Accepted Paper:

The naturalness of the difference, the politics of culture: some notes on Indian thought and practice  


Tommaso Sbriccoli (University of Siena)

Paper short abstract:

The aim of this paper is to present how the relationship nature/culture is structured in the indian thought and practice. I will then analyze how the cultural difference is treated in this context and how this leads to the reification of power relationships.

Paper long abstract:

The caste system in India is not only a social and religious structure, but implyes also a biological and cultural theory. Presenting the caste system as composed of jati ("caste", but litteraly "species") and the theory of karma and reincarnation, in which animal and human worlds are thought in a continuum rather than in a dychotomic way, I will try to show how the attitude toward the cultural differences is, paradoxically, one of tollerance. In a system in which culture is deeply linked to supposed biological and cosmological differences, cultural difference is thought as "natural" and put on a gerarchical scale. It becomes a function of status rather than being considerated as a super-organic entity. This vision leads to the substantialization of the diversity and so to the reification of power relationships, in what has become in common sense the symbol of social inequality, the caste system. But culture being a symptom of biological differences, this leaves an open space in which it is possible for people in some circumstances to better their own status (biological as well as social and religious) changing their cultural traits. Through the presentation of ethnographic material on a Rajsthan village I will try to substantiate this point and to link it to the new political debate of the hindu nationalism.

Panel W075
The fall of cultural man: some proposals for an anthropology less cultural and more natural