Princeton: Princeton University Press, A tremendous feat of anthropological history, Castes of Mind demonstrates how the nationalist movement and post-colonial histories are implicated in British colonial processes of knowledge production. The first two parts focus before the events of Great Rebellion of and assumption of direct Crown rule in The first part examines the early ethnographic knowledge produced on India and caste around the East India Company period.
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Princeton: Princeton University Press, A tremendous feat of anthropological history, Castes of Mind demonstrates how the nationalist movement and post-colonial histories are implicated in British colonial processes of knowledge production. The first two parts focus before the events of Great Rebellion of and assumption of direct Crown rule in The first part examines the early ethnographic knowledge produced on India and caste around the East India Company period. Dirks shows how early missionary studies such as the Abbe Dubois understood caste as a varna system, as a civil institution, but mainly as an impediment to Christian conversion.
This framing of caste results in an image of India defined by religion, hierarchy, and society rather than secularism, equality, and the individual—fundamental tenets of the Western, modern nation-state.
In the second part, Dirks most importantly explains how early British imperialism in the s legitimized its rule through constructions of Indian caste, traditionalism, and barbarism. Dirks remarks with initial surprise that the original Mackenize collection does not reveal the origin story of caste, but the loss of an old world political regime.
Rather, the collection becomes implicated and instrumentalized to explain Indian caste for colonial interests.
Dirks thus shows the importance of such instruments of epistemic rule that are disguised as tools of bureaucracy, legibility, and documentation.
Dirks also highlights how archives and ethnographies were concerned with strategic questions of land ownership and sovereignty, as well as cultural and political questions of social relationships and caste. Risley, William Crooke, J. Hutton, and Edgar Thurston to understand how the discourse of caste evolves to explain the impossibility of Indian self-rule and social change. The legacy of colonial discourse of caste and India weighed upon 19th and 20th century caste politics and nationalist movements.
Dirks examines this relationship in part four of his book and analyzes the work of Gandhi, E. VR Naicker, and B. Ambedkar to understand the ways in which nationalist movements were implicated within colonial constructs of social mobilization and the possibility of modernity and self-rule for India.
He also argues that the certain colonial epistemologies carry on to the present day over debates over immigration, identity, and ethnic violence. Dirks concludes his work with a brilliant treatise on the consequences of colonialism on the writing of history.
He reminds the reader of the tremendous consequences of colonialism in the history of capitalism, the West, anthropological visions of the colonized world, and historiographical thought. Dirks argues that the work of Bayly, Washbrook, and the Cambridge school pull attention away from the importance of the colonial state.
This work offers several historiographical and polemical contributions. First, Dirks shows how caste was invented, reformulated, and put into action involving the work of both British and Indian actors, Brahmins, administrators, and information gatherers. Second, Dirks centers the role of colonial knowledge alongside the power of military, political power, and economic wealth in the study of colonial conquest and governance. Dirks shows how the anthropoligizing of India for colonial interests and colonial legitimacy in turn cemented social categories of difference and positioned caste as opposed to self-rule and the modern nation state.
BOOK REVIEW: Nicholas Dirks’ Castes of Mind
By Nicholas B. Princeton: Princeton University Press, Part I argues for the modernity of caste. During the second half of the nineteenth century, the colonial state increasingly took caste as the primary basis for social classification through various institutions and forms of knowledge, such as the census. Dirks argues that Hegel, Marx, Weber, Dumont, Marriott and others writing on India have largely reproduced a colonial sociology which is ultimately both Indological and Orientalist and which underestimates the influence of Islam and British colonialism. Here the author argues against a single theory of caste, suggesting that caste has always been a contingent social phenomenon, while claiming that the colonial archive naturalized the usefulness of caste for understanding Indian social relations. Still, anthropological knowledge was used by the British to explain the Mutiny and to help define autonomous domains of religion and custom.
Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India
Reviews 1 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. 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.