Book View vs Field View: Meaning, Pros, Cons, Example Works

Book View vs Field View: In sociology, we frequently examine various perspectives such as Functional, Subaltern, Marxist, Civilizational, and many more to understand social reality. In the Indian context, however, there were those who simply used an Indological or textual perspective to understand the Indian rural social structure at the beginning of sociological understanding. But as time passed by, a large number of sociologists began to appear who used a fresh viewpoint known as the ‘field view.’ The former viewpoint aimed at gaining knowledge about how locals organize their social life through the understanding of sacred texts or books. In contrast, the latter emphasised the value of fieldwork studies in attaining knowledge of the Rural Social Structure of Indian Society. Moreover, the two above-mentioned perspectives will be thoroughly studied throughout this article. We will also look into all options in more detail to list the advantages and disadvantages of both.

Book View and Field View Examples

What is Book View?

As previously mentioned, sociologists such as G.S. Ghurye, Luis Dumont, Radhakamal Mukherjee, and others initially used the analysis of Indian texts to understand rural Indian society. The classical old literature of ancient Indian culture, such as the Vedas, Puranas, Manusmriti, and others, were a major source of information for these sociologists as well as for some other Sanskrit Scholars and Indologists. This perspective eventually came to be known as the ‘textual perspective or simply the bookish view’ since these researchers studied those traditional texts in-depth.

In particular, it was G.S. Ghurye who attempted to portray Indian society as distinct and one of its own kind, which could only be understood by studying its own rich literature. In this sense, the book view is nothing but an exploration of several texts that have shaped the Indian Social Structure. This view demands a textual examination of some of the most significant writings of different cultures, which could even be done while lounging at home and by simply flipping through the pages of the voluminous literature. Unlike fieldwork, the researcher need not enter the field immediately for conducting this kind of research.

Book View in the works of different Sociologists:

G. S. Ghurye

Ghurye was regarded as an advocate of “theoretical pluralism” because of the skilful blending of sociological-anthropological and historical-textual approaches.

In his early stages of the classic study “Caste and Race in India,” (1992) he essentially adopted a bookish viewpoint.

In order to shed light on the social and cultural life in India, he also explicitly quoted poets who wrote in vernacular languages. Along with that, he studied in detail many Sanskrit poets such as Kalidas and Bhavabhuti, both of whom had a deep grasp of Sanskrit literature. Additionally, he later made history by being India’s first sociologist to incorporate literature or particularly textual analysis in his research.

Luis Dumont

French Anthropologist Dumont also used extensively the Indological or bookish perspective in theorising his well-known work Homo Hierarchicus,which was published in 1970. He mainly drew upon the traditional Indian classics to analyse the caste system and village social structure.

Importantly, he made history by becoming the first sociologist to analyse the caste system based on the history and culture of Indian Society. Additionally, he was the first one to bring the notions of purity and pollution in understanding the Indian Caste system by delving deeper into the literary analysis of some texts.

Advantages of Book View:

  • Sociologists relying on bookish views or textual analysis can easily examine the latent meanings of a particular text and seek any prejudicial and biased viewpoint by examining the culture and time the text was written in. This serves as an important prerequisite for social research.
  • This method is easily accessible and quite affordable for many sociologists who are unable to enter the field directly.
  • This method poses fewer ethical issues in contrast to the fieldwork, which might breach someone’s privacy and invite problems.
  • This strategy, as opposed to fieldwork, guarantees the validity and correctness of claims because they have already been studied and approved.

Limitations of Book View:

  • Book view is often accused of its biased approach. For example, in the understanding of the Caste system in India, Ghurye and others relied on the theory of the Divine origin of caste, which puts the Brahmanical point of view as superior.
  • In addition, this approach lacks any scientific support and appears to be too inflexible and closed.
  • This viewpoint often provides only a ‘partial vision’ of reality.
  • Since the researcher is the one who evaluates the texts, his/her interpretation might be highly subjective.

