NCERT Class XII Sociology: Chapter  4 – The Market as a Social Institution

National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) Book for Class XII
Subject: Sociology (Indian Society)
Chapter: Chapter  4 – The Market as a Social Institution

Class XII NCERT Sociology (Indian Society) Text Book Chapter  4  The Market as a Social Institution is given below

We usually think of markets as places where things are bought and sold. Inthis common everyday usage, the word ‘market’ may refer to particular marketsthat we may know of, such as the market next to the railway station, the fruitmarket, or the wholesale market. Sometimes we refer not to the physical place,but to the gathering of people – buyers and sellers – who constitute the market.Thus, for example, a weekly vegetable market may be found in different placeson different days of the week in neighbouring villages or urban neighbourhoods.In yet another sense, ‘market’ refers to an area or category of trade or business,such as the market for cars or the market for readymade clothes. A relatedsense refers to the demand for a particular product or service, such as themarket for computer professionals.

What all of these meanings have in common is that they refer to a specificmarket, whose meaning is readily understandable from the context. But whatdoes it mean to speak of ‘the market’ in a general way without refering to anyparticular place, gathering of people, or field of commercial activity? This usageincludes not only all of the specific senses mentioned above, but also the entirespectrum of economic activities and institutions. In this very broad sense, then,‘the market’ is almost equivalent to ‘the economy’. We are used to thinking ofthe market as an economic institution, but this chapter will show you that themarket is also a social institution. In its own way, the market is comparable tomore obviously social institutions like caste, tribe or familydiscussed in Chapter 3.


The discipline of economics is aimed at understanding and explaining how marketswork in modern capitalist economies – for instance, how prices are determined,the probable impact of specific kinds of investment, or the factors that influencepeople to save or spend. So what does sociology have to contribute to the studyof markets that goes beyond what economics can tell us?

To answer this question, we need to go back briefly to eighteenth centuryEngland and the beginnings of modern economics, which at that time wascalled ‘political economy’. The most famous of the early political economistswas Adam Smith, who in his book, The Wealth of Nations, attempted tounderstand the market economy that was just emerging at that time. Smithargued that the market economy is made up of a series of individual exchangesor transactions, which automatically create a functioning and ordered system.This happens even though none of the individuals involved in the millions oftransactions had intended to create a system. Each person looks only to theirown self-interest, but in the pursuit of this self-interest the interests of all – orof society – also seem to be looked after. In this sense, there seems to be some

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 4 - The Market as a Social Institution

sort of an unseen force at work that converts what is goodfor each individual into what is good for society. This unseenforce was called ‘the invisible hand’ by Adam Smith. Thus,Smith argued that the capitalist economy is driven byindividual self-interest, and works best when individualbuyers and sellers make rational decisions that serve theirown interests. Smith used the idea of the ‘invisible hand’ toargue that society overall benefits when individuals pursuetheir own self-interest in the market, because it stimulatesthe economy and creates more wealth. For this reason,Smith supported the idea of a ‘free market’, that is, a marketfree from all kinds of regulation whether by the state orotherwise. This economic philosophy was also given thename laissez-faire, a French phrase that means ‘leavealone’ or ‘let it be’.

Modern economics developed from the ideas of earlythinkers such as Adam Smith, and is based on the ideathat the economy can be studied as a separate part of societythat operates according to its own laws, leaving out thelarger social or political context in which markets operate.In contrast to this approach, sociologists have attemptedto develop an alternative way of studying economicinstitutions and processes within the larger social framework.

Sociologists view markets as social institutions that areconstructed in culturally specific ways. For example,markets are often controlled or organised by particular socialgroups or classes, and have specific connections to otherinstitutions, social processes and structures. Sociologistsoften express this idea by saying that economies are socially ‘embedded’. Thisis illustrated by two examples, one of a weekly tribal haat, and the other of a‘traditional business community’ and its trading networks in colonial India.


In most agrarian or ‘peasant’ societies around the world, periodic markets area central feature of social and economic organisation. Weekly markets bringtogether people from surrounding villages, who come to sell their agriculturalor other produce and to buy manufactured goods and other items that are notavailable in their villages. They attract traders from outside the local area, aswell as moneylenders, entertainers, astrologers, and a host of other specialistsoffering their services and wares. In rural India there are also specialised marketsthat take place at less frequent intervals, for instance, cattle markets. Theseperiodic markets link different regional and local economies together, and linkthem to the wider national economy and to towns and metropolitan centres.

