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“Analytics of Caste Power in Modern India: Discourse, Antagonism & Hegemony”

Dr B.R. Ambedkar, portrait in the Samyukta Maharashtra Museum, Shivaji Park
Dr B.R. Ambedkar, portrait in the Samyukta Maharashtra Museum, Shivaji Park, Dadar, Mumbai

This is my unpublished M.A. thesis, submitted in 1999 to the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London, where it was awarded a distinction.

You can download the full PDF for offline reading. Please note that this work is not for citation without my permission via email.

Abstract

This essay argues for an analytics of caste power in modern India through an argument of the indeterminacy and fuzziness of its practice, symbolic forms, and modes of articulation in the discourses on caste offered by the synthetic theory of Louis Dumont; ethnographies of the dominant caste and king; and in the discourse of colonial governmentality.

Secondly, this essay makes an intervention in the analysis of subalternity, showing that the lower-caste domain is constitutive of the hegemonic order of caste society by making present the negativity that inheres in the caste order and provides a ground for its criticism and transformation. In this regard, it describes the emergence of social antagonisms in the anti-caste polemics of modern non-Brahman ideologues, with analyses of the particular discourses of Mahatma Jotiba Phule and Kancha Ilaiah, arguing for an understanding of antagonisms as constitutive of the social in the plastic political world of modernity.

Finally, this essay addresses the egalitarian imaginary of modern politics, its introduction in Indian society through nationalist politics, and the generalisation of this form of politics in the postcolonial era through the proliferation of caste antagonisms and the practices of hegemonic articulation in contemporary democracy.

Throughout, there is a consistent theoretical concern with abandoning essentialist conceptions of the unitary subject agent and the sutured social totality, and with presenting the symbolic and discursive construction of subject positions and social relations, affirming the open, politically negotiable character of the social.

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