whether it is a positive or negative reference group, he would accept or reject those values. In the comparative type, the reference group provides a frame of comparison relative to which the individual evaluates himself and others. Whereas the former is a source of value assimilation, the latter provides a context for status evaluation However, the distinction between the two is only analytical, as the same reference group can be both normative and comparative.
There may be one or a plurality of normative reference groups for a particular individual. This means that in some cases a single reference group may serve as a source of value or standard of behaviour for the different sectors of one’s life. Or, there may be different reference groups for different spheres in one’s life. For example, there might be one reference group in the sphere of religious matters; another in respect of political matters, and a third in respect of financial matters. In complex societies, where individuals come into contact with numerous groups they need not be confined to the values and standards of any particular individual or group, but may adopt the values and standards of different groups and individuals for guiding their behaviour in different sectors of life.
Similarly, for evaluating their status, individuals may have a plurality of reference groups. Such multiple reference groups may be either mutually sustaining or conflicting. In the former case, comparison with one reference group is supported by comparison with another reference group. In the latter case, the effect of comparison with one may be mollified by comparison with another group.
What are then the causes and consequences of such reference group behaviour? Merton points out that “in so far as subordinate and prospective group members are motivated to affiliate themselves with a group, they will tend to assimilate the sentiments and conform with the values of the authoritative and prestigeful stratum in that group. The function of conformity is acceptance by the group, just as progressive acceptance by the group reinforces the tendency toward conformity. The process whereby a person adopts the norm and conforms with the values of a reference group with a view to be accepted by the reference group is called the process of anticipatory socialization.
According to Merton, “It is the isolate, nominally in a group but only slightly incorporated in its network of social relations, who is most likely to become positively oriented toward non-membership groups”. Whereas this is true of societies characterized by individual mobility, in societies like India where ascriptive factors predominate in status determination, the entire caste tries to move up. However, with out-group orientation of an individual or group, the relations between the individual and the group deteriorate, and the norms of the group become less binding upon the individual. “For since he is progressively seceding from the group and being penalised by it, he is less likely to experience rewards for adherence to the group’s norms. Once initiated, this process seems to move toward a cumulative detachment from the group, in terms of attitude and values as well as in terms of social relations....Through inter¬–play of dissociation and progressive alienation from the group values, he may become doubly motivated to orient himself toward the values of another group and to affiliate himself with it.”
It is not only the motivational aspect of the individual engaged in anticipatory socialization that is significant but the social structure is also important for it to become functional or dysfunctional. According to Merton “It appears further that anticipatory socialization 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 behaviour preparation for status shifts, be followed by actual changes for status in a substantial proportion of cases. By the same token, the same pattern of anticipatory socialization would by dysfunctional for the individual in a relatively closed social structure, where he would not find acceptance by the group to which he aspires and would probably lose acceptance, because of his out group orientation, by the group to which he belongs”––thus becoming a marginal man, standing on the verge of two or more groups, but fully absorbed in none.
Another structural condition necessary for anticipatory socialization is the” observability or visibility” of the norms and values of the reference group. “Visibility” refers to the “extent to which the structure of a social organization provides occasions of those variously located in that structure to perceive the norms obtaining in the organization and the character of role-performance by those manning the organization. It refers to an attribute of social structure, not to the perceptions which individuals happen to have”. Visibility is provided by patterned communication with a group that is taken as the reference group. The amount of communication between various groups and strata differs and therefore the visibility of group norms for designated individuals also varies.
Since the reference group theory is concerned with the influence of “other groups” or persons, it is necessary to clarify the concept of membership and non– membership groups. The sociological concept of group refers to a number of people who interact with one another in accordance with established patterns. Besides this, the interacting members define themselves as members of the group and are recognized as such by others as well. “To the extent that these three criteria––enduring and morally established forms of social interaction, self-definition as a member and the same definition by others––are fully met, those involved in the sustained interaction are clearly identified a comprising groups.” This will give the appearance that the group has got a definite and fixed boundary; but “group boundaries are not necessarily fixed but are dynamically changing in response to specifiable situational contexts”. For, as the situations change, the rate of interaction in the group changes; the members between whom interaction takes place change; some members drop out and new members come in. This is especially the case with informal groups where there is no definition of membership. “This points to the need for re-examining and rejecting some of the connotations of the terms “member” and “non-member”; the terms are not faithful to facts, for there appear to be degrees of membership which are in part indicated by the rates of social interaction with others in the group.
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