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Durham University

Department of Anthropology


Publication details for Professor Yulia Egorova

Egorova, Y. (2009). De/geneticizing caste: population genetic research in South Asia. Science as Culture 18(4): 417-438.

Author(s) from Durham


Recent years have witnessed a number of population genetics studies aiming to explore the ‘genetic profile’ of the South Asian population and of the caste system. This paper examines four genetic studies and their mass media representations, and discusses interviews with leading historians and social scientists whose work has focused on issues of the caste system. Similar to earlier commentators—from colonial scholars and administrators to Hindu reformers and nationalists—who provided different explanations for the origin of the caste system, recent genetic studies have offered conflicting inferences on the nature of castes and tribes of the subcontinent. These studies, the way they were received on the subcontinent, and assayed by historians of caste, tell a story about agendas of geneticization competing with forces of resistance. On the one hand, they signal a new interest in the debate about the relationship between caste and ‘ethnicity’; on the other hand, they are used selectively by different social groups to strengthen their own political agendas, are denied cognitive validity by historians of caste, and never reach a consensus about the history of caste formation.