AN ANALYSIS OF CASTE AND SOCIAL DISTANCE
It is impossible to begin a discussion of social class rigidity without first delving deeply into the meaning of caste, because conceptually caste is allied, in the minds of most sociologists, with one phase or another of social class.Next Page
The term caste has been used to mean class, social class or stratum, hereditary occupation, and race. Rigid legal classes have often been referred to as castes. Recently it has become the fashion in sociology to refer to the blacks and whites of the southern states as castes [Dollard and Warner have effectively popularized this usage of form]. Mixed breeds in Hawaii are known as half-castes.
But is it possible that the word caste can have all of these meanings at the same time?
Caste, since it is often used interchangeably with class as the basic unit in social stratification, requires special attention. Certainly caste is a form of social rigidity, it is essential that this be affirmed. If it is a different form of rigidity, the exact nature of that form must be established. A full description of the caste system in India takes up the greater part of this chapter.
Caste used interchangeably with class. One of the leading anthropologists, Rivers, is disturbed to find many writers using the terms caste and class as synonyms. His criticism of this practice serves as a good starting point for the present discussion. He writes: 1
I refer to class and caste. These two terms are often used loosely as interchangeable with one another. Lowie, for instance, being an offender in this respect, and this loose usage is frequent in popular language, for we speak of a person losing caste when we mean that he falls in that social estimation which forms so large an element in the maintenance of class distinctions.
I propose to confine the term 'caste' to the well-known institution in India, and so such other examples as it is possible to put into the category.
It is true that Lowie 2 fails to distinguish between these two terms sometimes, but he is not alone in this practice. Kimball Young refers several times to caste and class as if they were identical, and he makes the following statement: "A third characteristic is the feeling of superiority of the caste or class toward the strata below them." 3 Castes and classes are also both referred to as examples of horizontal strata by Miller. 4 (It will be shown later in this chapter that castes, unlike classes, are not horizontal social strata.)
Gonnard, whose interpretation of class has been found to be in line with the best of modern theory, does not, however, follow Rivers and others in interpreting caste in terms of the social organizations in India. Instead, Connard believes that in distinguishing between caste and class one should note that the former is "a class more rigorously closed, almost altogether closed . . . Antiquity was, above all, the time when castes flourished . . ." 5 Even the great Hobhouse could write, in his Social Development, that the full development "of caste was a very gradual process. So far the movement of civilization is towards a greater hierarchy of classes."
Thus one might add one illustration to another showing the indiscriminate use of caste over class. ". . . 1789 . . . equality of the classes is proclaimed . . . There are no more castes." 6
Caste used to mean hereditary status. Very common is the use of the word caste to indicate hereditary status. North, whose writings in the field of social distance stand among the most acclaimed, accepts the point of view that degrees of rigidity mark the difference between class and caste systems. His definition reads: 7
A group in which status, occupation, and culture have become hereditary is knows as a caste. As a matter of fact, however, the distinction between a society based upon caste and one in which open classes prevail is simply one of degree.
MacIver, another leading authority in the field of social class theory, also identifies caste with hereditary status. He attempts to tie his interpretation in with the situation in India, a procedure not often followed by other sociologists.
1. W. H. R. Rivers, Social Organization (New York, 1924) p. 143.
2. See Robert H. Lowie, The Origin of the State (New York, 1927) p. 21; also see Lowie's An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (New York, 1940) p. 268.
3. Kimball Young, An Introductory Sociology (New York, 1924) p. 476.
4. Herbert Adolphus Miller, Races, Nations, and Classes (Philadelphia, 1924) p. 14.
5. René Gonnard, "Quelques considérations sure les classes." in the Revue Economique Internationale, 17th year, vol. II, No. I (April 10, 1925) p. 67; translation ours.
6. Maurice Lair, "Le peril des classes moyennes en France," in ibid., 15th year, vol. II (April - June 1923) p. 42; translation ours.
7. Cecil Clare North, Social Differentiation (Chapel Hill, 1926) p. 254.