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Death of the Indian Social

Rohan Bastin

The figure of Dumont continues to loom large in the anthropology of South Asia, notwithstanding the fact that arguably the last thing he published on India was the preface to the 1980 edition of his masterpiece Homo Hierarchicus. 2 Yet what Dumont shows in that preface is that he has loomed large while and perhaps because other anthropologists have pointed accusatory fingers at him, especially those from Britain and within the tradition of British social anthropology and social science. So what was it that so ruffled the feathers of the British bulldog? Was it Dumont’s attack on the atomistic individualism of British social theory? Was it that he appeared to reduce every aspect of Indian caste to the structural dyad of pure and impure? Was it his argument (more fully developed in Dumont 1977) that the ideological notion of the economic as a distinct social category is the product of a historical juncture, and that historical materialist or Marxian analysis is as much an ideology as it is a theory of ideology? Or was it simply Dumont’s insistence that India is seen in its own terms, and not from the (ideological) position that stressed the fundamental inequalities and injustices of the Indian social system as something in need of change? Was Dumont, in short, a conservative apologist for caste writing in an era in which the social was regarded as something that could be changed?

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