Aspects of Caste in South India, Ceylon, and North-West Pakistan

By E. R. Leach | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION: WHAT SHOULD WE MEAN BY CASTE?

By E. R. LEACH

The contributors to this symposium have in common that each has at one time or another worked in the Department of Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge University. They share a common viewpoint about the nature of social anthropology as an academic discipline and they share too a common interest in the cultures of the Indian sub-continent. But the essays which make up this volume, while they centre round the common theme of 'caste', have not been written from any common theoretical standpoint. Each essay stands by itself as an individual contribution to ethnographic knowledge.

Even so, taken as a collection, the essays are something rather more than a sum of individual statements on a common topic. Although each author writes of caste from a personal, individual point of view, certain interesting generalizations emerge from their joint discussions, and in this Introduction I shall try to set them out. I should stress perhaps that I am expressing a personal opinion which is not necessarily shared by any of my fellow contributors.

In the writings of anthropologists and sociologists the word 'caste' is used in two different senses. As an ethnographic category it refers exclusively to a system of social organization peculiar to Hindu India, but as a sociological category it may denote almost any kind of class structure of exceptional rigidity. Such double usage is unfortunate; the tendency to stress the 'status-group' component of caste prejudges the whole question as to what is the essential sociological nature of the Indian phenomenon. Conversely the merging of class and caste concepts is liable to lead to a highly distorted image of the nature of 'colour-bar' and other manifestations of rigid social differentiation (Cox 1948). Although the issue is approached indirectly, this ambiguity in the meaning of the word 'caste' is the central problem with which all the essays in this symposium are concerned.

In a formal sense, the word 'caste' as it occurs in this volume should always be taken to have its ethnographic Hindu meaning. The arrangement of the book is that the first, and longest, essay describes a typical example of caste organization in Southern India. The succeeding essays then describe variants of this pattern as they occur in Ceylon and. North-west Pakistan. These variants diverge further and further from the ideal type, though each of them has been derived historically from a Hindu model. In effect the reader is

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Aspects of Caste in South India, Ceylon, and North-West Pakistan
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Contributors to This Issue vi
  • Preface vii
  • Introduction: What Should We Mean by Caste? 1
  • Notes 10
  • Caste in a Tanjore Village 11
  • Notes 60
  • Caste in Jaffna 61
  • Notes 77
  • The Flexibility Of Caste Principles in A Kandyan Community 78
  • Notes 111
  • The System Of Social Stratification in Swat, North Pakistan 113
  • Notes 146
  • Bibliography 147
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