Chapter 33: South Asia
John Harriss I distinguish four themes in the economic anthropology of South Asia. The first concerns the ‘jajmani system’, a phrase that refers to the ways that economic transactions may be embedded in the social relationships of caste in Indian villages. This is the classic theme in the economic anthropology of South Asia, and it leads logically into a second, the commercialisation and commoditisation of the rural economy. Third is a consideration of recent research on the environment and the management of natural resources. Finally, I consider the economic implications of caste and religion more generally, a theme with a considerable historical pedigree. This theme is linked with the increasing interest within economics in culture, and in the relationships between ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ institutions. Rural economic transactions and the ‘jajmani system’ The ‘substantivist’ view of the economic anthropology of India was set out by Walter Neale, one of Karl Polanyi’s (see Isaac chap. 1 supra) students. Neale aimed to show ‘that the structure of the village economy … can be far better explained by the concepts of reciprocity and redistribution than they can by the more usual terms of economic theory’ (Neale 1957: 222). Central to his analysis was the notion of the redistribution of the ‘grain heap’ after the harvest through the allocation of shares to different village servants and officials (for example, the blacksmith, carpenter, washerman and barber), who were themselves all connected through relationships of reciprocity within the caste system. The ruler too had a share, which came...
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