ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

Studying caste-based discrimination in an Indian University: identities, affiliation and difference in the making of a social-scientific study


Rahul Sambaraju - The University of Edinburgh, Psychology, EDINBURGH, United Kingdom


39 – Citizens at Risk: Caste, Violence and State Institutions in India


In this paper, I examine caste-based identities in one context of pressing importance: researching caste-based discrimination in universities. While sociologists and anthropologists have examined the materiality and experiential aspects of caste, and caste-based oppression (Deshpande, 2011), little research has examined how caste-based identities complicate the process of researching casteist discrimination. This is compounded by huge inequities in academic institutions where majority of research on these concerns is conducted by those from oppressor castes. Using  discursive analysis, I examine the relevance of caste identities in conducting research on caste-based discrimination. I examine 20 research interviews conducted in January 2016 during student protests against caste-based discrimination in a South Indian university. I analyse how articulations of my own and participants’ identities are involved in research interviews on caste-based discrimination. Analysis reveals that identities were a flexible resource for both me and the interviewees in negotiating the difficulty in talking about caste. Caste-based identities then both hindered affiliation with the interviewees in contributing to the difficulty of speaking about caste, while also allowing for the articulation of specific forms of caste-based oppression. These findings are discussed in relation to current inequities in participation of Dalits and members in other oppressed groups in academia.