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 4 - The Market as a Social Institution

The weekly haat is a common sight inrural and even urban India. In hilly andforested areas (especially those inhabitedby adivasis), where settlements are far-flung,roads and communications poor, and theeconomy relatively undeveloped, the weeklymarket is the major institution for theexchange of goods as well as for socialintercourse. Local people come to themarket to sell their agricultural or forestproduce to traders, who carry it to the townsfor resale, and they buy essentials such assalt and agricultural implements, and consumption items such as bangles andjewellery. But for many visitors, the primary reason to come to the market issocial – to meet kin, to arrange marriages, exchange gossip, and so on.

While the weekly market in tribal areas may be a very old institution, itscharacter has changed over time. After these remote areas were brought underthe control of the colonial state, they were gradually incorporated into the widerregional and national economies. Tribal areas were ‘opened up’ by building roadsand ‘pacifying’ the local people (many of whom resisted colonial rule throughtheir so-called ‘tribal rebellions’), so that the rich forest and mineral resources ofthese areas could be exploited. This led to the influx of traders, moneylenders,and other non-tribal people from the plains into these areas. The local tribaleconomy was transformed as forest produce was sold to outsiders, and moneyand new kinds of goods entered the system. Tribals were also recruited aslabourers to work on plantations and mines that were established undercolonialism. A ‘market’ for tribal labour developed during the colonial period.Due to all these changes, local tribal economies became linked into wider markets,usually with very negative consequences for local people. For example, the entryof traders and moneylenders from outside the local area led to the impoverishmentof adivasis, many of whom lost their land to outsiders.

The weekly market as a social institution, the links between the local tribaleconomy and the outside, and the exploitative economic relationships betweenadivasis and others, are illustrated by a study of a weekly market in Bastardistrict. This district is populated mainly by Gonds, an adivasi group. At theweekly market, you find local people, including tribals and non-tribals (mostlyHindus), as well as outsiders – mainly Hindu traders of various castes. Forestofficials also come to the market to conduct business with adivasis who workfor the Forest Department, and the market attracts a variety of specialists sellingtheir goods and services. The major goods that are exchanged in the market aremanufactured goods (such as jewellery and trinkets, pots and knives),non-local foods (such as salt and haldi (turmeric)), local food and agriculturalproduce and manufactured items (such as bamboo baskets), and forest produce(such as tamarind and oil-seeds). The forest produce that is brought by the

adivasis is purchased by traders who carry it to towns. In the market, thebuyers are mostly adivasis while the sellers are mainly caste Hindus. adivasisearn cash from the sale of forest and agricultural produce and from wage labour,which they spend in the market mainly on low-value trinkets and jewellery,and consumption items such as manufactured cloth.

According to Alfred Gell (1982), the anthropologist who studied Dhorai, themarket has significance much beyond its economic functions. For example, thelayout of the market symbolises the hierarchical inter-group social relations inthis region. Different social groups are located according to their position in thecaste and social hierarchy as well as in the market system. The wealthy andhigh-ranking Rajput jeweller and the middle-ranking local Hindu traders sit inthe central ‘zones’, and the tribal sellers of vegetables and local wares in theouter circles. The quality of social relations is expressed in the kinds of goodsthat are bought and sold, and the way in which transactions are carried out.For instance, interactions between tribals and non-tribal traders are very differentthan those between Hindus of the same community: they express hierarchyand social distance rather than social equality.

