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Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India
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Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  90 ratings  ·  8 reviews
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 valu ...more
Paperback, 372 pages
Published October 7th 2001 by Princeton University Press (first published September 17th 2001)
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3.61  · 
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Deepak Daniel
Feb 03, 2018 rated it it was ok
As i read through this book one of the things that i realized is the too many loose ends. There are too many polemics without substantive follow through justifications.
This book is in an important sense, a continuation of his pioneering doctoral thesis "The Hollow crown : Ethnohistory of an Indian Kingdom". His main argument in that book was to debunk the commonly held notion that caste is the organizing principle of Indian society. The belief among historians that in India, the state if at al
...more
Nils
Dec 06, 2015 rated it it was amazing
In a nutshell, caste is not an age old product of Indian "tradition" but instead was reified for instrumental purposes by 19th century British imperialists to serve as an alternative to the kind of civil society that was demanding democracy and self-determination back in Europe. Caste, in its timelessness, put India outside of history and thus enabled the indefinite deferral of questions of independence. But the most interesting part of Dirks's account is how he demonstrates the many contradicto ...more
Roger Green
Nov 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Published in 2001, this book gives a nuanced history of the caste system as it was transformed under colonial rule, imbricated within ethnographic and anthropometric data collection, and used in various ways within political agendas - both secular and religious - in postcolonial India. Dirks concludes with an explicit discussion of controversies within academic fields of history and postcolonial studies, tempering pseudo-marxist analyses that we might now call "neoliberal" with critical yet poro ...more
Zahen Khan
Jul 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Though a bit too academic, this is a great book on that most Indian of concepts. Dirks main contention is that caste, prior to colonialism, was a fluid, guild system (but unlike Europe's it was not feudal), whereby guilds were intricately, and circularly, connected in the performance of judiciary, corporate and political duties.

The second is that the British, partially in an attempt to make sense of a social system which was unheard of in the newly invented European nation-state, carried out ex
...more
Robert Fischer
Mar 10, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: politics
This book is extremely dense, and assumes a fair bit of familiarity with the on-the-ground politics of caste in India. Given that, though, it's extremely good. It provides a very thorough critique of the idea that caste in India was an eternal system with strong boundaries, instead demonstrating (fairly effectively) that caste, especially in the four-fold Varna conception, was reified within Indians in response to the application of the British colonial epistemology, especially ethnology, philol ...more
Anita
Nov 24, 2015 rated it really liked it
Strong argument that the British reified and made more rigid the caste system for their own colonial purposes. Also some interesting history about Ambedkar, Periyar and Gandhi and their different positions on caste and its importance to Hinduism. Four stars because there are some spots in the book where the text was so academic/dense or cited British historians whose work I hadn't read, I wasn't sure the history described really backed up what the author was claiming. Also wished there was a lit ...more
AskHistorians
Dirks sets forth the idea of "the ethnographic state" and alters the more conventional understanding of the caste system as an age-old tradition that haunted Indian society. Dirks highlights the varied ways in which the colonial state made rigid the fluid boundaries of caste through their need to categorise, tabulate, and catalogue the Indian population.
Anyusha Rose
Oct 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a really fantastic book, and gives an excellent historical background and historiographical assessment of caste debates and politics across the last two centuries.
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