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Mosse, David (2020) 'The Modernity of Caste and the Market Economy.' Modern Asian Studies, 54 (4). pp. 1225-1271.

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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 emphasize caste as India’s traditional religious and ritual order, or (treating such order as a product of the colonial encounter) as shaped politically, especially today by the dynamics of caste-based electoral politics. Less attention has been paid to caste effects in the economy. This article argues that the scholarly framing of caste mirrors a public policy ‘enclosure’ of caste in the non-modern realm of religion and ‘caste politics’, while aligning modernity to the caste-erasing market economy. Village-level fieldwork in south India finds a parallel public narrative of caste either as ritual rank eroded by market relations, or as identity politics deflected from everyday economic life. But locally and nationally the effects of caste are found to be pervasive in labour markets and the business economy. In the age of the market, caste is a resource, sometimes in the form of a network, its opportunity-hoarding advantages discriminating against others. Dalits are not discriminated by caste as a set of relations separate from economy, but by the very economic and market processes through which they often seek liberation. The caste processes, enclosures and evasions in post-liberalization India, suggest the need to rethink the modernity of caste beyond orientalist and postcolonial frameworks, and consider the presuppositions that shape understanding of an institution, the nature and experience of which are determined by the inequalities and subject positions it produces.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: caste, market economy, networks, discrimination, India
SOAS Departments & Centres: Departments and Subunits > Department of Anthropology & Sociology
ISSN: 0026749X
Copyright Statement: © Cambridge University Press 2019 This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (, which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 09 Jan 2019 11:00
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council

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