The Annihilation of Caste Economies

Authors: Thomas Crowley*, Rutgers University
Topics: Economic Geography, Ethnicity and Race
Keywords: political economy of caste, anti-caste thought
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/6/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: 8226, Park Tower Suites, Marriott, Lobby Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper is a preliminary theoretical attempt to explore the potential intersections of economic geography and Indian anti-caste thought. For several decades, critical analyses of the Indian economy centered on the “mode of production debate,” which questioned the extent to which India had successfully transitioned to a “modern” capitalist economy. Later interventions have noted the linearity and the teleology underlying all sides of this debate, and have sought to portray the contemporary Indian economy as heterogeneous and diverse, rather than a pale imitation of Western forebears. However, even these efforts to trace the complexities of the Indian economy have often – explicitly or implicitly – held on to a distinction that undermines both their theoretical utility and their political effectiveness: that economic considerations are essentially structural, whereas caste dynamics are superstructural. This paper seeks to challenge that assumption, drawing on the theory and practice of the anti-caste tradition to argue that any theoretical or practical intervention in economic debates must grapple with the ways that caste and class hierarchies are co-constituted. The pioneering anti-caste leader Dr. B.R. Ambedkar called for the annihilation of caste; heterodox followers of Ambedkar’s thought, including Sharad Patil, Gail Omvedt and Jignesh Mevani have suggested that this annihilation of caste is not only a socio-cultural, but also an economic project. The paper thus traces out potential strategies, not just for recognizing the ways in which the Indian economy is complexly differentiated by caste and other concerns, but the potentials of anti-caste activism for economic transformation.

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