An Adivasi Village Market in Bastar

Dhorai is the name of a market village located deep in the hinterland ofNorth Bastar district, Chattisgarh … On non-market days Dhorai is a sleepy,tree-shaded hamlet straddling an unscaled road which winds it’s way through theforest … Social life in Dhorai revolves around two primitive tea-shops with a clienteleof low-ranking employees of the State Forest service, whose misfortune it has beento be stationed in such a distant and insignificant spot … Dhorai on non-marketdays – every day except Friday, that is – hardly exists at all; but Dhorai on a marketday might be a totally different place. Parked trucks jam the road … The lowlyForest Guards bustle about in smart, newly-pressed uniforms, while the more importantofficials of the Forest service, down for the day, oversee operations from the verandahof the Forest Rest House. They disburse payments to the tribal labourers …While the officials hold court in the Rest House, files of tribals continue to pour infrom all directions, laden with the produce of the forest, of their fields, and of theirown manufacture. They are joined by Hindu vegetable sellers, and by specialisedcraftsmen, potters, weavers and blacksmiths. The general impression is one of richnessand confusion, compounded by the fact that a religious ceremony, as well as amarket, is in process … The whole world, it seems, is at the market, men and theirDivinities alike. The marketplace is a roughly quadrangular patch of ground, about100 yards square, at the centre of which there grows a magnificent banyan tree.The thatched market stalls are arranged in a concentric pattern, and are dividedby narrow streets or defiles, along which customers manoeuvre themselves as bestthey can in the crush, trying to avoid treading on the goods of less establishedtraders, who make use of every nook and cranny between the permanent stalls todisplay their wares.


aEXERCISE FOR BOX 4.1Read the excerpt in the box and answer the questions below.1.What does this passage tell you about the relationship betweenthe adivasis and the state (represented by the Forest Departmentofficials)? Why are Forest Guards so important in adivasi districts?Why are they making payments to the tribal labourers?2. What does the layout of the market suggest to you about itsorganisation and functioning? What kinds of people would havepermanent stalls, and who are the “less established traders” sittingon the ground?3.Who are the main buyers in the market, and who are the sellers?What kinds of goods flow through the market, and who are thebuyers and sellers of different kinds of goods? What does this tellyou about the nature of the local economy in this area and therelationship of adivasis to the larger society and economy?


In some traditional accounts of Indian economic history, India’s economyand society are seen as unchanging. Economic transformation was thoughtto have begun only with the advent of colonialism. It was assumed thatIndia consisted of ancient village communities that were relativelyself-sufficient, and that their economies were organised primarily on thebasis of non-market exchange. Under colonialism and in the earlypost-independence period, the penetration of the commercial money economyinto local agrarian economies, and their incorporation into wider networksof exchange, was thought to have brought about radical social and economicchanges in rural and urban society. While colonialism certainly broughtabout major economic transformations, for example due to the demandthat land revenue be paid in cash, recent historical research has shownthat much of India’s economy was already extensively monetised (trade wascarried out using money) in the late pre-colonial period. And while variouskinds of non-market exchange systems (such as the ‘jajmani system’) didexist in many villages and regions, even during the precolonial period villageswere incorporated into wider networks of exchange through whichagricultural products and other goods circulated (Bayly 1983, Stein andSubrahmanyam 1996). It now seems that the sharp line that was oftendrawn between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘modern’ (or the pre-capitalist andcapitalist) economy is actually rather fuzzy. Recent historical research hasalso highlighted the extensive and sophisticated trading networks that existedin pre-colonial India. Of course, we know that for centuries India was aEXERCISE

major manufacturer and exporter of handloom cloth (both ordinary cottonand luxury silks), as well as the source of many other goods (such as spices)that were in great demand in the global market, especially in Europe. So itis not surprising that pre-colonial India had well-organised manufacturingcentres as well as indigenous merchant groups, trading networks, and bankingsystems that enabled trade to take place within India, and between India andthe rest of the world. These traditional trading communities or castes hadtheir own systems of banking and credit. For instance, an important instrumentof exchange and credit was the hundi, or bill of exchange (like a credit note),which allowed merchants to engage in long-distance trade. Because trade tookplace primarily within the caste and kinship networks of these communities, amerchant in one part of the country could issue a hundi that would be honouredby a merchant in another place.

The Nattukottai Chettiars (or Nakarattars) of Tamil Nadu, provide aninteresting illustration of how these indigenous trading networks were organisedand worked. A study of this community during the colonial period shows howits banking and trade activities were deeply embedded in the social organisationof the community. The structures of caste, kinship, and family were orientedtowards commercial activity, and business activity was carried out within thesesocial structures. As in most ‘traditional’ merchant communities, Nakarattarbanks were basically joint family firms, so that the structure of the businessfirm was the same as that of the family. Similarly, trading and banking activitieswere organised through caste and kinship relationships. For instance, theirextensive caste-based social networks allowed Chettiar merchants to expandtheir activities into Southeast Asia and Ceylon. In one view, the economicactivities of the Nakarattars represented a kind of indigenous capitalism. Thisinterpretation raises the question of whether there are, or were, forms of‘capitalism’ apart from those that arose in Europe. (Rudner 1994)

