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Caste School of Race Relations


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The label sometimes attached to those authors who applied the term caste to the separation between Whites and Blacks in the United States. The most notable publications in this mould are W. Lloyd Warner's ‘American Caste and Class’ (American Journal of Sociology, 1936), Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma (1944), and John Dollard's Caste and Class in a Southern Town (1937).

This interpretation of American race relations provoked a furious (though fairly short-lived) controversy. Myrdal defended his analysis by claiming that ‘the scientifically important difference between the terms “caste” and “class”…is…a relatively large difference in freedom of movement between groups’. He also disputed whether (as critics of the School tended to claim) the Hindu caste system was characterized by less fluidity and less conflict than relations between Whites and Blacks in the United States.

The most sustained criticism of the school is Oliver C. Cox's Caste, Class and Race (1948), in which the author points to a fundamental difference between the Indian and American situations, in that caste divisions in the former are a coherent system based on the principle of inequality, whereas the ‘colour bar’ in America actually contradicted the egalitarian principles of the system within which it occurred.

Subjects: Sociology.


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