Social Anthropology
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The Modernity of Caste and the Market Economy: How and for Whom is Caste Relevant in India Today?

The Modernity of Caste and the Market Economy: How and for Whom is Caste Relevant in India Today?
Speaker: Professor David Mosse # SOAS South Asia Institute
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Date and Time
22nd Mar 2018 17:30 - 22nd Mar 2018 18:30
Lecture Theatre 2, Appleton Tower

Professor David Mosse 

What place does the caste system have in modern India with its globally-integrating market economy? The most influential anthropological approaches to caste have tended to emphasise caste as India’s traditional religious and ritual order, or (treating such order as significantly a product of colonial rule) as shaped politically, not least today by the dynamics of caste-based electoral politics. Less attention has been paid to caste effects in the economy. The lecture will argue that the scholarly framing of caste mimics a public policy ‘enclosure’ of caste in the non-modern realm of religion and ‘caste politics’, while aligning modernity to the market economy whose forces promise the erasure of archaic relations of caste. But caste is discovered to structure virtually all markets, including labour markets and the business economy. Caste persists in the age of the market because of its advantages – its discriminations are opportunities for others – although rarely examined as such. The form of caste processes and networks, and the enclosures and evasions of caste in post-liberalisation India, suggest the need to rethink the modernity of caste beyond orientalist and postcolonial frameworks, and to reflect on the presuppositions and disciplinary orientations that shape understanding of an institution, the nature and experience of which are determined by the inequalities and subject positions it produces.

David Mosse is Professor of Social Anthropology at SOAS, University of London. He has published widely on the anthropology of religion, environment and development. His books include The Saint in the Banyan Tree: Christianity and Caste Society in India (2012), Adventures in Aidland (ed. 2011), Cultivating Development: An Ethnography of Aid Policy and Practice (2005), The Rule of Water: Statecraft, Ecology and Collective Action in South India (2003). He recently led a collaborative research project titled ‘Caste Out of Development’ on durable poverty, inequality, the continuing significance of caste in contemporary development encounters and contentions in India and internationally. His current interests include Dalit rights activism, caste and law in the UK and the anthropology of mental health. He is a Fellow of the British Academy.