ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Challenges in Conceptualising Social Inequality

Caste and Class in Higher Education Enrolments

The National Sample Survey 2014 data is used to explore the character of class inequality, over and beyond that of caste. The caste break-up of various social classes suggests that caste inequalities are greater amongst the more educated classes. Enrolments in higher education show greater social inequalities than in elementary education. The differences amongst various classes suggest that while caste is a strong factor in educational inequality, it is not a sufficient one. There is much less caste variation within the lower classes than the higher classes. Caste and class need to be seen as generative processes, and sub-jati networks are to be conceptualised and empirically examined to understand the actual roles of caste and class in educational and social inequality.

The way in which we theorise social life has played a key role in understanding and addressing the challenges to human dignity and freedom. The theorising of social inequality has made important contributions to the struggle to create an open education system by conceptually guiding our interventions, ranging from caste-based reservations to the development of inclusive forms of teaching, amongst others. This paper will examine two out of the several ways of conceptualising social inequality—caste and class—which are well known for their limiting and corrupting influences on meritocracy and the education system.

In the popular and public culture, we are seeing a broad shift from a time when class used to dominate discussions of inequality to a situation where class has mostly disappeared from the conceptual armoury. Gender and caste are the issues most prominent in our imagination these days, parti­cularly amongst anti-caste voices. This shift is, in part, an important corrective to the study of social inequality, which was earlier dominated by the discourse of class and redistribution. The importance of identity and culture in shaping social structures and the injustices inbuilt within them is now better recognised. On the other hand, there is the danger of ignoring social structures and processes that lie at a deeper level and are not part of the self-identity of mobilised or oppressed groups. There are many kinds of relations of exploitation and oppression between labour, political organisation and capital, which may or may not be part of the consciously articulated categories of the people involved.

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Updated On : 28th Jul, 2020

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