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

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From Resources to Functionings

The Dynamics of Caste as Cultural and Social Capital

The role of social and cultural capital in reproducing caste hierarchies and shaping the capabilities and functioning of different caste groups in percussion arts in Kerala is examined. The macro-sociological framework of Pierre Bourdieu and the individual-centric capabilities approach of Amartya Sen is integrated, for this inquiry. Emphasising the artists’ lived experiences of caste discrimination in the field of performing arts, the interviews elaborate upon the role of caste status in maintaining power and domination of the “upper”-caste artists. This adversely affects the opportunities for performance, recognition in the field, upward economic mobility and even the expression of dissent for the artists from the historically marginalised castes.

The authors thank the anonymous referees of this journal. Their valuable comments helped to improve the quality of the paper.

Caste as a form of social stratification has existed in India for centuries. Manifestations of caste have not disappeared with modernity, rather have taken new subtler forms, continuing to subjugate those who are at the bottom of the hierarchy. Caste-based discrimination is pervasive: its presence is evident in the labour markets in terms of occupational segregation, employment and earnings; in access to public services, education and health; in the experiences of social stigma, violence and so on. However, studies pertaining to the role of caste in the field of performing arts and its oppressive practices are less-discussed topics, even lesser in the case of percussion arts.

The performing arts in India are an integral part of its cultural heritage. They represent not only the inherited tradition but also the contemporary practices and live cultural spaces of interaction and expression. The concept of intangible cultural heritage (UNESCO nd) allows us to think of heritage as something that is porous and accommodating. The question of whether or not a social practice, performing art or ritual is specific to a particular culture, is unimportant. These are not valued as cultural goods for their exclusivity but rather could be adapted by communities, not traditionally associated with it. However, the commodification of performing arts in neo-liberal times and ways to make it market-oriented have received more attention, sidestepping the compelling question about its representativeness and inclusivity. It is important to address these, given that historically the field of classical performing arts has been sites of domination and oppression. Over time, due to modernising influences, there is a seemingly greater democratisation of this space. However, caste hegemony continues in most fields, including the percussion arts.

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Updated On : 25th Oct, 2023
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