Topics: Sociology, Caste system in India, Caste Pages: 31 (8677 words) Published: June 10, 2013
Sociology The Embodiment of Caste : Oppression, Protest and Change Hugo Gorringe and Irene Rafanell Sociology 2007 41: 97 DOI: 10.1177/0038038507074721 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Copyright © 2007 BSA Publications Ltd® Volume 41(1): 97–114 DOI: 10.1177/0038038507074721 SAGE Publications London,Thousand Oaks, New Delhi

The Embodiment of Caste: Oppression, Protest and Change
Hugo Gorringe
University of Edinburgh

Irene Rafanell
University of Paisley


Caste is often presented as a stable or fixed form of social stratification that conditions the behaviour of its members. This occludes the micro-structural process by which caste is embodied. This article uses empirical work on caste protest to discuss the fluid nature of embodied activity, and the analytical utility of two social constructionist accounts: the tacitly pre-given structures of Bourdieu’s model are compared to the continuous creation model of Foucault.Whereas the internalized structures of Bourdieu’s habitus initially appear to make most sense of the embodiment and permanence of caste, we contend that a Foucauldian approach offers better insight into the interactional basis of social structures and identity formation.The article reconsiders both theories in light of these empirical data and concludes that analysing interaction at a local level enables us to better comprehend the emergence of social structural features in a caste context. KEY WORDS

occlude:ʹ±Õ Èû

bourdieu / caste / embodiment / foucault / social change / social movements



t would not be difficult for an Indian to identify an Untouchable’,1 according to Jeyaharan, academic and social activist: ‘The very way of dressing, the use of vocabulary, and the gestures adopted would reveal who she/he is’ (1992:

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Volume 41

Number 1

February 2007

4). Although this statement is increasingly questionable in urban India, a pivotal factor underlying the contemporary salience of caste as a mode of mobilization is its continuing importance as a material social category. It manifests itself in the segregation of housing, the differential access to resources and the persistent correlation between low caste status and poverty, but also in the micro fields of comportment and bodily expression. In a situation where relations of power are etched into bodily mannerisms, not only are there stringent (often violent) sanctions against those who flout caste boundaries, but altering one’s caste position also requires new ways of conceptualizing and presenting one’s self. In seeking to make sense of the embodiment of caste and social change in India we draw on, and compare, Bourdieu’s model of class habitus and Foucault’s notion of the micro-physics of power because we have found these to be the most illuminating accounts of the embodiment of social phenomena. From a Bourdieusean perspective, one’s social position within a particular caste informs one’s ‘caste’ habitus. This habitus results in the internalization of specific embodied characteristics, which constitute hierarchical boundaries and, consequently, structure relationships with...
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