Socio-economic discrimination based on class, race, and gender has been a subject of exploration for scholars of organization studies for many years (Amis, Mair & Munir, 2020; Bapuji, Ertug & Shaw, 2020). However, ‘caste’, a means of exploitation, subjugation and discrimination for centuries within and beyond the Indian subcontinent (Bapuji & Chrispal, 2020), has been overlooked and underexamined almost entirely in management research. In contrast, research in other disciplines has provided substantial evidence of both the prevalence and scale of caste-based discrimination, affecting individuals’ social status and interactions as well as occupational choices and positioning in organizational life (Thorat & Joshi, 2015; Siddiqui, 2011). Caste is different from other forms of discrimination like race and class. For example, while discrimination based on race is embodied in colour and ethnic-origin, and discrimination based on class emerges from occupational and economic status, caste is deeply rooted in religious scriptures, traditions, and rituals, providing sacred justification for seeing and treating members of lower caste as ‘untouchables’, ‘impure’ and ‘lesser than’ (Chrispal, Bapuji & Zietsma, 2020). Overtime, caste has become a taken for granted institution restricting social and economic mobility of low-caste individuals. Given the perennial and widespread impact of caste, it is important to examine:
(a) ‘caste’ as an institution in itself exemplifying systemic power structures, social hierarchies, and suppression of agency of the lower caste individuals; and
(b) practices that individuals use to reproduce, maintain or resist caste-based discrimination, which we refer to as ‘caste work’.
The series of papers presented in the symposium enables disentangling the concept of ‘caste work’ and its uniqueness, while also shedding light on the institution of caste. Collectively, these papers build toward a model of caste work that reifies a distinction between in-groups – the unsullied, who are deemed desirable and reliable by a particular community – and out-groups – the stigmatized, who are considered tainted, undesirable, and unreliable interaction partners. All of this works together in that low caste actors are the product of sanctified social evaluation by upper-caste actors, which creates and defends social structures. There are also stories of resistance by lower caste actors (e.g., Jagannathan, Bawa & Rai, 2020; Vikas, Varman & Belk, 2015). Research on caste work in organizations is only beginning to emerge. No systematic unpacking of distinct practices performed to maintain, reproduce or resist the institution of caste and its impact on inequalities at individual, organizational and societal levels, has yet emerged (Bapuji et al., 2020a; Chrispal et al., 2020; Haq, Klarsfeld, Kornau & Ngunjiri, 2020). The symposium is put together to bring emerging scholarship that attempts to address this gap.
- Charmi Patel, University of Reading
- Hari Bapuji, University of Melbourne
- Vivek Soundararajan, University of Bath