India: Caste, Kingship, and Dominance Reconsidered
Annual Review of Anthropology
Vol. 17: 497-522 (Volume publication date October 1988)
G G Raheja
In lieu of an abstract, the publisher reproduces the first page of the article. (Link)

In “India: Caste, Kingship, and Dominance Reconsidered,” Gloria Goodwin Raheja discusses how understanding of Indian caste, kingship and dominance were unduly influenced by colonialism.  She speaks specifically of a seminal work by Louis Dumont, Homo Hierarchicus, and how the views expressed in that work have a long prehistory entangled with British colonial rule and their interpretations of local elitist traditions:

As they elevated Brahmanic formulations to the level of hegemonic text undergirdling all of Hindu society, the British were simultaneously misinterpreting and devaluing indigenous ideas of sovereignty and authority.

Raheja writes that the British were interested in aspects of Indian culture mostly for the purpose of making colonization go more smoothly and of how that interest and the ideology it supported shaped the types of questions asked during surveys and other types of data collection–information then conveyed in the “district-level land settlement reports, in the district and imperial gazetteers, and in the reports of the Census of India” that formed the source materials used by early writers of volumes on caste.   And doesn’t this make for a tidy package?  The conquerors write the data of history and leave it to others to write the story.

Reading of this intersection of colonialism and anthropology put me in mind of a recent post at Zero Anthropology that was critical of Margaret Mead:

To be perfectly frank, I am no fan of Margaret Mead. Had she been born a while later, she probably would have been the Senior Social Scientist at the Human Terrain System. I once heard a colleague describe her, in supposedly positive terms, as one of anthropology’s “war horses” –which seems all too true on many different, unflattering, levels.

That speaker in positive terms could well have been my first anthropology professor who held up Margaret Mead’s wartime efforts as proof that anthropology wasn’t for sissies or some such (… it was way back in the 1990s).  How might the intersection of war time strategy and anthropology affect/distort our view of the cultures involved, both our own and others?

Read more about the Human Terrain System: Army Enlists Anthropology In War Zones