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This text is not REALLY about caste. It is similar to Strathern's Gender of the Gift and her use of "Melanesia". Just as her book was epistemology rather than ethnography, so is Dumont's treatment of this phenomenon. He is actually using the theory of caste to explain his notion of hierarchy as the basic supposition within a culture as opposed to the western notions of equality/individualism. He, throughout the book, refers to the difference between IDEAL hierarchy (where power is completely subordinate to status) and CONCRETE hierarchy (where status is not absolute!). I would say this is a difficult text to begin with...and if you are looking for an ethnographic account of caste, you may find this text difficult to understand and disappointing. However, is you consider this an intellectual exercise in the nature of hierarchy and equality, you cannot find a better text!
The posterity of Louis Dumont in French social science presents us with a paradox. Few French anthropologists claim his heritage. When they look for ancestor figures or sources of inspiration, they are more likely to turn to Durkheim and Mauss, whose teachings Dumont placed above all else, or to Marx and Weber, two other revered founders of the discipline. Unlike Claude Lévi-Strauss with structuralism, or to Maurice Godelier with Marxist anthropology, Dumont hasn't associated his name to a chapel or a school within French anthropology. Likewise, the field of Indianist studies in French or English-speaking academia has not really adopted Louis Dumont. It is now mandatory for any book on the caste system to begin by harshly criticizing Homo Hierarchicus, which indeed was a provocative thesis at the time of its publication in 1966. Monographies based on fieldwork do not really address the theoretical issues that Dumont tried to tackle, and they use different sources and materials. Indianist studies in France are now more atuned to contemporary debates in the English-speaking world than to the Durkheimian tradition cultivated by Marcel Mauss and Célestin Bouglé, which Dumont attempted to renew and expand.
Meanwhile, Dumont has found heirs and epigones among philosophers and social scientists in France. The publication of Homo Hierarchicus coincided with a Tocquevillian turn in French political thought, and Dumont became an often quoted reference. It is to be remembered that Tocqueville had planned to write a book on India that would have completed his exploration of Democracy in America and his account of French society between the Old Regime and the Revolution.Read more ›
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Allthough a classic, the style was horrible. Even for somebody whose mothertongue is english, this book must be difficult to read. Why is it that French intelectuals think they have to explain everything as difficult as possible. I finished because I was on an Island with nothing else to read, but it didn't teach me much about the cast system. Not because the information is not in te book, but because it was burried under to many, not relevant information, and written in a hard to follow style. Try another book.
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