Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India

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Princeton University Press, 2001 - History - 372 pages
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When thinking of India, it is hard not to think of caste. In academic and common parlance alike, caste has become a central symbol for India, marking it as fundamentally different from other places while expressing its essence. Nicholas Dirks argues that caste is, in fact, neither an unchanged survival of ancient India nor a single system that reflects a core cultural value. Rather than a basic expression of Indian tradition, caste is a modern phenomenon--the product of a concrete historical encounter between India and British colonial rule. Dirks does not contend that caste was invented by the British. But under British domination caste did become a single term capable of naming and above all subsuming India's diverse forms of social identity and organization.

Dirks traces the career of caste from the medieval kingdoms of southern India to the textual traces of early colonial archives; from the commentaries of an eighteenth-century Jesuit to the enumerative obsessions of the late-nineteenth-century census; from the ethnographic writings of colonial administrators to those of twentieth-century Indian scholars seeking to rescue ethnography from its colonial legacy. The book also surveys the rise of caste politics in the twentieth century, focusing in particular on the emergence of caste-based movements that have threatened nationalist consensus.

Castes of Mind is an ambitious book, written by an accomplished scholar with a rare mastery of centuries of Indian history and anthropology. It uses the idea of caste as the basis for a magisterial history of modern India. And in making a powerful case that the colonial past continues to haunt the Indian present, it makes an important contribution to current postcolonial theory and scholarship on contemporary Indian politics.

  

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Castes of mind: colonialism and the making of modern India

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Is India's caste system the remnant of ancient India's social practices or the result of the historical relationship between India and British colonial rule? Dirks (history and anthropology ... Read full review

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This is a really fantastic book, and gives an excellent historical background and historiographical assessment of caste debates and politics across the last two centuries. Read full review

Contents

Introduction The Modernity of Caste
3
Homo Hierarchicus The Origins of an Idea
19
The Ethnographic State
43
COLONIZATION OF THE ARCHIVE
61
The Original Caste Social Identity in the Old Regime
63
The Textualization of Tradition Biography of an Archive
81
The Imperial Archive Colonial Knowledge and Colonial Rule
107
THE ETHNOGRAPHIC STATE
125
The Enumeration of Caste Anthropology as Colonial Rule
198
RECASTING INDIA CASTE COMMUNITY AND POLITICS
229
Toward a Nationalist Sociology of India Nationalism and Brahmanism
231
The Reformation of Caste Periyar Ambedkar and Gandhi
255
Caste Politics and the Politics of Caste
275
Conclusion Caste and the Postcolonial Predicament
297
The Burden of the Past On Colonialism and the Writing of History
303
Notes
317

The Conversion of Caste
127
The Policing of Tradition Colonial Anthropology and the Invention of Custom
149
The Body of Caste Anthropology and the Criminalization of Caste
173

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About the author (2001)

Nicholas B. Dirks is Franz Boas Professor of History and Anthropology at Columbia University. He is the author of "The Hollow Crown: Ethnohistory of an Indian Kingdom" and the editor of "Colonialism and Culture and In Near Ruins". He has taught at the University of Michigan, the California Institute of Technology, and the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociale in Paris.

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