An institution of considerable internal complexity, which has been oversimplified by those seeking an ideal type of rigid hierarchical social stratification , based on extreme closure criteria. In Max Weber's writings it was synonymous with ethnic status stratification and constituted one end of the continuum which contrasted status honour stratification with commercial classes and the market . Possibly the clearest definition is that proffered by André Béteille, who describes a caste as ‘a small and named group of persons characterized by endogamy, hereditary membership and a specific style of life which sometimes includes the pursuit by tradition of a particular occupation and is usually associated with a more or less distinct ritual status in a hierarchical system, based on concepts of purity and pollution’ (Caste, Class and Power, 1965).
Caste orders the lives of Indian Hindus and has as its basis the fivefold varna division embracing Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya, Shudra, and Untouchable. Within each varna there exist myriadjati, which are small endogamous groups, tied to a defining occupation, based in a village or group of villages, and which provide for the element of mobility within a system where otherwise birth determines social rank.
The varna system provides the system of values, the jati its functional organization and practice. Jatis may seek promotion within the caste hierarchy by adopting the practices of highervarna, which can result in promotion within their varna but not between varna, a process known as sanskritization. It is believed that mobility between varna can only be achieved through rebirth, where the successful practice of the caste code or dharma earns for the individual an increased karma and therefore higher status at rebirth.
The major dividing-line between and within the castes centres around the rules of pollution. These affect commensality (sharing and preparing of food), intermarriage, and any form of social intercourse. Since pollution of food is most likely, the highervarna tend towards vegetarianism, and are also teetotal. For this reason too, meat consumption is gradated, with distinctions being made between mutton, pork, and beef. Spatial segregation is a natural consequence of the jati system, and the segmentation inherent in the system and its attendant rules are overseen by a caste court. The caste system has been able to assimilate non-caste, non-Hindu outsiders very successfully.
Since independence in 1947, the Indian state has attempted to break down caste divisions, although in practice caste retains an important role in the social structure. Some sociologists have attempted (controversially) to extend the term beyond the Indian situation, and to apply it to the analysis of the South African system of apartheid, and even to the system of racial segregation in some parts of the United States during the twentieth century. See also Caste School of Race Relations ; Hinduism.

Dictionary of sociology. 2013.

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  • caste — caste …   Dictionnaire des rimes

  • caste — [ kast ] n. f. • 1659; port. casta (XVIe) « caste hindoue »; fém. de casto « pur » 1 ♦ Classe sociale fermée, observée d abord en Inde. La caste des prêtres (⇒ brahmane) , celles des guerriers, des bourgeois, des artisans. Les parias étaient hors …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Caste — Caste, n. [Pg. casta race, lineage, fr. L. castus pure, chaste: cf. F. caste, of same origin.] 1. One of the hereditary classes into which the Hindu are divided according to the laws of Brahmanism. [1913 Webster] Note: The members of the same… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • caste — caste; caste·less; in·ter·caste; non·caste; sub·caste; …   English syllables

  • caste — CASTE. s. f. On appelle ainsi Les Tribus dans lesquelles sont divisés les Idolâtres des Indes Orientales. La Caste des Bramines. La Caste des Banians …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie Française 1798

  • caste — (n.) 1550s, a race of men, from L. castus chaste, from castus pure, cut off, separated, pp. of carere to be cut off from (and related to castration), from PIE *kas to , from root *kes to cut. Application to Hindu social groups picked up by… …   Etymology dictionary

  • caste — [kast, käst] n. [Fr < Port casta, breed, race, caste < L castus, pure, chaste, orig., cut off, separated, pp. of carere, to be cut off from < IE base * k̑es , to cut > MIr cess, spear] 1. any of the distinct, hereditary Hindu social… …   English World dictionary

  • caşte — CÁŞTE s. v. casă. Trimis de siveco, 13.09.2007. Sursa: Sinonime  cáşte s.f. – În tipografie, lumina paginii. germ. Kasten, prin intermediul pol. kaszta, sau al mag. kásta (Cihac, II, 45). Trimis de blaurb, 04.01.2007. Sursa: DER …   Dicționar Român

  • caste — [ka:st US kæst] n [U and C] [Date: 1500 1600; : Portuguese; Origin: casta race , from casto pure , from Latin castus; CHASTE] 1.) one of the fixed social classes, which cannot be changed, into which people are born in India ▪ the caste system 2.) …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • Caste — Porté en Provence (84, 13), le nom correspond à l adjectif chaste , sans doute employé comme nom de personne (voir Casto). On ne le confondra pas avec Casté (Sud Ouest), qui est pour sa part une probable variante de Castet (voir ce nom) …   Noms de famille

  • caste — caste. См. каста. (Источник: «Англо русский толковый словарь генетических терминов». Арефьев В.А., Лисовенко Л.А., Москва: Изд во ВНИРО, 1995 г.) …   Молекулярная биология и генетика. Толковый словарь.

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