research institute for compassionate economics

Help me: A bleg to my social psychologist friends

Written by Dean Spears on March 22nd, 2012

I’m in Delhi for a few days to present results from my Total Sanitation Campaign project at ISI tomorrow. Today I’m mainly at the Delhi School of Economics, and this morning I was chatting with Ashwini Deshpande, who has written a recent book The Grammar of Caste about caste in contemporary India. Her book draws on large statistical datasets well-known to economists and on focused sociological surveys and experiments.

We got to talking about the social psychology of racial prejudice in the United States, and thinking about what this might have to say about caste. For some of it, perhaps not too much. There is much evidence of “aversive” or “modern” racism in the U.S., that couples automatic, implicit prejudice (often that people would like to get rid of) with explicit commitment to egalitarianism. Many people in India, however, are apparently not even explicitly egalitarian.

So I’ve been looking a little into what academic social psychology has had to say about caste – knowing there has been much research into gender, race, and class. I may be wrong, but there does not seem to be much at all.

I know of a paper about the Stereotype Content Model that my teacher Susan Fiske once showed in a class (the dimensions of warmth and competence seemed to line up there as elsewhere). According to Google scholar, it’s not uncommon to mention the “Indian caste system” in passing as an example of an extreme hierarchy, especially in a list like “class, caste, gender, race.” But, unless I’m searching incorrectly (certainly possible) searching the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology for the word “caste” yields zero results.

I’m sure I must be missing something. A lot of people consider themselves to belong to a caste, and caste has huge implications for many lives, and probably many deaths. My guess is that a great many people would answer the question “Who are you?” with a caste name in the first few words. Social psychologist friends: what have I overlooked? Please point me towards papers on the social psychology of caste.