Based on intensive fieldwork conducted over a period of several years, Caste Kinship and Community is an outstanding contribution to the ethnographic literature on caste in India. Social and geographic boundaries of a localised endogamous group of the Dule Bagdis, a major cultivating and fishing caste of low economic and ritual status, have been identified and analysed in their entirety for the first time—a task which has often been described by those who attempted to accomplish it earlier, as ‘futile’ and ‘hopeless’. The analysis of the social system of the localised caste is broadly based on the Parsonian model. Three major structural dimensions of the caste are viewed as relating to specific functional prerequisites. The caste structure is seen to relate to goal attainment and integration; the kinship structure to pattern maintenance and tension management; and the community structure to adaptation. Each major structure is also viewed as being made up of five increasingly wider and vertically integrated levels. Although structurally distinct, caste, kinship and community are also seen to be horizontally integrated at their corresponding levels. This is thus one of the most comprehensive theoretical frameworks ever used in the ethnographic analysis of an Indian caste.
Besides providing an exhaustive analysis of the traditional structure of a localised caste, the book also identifies the factors which have contributed to its changes in recent years. It concludes with the suggestion that although many of the traditional elements of the social organization of the localised caste remain important, some of the fundamental principles on which it was based have been challenged by the changing economic and political conditions of West Bengal in recent times.
The study makes use of rich ethnographic material organised in the context of a sophisticated theoretical framework upon which the analysis, generalisations and conclusions are base. The aims of the book are both ethnographic and analytic: it provides a comprehensive ethnographic account of the social system of a localised caste, and also attempts to develop an analytical model which could be tested and used in future studies of specific castes.