Race, Tribe, Caste, and Class

Of the several ways in which societies get stratified, three ascriptive groups (namely, race, tribe and caste) and a category based on the criterion of achievement (class) are used as the prominent strata. Reviewing the trends in sociological research in the l980s, Neil J. Smelser noted that the ‘three words …—“race”, “ethnicity”, and “class”—enjoy wide currency both as categories in social sciences and as terms in everyday discourse. Each is employed as if it enjoys a common meaning, yet none is used with precision in either arena’ (Smelser, 1994: 280). The comment would equally apply to the word ‘caste’. Therefore, there is a need for some conceptual clarification of all these terms.

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