Caste as Community? Networks of social affinity in a South Indian village

Saurabh Arora & Bulat Sanditov

#2009-037

We examine three theories of caste and community using new data on social networks among residents of a south Indian village. The first theory treats individual caste groups as separated communities driven by the Brahmanical ideology of hierarchy based on purity and pollution. The second theory departs from the first by placing kings and landlords at the centre of rural (primeval) social structure. Here ritual giving by kings provides the glue that holds a community together by transferring inauspiciousness to gift-recipients and ensuring community welfare. The third theory, that may be treated as a corollary of the second, argues that powerful leaders in the religious and political domains act as patrons of people in their constituencies and forge a sense of community. The resulting community may be single or multi-caste. Using a community structure algorithm from social network analysis, we divide the network of the village into thirteen tight-knit clusters. We find that no cluster or community in the social network has exactly the same boundaries as a caste group in the village. Barring three exceptions, all clusters are multi-caste. Our results are most consistent with the third theory: each cluster has a patron/leader who represents the interests of his constituency at village-level fora and bridges caste and community divides.

Keywords: Social networks, culture, caste, social change, community development, rural India

JEL codes: Z13, O10

UNU-MERIT Working Papers ISSN 1871-9872

  


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