What is Field View:

The contextual or field view perspective of society, as its name implies, emphasises actual field experience to understand social reality. Field view is mostly based on either direct observation or participant observation. After conducting successful fieldwork in a village, M.N. Srinivas wrote a book titled “The Social Structure of a Mysore Village” (1951). He believed that while knowing the past is vital, learning the present is also equally important to understand the past. As indicated, he conducted his social research primarily through extensive field surveys. He claimed that historians’ data are neither as accurate nor as rich and detailed as the material gathered by field anthropologists…’ (Raka, 2018 p. 218)

In this sense, fieldwork is nothing more than a researcher’s exploration of the field in order to understand its subjects more effectively. Unlike the book view, this work couldn’t be completed while lounging on an armchair, rather it needs considerable effort to plunge directly into the world of its subjects.

Field view in the works of different sociologists:

M.N. Srinivas

Srinivas’ method, generally known as structural-functional,’ allowed Srinivas to dive further into fieldwork or direct observation. To him, only the first-hand experience of society could give birth to original research. He also believed that fieldwork was the only way to truly understand Indian society. He chose empirical research as a result to accomplish this. In his village studies, he described villages as “valuable observation centres” for learning in-depth information about rural Indian life. Indian villages were described by him as a ‘self-sufficient republic’ in his book India’s Villages. (1955) Srinivas asserted that the local caste system operated very differently from how the Vedas depicted it, in contrast to the conversational notion of the divine theory of the caste system. Srinivas made this claim by actively participating or simply by conducting fieldwork in various villages.

S.C. Dube

Similar to Srinivas, Dube has investigated Indian village societies using a structural-functionalist approach. He actively pursues fieldwork for his well-known study, “India’s Changing Villages.” (1998) Dube found out that the old varna system, which divides Hindus into five primary groups, also classifies people based on what they consumed and how they dressed while conducting a study on the caste system in India. All of which was understandable because of his fieldwork in various Indian villages. Dube also made an effort to reveal society by laying out the patriarchy’s laws through his in-depth field research.

Advantages of Field View:

  • Fieldwork is carried out in the real world and thus guarantees the uniqueness and ensures originality of the claims.
  • It provides first-hand experience and knowledge about the subjects being researched.
  • Since fieldwork requires the researcher’s time and devotion, it yields detailed information.
  • It is done over an extended period of time only to uncover underlying social realities which further strengthen and enrich the investigation.

Limitations of Field View:

  • Fieldwork could turn out to be more time-consuming and expensive.
  • Additionally, while comparing various villages and circumstances, it becomes challenging to generalise and grasp things. Generalizations could not be made with confidence, if, for example, diverse societies or communities were to be studied.
  • Also, not all types of study may be based on field studies. For instance, learning about any historical event would force us to rely more on scholarly discourses rather than practical perspectives such as field views.
  • At times, it becomes almost impossible for researchers to distance themselves from the people being studied them. Hence, it invites subjectivity and biases into the research.


To sum up the entire article, it may be claimed that both the book and the field view have their own pros and cons. As sociological understanding developed, several orientalists and Indologists attempted to delve into certain undiscovered facets of Indian culture by interpreting various cultural and traditional writings from the Indian subcontinent. They chose to interpret old sacred texts to get a better picture of society. G.S. Ghurye, for instance, ventured into generalization on the basis of these texts. However, after independence, we witnessed a sudden change in this trend, as some sociologists attempted to introduce practical methods, such as field observations, to explain problems better to the general public. Sociologists like M.N. Srinivas conducted small regional studies rather than big Grand theories. Such sociologists’ entire aim was to shift the onus from a textual perspective to that of daily lived experience. For instance, based on a priori knowledge, some people were depicted in scriptures and literature as barbaric and ignorant, but with the help of field studies, this notion came to an end. Despite some flaws, the field view, at some point, challenged the elitist viewpoints and supported deconstructionists’ stance, which could be seen as a very progressive step.


  • Raka, K., & Shanker,S. (2018).Sociology: A textbook. B5. Theoretical Perspective p. 213 to 223. Jawahar Publishers & Distributors.
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I graduated with a Master’s degree in Sociology from Jamia Millia Islamia. Apart from that, I get immersed in poetry, listen to Sufi music and I’m fond of Autumn foliage.