The Materiality of Social Stratification: Caste, Class, and Housing in Bombay

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 11:30 AM
Washington Room 2 (Marriott Wardman Park)
Juned Shaikh, University of California, Santa Cruz
Oliver Cromwell Cox linked the emergence of race and racism to the rise of capitalism – more particularly the emergence of capitalist labor relationships. Caste, though, was of a much older vintage and yet was an influential category in understanding race in America. Cox historicized caste and demystified it for his mostly American readers and made the case for thinking of race as a concrete social relationship. At the same time as Cox was explicating race and class, another sociologist in India, G.S Ghurye, who had already established himself as one of the foremost practitioners was discussing caste and class. In his estimation, caste and its continuity from antiquity were best comprehended by studying Indian classical texts i.e. Hindu religious scriptures. In other words, caste was a social phenomenon not produced by a group’s relationship to the means of production but by the subordination of one group to the other as sanctified by scriptures. In his view caste was devised to create social harmony; the disharmony of the modern caste system was produced by British census operations. In this paper, I revisit Ghurye and Cox and put them in conversation with each other. The context in which I situate my engagement with them is the housing question in 20th century Bombay. The housing question is an integral feature of industrial capitalism. This paper also makes the case that housing was an important aspect of the caste question in Bombay city. Housing as a commodity and material artifact sheds light on the nexus of caste and class in Bombay.