Caste-based trade among the Nakarattars of Tamil Nadu

This is not to say that the Nakarattar banking system resembled an economist’smodel of Western-style banking systems … the Nakarattars loaned and depositedmoney with one another in caste-defined social relationships based on business territory,residential location, descent, marriage, and common cult membership. Unlike in modernWestern banking systems, it was the reputation, decisions, and reserve deposits sharedamong exchange spheres defined according to these principles, and not agovernment-controlled central bank, that … assured public confidence in individualNakarattars as representatives of the caste as a whole. In other words, the Nakarattarbanking system was a caste-based banking system. Individual Nakarattars organised theirlives around participation in and management of various communal institutions adaptedto the task of accumulating and distributing reserves of capital.


Read the extracts from Caste and Capitalism in Colonial India(Rudner 1994) in the box above and answer the following questions.1.What are the significant differences between the Nakarattar bankingsystem and the modern Western banking system, according to the author?2.What are the different ways in which Nakarattar trading andbanking activities are linked to other social structures?3.Can you think of examples within the modern capitalist economy whereeconomic activities are similarly ‘embedded’ in social structures?


Many sociological studies of the Indian economy have focused on ‘traditionalmerchant communities’ or castes such as the Nakarattars. As you have alreadylearned, there is a close connection between the caste system and the economy,in terms of landholding, occupational differentiation, and so on. This is alsotrue in the case of trade and markets. In fact, ‘Vaisyas’ constitute one of thefour varnas – an indication of the importance of the merchant and of trade orbusiness in Indian society since ancient times. However, like the other varnas,‘Vaisya’ is often a status that is claimed or aspired to rather than a fixed identityor social status. Although there are ‘Vaisya’ communities (such as banias in NorthIndia),

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 4 - The Market as a Social Institution

whose traditionaloccupation has been trade orcommerce for a long time, thereare some caste groups that haveentered into trade. Such groupstend to acquire or claim ‘Vaisya’status in the process of upwardmobility. Like the history of allcaste communities, in mostcases there is a complexrelationonship between castestatus or identity, and castepractices, including occupation.The ‘traditional businesscommunities’ in India includenot only ‘Vaisyas’, but also othergroups with distinctive religiousor other community identities,such as the Parsis, Sindhis, Bohras, or Jains. Merchant communities did notalways have a high status in society; for instance, during the colonial period thelong-distance trade in salt was controlled by a marginalised ‘tribal’ group, theEXERCISE


Visit a market or shoppingarea in the town or citywhere you live. Find outwho the important tradersare. To which communitydo they belong? Are thereparticular areas of businessthat are controlled byparticular communities, forinstance, jewellery shops,kirana (provisions) shops,the hardware trade,furniture making shops,and so on? Visit some ofthese shops and find outabout the traders who runthem and their communities.Are they hereditary familybusinesses?

Banjaras. In each case, the particular nature of communityinstitutions and ethos gives rise to a different organisationand practice of business.
To understand the operation of markets in India, bothin earlier periods and at present, we can examine how specificarenas of business are controlled by particular communities.One of the reasons for this caste-based specialisation is thattrade and commerce often operate through caste and kinshipnetworks, as we have seen in the case of the Nakarattars.Because businessmen are more likely to trust others of theirown community or kin group, they tend to do business withinsuch networks rather than with others outside – and thistends to create a caste monopoly within certain areas ofbusiness.


The advent of colonialism in India produced major upheavalsin the economy, causing disruptions in production, trade,and agriculture. A well-known example is the demise of thehandloom industry due to the flooding of the market withcheap manufactured textiles from England. Althoughpre-colonial India already had a complex monetised economy, most historiansconsider the colonial period to be the turning point. In the colonial era Indiabegan to be more fully linked to the world capitalist economy. Before beingcolonised by the British, India was a major supplier of manufactured goods tothe world market. After colonisation, she became a source of raw materialsand agricultural products and a consumer of manufactured goods, both largelyfor the benefit of industrialising England. At the same time, new groups(especially the Europeans) entered into trade and business, sometimes in alliancewith existing merchant communities and in some cases by forcing them out.But rather than completely overturning existing economic institutions, theexpansion of the market economy in India provided new opportunities to somemerchant communities, which were able to improve their position by re-orientingthemselves to changing economic circumstances. In some cases, newcommunities emerged to take advantage of the economic opportunities providedby colonialism, and continued to hold economic power even after Independence.

