David Pocock (1928-2007) read English literature at Cambridge, under the influential guidance of the literary critic F. R. Leavis. He later moved to Oxford, where he awarded a PhD in anthropology under the supervision of E.E. Evans-Prichard. In Oxford, he also worked closely with the well-known anthropologist Louis Dumont, with whom he jointly edited the journal Contributions to Indian Sociology. In 1966, Pocock accepted a readership at Sussex, where he was instrumental in setting up the School of African and Asian Studies.
Pocock conducted fieldwork in Central Gujarat in the 1950s, as well as among the Indian and Gujarati diaspora in East Africa and London. His two most influential monographs, Kanbi and Patidar (1972), and Mind Body and Wealth (1973), focus on the constitution of the Patidar caste. They are a powerful minority that over the last two centuries have risen to a position of affluence and dominance. In this process, many also moved from being traditional agriculturalists, to becoming business people that since the early 20th century settled in East Africa, and later the United Kingdom and the United States.
Pocock’s work engages with a fundamental contradiction of Patidar identity: between unity and the desire for ambition and differentiation. This ambition is, according to Pocock, realised not only through economic mobility, but through the formation of successful marriage alliances – a theme that forms a substantial discussion of his Kanbi and Patidar monograph. Pocock was also interested in notions of belief and analysed the relationship between popular Hinduism, organised religion, religious sects, and social and economic changes that were affecting not only the level of the village, but Gujarat as a region.
Influenced by the legacy of his earlier training, Pocock aligned himself with an understanding of anthropology as an interpretative rather than a natural science. He was also strongly influenced by the thought of the French sociologist Émile Durkheim, whose work he translated as an undergraduate, and by the idea that societies constitute a changing moral order. Pocock’s writings present a world dense of contradictions. They also present an awareness, unusual for their times, of the contingent and relational nature of our views of the world, and of the assumptions about human nature that underpin our observations and writings.