Lack of agreement on basic definitions has often bedeviled the anthropological study of Indian society. A case in point is “caste,” which has enjoyed almost as many definitions as there are students involved in its study. This multiplicity undoubtedly promotes a broadened investigation of caste phenomena, and thus ultimately increases our knowledge. But it also leads to the danger that competing definitions will masquerade as factual explanations, or that theoretically valid distinctions are lost in the rhetoric of definitional arguments. Especially in studies of the breakdown and reconstitution of caste institutions, the absence of a firm, explicit definitional base impedes evaluation of the nature, direction, and novelty of social structural change.

You do not currently have access to this content.