A good example of this process is provided by the Marwaris, probably themost widespread and best-known business community in India. Representedby leading industrial families such as the Birlas, the community also includesshopkeepers and small traders in the bazaars of towns throughout the country.The Marwaris became a successful business community only during the colonialperiod, when they took advantage of new opportunities in colonial cities such

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 4 - The Market as a Social Institution

as Calcutta and settled throughoutthe country to carry out trade andmoneylending. Like the Nakarattars,the success of the Marwaris rested ontheir extensive social networks, whichcreated the relations of trustnecessary to operate their bankingsystem. Many Marwari familiesaccumulated enough wealth to becomemoneylenders, and by acting asbankers also helped the

commercialexpansion of the British in India(Hardgrove 2004). In the late colonialperiod and after Independence, someMarwari families transformedthemselves into modern industrialists, and even today Marwaris control more ofIndia’s industry than any other community. This story of the emergence of a newbusiness community under colonialism, and its transformation from small migranttraders to merchant bankers to industrialists, illustrates the importance of thesocial context to economic processes.




One of the founders of modern sociology, Karl Marx, was also a critic of moderncapitalism. Marx understood capitalism as a system of commodity production,or production for the market, through the use of wage labour. As you havealready learned, Marx wrote that all economic systems are also social systems.Each mode of production consists of particular relations of production, whichin turn give rise to a specific class structure. He emphasised that the economydoes not consist of things (goods circulating in the market), but is made up ofrelations between people who are connected to one another through the processof production. Under the capitalist mode of production, labour itself becomes acommodity, because workers must sell their labour power in the market toearn a wage. This gives rise to two basic classes – capitalists, who own themeans of production (such as the factories), and workers, who sell their labourto the capitalists. The capitalist class is able to profit from this system by payingthe workers less than the value of what they actually produce, and so extractingsurplus value from their labour. Marx’s theory of capitalist economy and societyprovided the inspiration for numerous theories and debates about the natureof capitalism throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.


The growth of capitalism around the world has meant the extension of marketsinto places and spheres of life that were previously untouched by this system.

Commodification occurs when things that were earlier not traded in the marketbecome commodities. For instance, labour or skills become things that can bebought and sold. According to Marx and other critics of capitalism, the processof commodification has negative social effects. The commodification of labouris one example, but there are many other examples in contemporary society.For instance, there is a controversy about the sale of kidneys by the poor tocater to rich patients who need kidney transplants. According to many people,human organs should not become commodities. In earlier times, human beingsthemselves were bought and sold as slaves, but today it is considered immoralto treat people as commodities. But in modern society, almost everyone acceptsthe idea that a person’s labour can be bought, or that other services or skillscan be provided in exchange for money. This is a situation that is found only incapitalist societies, according to Marx.

In contemporary India, we can observe that things or processes that earlierwere not part of market exchange become commodified. For example,traditionally, marriages were arranged by families, but now there are professionalmarriage bureaus and websites that help people to find brides and grooms fora fee. Another example are the many private institutes that offer courses in‘personality development’, spoken English, and so on, that teach students (mostlymiddle class youth) the cultural and social skills required to succeed in


4.2Commoditisation or commodification – these are big words that sound very complicated.But the process they refer to is a familiar one and it is present in our everyday life. Here is acommon example – bottled water.In cities and towns and even in most villages now it is possible to buy water packed in sealedplastic bottles of 2 litres, 1 litre or smaller capacity. These bottles are marketed by a widevariety of companies and there are innumerable brand names. But this is a new phenomenon,not more than ten or fifteen years old. It is possible that you yourself may remember a timewhen bottled water was not around. Ask older people. Your parents’ generation will certainlyremember the initial feeling of novelty when bottled water became widely available. Inyour grandparents’ generation, it was unthinkable that anyone could sell drinking water,charge money for it. But today we take bottled water for granted as a normal, convenientthing, a commodity that we can buy (or sell).This is commoditisation/commodification – the process by which something which was nota commodity is made into a commodity and becomes part of the market economy.Can you think of other examples of things that have been commodified relatively recently?Remember, a commodity need not only be a thing or object; it can also be a service. Tryalso to think of things that are not commodities today but could become commodities inthe future. What are the reasons why this could happen? Finally, try to think ofthings that were commodities in the past but have stopped being commoditiestoday (i.e., they used to have market or exchange value before but do not haveit now). When and why do commodities stop being commodities?


Interpretationof AdvertisementsMake a collection ofadvertisements fromnewspapers andmagazines. From thecollection, choose two orthree that you findinteresting. For each ofthese advts., try to answerthe following questions.1.What is the productthat is beingadvertised, and whatimage has beencreated of thatproduct?2.How has the advertisertried to relate thisproduct to a desirablelifestyle or socialstatus?

contemporary world. In earlier times, social skills such asgood manners and etiquette were imparted mainly throughthe family. Or we could think of the burgeoning of privatelyowned schools and colleges and coaching classes as a processof commodification of education.

Another important feature of capitalist society is thatconsumption becomes more and more important, not justfor economic reasons but because it has symbolic meaning.In modern societies, consumption is an important way inwhich social distinctions are created and communicated.The consumer conveys a message about his or her socio-economic status or cultural preferences by buying anddisplaying certain goods, and companies try to sell their goodsby appealing to symbols of status or culture. Think of theadvertisements that we see every day on television androadside hoardings, and the meanings that advertisers tryto attach to consumer goods in order to sell them.

One of sociology’s founders, Max Weber, was among thefirst to point out that the goods that people buy and use areclosely related to their status in society. He coined the termstatus symbol to describe this relationship. For example,among the middle class in India today, the brand of cell phoneor the model of car that one owns are important markers ofsocio-economic status. Weber also wrote about how classesand status groups are differentiated on the basis of their lifestyles. Consumptionis one aspect of lifestyle, but it also includes the way you decorate your home andthe way you dress, your leisure activities, and many other aspects of daily life.Sociologists study consumption patterns and lifestyles because of their culturaland social significance in modern life.


Since the late 1980s, India has entered a new era in its economic history,following the change in economic policy from one of state-led development toliberalisation. This shift also ushered in the era of globalisation, a period inwhich the world is becoming increasingly interconnected — not only economicallybut also culturally and politically. The term globalisation includes a number oftrends, especially the increase in international movement of commodities, money,information, and people, as well as the development of technology (such as incomputers, telecommunications, and transport) and other infrastructure to allowthis movement.

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 4 - The Market as a Social Institution

A central feature of globalisation is the increasing extension and integrationof markets around the world. This integration means that changes in a marketin one part of the globe may have a profound impact somewhere else far away.For instance, India’s booming software industry may face a slump if the U.S.economy does badly (as happened after the 9/11 attacks on the World TradeCentre in New York), leading to loss of business and jobs here. The softwareservices industries and business process outsourcing (BPO) industries (suchas call centres) are some of the major avenues through which India is gettingconnected to the global economy. Companies based in India provide low-costservices and labour to customers located in the developed countries of theWest. We can say that there is now a global market for Indian software labourand other services.


Nasdaq Rings from Mysore – Infy’s Remote Operation Scripts Record, Opens US Market Mysore: If you still don’t believe that the world is flat, then consider this: InfosysTechnologies rang the Nasdaq opening bell remotely from Mysore. At 7 pm sharp(9.30 am US East Coast time), Infosys chairman and chief mentor N.R. Narayana Murthypressed a button to mark the opening of Monday’s trading session at Nasdaq’s MarketSiteTower in Times Square, New York. …. The opening bell is a ceremonial event that representsthe essence of Nasdaq’s virtual market model. Since Nasdaq’s operations are entirelyelectronic, it can be opened from any location around the world, symbolically bringingtogether investors and market participants at the beginning of each trading day.

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 4 - The Market as a Social Institution


NASDAQ is the name of a major electronic stockexchange based in New York. It operates exclusivelythrough computerised electronic communications.It allows stock brokers and investors from around theworld to buy and sell shares in the companies it lists.These transactions are conducted ‘in real time’ – i.e.,they take effect within seconds, and they involveno paper – no paper documents or paper currency.Read the news item carefully and answer thequestions below.

1. How is trading in a stock market (like NASDAQ orthe Bombay Stock Exchange) different fromtrading in other markets? You can find out moreabout stock exchanges from newspapers,magazines and the internet.

2. What does this event – the opening of theUS-based Nasdaq market located in New Yorkby the Infosys chairman Narayana Murthylocated in Mysore – tell you about the nature ofmarkets (especially share and financial markets)in today’s world, and about India’s connectionto the global economy?

3. The article describes the opening event as‘ceremonial’. Can you think of similar ceremonialpractices or rituals that are important in otherkinds of markets?

Under globalisation, not only money and goods, but also people, culturalproducts, and images circulate rapidly around the world, enter new circuits ofexchange, and create new markets. Products, services, or elements of culture

When a market becomes a commodity: The Pushkar camel fair

“Come the month of Kartika …, Thar camel drivers spruce up their ships of thedesert and start the long walk to Pushkar in time for Kartik Purnima … Each year around200,000 people converge here, bringing with them some 50,000 camels and cattle. Theplace becomes an extraordinary swirl of colour, sound and movement, thronged withmusicians, mystics, tourists, traders, animals and devotees. It’s a camel-grooming nirvana,with an incredible array of cornrows, anklets, embroidery and pom poms.”

“The religious event builds in tandem with the Camel Fair in a wild, magical crescendoof incense, chanting and processions to dousing day, the last night of the fair, whenthousands of devotees wash away their sins and set candles afloat on the holy water.”

NCERT Class XII Sociology Chapter 4 - The Market as a Social Institution


Read the passages in Box 4.4,which are taken from a guidebook meant for foreign tourists.The passage illustrates the wayin which a market – in this casethe traditional annual cattlemarket and fair at Pushkar – canitself become a kind of productfor sale in another market, in thiscase the market for tourism.[Look up any unfamiliar words in a dictionary. For your information: ‘cornrows’ is a kindof hairstyle, and in this passage it refers to decorative braiding of camel hair; ‘dousingday’ means the day (Kartik Poornima) when pilgrims take a holy bath in the Pushkarlake.] Discuss the passages in class before you go on to answer the questions:


1.What are the new circuits of goods, services, money, and people that have beencreated at Pushkar because it is now a part of the international tourist circuit?

2.How do you think the coming of large numbers of foreign and Indian tourists haschanged the way in which this fair operates?

3.How does the religiosity of the place add to its marketability? Can we say thatthere is a market for spirituality in India?

4.Can you think of other examples of how religions, traditions, knowledge, oreven images (for instance, of a Rajasthani woman in traditional dress)become commodities in the global market?

that were earlier outside of the market system are drawn into it. An example isthe marketing of Indian spirituality and knowledge systems (such as yoga andayurveda) in the West. The growing market for international tourism alsosuggests how culture itself may become a commodity. An example is the famousannual fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan, to which pastoralists and traders come fromdistant places to buy and sell camels and other livestock. While the Pushkarfair continues to be a major social and economic event for local people, it is alsomarketed internationally as a major tourist attraction. The fair is all the moreattractive to tourists because it comes just before a major Hindu religious festivalof Kartik Poornima, when pilgrims come to bathe in the holy Pushkar lake. Thus,Hindu pilgrims, camel traders, and foreign tourists mingle at this event, exchangingnot only livestock and money but also cultural symbols and religious merit.


The globalisation of the Indian economy has been due primarily to the policy ofliberalisation that was started in the late 1980s. Liberalisation includes a rangeof policies such as the privatisation of public sector enterprises (sellinggovernment-owned companies to private companies); loosening of governmentregulations on capital, labour, and trade; a reduction in tariffs and import dutiesso that foreign goods can be imported more easily; and allowing easier accessfor foreign companies to set up industries in India. Another word for suchchanges is marketisation, or the use of markets or market-based processes(rather than government regulations or policies) to solve social, political, oreconomic problems. These include relaxation or removal of economic controls(deregulation), privatisation of industries, and removing government controlsover wages and prices. Those who advocate marketisation believe that thesesteps will promote economic growth and prosperity because private industry ismore efficient than government-owned industry.

The changes that have been made under the liberalisation programme havestimulated economic growth and opened up Indian markets to foreign companies.For example, many foreign branded goods are now sold, which were notpreviously available. Increasing foreign investment is supposed to help economicgrowth and employment. The privatisation of public companies is supposed toincrease their efficiency and reduce the government’s burden of running thesecompanies. However, the impact of liberalisation has been mixed. Many peopleargue that liberalisation and globalisation have had, or will have, a negative netimpact on India – that is, the costs and disadvantages will be more than theadvantages and benefits. Some sectors of Indian industry (like software andinformation technology) or agriculture (like fish or fruit) may benefit from accessto a global market, but other sectors (like automobiles, electronics or oilseeds)will lose because they cannot compete with foreign producers.

For example, Indian farmers are now exposed to competition from farmersin other countries because import of agricultural products is allowed. Earlier,
Indian agriculture was protected from the world market by support prices andsubsidies. Support prices help to ensure a minimum income for farmers becausethey are the prices at which the government agrees to buy agriculturalcommodities. Subsidies lower the cost of farming because the governmentpays part of the price charged for inputs (such as fertilisers or diesel oil).Liberalisation is against this kind of government interference in markets, sosupport prices and subsidies are reduced or withdrawn. This means that manyfarmers are not able to make a decent living from agriculture. Similarly, smallmanufacturers have been exposed to global competition as foreign goods andbrands have entered the market, and some have not been able to compete. Theprivatisation or closing of public sector industries has led to loss of employmentin some sectors, and to growth of unorganised sector employment at the expenseof the organised sector. This is not good for workers because the organisedsector generally offers better paid and more regular or permanent jobs. (See thechapters on agrarian change and industry in the other textbook for Class XII,Social Change and Development in India).

In this chapter we have seen that there are many different kinds of markets incontemporary India, from the village haat to the virtual stock exchange. Thesemarkets are themselves social institutions, and are connected to other aspectsof the social structure, such as caste and class, in various ways. In addition, wehave learned that exchange has a social and symbolic significance that goes farbeyond its immediate economic purpose. Moreover, the ways in which goodsand services are exchanged or circulate is rapidly changing due to theliberalisation of the Indian economy and globalisation. There are many differentways and levels at which goods, services, cultural symbols, money, and so on,circulate — from the local market in a village or town right up to a globaltrading network such as the Nasdaq. In today’s rapidly changing world, it isimportant to understand how markets are being constantly transformed, andthe broader social and economic consequences of these changes.


1.What is meant by the phrase ‘invisible hand’?

2.How does a sociological perspective on markets differ from an economicone?

3.In what ways is a market – such as a weekly village market – a socialinstitution?

4.How may caste and kin networks contribute to the success of a business?

5.In what ways did the Indian economy change after the coming ofcolonialism?

6.Explain the meaning of ‘commoditisation’ with the help of examples.

7.What is a ‘status symbol’?

8.What are some of the processes included under the label ‘globalisation’?

9.What is meant by ‘liberalisation’?

10.In your opinion, will the long term benefits of liberalisation exceed its costs?Give reasons for your answer.


Bayly, C.A. 1983 Rulers, Townsmen and Bazaars; North Indian Society in the Age ofBritish Expansion, 1770-1870. Oxford University Press. Delhi. Durkheim, Emile. 1964 (1933). The Division of Labour in Society. Free Press.New York.

Gell, Alfred. 1982. The market wheel: symbolic aspects of an Indian tribal market.Man (N.S.) 17(3):470-91. Hardgrove, Anne. 2004. Community and Public Culture; The Marwaris in Calcutta.Oxford University Press. New Delhi. Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1961 (1921). Argonauts of the Western Pacific. E.P. Duttonand Company. New York. Mauss, Marcel. 1967. The Gift; Forms and Functions of Exchange in Archaic Societies.W.W. Norton & Company. New York. Polanyi, Karl. 1944. The Great Transformation. Beacon Press. Boston.

Rudner, David. 1994. Caste and Capitalism in Colonial India; The NattukottaiChettiars. University of California Press. Berkeley. Stein, Burton and Sanjay Subrahmanyam (eds.). 1996. Institutions and EconomicChange in South Asia. Oxford University Press. New Delhi.

Go to NCERT Class XII Sociology Book Home Page All NCERT Books